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I'm looking at this picture of the 日米和親条約 (Kanagawa convention) from the late Edo period and it seems rather strange:

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It looks like the non-kanji parts are rather haphazardly written in katakana and hiragana. For example, the first part: 全権 ニテユカル ペレトペルリ . And the next page, 日本と合衆国と 其人民...

Is there some sort of rules behind this, or is it just stylistic choices by the person in question? It does seem that Japanese orthography wasn't really standardized until the Meiji period (in which official documents seem to be written in a weird constrained Classical Japanese with 濁点 omitted, but I'll ask that as another question), but this random usage of katakana and hiragana, well I've haven't seen it before. I thought a text usually used either katakana or hiragana for its non-kanji parts.

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Haphazardness on an official document? No way! It doesn't say ニテユカル ペレトペルリ. It says マテユカルブレトペルリ which happened to be the katakanization of "Matthew Calbraith Perry" in those days. It is only customary to write foreign names in katakana. – l'électeur Dec 20 '13 at 4:50
I might be wrong about this but I think that using ハ as the particle was the preferred way back then. – vivien Dec 20 '13 at 23:51
Yeah, that's a possible explanation, but I would like it be an answer, possibly with sources or other texts that use ハ in an otherwise hiragana text. – user54609 Dec 21 '13 at 0:05
おくのほそ道 (Oku no Hosomichi) does that as well: – vivien Dec 21 '13 at 2:44
Technically, that is not katakana ハ, but alternative character for hiragana は. See F588 in this page: They also wrote に as F541 in 1st line, は as F581 in 2nd line. – marasai Dec 21 '13 at 4:48

1 Answer 1

The document follows consistent rules, if you look at it more closely.

Firstly, the document itself is actually highly cursive, both in its kanji and hiragana. After this time and up until 1945, it became standard for treaties and formal documents to be written exclusively in kanji and katakana. The fact that this uses hiragana is a result of its cursive style.

But, as we can see, katakana is used to write the foreign name Matthew Calbraith Perry, as katakana is the only standard script for writing foreign names, even in the otherwise cursive script of the document.

Some of the characters that look like katakana, such as ハ, are actually hentaigana, as @marasai points out, referencing this list. In fact, if you reference all the documents here (courtesy of @viven), all of which are cursive, all characters used are perfectly valid hentaigana. Some look like katakana, but are actually consistently hiragana throughout the document, but are simply historical variant hiragana that have since become nonstandard. Hiragana was only standardized in 1900 (this document is from 1854), making these historical variants understandable.

An extract from おくのほそ道, from the Waseda University Archives

Note that all the kana are hiragana/hentaigana. We see the hentaigana ハ appear again on both pages

As mentioned, the sole exception to this is when writing a foreigner's name, which has always been standard to write in katakana throughout history, even in cursive documents.

The document isn't haphazard persay, but rather uses a very cursive style, meaning that all kanji are cursive, and all kana are hiragana (including variant hentaigana) except for foreign names. Its style is totally consistent in this regard, just different to modern Japanese usage, particularly of hiragana/hentaigana forms.

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