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Romanization Guide for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Languages: Japanese


Knowledge of a Japanese romanization system is crucial when searching Japanese script materials in library catalogs in North America. The following transliteration and word division rules are important basics, and applicable not only to Orbis, but also to many other electronic databases such as WorldCat. In addition, some of databases can be searched by Japanese characters. Now many public catalogs of Japanese libraries and Japanese databases are accessible online. Also Orbis can be searched with Japanese scripts in some limited degree. 

A. Romanization
The basic Japanese romanization system used in North America is the Modified Hepburn System. Become familiar with the Romanization Table to convert the pronunciation of scripts into Roman characters. Also, transliteration of Japanese words requires the correct pronunciation (reading) of Japanese words. For library catalogs, librarians use Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (3rd or later edition - PL679 .K46 etc.) as the most authoritative source for Japanese word pronunciations. Be aware of variant pronunciations of a word or phrase when transliterating Japanese. Pronunciations of personal names and geographic names can be unpredictable, even for native speakers. Here are some resources for correct pronunciations of personal and geographic names.

人名よみかた辞典 Jinmei yomikata jiten - CS3000 .J55 2004 (LC) [East Asia Library Reference] (personal names)

歴史人名読み方辞典 Rekishi Jinmei Yomikata Jiten - DS834 .R44 1989 [East Asia Library Reference] (historical personal names)

コンサイス地名辞典.日本編 Konsaisu chimei jiten. Nihon hen - DS805 .Y62 1994 [East Asia Library Reference] (geographical names)

郵便番号検索 Y¯ubin bang¯o kensaku: (geographical names search by Japanese characters)

It is common to ignore "¯" for long vowels in most electronic databases. (e.g. use "Kyushu" not "Kyūshū" or Kyuushuu)

B. Word Division
To enter a transliterated search phrase, divide it into "単語 Tango"* units and "助詞 Joshi" (postpositional particles) units.* 単語 Tango = words, i.e. nouns, adjectives, verbs. A minimal grammatical unit, which cannot be decomposed any further.

Example: 日本の歴史 = Nihon no rekishi [Nihon (noun) no (particle) rekishi (noun)]

"助動詞 Jodoshi" (auxiliary verb) may or may not stay together with the preceding verb.

Example: 語られる過去 = katarareru kako [katarareru ("katara" = conjugated form of the verb "kataru" and "reru" = auxiliary verb) kako (noun)]

For a personal name, divide it into family name and given name.

Example: 川端康成 = Kawabata, Yasunari

There are times when no clear-cut rules exist as to how to divide a phrase. Word division of the same phrase may be inconsistent among records. Some records may have incorrect word division. Keep in mind that there may be other ways of dividing a phrase into words. If your search is not successful, try different word division.

Example: 茶の湯 = Cha no yu (if you follow general word division rules) or = Chanoyu (if you consider it a compound word)
C. Title Search: When there is other title information in addition to the main title, it may appear before the main title in Orbis. For example, "月刊言語 Gekkan (monthly) Gengo" appears on Orbis as "Gengo" while " 週刊朝日 Shukan (weekly) Asahi" appears as " Shukan Asahi." This is because people disagree as to the degree which such a qualifier (e.g. weekly) is part of the main title. So, if your search is not successful, consider adding or removing the other title information, if any.

D. Author Search
: Enter author names in the order of "Lastname Firstname." Transliterated Japanese names can appear both in "Lastname Firstname" order (often in bibliographies) and "Firstname Lastname" order (often in regular texts). Please make sure of the name order before you conduct search.
Example: 川端康成 = Kawabata Yasunari [Lastname Firstname] (But in English texts, this literary author is customarily called "Yasunari Kawabata" [Firstname Lastname]

**For more detail about the Japanese romanization system used in American libraries, please refer to the ALA-LC Romanization Tables**

(Adapted by Keiko Suzuki from web pages created by Hitoshi Kamada with his permission.)