The worst kind of romaji

I’m not opposed to the type of romaji (Romanized Japanese) that replicates the logic of Japanese phonology, for instance ti for “chi” in words like tintai  (Quick aside – the animated movie Tin Tin is pronounced Tan Tan in Japan because… well just look it up).  Learners just need to be reminded that this is still Japanese, and things don’t magically become comprehensible just because you switched writing systems.  Other languages that use the alphabet have conventions of pronunciation that are different from those of English, and Japanese is entitled to one as well – but of course that’s a different issue than which system of romaji is the most intuitive for English speakers.  For English class, I insist on Hepburn (e.g. Shinshū) rather than Kunrei (Sinsyû) except for names, with the caveat that students who spell their names with Kunrei had better be prepared to walk people through how to pronounce (for example) Syôta Utizima.  Students are regularly shocked when I tell them they can actually spell it Shoughtaugh if they want, but the same rule of being able to explain it applies.  Incidentally, passports require Hepburn romanization.

Anyway the point of this entry is to complain about my least favorite type of romaji ever.  That is the type that is written with the intention of being read katakana-style, and only makes sense when intentionally mispronounced.  Some typical substitutions are kisu for “x” or ru (one of the most common Japanese verb endings) for “l”.  Some marketers use this mispronunciation as fodder for puns, a la vegitabel, where the end is a pun on taberu (eat).  Here are some real-world examples for your pure horror:

Caol Uno, whose name is pronounced Ka-o-ru



Wonderful Style, a magazine for dog owners. The “won” is meant to be pronounced with a low vowel usually transcribed a, making it wan or the Japanese equivalent to “woof”.









Meant to be pronounced tasukaru, or “it helps”.  Apparently they help disabled people stay employed.

Also:ヘルCレシピ (Heru-C, meant to be read “herushii” or healthy),

フクC (Fuku-C, “fukushi” or welfare, an old folks’ home)

I’m sure I’ll be able to add to this list as more examples come to mind.

I’ve said before that I consider the experimentation with English-derived vocabulary part of the modern Japanese language.  So how can I get upset about romaji like this, when it’s clearly a similar phenomenon, and one that’s also essential to be a literate person in Japan?  Well, the problem is that many people do consider Wasei-eigo English (as the name implies, train station being a type of station and all), and vast numbers of people really do believe that the alphabet is pronounced this way.  A very common trait of false beginners in Japan is that they think the pronunciation of “lend” is ɾendo”, and any changes you make to that pronunciation for comprehensibility are a matter of prettying it up.  It doesn’t matter much from the perspective of an English teacher what changes the Japanese language goes through internally, but the fact that people are unaware of the sometimes huge differences that can occur in meaning, pronunciation, and register when words move from one language to another matters a lot.  This misunderstanding makes a lot of people who would otherwise simply be starting from zero instead start from -10.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s