I shall Standardize my Romanization

Up to now I’ve been very inconsistent in my romanization of Japanese words.  Often I’ve simply borrowed the most popular form around and used that.  But different people in different situations use different forms, and this troubles me deeply.  From now on I will stick to one standard, you can call it animationskraft-shiki.

I’ve never had any problems with the consonants and short vowels, where I always stick by the generally approved Hepburn system, which means basically writing out Japanese consonants as they would be in English, and the vowels as they would be in Italian (or Spanish).  The problem is the long vowels, in which Hepburn users follow one (or often confusedly, more than one) of three ways:

a) doubling the vowel: long o → oo

b) adding an “h” to the vowel: long o → oh

c) adding a diacritic over the vowel: long o → ô (or ō)

The first is possibly the most appropriate phonetically speaking.  The second is borrowed from the German, which often adds a “silent h” to lengthen the vowel sound.  The third is quite popular recently.  Other people ignore the vowel length altogether, but again, this is done inconsistently.

There’s one more complication: historically syllables coming from China that are literally written as “ei” and “ou” are actually pronounced as a long “e” and a long “o” respectively.  In romanizing Japanese it’s very common to see the “ei” written out, but for some reason “ou” is not as common.

Meiji Seika, chocolate makers

Meiji Seika, chocolate makers

So to take the first modern era name in Japanese history (明治), any of these would be valid:





Meji [this last one is never seen, but I guess it’s possible]


I’m going to settle this mess once and for all.  My system will take etymology and aesthetics (my own private taste, basically) into account.  Japanese words come from three sources: a) Japan b) China c) the rest of the world.  This is what I’ll do:

a) Native Japanese Words

I’ll double the vowel, without exceptions.  Thus the author of Soul Eater, Mr. 大久保, who likes to spell his name as Ohkubo will become Ookubo in this blog.  I apologize to him for that.

Atshushi Ookubo, Soul Eater

Atsushi Ookubo, Soul Eater

b) Sino-Japanese words

I will write out the “long e” as “ei”.  I will write out the “long o” as “oh”.  Yes, I dislike the “ou” combination; I don’t know why but apparently I’m not the only one.  Therefore 鉄郎, which I usually romanized as Tetsuro (thus ignoring the length of the “o”) will now become “Tetsuroh”.

c) Foreign words

These words are usually written out in katakana with a length marker ( ー ) following the vowel.  I will use a macron for these when I want to romanize them strictly, though more often than not I’ll simply change the word to its original in English or French or whatever.  For example スーパー will become “sūpā” or simply “super”.

This of course does NOT apply to foreign character names in anime.  In that case, the Japanese writing itself is a transliteration of the foreign (or alien) original and so I’ll have to take loads of other things into consideration.  Maetel is not going to become “Mēteru” anytime soon!!


To make things clearer, let me just lay it out like this:

ああ→ aa

ええ→ ee

えい→ ei

いい→ ii

おお→ oo

おう→ oh

うう→ uh / uu *

“Uu” only in words not of Chinese origin (loanwords from English, for example).

~ by Haloed Bane on June 22, 2009.

11 Responses to “I shall Standardize my Romanization”

  1. How about o and ou?

    I’m constantly bothered by that one (i.e. Shouji/Shoji Kawamori; better yet, shoujo/shounen).

  2. I like your system, AK, and it’s important. I had such a hard time finding Kenji Ootsuki music because everyone wants to fucking spell his name differently. Super annoying.

  3. @ghostlighting

    Long o’s (in Sino-Japanese words) I will romanize as “oh”, so Shohji and shohjo, shohnen. Not exactly pretty, but I prefer it to Shouji and shounen.


    It’d be great if the anime fandom could have a conference and agree on a standard for the community. I have suffered like you because of this. Ootsuki could be Otsuki, Ohtsuki or Otsuki with a little circumflex or a macron or whatever on top. It’s crazy.. Anyway, I will use Ootsuki from now on.

  4. that’s before even getting to the issue of first and last name order lol. My itunes library is what really suffers from this, too.

  5. off-topic, do you have the equipment/desire to do a podcast? (equipment being a mic and skype). I’d love to do one with you. K-on’s over now, so maybe we should do that?

  6. aaaaaaaaaahhhhrrrrr

    I decided a while ago to use Kunreisiki, since it is the official one with the Stamp of Approval from the government and all, but then I always feel as if someone will sneer at me and go “he doesn’t know what on Earth he is doing” when in fact, I do (I hope), I’m just part of a minority group.

    So I chickened out and only use it with people who know what it is.

    Also, OU is superior!

  7. @digiboy

    I’m actually super consistent on name order: first name first, last name last, i.e. Western style. But I know, this is another big issue. On podcasts, I lack the fluidity and charisma required! Thanks, though.


    Kunrei-shiki is a lonely road to go down…many of the govt. ministries don’t even use it anymore. OU looks cool enough inside a word, but it’s terrible at the end. “Hello, my name is Tarou” (reminds me of a bad dub!!).

  8. And then we have the words which have an actual spelling in English but which can be messed up if you go the OU way.

    Like Toukyou or Ousaka.

    While kunreisiki is pretty lonely (which need not be a bad thing; I get moe points for ronery!), a chap I know uses Nihonsiki.

  9. The h option is really not such a good idea. Aesthetics aside (and I do think it looks bad), it’s also ambiguous. Compare ohen (ou+en) and oheso (o+heso). You’d have to stick a disambiguation apostrophe between any long vowel followed by another vowel.

  10. @kaiser

    If the word has entered the English vocabulary I’ll leave it as is, unless I want to point out some phonetic aspect about it, in which I case I’d go with Tohkyoh and Oosaka, respectively.


    But this problem is unavoidable. Imagine if you use “ou” for “long o” and you write Inoue (井上) people might think this is pronounced I-noo-e, forcing you to write Ino’ue. And yes, I’d write  応援 as oh’en. It’s not very pretty I agree.

    êtes-vous français? i love paris, reims, rouen. Anyway, bikasuishin is a lovely site with too few entries. Is it really possible to throw lines like that on google earth?? How about a triangle between three points? I need to learn how to do that. 

  11. Romanizing names of Tytania’s characters was fun 😛

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