I remember hearing that the Japanese government planned on abolishing the use of Chinese characters entirely after World War II. I also remember hearing that there was a movement by the American government to change the Japanese writing system to use an English-based alphabet system (maybe similar to romanization of Japanese). I have always wondered how close these movements were from actually being realized?


When I say "how close", I basically want to know how far did these proposed policies reach in government before being voted down? Or did they never reach a voting stage within the parliament in Japan and were shot down by someone else before that?

  • 1
    I'm not going to vote to close or downvote just yet, but I fear this question is not actually suited for this site. The issue being that I can't see how contemplating this historical incident helps anyone learn Japanese or speak it better. It's history, not language. Not that I don't think it's interesting, just that maybe it belongs on Meta. Or, if you could find a way to make the question about learning, such as if you had a text of the proposed non-kanji Japanese you wanted to understand, or if there was some place where its had some lasting effect in modern usage...
    – Questioner
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 0:56
  • 5
    @DaveMG: This meta question I thought was relevant. Quoting the most up-voted answer: As written, it doesn't explicitly say they have to be learning about Japanese, as long as they are discussing the Japanese language.
    – Jesse Good
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 1:01
  • Fair enough. :)
    – Questioner
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 1:58
  • +1: JLU doesn't have to be about learning Japanese (au contraire: all learning questions aren't fit for it), this question about the Japanese language seems on-topic to me.
    – Dave
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 4:29
  • 1
    J. Marshall Unger's Literacy and Script Reform in Occupation Japan does a very good job of covering of post-WII Occupational language reforms in Japan (just don't get the pricey hardcover version). Commented May 17, 2012 at 7:11

2 Answers 2


Undoubtedly the book Krazer suggested would make for the most thorough answer, but the Japanese wikipedia article on the 国語審議会 (the Japanese Language Council) has got some interesting details.

From 1949 to 1961 the chairman was 土岐善麿, a supporter of the switch to romaji. Some of his work was published in romaji. (At least one example, Nakiwarai, is online if you'd like to see some period romaji text). Members of the カナモジカイ, a group promoting the use of kana only, were also involved. There was a sub-committee for dealing with issues around romaji, ローマ字調査分科審議会, from 1950 to 1962. This tackled issues like determining a standard for romaji, and the use of romaji in education.

For example, here (1957 - official report) they report the improvement of results (referencing Japanese and maths classes), although they did want to do a greater number of tests. It also talks about romaji use in society in general - an interesting example given is that for punched tape, it took the least space to encode romaji compared to kana or kanji. The new technology of the time was not particularly kanji-friendly.

At this point it seems there was still the intention to move towards script reform. However, conflicts between those in favour of (改革派) and against (慎重派) reform came to a head in 1961, when five of the 慎重派 walked out (see final remarks by 成瀬正勝 at the end of this page) over arguments about how elections were handled. Specifically, I think the feeling was that the 国語審議会 had been formed mostly from reformists under the control/influence of the occupying forces, and that the same people were being constantly re-elected.

The Ministry of Education got involved, asking for a re-evaluation of reform plans. One of the outcomes of this was that the ローマ字調査分科審議会 was dissolved. 土岐善麿 was not only no longer chairman after this, he seems to have been removed entirely. This, from the next meeting after the walkouts, summarises some of the viewpoints that had come up critiquing the work of the council, including suggestions that the influence of the romaji and kanamoji groups had complicated things, and that the proposals of the council should not be forced on people.

The final nail in the coffin seems to have come out of a 1966 meeting where the address given by the Minister for Education, 中村梅吉, included these lines stating that the use of mixed kana/kanji was pretty much a given:


After this, the 国語審議会 focused more on subjects such as the daily-use kanji lists. In 1968 the amount of time given to teaching romaji in 小・中学校 was also reduced.

  • Thanks! This is great (I will wait to see if other people answer before awarding the bounty though).
    – Jesse Good
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 22:58
  • Wow... this is really fascinating stuff!
    – Questioner
    Commented May 19, 2012 at 0:28
  • 1
    I'd like to see an answer from Krazer myself. There's obviously a lot going on between the lines. The transcripts of the meeting where the walkout took place are absolutely fascinating. 成瀬 comes out swinging, saying he and the phonetic-advocates are like oil and water, and it doesn't get particularly more cordial from there on in.
    – nkjt
    Commented May 19, 2012 at 11:49

There was a division of GHQ/SCAP known as the Civil Information and Education Section (CIE) which played a big role in reforming the Japanese education system. Many members of this group (and also some people on the Japan side) believed that romanization of the writing system would help increase the academic ability level in Japan (and also make it easier for non-native Japanese speakers). Many tests were performed to try to prove this was the case. For example, random literacy test were performed to see how well Japanese really understood Chinese characters and in some elementary schools romaji was adopted to see if there would be improvement in other subjects, such as Math.

What I have said above seems to be agreed upon by all scholars, but the real reason why romanization was never adopted seems to be unclear. Some of the sites I read claim that the results of the tests proved that there was no benefit in changing to roma-ji and that is why the proposal was shot down, while the book pointed about by Krazer claims that the tests proved somewhat that there seemed to be a benefit in changing to romanization and there may have been some "cover up" done by the Ministry of Education in Japan at the time to prevent it. Also, other sites claim stuff like a leader change in CIE from a person who was for romanization to a person who was against romanization caused it to be shot down. (However, due to this reform, that is why everybody born after World War II can understand romaji).


(If anyone would like to try to answer this question, I will be glad to reward the bounty :)).


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .