Hepburn is also a village in Victoria. See Hepburn, Australia.

The Hepburn romanization system (ヘボン式, Hebon-shiki) was devised by an American missionary doctor in the 1860s to transcribe the sounds of the Japanese language into the Roman alphabet (in Japanese, "Romaji"). It is widely used today both in the English-speaking world and in Japan, where many younger people are most familiar with the Roman alphabet through the study of English and thus find its spelling conventions more comfortable than the official Monbusho romanization standard. Compared to the Kunrei (Monbusho) system, it compromises with English phonography rather than adheres to Japanese phonological system.

Salient features:

  • Vowels are based on "continental" European values, as one might find in Italian, and definitely unlike English: a, i, u, e, o
  • Long vowels are marked with a macron
  • The consonants are generally standard: k/g, s/z, t/d, n, h, b, p, m, y (/j/), r, w, n' (syllabic n is n' before vowels, or n before consonants)
  • Geminate consonants are marked by doubling the consonant
  • Where syllables constructed systematically according to the Japanese syllabary contain the "wrong" consonant for the modern spoken language, the orthography is changed to something that, as an English speaker would pronounce it, better matches the real sound:
し: si -> shi (/Si/)
ち: ti -> chi (/tSi/)
つ: tu -> tsu (/tsu/)
じ: zi -> ji (/dZi/)
ぢ: di -> ji (/dZi/)
ふ: hu -> fu (/Fu/)
  • Similarly the -y- is removed in:
しゃ, しゅ, しょ: sya, syu, syo -> sha, shu, sho
ちゃ, ちゅ, ちょ: tya, tyu, tyo -> cha, chu, cho
じゃ, じゅ, じょ: zya, zyu, zyo -> ja, ju, jo
ぢゃ, ぢゅ, ぢょ: dya, dyu, dyo -> ja, ju, jo

Common variations of the Hepburn system often center around the long vowels:
  • Tōkyō: Standard, marked by macrons.
  • Tôkyô: Circumflexes may be used in place of macrons.
  • Tokyo: Long vowels may not be indicated at all.
  • Tookyoo: Long vowels may be doubled.
  • Toukyou: Long vowels may be written to replicate the hiragana spelling: long o is usually ou, long e usually ei, the others are doubled.

This last method is sometimes called "wapuro" style, as this is how text is entered into a word processor (do purosessā) for automatic conversion to kana and kanji.