Romaji - The Romanization of the Japanese Language

Today we're going to talk a little bit about the romaji, which is a writing system used to transcribe the reading of Japanese words into the Roman / Latin alphabet, enabling the reading of people who do not know Japanese.

Romaji (ローマ字) literally means “Roman letter”, so we call the transliteration of the Japanese language. This romanization is present where there are messages aimed at foreigners, such as street signs, passports, dictionaries and textbooks for language students.

Interestingly the word Romaji it can be written in different ways, as there are different types of Romanization of the Japanese language. You can find roumaji, romaji, ro-maji or rōmaji (with an accent). There is no right or wrong!

Romaji - the romanization of the Japanese language

The origin of Japanese Romanization - Romaji

The first Romanization originated from the orthography of the English language, and was created in 1548 by a Catholic named Yajiro. This system was created so missionaries could preach and teach without having to learn to read Japanese. There is a great similarity between the Japanese syllables with the English syllables, making this work much easier.

In the Meiji era, some Japanese scholars tried to abolish the Japanese writing system and use only rōmaji. Several Japanese texts were published entirely in rōmaji, but the idea soon died, probably because of the countless words of the same pronunciation or just one syllable. Kanji is a very necessary item in Japanese and can never be left unused. 

Rōmaji makes life easier for many who don't understand Japanese. Let's see the example of a romanized phrase:

Responsive Table: Roll the table sideways with your finger >>
Japanese 俺の妹がこんなに可愛いわけがない
TranslationThere's no way my sister can be that cute
RoumajiOre no imouto ga konnani kawaii wake ga nai
Rōmaji Ore no imōto ga konnani kawaii wake ga nai

As you may have noticed, there are 2 different ways to write "rōmaji" or "roumaji", both are correct, everything will depend on the type or system of romanization you use. The romanization system can use either a vowel, a macron or an accent to romanize long vowels. Let's get to know some types of Rōmaji. 


Throughout Japanese history, several versions of Romanization were created, among them:

Hepburn System (ヘボン式 / hebon-shiki) - The Hepburn system was created by James Curtis Hepburn (1815-1911). An American missionary from Philadelphia, who arrived in Japan in 1859 and compiled the first Japanese-English dictionary. The Hepburn system is now the most widely used romanization system.

Kunrei System (訓令式 / kunreishiki) - The Kunrei system was enacted by the Japanese government during the 1930s. A revised version was issued in 1954. Below are the differences between the Kuntei and Hepburn romanizations:

Responsive Table: Roll the table sideways with your finger >>
Hepburn si, ti, tu, hu, zi, sya, syu, syo, tya, tyu, ty, zya, zyu, zyo
Kunrei shi, chi, tsu, fu, ji, sha, shu, sho, cha, chu, cho, ja, ju, jo

JSL - JSL is a romanization system based on Japanese phonetics. It is written as heard and has no accents or strokes. The difference with Hepburn is that JSL uses vowels instead of accentuation to represent long vowels.

Long vowels are pronounced by lengthening the vowel. Words like 東京 (Tokyo) and ローマ字 (rōmaji) have long vowels, see how they are romanized in each system:

Romaji - the romanization of the Japanese language
Responsive Table: Roll the table sideways with your finger >>
JSL oo ortoukyou or tookyooro-maji
Hepburnā, ē, ī, ō, ūtōkyōrōmaji
Kunreiâ, ê, î, ô, ûtokyorômazi

Nihon-shiki (日本式 / nipponshiki) - It is a little used system, and was created by Tanakadate Aikitsu in 1881.

Responsive Table: Roll the table sideways with your finger >>
Nihonof, di, du, of, dya, dyu, dyo
Kunreida zi zu de zya zyu zyo
Hepburnda, ji, zu, de, ja, ju, jo

Is it worth using romance to study Japanese?

The romanization of the Japanese language can do more than help. Starting with the fact that there are different types of romaji, causing people to even engage in discussion to know the right way to write.

Other changes take place when romanizing a word or name of a person of foreign origin, words that have the “L"But in Japanese they are written with"R”Can be easily romanized with“ l ”.

Many question, why don't the Japanese use only Romaji? The main reason is the words homonymous and homophones, there are thousands of them in Japanese. How will you know which of kami [紙, 神, 髪] is “paper”And there are several words with the same writing and pronunciation.

Romaji - the romanization of the Japanese language

Constant use of rōmaji will only hinder your learning. If you already know hiragana and katakana, stay as far away from the rōmaji as possible. If you need to convert a text to rōmaji, just paste it into the Google translator or some converter.

If you have already mastered the basics of the Japanese language like hiragana and katakana, we strongly encourage you to stay away from romanization. However, for those who have not yet immersed themselves in the Japanese language, our Roman letters have advantages, one of which is their ease of reading and the space between words that does not exist in standard Japanese. 

With Romaji you can learn basic things without problems like:

  • Ask basic questions of everyday life;
  • Greetings;
  • Learn and sing Japanese songs;
  • The numbers;
  • The hours, the days and months;
  • Shopping;
  • Ask for directions;
  • Stay in a hotel;
  • Share with people who don't know Japanese;
  • Among others..;

It is necessary to use romanization to learn hiragana and katakana from scratch.

There are problems and difficulties in studying using only long-term romanization. Some of these problems are:

  • Very similar words;
  • Lack of different sounds in Japanese;
  • Words written in kanji;
  • Words written only with a syllable or phoneme;
  • Different types of romaji;
  • Lack of romanized material;

In addition to Romaji, there is another facilitator for those who have already learned hiragana and katakana called Furigana. We recommend reading the furigana article by clicking here.

Videos about Romaji

Finally, we will leave some videos about romanization below that can help you understand more about the subject. Starting with a video made by the sensei of our Japanese course by Suki Desu and then Luiz Rafael who is another Sensei that I respect a lot, I publicize and follow with pleasure.

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