When I have written "音読み{おんよみ}" and "訓読み{くんよみ}" in romaji as: "onyomi" and "kunyomi" I have been almost always corrected. "Onyomi" is changed to "on'yomi", and "kunyomi" is changed to "kun'yomi".

(1) Are these corrections made because "音読み" and "訓読み" are 重箱読み{じゅうばこよみ}?

(2) Is inserting a single quote between the "on" and "kun" readings in a "重箱読み" a standard convention (and not just the editor's preference)? A url link to information regarding this convention would be appreciated. I'm interested in any/all conventions for writing in romaji.

(3) If I am indeed being corrected because they are 重箱読み、 then by extension all 重箱読み, when written in romaji, should have a single quote between the "on" and "kun" readings, right?

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    Incidentally, I've wondered if your nick was きんよ(う) or きにょ(う) , or maybe not Japanese at all. – dainichi Jan 15 '14 at 2:43

As I'm sure you're aware, there are a number of different systems of romanization in use. One system is "modified Hepburn", a revised version of Hepburn's original system which first appeared in Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary, 3rd and 4th editions, which used romanization for its headwords. (The revised 5th edition in 2003 switched to kana.)

This modified Hepburn system is in fairly widespread use, and it's been adopted by the Library of Congress (of the United States). You can get a PDF describing the system from loc.gov, which says:

Transcribe the apostrophe ( ' ) between syllables when the first syllable ends with the letter n and the following syllable begins with the letter a, i, u, e, o, and y and when it is necessary to separate romanization.

The apostrophe is also prescribed in an official Japanese cabinet announcement (thank you Pteromys for the information!):


For example, the name しんいち would be written Shin'ichi in this system. This prevents anyone from misreading the romanization as しにち. And the same goes for on'yomi, which prevents people from misreading it as おにょみ. It's not a requirement that you use this system (and you'll notice many people in Japan do not), but it is helpful to prevent confusion.

It has nothing to do with 重箱読み or whether the readings are on or kun.

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    The use of the apostrophe is also indicated in the 内閣告示 (ministerial notification) on the romanization issued by the Japanese government. The document has the same official status as those defines かなづかい. BTW, I wouldn't advise you to copy the romanization that people in Japan do, because they don't do it very seriously. – Pteromys Jan 15 '14 at 14:02

The issue is that if you write "onyomi" or "kunyomi" it's technically not clear if you want to write おんよみ or おにょみ. The arises generally with ん when followed by a vowel or y sound, so "technically" with names like Kenichi you should say Ken'ichi to clarify that it's けんいち and not けにち. @Snailplane's answer details the revised Hepburn system, however in my experience usually people don't use this mark outside of style guides. This could change however.

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