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 の 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 の 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. Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 12:10
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    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
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 12:44
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    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
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 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
    Commented Aug 30, 2011 at 3:01
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    @Questioner Albeit in different places, there are different San-no-Miya. (Note that these do appear in duplicate elsewhere than the stated places) 三宮(兵庫県)、三ノ宮(京都県)、三の宮(山口県)、三野宮(埼玉県)、三乃宮(Shop name in 大阪府)、三之宮(神奈川県) Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 5:39

3 Answers 3


According to Wikipedia, the correct name of “山手線” is “やまのてせん.” In the application form of business license submitted by The National Railway (then 日本国有鉄道) to the government before the start of operation in early Meiji era, it was indicated as “山ノ手線,” and remained so until / during the World War II.

However, the National Railway (then 国鉄) started to use the name 山手線 side-by-side with the rōmaji “Yamate Line” immediately after the end of the War when they were directed by GHQ to indicate station names both with Japanese characters and the Latin alphabet. Before and around this time, the National Railway people had been using the name of “ヤマテ,” an abbreviation of ”山ノ手線” for their internal communications. They simply appropriated their password to the official indication of “山ノ手線.”

In response to the movement to make the names of stations and railway lines familiar to the public and easy for them to read, along with the introduction of the famous “Discover Japan" campaign in 1970, JR decided to place 振り仮名 to the names of all stations and railway lines, and they placed “やまのてせん” as 振り仮名 to “山手線” on March 7, 1971.

Presently, the destination of direction displays in the Yamanotesen trains is shown as “山手線” in Kanji and “YAMANOTE LINE” in rōmaji.


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.

Edit: Google changed their map APIs, so my shared map "pins" seem to not work any more, but you should still be able to find some of the different examples on the map if you look closely.

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    霞ヶ関 in Tokyo famously is spelt with all three, with が and ケ in official use in different contexts.
    – Zhen Lin
    Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 15:58

When I first arrived in Japan in the summer of 1970, 山手線 was known simply as やまてせん - it (suddenly) came to be known as やまのてせん around a year later. Back then, I had never seen it referred to as 山ノ手線.

Further, the area where we lived in Yokohama was also known as the Bluff, 山手, やまて, between the 石川町 and 山手 stations along the 根岸線.

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