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I realize that very likely the answer to this question is likely to be something along the lines of "that's just the way it is", but I thought it worth asking to see if there were some insights that weren't immediately apparent.

In Tokyo, the JR train line called the 山手線【やまのてせん】 seems to have dropped the from the way it is written. It seems there used to be areas of Tokyo referred to as 山の手 , which was where the elites lived and is in opposition to the term 下町【したまち】(downtown, lower class areas). I hear the 下町 often enough in reference to areas like Asakusa, but I haven't heard anyone use 山の手. The only やまのて I know of these days is the 山手 train line.

There is also an area of town called 御茶ノ水【おちゃのみず】, where the is still there, but in katakana. Why not leave it in hiragana...?

So, is there any rhyme or reason to how these conventions of spelling came about? Is there a relation?

Or are they just quirks of tradition that just stand on their own without any rhyme or reason?

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I would not expect that there is any reason, but I am happy to be corrected. – Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 29 '11 at 12:10
You missed out some alternatives: 之 and 乃, for example. I concur with Tsuyoshi: it's just a spelling thing. And it goes in reverse too: Wikipedia says it was the やまてせん for a while after the war. – Zhen Lin Aug 29 '11 at 12:44
Oh, and perhaps it's worth noting that, for a period, the official orthography for Japanese used katakana the way we now use hiragana. This is related to the use of katakana in some older women's names, for example. – Zhen Lin Aug 29 '11 at 12:51
@Zhen Lin: Ultimately there is probably no real reason for why these spellings exist, but a bit of explanation about how the official orthography for Japanese used to be katakana and that kind of thing could stand as an answer, as it does educate on the general principle of how these spellings came to be. Also, I don't think I've seen 御茶ノ水 or 山手 spelled with 之 or 乃. Examples of when that happened would also make for a great answer. – Questioner Aug 30 '11 at 3:01

1 Answer 1

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I also think it's maybe a stylistic thing. In 大阪, there is an area called [森の宮]【もりのみや】. Around the area, I've seen it written any of the following ways:

  • 森の宮
  • 森ノ宮
  • 森之宮
  • 森宮

I've also noticed this for places that have a 「が」in them like 関ヶ原. Sometimes it can be が、ヶ、ケ、or not there at all. Not that this necessarily applies to 関ヶ原, but I've definitely seen the different styles for other such places (that I can't currently recall).

You can see most of them in this Google map.

share|improve this answer
霞ヶ関 in Tokyo famously is spelt with all three, with が and ケ in official use in different contexts. – Zhen Lin Aug 29 '11 at 15:58
+1 The map is a nice find! – Zhen Lin Aug 30 '11 at 15:21

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