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Why Shoujo and not Syojyo?

November 15, 2002

WHY SHOUJO AND NOT SYOJYO?

Many of you may be aware of the myriad spellings of Japanese words in anime and manga. If you've taken classes in Japanese, you have probably begun to learn the three writing systems of the Japanese language: the hiragana and katakana syllabaries, as well as the interminable ideographic system of kanji.

Japanese-as-second-language students like myself* start out using romaji (our wonderfully useful Roman alphabet) as a learning tool to help hash out all those initially nonsensical symbols.

What doesn't help us is when we see things like Kareshi Kanojyo no Jijyo, and “Siroi Yami no Naka”. Hey, wait a second. What's “jyo” and where'd that “si” come from?

Unfortunately for us foreigners, romanization of the Japanese language is not standardized. In fact, there are two separate systems of romaji in use in Japan today – each of which spells the word romaji itself in a different way!

The first, and the most commonly used by foreigners, is the Hepburn system, which was formulated in the mid-1800s by a Philadelphia missionary named James C Hepburn and fairly standardized by the beginning of the 20th century.

The second system is called Kunrei-shiki, which was formed in the 1930s by Japanese linguists and disseminated through an order of the cabinet (kunrei). Today's government officials continue to advocate Kunrei on the basis of its Japanese creation, despite the fact that many linguists consider it misleading and inaccurate.

One of the problems inherent in both systems of romaji is that they tend to inaccurately portray the actual pronunciation of the Japanese language itself. Kunrei-shiki and its mostly forgotten predecessor Nippon-shiki were an attempt to fix the perceived problems of the Hepburn system, but came at a time of extreme militarism and outright xenophobia, and therefore were not adopted by outsiders.

Basically, it boils down to this:

Hepburn: Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou, Shiroi Yami no Naka, romaji

Kunrei: Kareshi Kanozyo no Zizyoo, Siroi Yami no Naka, roomazi

However, many everyday Japanese use a hybrid of the two systems (“Jijyo”), and inconsistency plagues romaji publications the world over. And while the International Organization for Standardization has been pushing for a standardized system for decades, they have advocated Kunrei-shiki (oops, “Kunreisiki”) as the government's choice, which is highly unpopular outside of Japan (and indeed, with many of its own younger generation). Since the ISO's original ruling (1934) was tainted with the era's militarism, many successive generations of Japanese teachers (and students) have a hard time taking Kunrei-shiki seriously, especially when its usage of consonants does not reflect its usage in other languages (much less Japanese itself).

Therefore, THEM Anime Reviews will continue to implement the system that is in place in Japanese language programs in the United States and elsewhere in the world, the Hepburn system, whenever possible, rather than attempt to replicate the kaleidoscope of inaccuracies in romaji that prevails in current Japanese society.

*NOTE: Japanese is actually the fourth language the editor is attempting fluency in. He is certifiably insane.

- Carlos Ross


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