Ian Andreas Miller. 17 January 2002.
It is disappointing that most Bishjo Senshi Sr Mn Web sites simply ignore some of the essential characteristics of the Japanese language when they introduce Japanese names and terms. Many of the better explanations1 do bring up issues such as long vowels and pronunciation, but these issues are usually discussed briefly. These explanations make it seem like long vowels are relatively immaterial. Moreover, one gets the impression that romanization is arbitrary, and that there is no "right" way to romanize names and terms. As a result, we get inconsistencies such as "Pocket Bishˇnen" (where the "ˇ" indicates the long "o") and "Pocket Bishˇujo" (where the "ˇ" indicates the long "o," which renders the "u" redundant). Individuals who learn the language become aware quickly that in order to be understood by their Japanese-speaking peers, they must be able to distinguish between a long vowel and a short one. Surprisingly, even students who have become familiar with the language do not even know the names of the common romanization systems that are currently in use!
This ignorance in rudimentary principles is inexcusable. Should we tolerate a biologist who knows nothing about the significance of the binomial nomenclature? Should we tolerate a physicist who does not understand basic algebra? These individuals would be difficult to tolerate. Similarly, why should we tolerate somebody who teaches Japanese when he or she cannot tell us, for instance, why and how words and terms are transliterated into Latin characters? If he or she cannot even tell us the name of the particular romanization system that he or she uses, why should we consider him or her a reliable source of information?
Linguistics is a real field of study, and those who are in that field should be able to understand and to define the terms that they use. Those who do not have a thorough understanding of their material will not be effective teachers. This is one of the reasons that many Bishjo Senshi Sr Mn Web sites that introduce the Japanese language are not acceptable. The authors of those Japanese language tutorials often show that their explanations are inadequate when attempting to solve problems that involve romanization. They then give up without really trying and say that there is no answer simply because they cannot think of one. They may even make the popular "there is no right way to write it" comment, which is equally dismissive.
I may not be fluent in the Japanese language, but that does not mean that I cannot explain how to use those romanization systems. Nothing in this article is beyond what is written in dictionaries. Much of what I shall discuss will be basic information. Some of that information may seem unusual to many advanced students, but they should have learned these principles when they were beginners.
Three systems: Hepburn, Kunrei, and Nippon
There are three important systems of romanization in use today. This section will introduce those three systems and show how they differ from one another.2
Most anime fans use a variation of the Hepburn system that does not specifically indicate long vowels. This variation retains the "u" that indicates long "o"s and long "u"s. While the Japanese phrase that means "girl" is rendered as "shjo" in the Hepburn system, most anime fans would write "shoujo." There are major problems with this method or romanization, however.3 The "ou" form that often indicates the long vowel "o" is different from the "ou" in which the "o" and "u" are their own separate sounds. The kanji has the reading "ou" (separate "o" and separate "u"), but the kanji has the reading "." Anime fans render them both as "ou," even though the sounds are different!
The Kunrei system is the official romanization system used by the Japanese government and in various linguistic works such as language textbooks. Long vowels in this system are indicated by a circumflex (^) over the vowel. The phrase "girl" would be "sy˘zyo." Mount Fuji's name would be rendered as "Huzi." Many of the early Bishjo Senshi Sr Mn manga volumes show the name Kodansha as "Kodansya." We can see that the company decided to use the Kunrei system of romanization.
The Nippon system, which is the least used of the three, is very much like the Kunrei system. There are some minor differences between the two. Long vowels are also indicated in this system by a circumflex over the vowel. While the Hepburn system renders the Japanese phrase for "girl" as "shjo," the Kunrei system renders it as "sy˘zyo" and the Nippon system renders it as "sy˘dyo."
Sometimes a long vowel is not indicated by a macron or a circumflex. Instead, the long vowel is simply doubled. If a writer decides to double vowels in order to show that those vowels are long, then he or she will render the Japanese phrase that means "girl" as "shoojo."
On a related note, when Japanese names are romanized and used in the news media, it standard practice to remove diacritical marks such as macrons, circumflexes, and apostrophes.4 That is one reason that we usually write "Tokyo" instead of "Toukyou," "Tky," or "T˘ky˘." Moreover, names are written in the western format; the surname appears after the personal name.
Haruka's, Michiru's, and Setsuna's surnames
Fans of Bishjo Senshi Sr Mn have struggled for years to determine how to spell the surnames of Haruka, Michiru, and Setsuna using Latin letters. Many of them have decided to go along with the spellings that Naoko Takeuchi has written in the manga. They justify their decision by pointing out that those spellings would be considered official because the creator used them. That has not stopped others to use different systems of romanization, instead. Some fans have pointed out that the only way to write those surnames correctly is to write them using the Japanese script. However, we are not trying to determine what Japanese characters are used to write those names. We want to know why people use different Latin-letter spellings! Using the information that has been presented earlier in this article, let us determine whether we can formulate a linguistically-informed opinion about the romanizations of these names.
Haruka and her surname
Now, we shall look at the Japanese characters that are used to write Haruka's full name.5 Then, we can think about how those characters can be romanized.
The first character () is a kanji that means "heaven" or "sky." It is a reference to Haruka's role as Sailor Uranus. Incidentally, the word ouranos (), the Greek spelling of "Uranus," means "sky." The second character in Haruka's name () means "king" or "ruler." Those two characters come together to form "sky king," which is a reference to the Greek god of the sky, Ouranos.
The last three characters () are hiragana characters that represent Haruka's personal name. All three of the common romanization systems render her name as "Haruka." The name sounds like the word haruka, which means "distant" or "remote." This word is written with a kanji and a hiragana character: .
Furigana are small kana characters that are placed above or next to kanji to show the intended pronunciations of those kanji. Sometimes there are furigana characters above the kanji in Haruka's surname:
The first character () represents the syllable "te," and the second one () represents "n." The three romanization systems all render those two characters as "ten." The third character () represents "o," and the fourth character () represents "u." In this case, however, the "u" () shows that the "o" () is supposed to be long.
The Hepburn system renders the last two characters as "." That system renders all four of the characters as "Ten'." The apostrophe is used to show that the "n" and "" are not supposed to be pronounced in the same syllable; the "n" and "" sounds are their own separate syllables. The Kunrei and Nippon systems render the last two characters as "˘." Both of those systems render all four of the characters as "Ten'˘." Most anime fans write her name as "Ten'ou."
Naoko Takeuchi, in volume nine of the Bishjo Senshi Sr Mn manga, wrote Haruka's full name as "HARUKA TENOH."6 Notice that Haruka's name is written in the western format; her surname "TENOH" appears after her personal name. Ms. Takeuchi used the same letters, and the same order, in volume eleven. Why did Ms. Takeuchi write an "H" after the "O"? Why is there not an "H" after the "O" in "TSUKINO"? As we have already pointed out, the "O" in Haruka's surname is long. The "O" in Tsukino is short.
In episode 106 of the Bishjo Senshi Sr Mn anime, Haruka wears a suit that shows the letters "TENOH." So, it appears that Ms. Takeuchi and the anime producers have decided to handle long "o"s the same way.
(Incidentally, in episode 98 of the anime, Haruka wears an outfit that shows "HALUKA." Even the official anime sources are not consistent.)
Michiru and her surname
Now we should look at the Japanese characters used to write Michiru's name.5 Then, we can determine the different ways they can be romanized.
Michiru's role as Sailor Neptune suggests that her name has something to do with the ocean. The first character in her name () means "ocean" or "sea." The second character (), which is also found in Haruka's surname, means "king" or "ruler." Those two characters come together to make () "Sea King," which refers to the Roman god Neptune. The last three hiragana characters () represent Michiru's personal name. The Hepburn system renders her personal name as "Michiru," but the Kunrei and Nippon systems render the name as "Mitiru." Her name sounds like the Japanese word (or ) michiru, which is a verb that means "to be full."
Furigana often appear above or next to the two kanji that are used to write Michiru's surname:
All three of the common romanization systems render the first two small characters () as "kai." Anime fans also render those characters the same way. The last two characters () are rendered as "" in the Hepburn system, and all four are rendered as "Kai." Notice that there is no apostrophe between the "i" and the "." Those two vowels are their own syllables. The Kunrei and Nippon systems render the first two characters as "˘," and all four characters as "Kai˘." Again, there is no apostrophe needed. Most anime fans write her name as "Kaiou."
Michiru's full name appears as "MICHIRU KAIOH" in volumes nine and eleven of the original Japanese Bishjo Senshi Sr Mn manga.6 Notice that her name is written in the western format; her surname comes after her personal name. The "H," as we have learned earlier, shows that the "O" is long. In episode 93 of the Bishjo Senshi Sr Mn anime, her surname is also shown as "KAIOH." Once again, we can say that Ms. Takeuchi and the anime producers have reached an agreement on how to treat long "o"s.
Setsuna and her surname
Let us look at the Japanese characters that are used to write Setsuna's full name.5 We should then look at how the different ways the name can be romanized.
Setsuna's surname, naturally enough, indicates her role as Sailor Pluto. When we first meet Sailor Pluto in the manga, she calls herself the guardian of the underworld. The first two kanji in her name () mean "dark king," which refers to Hades, the Greek god who became the ruler of the dreary underworld. The Greeks also called him Plouton (), and the Romans wrote the name as "Pluto."
The last three hiragana characters () in her name are rendered as Setsuna in the Hepburn system. Most anime fans also use that spelling. The Kunrei and Nippon systems, however, render her name as "Setuna." Her name sounds like the Japanese term setsuna, which means "moment" or "instant." At least one source claims that the term means "momentary," but setsuna is clearly not an adjective.
Furigana are often written above or next to the two kanji in Setsuna's surname.
All three common romanization systems render the first two hiragana characters () as "mei." Anime fans usually write the same letters. The Hepburn renders all four characters as "Mei." The Kunrei and Nippon systems render all four of the characters as "Mei˘." No apostrophes are used because the "i" and "" are their own syllables. Anime fans render the four characters as "Meiou."
The anime producers did not write out Setsuna's surname in Latin letters in the anime. We can come up with a possible spelling from what we know about how they wrote Haruka's and Michiru's surnames. We are given "Tenoh" and "Kaioh" in the anime. So, Setsuna's surname would have been "Meioh."
Ms. Takeuchi does not romanize consistently
Ms. Takeuchi does not use her own system consistently, however. On page 157 of the third Sailor V book, "SAIJYO" appears on a monitor screen.7 The Japanese characters that are used to write "SAIJYO" () show that the "o" is long. So, why did she write "SAIJYO" instead of "SAIJYOH"? (Her use of the letters "JYO" show that she was not following the rules of the Hepburn system. If she were following those rules, then she would have written "JO.") One would think that she would have because of the way she wrote "TENOH," "KAIOH," and "MEIOH." Ms. Takeuchi also wrote Professor Tomoe's personal name as "SOUICHI." The "OU" combination in "SOUICHI" indicates that the "o" sound is long. ("SOUICHI" would go along with "TENOU," "KAIOU," and "MEIOU," but "SOHICHI" would go with "TENOH," "KAIOH," and "MEIOH." Unfortunately, "SOHICHI" makes the "HI" seem like it is its own syllable. The "H" and the first "I" are separate.) Those inconsistencies weaken the claim that Ms. Takeuchi was especially concerned about her own spellings of the surnames of Haruka, Michiru, and Setsuna. Ms. Takeuchi has used several different methods to indicate long vowels, so she could have written "TENOU" or "TENO" instead of "TENOH," "KAIOU" or "KAIO" instead of "KAIOH," and "MEIOU" or "MEIO" instead of "MEIOH."
- We can use what we know about the different systems to construct charts that show how those systems that render the names and terms we have studied.
- We could use Takeuchi's methods of spelling, but we may become disconcerted because of her inconsistencies. The method that anime fans use may record all of the characters that are used in the Japanese script, but it can be difficult to tell whether the "ou" represents the long "o." Many writers may wish to use characters with macrons or circumflexes to indicate long vowels, but some find it inconvenient to do so. If Haruka's, Michiru's, and Setsuna's surnames appeared in a newspaper such as the Chicago Tribune, they would undoubtedly be "Teno," "Kaio," and "Meio." The long "o"s would not be indicated.
- It should be clear by now that romanization involves more than just what is "correct" and what is not. Writing Japanese words into Latin letters is much more complicated than that. That is why we should not make dismissive comments like "There is no right way to write the name" or "The only right way to write it is by using the Japanese characters." Instead, we should learn about the different systems of romanization and understand the rules that they follow. As long as we use a system that reflects the characteristics of the Japanese language, and we consistently follow the rules of that system, our romanizations are fine.