This is a word normally used for the attempt to convey Japanese in a written form using the western or roman alphabet. It is basically a phonetic conversion of the spoken language which of course means that it can have variant spellings.

Sensei has pointed out to me that Romanji itself has a perfectly acceptable (and I think more commonly used in Japan) alternate spelling of Romaji (I suspect the Japanese do not pronounce the "N" of Roman). For more details on all this see Jeeves' nodes on the Japanese language particularly Japanese romanization and Hepburn.

Correct written Japanese consists of three alphabets:
  • Kanji: A pictographic alphabet of about 2000 common characters (and a lot more uncommon ones) used to represent common concepts and names.
  • Hiragana: A cursive phonetic alphabet normally used to spell out words with a Japanese basis if they have no Kanji or a rare Kanji. These are also sometimes used to write the phonetic version of a Kanji beside the Kanji in books for younger children to help them learn the Kanji.
  • Katakana: An angular phonetic alphabet (with the same set of characters/sounds as Hiragana) that is normally used to spell out non-japanese words. I believe it can also be used for emphasis.

Various systems for spelling out Japanese words using the Roman alphabet. I will attempt to give an inexact, but useful, guide on how to use the Hepburn Japanese romanization, which is the one that is probably most widely used on the Internet. First, the letters that the same in both Romanji and normal English pronunciation:

b, d, f, h, j, k, m, n, p, s, t, w, y, z

"Q", "v" and "x" are never used. "C" is only used in the letter combination "ch", is is always pronounced like in "chase" and never like in "character". The "sh" letter combination is used like in English.

The Japanese "R" sound like a cross between the English "r" and the English "l". The letter "l" is never used, except for some proper names in fantasy/sci-fi anime and manga, like "Belldandy", "Lina Inverse", and "Zelgadis".

"G" is always pronounced like in "go" and "get", never like in "gem" or "gel".

Next come the vowels (while this vowel pronunciation guide isn't exact, is still helpful (I hope)):

  • "A" is pronounced like in "father" or "car", not like in "ran" or "care".
  • "I" can have two pronunciations: like the "i" in "it", or the "ee" in "feet". For instance, "shinji" would be pronounced "shin-jee".
  • "E" can have two pronunciations: like the "e" in "met", or the "a" in "ate.
  • "U" is pronounced like the "oo" in "foot".
  • "O can have two pronunciations" like the "o" in "fort", or the "o" in "toe". The second kind of "o" is often rendered as "ou" in Romanji. For example, "shoujo".

(The ambiguities of how to pronounce a vowel are officially taken care of by the presence or absence of a bar over the vowel. However, this is hard to do on the Internet, so you usually just have to guess)

Next come the vowel combinations. These would be considered diphthongs in English, but are just two consecutive vowels in Japanese.

  • "ai", pronounced like the "i" in "light".
  • "ao", pronounced like the "ow" in "cow".
  • "oi", pronounced like the "oy" in "boy".

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