The Complete Guide to Japanese Romaji

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What is Romaji?

Romaji, Romanji or ローマ字 (rōmaji), is the romanization of the Japanese written language. Although some would argue that it is only a crutch and should be avoided, romaji does have its place in your repertoire – namely being the primary method of Japanese input for word processors and computers. In fact, Japanese children learn romaji in elementary school. That said, romaji is only a representation of written Japanese, and therefore should not be used as a primary reading method when learning the language.
 

Related Lessons

Table of Contents

 

1. How to Write Romaji

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Learning how to write romaji is amazingly easy. You probably already know romaji if you use the roman alphabet in your native language. Translating hiragana to romaji or katakana to romaji will let you identify Japanese words and phrases.

If you want to have some quick insight, check the romaji chart below. You will get a look at Japanese syllable construction and the specifics of romaji such as letters with a bar for long vowels, or how to write double vowels.

 

a. Monographs

  あ段 い段 う段 え段 お段
あ行 あ ア
a
い イ
i
う ウ
u
え エ
e
お オ
o
か行 か カ
ka
き キ
ki
く ク
ku
け ケ
ke
こ コ
ko
さ行 さ サ
sa
し シ
shi
す ス
u
せ セ
se
そ ソ
so
た行 た タ
ta
ち チ
chi
つ ツ
tsu
て テ
te
と ト
to
な行 な ナ
na
に ニ
ni
ぬ ヌ
nu
ね ネ
ne
の ノ
no
は行 は ハ
ha
ひ ヒ
hi
ふ フ
hu
へ ヘ
he
ほ ホ
ho
ま行 ま マ
ma
み ミ
mi
む ム
mu
め メ
me
も モ
mo
や行 や ヤ
ya
ゆ ユ
yu
よ ヨ
yo
ら行 ら ラ
ra
り リ
ri
る ル
ru
れ レ
re
ろ ロ
ro
る行 わ ワ
wa
を ヲ
o
ん ン
vowel n

 

b. Diacritics

  あ段 い段 う段 え段 お段
が行 が ガ
ga
ぎ ギ
gi
ぐ グ
gu
げ ゲ
ge
ご ゴ
go
ざ行 ざ ザ
za
じ ジ
ji
ず ズ
zu
ぜ ゼ
ze
ぞ ゾ
zo
だ行 だ ダ
da
ぢ ヂ
ji
づ ヅ
zu
で デ
de
ど ド
do
ば行 ば バ
ba
び ビ
bi
ぶ ブ
bu
べ ベ
ge
ぼ ボ
bo
ぱ行 ぱ パ
pa
ぴ ピ
pi
ぷ プ
pu
ぺ ペ
ge
ぽ ポ
po

 

c. Digraphs

  や段 ゆ段 よ段
か行 きゃ キャ
kya
きゅ キュ
kyu
きょ キョ
kyo
さ行 しゃ シャ
sha
しゅ シュ
shu
しょ ショ
sho
た行 ちゃ チャ
cha
ちゅ チュ
chu
ちょ チョ
cho
な行 にゃ ニャ
nya
にゅ ニュ
nyu
にょ ニョ
nyo
は行 ひゃ ヒャ
hyo
ひゅ ヒュ
hyu
ひょ ヒョ
hyo
ま行 みゃ ミャ
mya
みゅ ミュ
myu
みょ ミョ
myo
ら行 りゃ リャ
rya
りゅ リュ
ryu
りょ リョ
ryo
が行 ぎゃ ギャ
gya
ぎゅ ギュ
gyu
ぎょ ギョ
gyo
ざ行 じゃ ジャ
ja
じゅ ジュ
ju
じょ ジョ
jo
だ行 ぢゃ ヂャ
ja
ぢゅ ヂュ
ju
ぢょ ヂョ
jo
ば行 びゃ ビャ
bya
びゅ ビュ
byu
びょ ビョ
byo
ぱ行 ぴゃ ピャ
pya
ぴゅ ピュ
pyu
ぴょ ピョ
pyo

 

d. Small tsu

っ ッ

The small tsu (っ, ッ) makes the following consonant letter double. For example, the romaji of にっぽん is nippon.

 

e. Long Vowels

あ段 い段 う段 え段 お段
long a
ā
long i
ī
long u
ū
long e
ē or ei
long o
ō or ou

 

2. How to Get Your Free Romaji Guidebook

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Free Kana PDF Worksheet
Free Kana PDF Worksheet

If you’re still not familiar with Japanese alphabet, get your romaji sheets, showing all the characters at once. If you’re a JapanesePod101 member, you can download it for free. Click the button below!

Finally want to learn Japanese characters so that you can read Japanese without the romaji guidebook? Great! We’re giving a Japanese Alphabet eBook to ALL JapanesePod101 members for free. You learn to read and write Japanese – in 1 hour or less. Visit our Japanese Alphabet page to watch a free kana video, get the free kana eBook and learn the secret to learning the Japanese alphabet fast.

 

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How to Sign up at Japanesepod101 & Get Your FREE Romaji Guidebook

  1. Select your Japanese level and enter your email address on the form on the left.
  2. Press “Join Now” to sign up for your Free Lifetime Account.
  3. You’ll get a confirmation email. Please confirm by clicking the link inside.
  4. Download your romaji guidebook on this romaji page.
  5. Start learning Japanese with JapanesePod101 & your free guidebook!

3. Advantages of Learning Romaji

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Romaji or Romanization

1. It helps you read and pronounce Japanese without learning the Japanese alphabet.

Romaji is useful at the very beginning because it helps you read and get started with Japanese pronunciation, even before you’ve learned the Japanese alphabet.

2. You can type Japanese with your mobile phone, tablet and PC.

Most Japanese devices use romaji input. If you plan on typing in Japanese, you will be using romaji, which will automatically turn into hiragana, katakana or kanji characters.

3. Lot of places in Japan, like restaurants or stations, use romaji.

You will be able to order food or navigate by yourself with romaji and a bit of Japanese vocabulary.

 

4. Disadvantages of Using Romaji

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Disadvantages of Using Romanization

Starting to learn Japanese with romaji will definitely help you. The danger comes from using it for too long and it will just make your learning harder.

1. Romaji can cause the formation of bad habits or misunderstandings.

Romaji confuses spelling. For example, the romaji of 縮む, meaning “to shrink”, is chijimu, which, if put back into hiragana, can be written as ちぢむ or ちじむ. But the correct spelling is ちぢむ. The same goes for Tokyo 東京 (とうきょう), meaning “Tokyo, the capital of Japan”, that has different hiragana to romaji spelling like Tokyo, Tōkyō, Toukyou…

2. You won’t learn proper Japanese pronunciation with romaji.

Be aware that if you don’t get much speaking practice you could develop bad habits, especially for English speakers reading romaji the same way they would read English, with English rhythm and intonation. Romaji-only-courses would be disastrous when learning how to pronounce Japanese syllables in the proper way.

3. Romaji doesn’t help you read Japanese texts.

Japanese people don’t use romaji in everyday life. You won’t be able to read Japanese texts unless someone kindly turns it to romaji for you. The main use of romaji, and the reason why Japanese people learn the roman alphabet, is computing. Its tempting to stick to romaji, and many beginner textbooks are littered with it, but ultimately it will only slow you down.

If you are serious about learning Japanese, you should learn all three writing systems – hiragana, katakana and kanji.

Once you have learned and are comfortable with Japanese Kana there will be absolutely NO reason for you to romanized script. The only reason you would need to use romaji is because you haven’t yet learned the Japanese alphabets.

A lot of materials and resources start with romaji and some don’t even show any kana or kanji. If you get addicted to romaji, you will never be able to learn Japanese. Learning hiragana and katakana characters will give you the Japanese basics you need to speak, write and read most Japanese. If you want to master the Japanese language and become fluent, you must learn kana first.

 

5. Different Systems of Romanizations

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Roman Alphabet

There are several different systems of romaji. Arguably, the two most-often used systems are the Hepburn and Kunrei (訓令式) systems.

The Kunrei system of romaji is the system taught to Japanese children in elementary school.

There are a few variations of the Hepburn system. This site and our lesson notes use Revised Hepburn, which is the most common form of romaji used today, and is also used by the Library of Congress.

 

6. Related Lessons

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Ultimate Japanese Pronunciation Guide
 
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How to Write in Japanese
 
Want to learn about the Japanese writing system? Written Japanese has three scripts: hiragana, katakana, and kanji, which is the most difficult to master. With this series, you’ll learn all about how to write in these first two easier scripts. You’ll be writing in Japanese in no time!

 

Introduction to Japanese
 
Want to learn Japanese? Don’t know where to start? This is it. The Introduction to Japanese Video series is perfect for those who know zero Japanese but want to take that first step. In this 5-lesson series, you’ll learn all about the Japanese language, as well as grammar, writing and phrases to get you started.

 

Kantan Kana
 
In this series, you will learn both Hiragana and Katakana, collectively known as Kana.We will teach you Kana using simple steps, showing you the correct stroke order, helpful tricks for memorization, and proper usage in common Japanese words.