Kunrei-shiki romanization (Japanese: 訓令式ローマ字, Hepburn: Kunrei-shiki rōmaji) is the Cabinet-ordered romanization system for transcribing the Japanese language into the Latin alphabet. Its name is rendered Kunreisiki rômazi in the system itself. Kunrei-shiki is sometimes known as the Monbushō system in English because it is taught in the Monbushō-approved elementary school curriculum. The ISO has standardized Kunrei-shiki, under ISO 3602.

Kunrei-shiki is based on the older Nihon-shiki romanization, which was modified for modern standard Japanese. For example, the word かなづかい, romanized kanadukai in Nihon-shiki, is pronounced kanazukai in standard modern Japanese and is romanized as such in Kunrei-shiki. The system competes with the older Hepburn romanization system, which was promoted by SCAP during the Allied occupation of Japan, after World War II.


Before World War II, there was a political conflict between supporters of Hepburn romanisation and supporters of the Nihon-shiki romanisation. In 1930, a board of inquiry, under the aegis of the Minister of Education, was established to determine the proper romanization system. The Japanese government, by cabinet order (訓令 kunrei),[1] announced on 21 September 1937 that a modified form of Nihon-shiki would be officially adopted as Kunrei-shiki.[2] The form at the time differs slightly from the modern form.[3] Originally, the system was called the Kokutei (国定, government-authorized) system.[2]

The Japanese government gradually introduced Kunrei-shiki, which appeared in secondary education, on railway station signboards, on nautical charts, and on the 1:1,000,000 scale International Map of the World.[4] While the central government had strong control, from 1937 to 1945, the Japanese government used Kunrei-shiki in its tourist brochures.[5] In Japan, some use of Nihon-shiki and Modified Hepburn remained, however, because some individuals supported the use of those systems.[4]

After the Japanese government was defeated in 1945, General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers issued a directive, dated 3 September 1945, that stated that Modified Hepburn was the method to transcribe Japanese names. Some editorials printed in Japanese newspapers advocated for using only Hepburn.[6] Supporters of Hepburn denounced pro-Kunrei-shiki and pro-Nihon-shiki advocates to the SCAP offices[7] by accusing them of being inactive militarists[6] and of collaborating with militarists. Unger said that the nature of Kunrei-shiki led to "pent-up anger" by Hepburn supporters.[7] During the postwar period, several educators and scholars tried to introduce romanized letters as a teaching device and possibility later replacing kanji. However, Kunrei-shiki had associations with Japanese militarism, and the US occupation was reluctant to promote it.[5] On 9 December 1954, the Japanese government re-confirmed Kunrei-shiki as its official system[2] but with slight modifications.[8] Eleanor Jorden, an American linguist, made textbooks with a modified version of Kunrei-shiki, which were used in the 1960s in courses given to US diplomats. The use of her books did not change the US government's hesitation to use Kunrei-shiki.[5]

As of 1974, according to the Geographical Survey Institute (now the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan), Kunrei-shiki was used for topographical maps, and Modified Hepburn was used for geological maps and aeronautical charts.[9]

As of 1978, the National Diet Library used Kunrei-shiki. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and many other official organizations instead used Hepburn, as did The Japan Times, the JTB Corporation, and many other private organisations.[2]

Legal status

The system was originally promulgated as Japanese Cabinet Order No. 3 as of 21 September 1937. Since it had been overturned by the SCAP during the occupation of Japan, the Japanese government repealed it and decreed again, as Japanese Cabinet Order No.1 as of 29 December 1954. It mandated the use of Kunrei-shiki in "the written expression of Japanese generally". Specific alternative spellings could be used in international relations and to follow established precedent. See Permitted Exceptions for details.[1]

Kunrei-shiki has been recognised, along with Nihon-shiki, in ISO 3602:1989. Documentation—Romanisation of Japanese (kana script) by the ISO. It was also recommended by the ANSI after it withdrew its own standard, ANSI Z39.11-1972 American National Standard System for the Romanization of Japanese (Modified Hepburn), in 1994.


The exceptional clause is not to be confused with other systems of romanization (such as Hepburn) and does not specifically relax other requirements, such as marking long vowels.

See also


  • Geographical Survey Institute (Kokudo Chiriin). Bulletin of the Geographical Survey Institute, Volumes 20-23. 1974.
  • Gottlieb, Nanette. "The Rōmaji movement in Japan." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Third Series). January 2010. Volume 20, Issue 1. p. 75-88. Published online on November 30, 2009. Available at Cambridge Journals. DOI doi:10.1017/S1356186309990320.
  • Hadamitzky, Wolfgang. Kanji & Kana Revised Edition (漢字・かな). Tuttle Publishing, 1997. ISBN 0-8048-2077-5, 9780804820776.
  • Horvat, Andrew. Japanese Beyond Words: How to Walk and Talk Like a Native Speaker. Stone Bridge Press, 2000. ISBN 1-880656-42-6, 9781880656426.
  • Hinds, John. Japanese: Descriptive Grammar. Hepburn) and does not specifically relax other requirements, such as marking long vowels.

    See also