The romaji and its traps

As many of us already know, romaji's role in nihongo (日本語) is to help with the reading and pronunciation of Japanese symbols, not to replace Japanese writing with our romanized characters.

The romaji and its traps - japanese reading

This fact causes several problems and can significantly hinder the development of our ability to read and write in real Japanese.

Why does it happen?

Despite being aware of the negative points, many Japanese students still insist on making use of romaji in their daily lives, sort of replacing the Japanese writing form with kanji with the letters of our natural alphabet.

This occurs for several reasons, such as the lack of Japanese support on modern operating systems, as this add-on is not installed by default on most computers; the lack of knowledge of other IME tools for writing in Japanese, such as wakan it's the ajax im; or even laziness to access these programs and make use of the Japanese language as it really should be.

Now a new problem arises

I recently noticed a new problem that romaji can cause. When used in a different way from its original purpose, romaji can confuse the translation of sentences and isolated snippets of texts.

The point is that a kanji can have several different pronunciations, and because of that, there is a possibility that several kanjis have the same pronunciation, depending on the sentence and the context of the words.

How about taking your favorite Japanese dictionary and searching for the word き. We will probably find a good amount of kanji, like 木, 気, 記…

This same problem can occur within simpler sentences where the context is not known.

Have you ever tried taking a phrase in romaji and turning it into kanji? The result can be complete confusion.

To get an idea, using windows japanese support, it is possible to write the word 東京 using the pronunciation Higashi myiako, which in addition to being completely incoherent, does not exist in the standard of official Japanese readings.

The most interesting thing is that this problem affects both novice students and more advanced students of the Japanese language. Even the Japanese get tangled up with kanji pronunciations that are out of range. Jouyou Kanji (Japan's 1,945 official kanji that are not well known).

How to minimize this problem with romaji

From my experience in Japanese, I could see that there are two ways to minimize confusion when translating Japanese texts.

The first one is always to use texts written in kanji and to live a lot with the Japanese language.

1. When studying Japanese, prefer texts written in kanji.
When you write using kanjis, the translation is easier and doesn't compromise the reading too much, since we have the kanjis conveying a clearer idea of the meaning of the sentence. And if the text has audio, even better.

In addition, sentences written in real Japanese make it easier to learn new kanji through reading texts, which romaji can end up harming.

It is much easier to find the meaning of a kanji in the dictionary by its kanji than by its pronunciation.

If you often read websites in kanji and have trouble figuring out the pronunciation of Japanese symbols, I recommend that you use a mozilla firefox plugin like Furigana Injector or sites like hiragana megane, which automatically insert furigana into websites and kanji texts.

2. Live and socialize as much as you can with the Japanese language
Many of these confusions are minimized through living with the language, or through knowing the context of sentences, which makes written content much easier to understand.

Following this logic, we may not know a kanji or word in romaji, but by understanding the context, we can understand the message of the text even if it contains unknown words.


Again, I see failures in learning the Japanese language again with the excessive use of romaji.

Whenever you study Japanese through texts, try to read texts, websites and books that are written in kanji. This will save you from the work and wasted time caused by using romaji.

Also, by using kanji, you will be closer and closer to real Japanese.


Image credits belong to Café du Monde.