I want to tattoo the word half demon but in japanese. Do you spell it hanyo, han'yo or hanyou? I saw all of them? Which one is correct?

  • Well, "truly" correct spelling would be of course 半妖. All your options are possible too, they are just different ways of transcribing the japanese word and it's not like there is one true way of doing that. Another option would be hanyō.
    – kuchitsu
    Jun 24, 2016 at 13:57
  • Hi thx for commenting so fast :) Is hanyō more commen than the others?
    – Jessica
    Jun 24, 2016 at 14:04
  • No idea honestly, but I would guess not since most people probably don't know how to type an "o" with that thing on top of it...
    – kuchitsu
    Jun 24, 2016 at 18:59
  • It is much more common when hand-writing, for that reason. Jun 24, 2016 at 19:29
  • If you want a tattoo, why are you even use rōmaji? Just do it in kanji 半妖. That would look a million times less stupid.
    – istrasci
    Jun 24, 2016 at 22:00

1 Answer 1


There are multiple systems of romanization and various conventions.

One important point relevant to this word is that 'n' (hiragana: ん) is unique in Japanese in that it is the only non-vowel-containing "sound unit", and that can cause ambiguities.

半妖 is spelled はんよう in hiragana, which represent ha-n-yo-u. But if you write just hanyou, it could be misread as ha-nyo-u (or in hiragana はにょう). This doesn't make it 'wrong', but there is potential for confusion. (Luckily there don't seem to be any common words with this spelling so a reader would hopefully figure out what you intended, but, in general, there is definitely potential for confusion when romanizing "n" without the apostrophe when it is followed by vowels or glides).

The apostrophe after the n is used to "close" it (replaces the vowel) to eliminate the ambiguity... it is optional, but much safer.

For representing the "reading" of a Japanese word containing kanji, the safest approach is usually to directly use hiragana, eg はんよう. If you insist on using romaji, "han'you" is safer because it is unambiguous. The long "ou" can also be written "ō", or reduced to just "o" (but the later is potentially ambiguous with はんよ [ha-n-yo]).

Also note that Japanese has many homophones (same-sounding words). So there are other words that are read はんよう, but don't have anything to do with half-demons. For example 汎用, meaning "general purpose". If this is for a tattoo, I would also bring in the kanji spelling itself so that no confusion occurs.

Finally, this is very tangential, but: if you think you might go to Japan some day, please think that tattoo through. Tattoos are commonly associated with organized crime here, and many public baths still refuse service to people with visible tattoos (this is slowly changing, but, .. slowly).

  • A kanji will also look 1000 times more kickass than romanization I think. Romanization is just a bunch of boring latin symbols, whereas a kanji will have that foreign/mysterious feel.
    – kuchitsu
    Jun 24, 2016 at 18:55
  • I think i go with hanyo with a line over the o. We dont have that letter so i cant write it. I have muliple tattoo but this will be my key one because inuyasha is my hobby since 12 years or so :) thx
    – Jessica
    Jun 24, 2016 at 19:36
  • Here's a link to a page with a more detailed summary. It talks a bit about the little bar symbol (called a macron). It also mentions that some systems of romanization use a little carrot/hook mark called a circumflex, eg Tôkyô. sljfaq.org/afaq/kana-roman.html Jun 24, 2016 at 19:53
  • 3
    Also worth mentioning: The ‹ou› romanization represents the way it's spelled in Japanese kana, while the ‹ō› romanization represents pronunciation.
    – user1478
    Jun 24, 2016 at 21:20

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