I have developed a word game quite similar to Scrabble, and I am currently considering adding a Japanese word list to it.

Please note that I have no real knowledge of the language, apart from knowing the different alphabet types.

While Hiragana or Katakana are not really suited to the games mechanics, I believe using a romaji word list is the best option.

Now, I am wondering which romanization system I should use (knowing that my primary target would be native Japanese):

  • Kunrei-shiki, which is the official system
  • Hepburn, which is the most widely used (but apparently mostly by foreign speakers)

At first sight, I cannot see any difference between the two systems in terms of ease to form words with a small set of letters (7) (I may be wrong though). So I think the best option would be to use the system in which native Japanese are most comfortable with.

Which system would that be?

And secondarily, do you believe that a word game in romaji actually has potential? (i.e. would it be interesting to play, as it is in English).

  • 1
    the system in which native Japanese are most comfortable with >>> Definitely Hepburn! ^▽^
    – user1016
    May 5, 2013 at 21:16
  • 2
    @Chocolate Hepburn!? Surely you are joking. Kunrei is what most native Japanese speakers are most familiar with. When typing, most people type tu, si, hu, tyo, syo etc, none of which are Hepburn. Hepburn is most familiar for non-Japanese speakers.
    – Dono
    May 6, 2013 at 1:44
  • 1
    I think that young people are more familiar with Hepburn whereas older people would choose Kunrei. That said, the Tokyo University 食堂 uses ワープロローマ字, e.g. tya-hann, annninndouhu.
    – Earthliŋ
    May 6, 2013 at 2:02
  • 1
    Where I am kids learn kunreishiki in elementary school kokugo classes and don't learn Hepburn until they start English classes in junior high school
    – ssb
    May 6, 2013 at 3:54
  • 1
    Although I'm not a fan of the kunreishiki system and I think Hepburn is much clearer, I would agree that most Japanese are more comfortable with kunreishiki. Even though students learn about Hepburn in English lessons in Junior High School - in my experience many of the low-level students and those who don't like English (in both Junior High and High School) consistently use kunreishiki. May 8, 2013 at 8:45

2 Answers 2


I think, this is not only the question of familiarity, but also of game mechanics, and that side is more important. For native Japanese there would be no problem using either Kunrei-shiki or Hepburn romanization, but they provide different means to make words.

For example, if a player has three tokens for "a", "s", "i", and Kunrei-shiki is used, then he/she would be able to arrange word "asi" ("leg"), but if Hepburn is used, this would not be an option. The player would be forced to get a token with "sh" (or two tokens "s", "h") for the correct Hepburn spelling "ashi". This constraint would sound unnatural for native Japanese players, because し "shi" is kana symbol from the "s"-row.

In that sense, Kunrei-shiki looks more preferable in the sense that it reproduces the logic of kana more orthogonally. On the other hand, it would be worth adopting some features of Wapuro romanization, e. g. making long vowels out of two short vowel signs (spelling "Tōkyō" as "Toukyou" or "Tookyoo").

If your game is a computer game, then you can easily implement tokens changing depending on context, like "s" when it is shown alone, and "sh" when combined with "i". If you develop a table game, then the token can be marked as "s (sh)" to make it combinable with different vowels. These solutions may look ugly, but I feel that it would be uglier to make different tokens "c" or "ch", and "t", and maybe even "ts", for consonants from one kana row.

  • 1
    Maybe the answer is to allow either system but not to mix the two systems in one word/phrase?
    – Tim
    May 7, 2013 at 11:41
  • @Tim May, I like this idea, as it would increase the number of potential words from one given draw.
    – Sébastien
    May 13, 2013 at 8:38

Hepburn would be the romanization of choice, which is used almost exclusively in road signs, train stations, etc. That said, Hepburn uses ō (macron) for long vowels (and Kunrei uses ô), which you'd have trouble implementing. You could also allow more than just one system.

Do you believe that a word game in romaji actually has potential?

If the game is to be played only by Japanese, then I think the concept is not very sound. Why should Japanese play a game in Japanese, but use ローマ字 for the words? It would make more sense, if either all languages are allowed (including romanized Japanese), or if it is just a game for learning English.

  • 2
    Note that road signs are typically not in Hepburn since the long vowels are missing. Train stations are rather mixed: some properly mark the long vowels while others do not.
    – Dono
    May 6, 2013 at 1:46
  • @Dono I guess that is more a matter of font than of choice of romanization. I would say that Hepburn is used in most public places "up to" the macron for the long vowel, which often is omitted, presumably for technical reasons only.
    – Earthliŋ
    May 6, 2013 at 1:54
  • @user1205935 "Why should Japanese play a game in Japanese, but use ローマ字 for the words?" --> because I believe they might find the game mechanics interesting, and Romaji seems to be adapted to this case. The game's main interest is to develop some strategy and improve one's vocabulary, and I think this would still be true for Japanese playing in Romaji (provided that thinking in Romaji feels natural/easy enough for them)
    – Sébastien
    May 6, 2013 at 8:00
  • 1
    +1 for allowing more than one system.
    – nkjt
    May 6, 2013 at 10:23
  • @Sebastien In that case I would say that Romaji does not feel natural for Japanese. For some very much so, others are just about able to spell their name in Romaji. In my opinion, a game where Romaji are the only hurdle to their enjoying it would not nearly be as successful as a Kana version.
    – Earthliŋ
    May 6, 2013 at 11:35

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