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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.
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), announced on 21 September 1937 that a modified form of Nihon-shiki would be officially adopted as Kunrei-shiki. The form at the time differs slightly from the modern form. Originally, the system was called the Kokutei (国定, government-authorized) system.
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. While the central government had strong control, from 1937 to 1945, the Japanese government used Kunrei-shiki in its tourist brochures. In Japan, some use of Nihon-shiki and Modified Hepburn remained, however, because some individuals supported the use of those systems.
J. Marshall Unger, the author of Literacy and Script Reform in Occupation Japan: Reading between the Lines, said that the Hepburn supporters "understandably" believed that the Kunrei-shiki "compromise" was not fair because of the presence of the "un-English-looking spellings" that the Modified Hepburn supporters had opposed. Andrew Horvat, the author of Japanese Beyond Words: How to Walk and Talk Like a Native Speaker, argued that "by forcing non-native speakers of Japanese with no intentions of learning the language to abide by a system intended for those who have some command of Japanese, the government gave the impression of intolerant language management that would have dire consequences later on."
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. Supporters of Hepburn denounced pro-Kunrei-shiki and pro-Nihon-shiki advocates to the SCAP offices by accusing them of being inactive militarists and of collaborating with militarists. Unger said that the nature of Kunrei-shiki led to "pent-up anger" by Hepburn supporters. 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. On 9 December 1954, the Japanese government re-confirmed Kunrei-shiki as its official system but with slight modifications. 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.
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.
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.
Otherwise, most Western publications and all English-language newspapers use some form of Hepburn.
Additional complications appear with newer kana combinations such as ティーム (チーム) team. In Hepburn, they would be distinguished as different sounds and represented as tīmu and chīmu respectively. That gives better indications of the English pronunciations. For some Japanese-speakers, however, the sounds ティ "ti" and チ "chi" are the same phoneme; both are represented in Kunrei-shiki as tîmu. Such complications may be confusing to those who do not know Japanese phonology well.
Today, the main users of Kunrei-shiki are native speakers of Japanese, especially within Japan, and linguists studying Japanese. The main advantage of Kunrei-shiki is that it is better able to illustrate Japanese grammar, as Hepburn preserves the irregularity of certain conjugations (see table, right).[page needed] The most serious problem of Hepburn in this context is that it may change the stem of a verb, which is not reflected in the underlying morphology of the language. One notable introductory textbook for English-speakers, Eleanor Jorden's Japanese: The Spoken Language, uses her JSL romanization, a system strongly influenced by Kunrei-shiki in its adherence to Japanese phonology, but it is adapted to teaching proper pronunciation of Japanese phonemes.
|あ ア a||い イ i||う ウ u||え エ e||お オ o||(ya)||(yu)||(yo)|
|か カ ka||き キ ki||く ク ku||け ケ ke||こ コ ko||きゃ キャ kya||きゅ キュ kyu||きょ キョ kyo|
|さ サ sa||し シ si||す ス su||せ セ se||そ ソ so||しゃ シャ sya||しゅ シュ syu||しょ ショ syo|
|た タ ta||ち チ ti||つ ツ tu||て テ te||と ト to||ちゃ チャ tya||ちゅ チュ tyu||ちょ チョ tyo|
|な ナ na||に ニ ni||ぬ ヌ nu||ね ネ ne||の ノ no||にゃ ニャ nya||にゅ ニュ nyu||にょ ニョ nyo|
|は ハ ha||ひ ヒ hi||ふ フ hu||へ ヘ he||ほ ホ ho||ひゃ ヒャ hya||ひゅ ヒュ hyu||ひょ ヒョ hyo|
|ま マ ma||み ミ mi||む ム mu||め メ me||も モ mo||みゃ ミャ mya||みゅ ミュ myu||みょ ミョ myo|
|や ヤ ya||(i)||ゆ ユ yu||(e)||よ ヨ yo|
|ら ラ ra||り リ ri||る ル ru||れ レ re||ろ ロ ro||りゃ リャ rya||りゅ リュ ryu||りょ リョ ryo|
|わ ワ wa||ゐ ヰ i||(u)||ゑ ヱ e||を ヲ o|
|ん ン n|
|voiced sounds (dakuten)|
|が ガ ga||ぎ ギ gi||ぐ グ gu||げ ゲ ge||ご ゴ go||ぎゃ ギャ gya||ぎゅ ギュ gyu||ぎょ ギョ gyo|
|ざ ザ za||じ ジ zi||ず ズ zu||ぜ ゼ ze||ぞ ゾ zo||じゃ ジャ zya||じゅ ジュ zyu||じょ ジョ zyo|
|だ ダ da||ぢ ヂ zi||づ ヅ zu||で デ de||ど ド do||ぢゃ ヂャ zya||ぢゅ ヂュ zyu||ぢょ ヂョ zyo|
|ば バ ba||び ビ bi||ぶ ブ bu||べ ベ be||ぼ ボ bo||びゃ ビャ bya||びゅ ビュ byu||びょ ビョ byo|
|ぱ パ pa||ぴ ピ pi||ぷ プ pu||ぺ ペ pe||ぽ ポ po||ぴゃ ピャ pya||ぴゅ ピュ pyu||ぴょ ピョ pyo|
The Cabinet Order makes an exception to the above chart:
|しゃ sha||し shi||しゅ shu||しょ sho|
|ちゃ cha||ち chi||ちゅ chu||ちょ cho|
|じゃ ja||じ ji||じゅ ju||じょ jo|
|ぢ di||づ du|
|ぢゃ dya||ぢゅ dyu||ぢょ dyo|
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.
The zi ending of roomazi comes from the Kunreeshiki system promulgated in the 1930s through a cabinet order, or kunree.
As reported at the Second Conference, the writing of geographical names in Roman letters in Japan comes in two types — Kunrei Siki (system adopted under a Cabinet ordinance) and Syûsei Hebon Siki (Modified Hepburn System). Kunrei Siki is used for topographical maps, whereas Syûsei Hebon Siki is in use for aeronautical charts and geological maps.
The major disadvantage of this system (Kunrei-shiki) is that there is a tendency for nonnative speakers of Japanese to pronounce certain forms incorrectly.
The major advantage of kunrei-shiki is that inflectional endings are seen to be more regular.