I'm typesetting an English book that contains the Japanese name Akiyama. Is it allowed to hyphenate romaji transcription of names (I truly hope so!)? If so, how do you do it? I would think it would be between two Japanese letters, i.e., with hyphenation points A-ki-ya-ma. Is this a correct assumption?

(Please, I'm looking for answers that rely on a reliable source, if possible.)

  • 5
    Since Japanese syllables always end in a vowel (except for ん, n), it would be safe to insert hyphen points after a vowel, but without knowledge of the language it would be difficult to tell whether n was standalone or not. Nevertheless, this is not a good question for ELU. You might try Japanese.SE.
    – Robusto
    Oct 12, 2015 at 12:42
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about conventions for dealing with transliterations of a foreign language.
    – Robusto
    Oct 12, 2015 at 12:45
  • 1
    All right: hyphenate after vowels, after n before a consonant, and try to avoid pre-vowel n if you don't know what you're doing.
    – Robusto
    Oct 12, 2015 at 12:54
  • 1
    @yo' This is a problem that involves English, but not all questions that involve English are on-topic here. I recommend checking the style guide used by your book.
    – user867
    Oct 12, 2015 at 23:13
  • 2
    Inserting hyphens into Japanese people's names is not a part of romaji grammar or Japanese language grammar, and the OP asks the appropriate written format for an English book. That's why some users of Japanese.SE thought this question would get better answers on English.SE or somewhere else, I would say. Oct 13, 2015 at 3:26

2 Answers 2


What you are asking for are rules for hyphenation of Japanese words written using Latin alphabet. The most notable way to do the latter is using Hepburn romanization which as wiki states "is mostly used, but not officially approved". Thus said, there can't be an official hyphenation rule if the writing system is not officially codified either.

That said, hyphenation rules in any language using Latin alphabet are based on phonetic qualities of the language. The hyphen is placed where it is easy to stop and take eyes to the beginning of the line while reading aloud. It should not be different in case of Japanese names contained in an English text - the original pronunciation shall be retained.

Originally Japanese language is written as a mix of Japanese syllabaries (hiragana and katakana) and Chinese characters called kanji. All Japanese texts can be written phonetically using a syllabary only.

Japanese texts do have rules for breaking lines (as Japanese do not use hyphens, the word "hyphenation" is a bit misleading). These rules are defined in the section kinsoku shori of the industry standard JIS X 4051 ("industry" here meaning it is not a guideline for literary works).

For reasons beyond my understanding, these standards are publicly available on this website, but protected against copying in a way that no modern browser is able to display them, so the following is based on the corresponding wikipedia article.

According to the Japanese Wikipedia article a line in Japanese text (conforming to the JIS standard) English words cannot be broken.

This rule basically precludes any kind of hyphenation of English words included in Japanese texts, which you probably need to extend to any words written in Latin alphabet.

You said in one of your comments "The rules of the language to which the word belongs should be followed, in general. For instance my mom's surname would be hyphenated differently in Czech and English, but the Czech rule should be always followed, even in an English text."

I agree, the difference comes naturally from the pronunciation of the names/words. That said it is obvious where to break the word when you hear it. Luckily Japanese phonetics are quite simple, but there are a few pitfalls:

1) Japanese syllables (single characters) either are single vowels; or start with a consonant and end with a vowel.

2) There is a special "n" (ん) character/syllable which does not end with a vowel.

The "n" character can be taken to the next line, so a name "Itoemon" can be hyphenated "I-to-e-mo-n". But that would look awful in English.

More serious problem with "n" is when it is precedes a vowel. Japanese language has syllables "n", "a", "i", "u", "e", "o", "na", "ni", "nu", "ne", "no". There is no way of telling if two characters "ni" constitute two syllables or one. Hepburn romanization deals with the problem by either putting hyphen or an apostrophe, like in a name Shin'i. In this case it would be a mistake to hyphenate it "shi-ni" or "shi-n'i".

3) There is a "double consonant character" (ッ) which causes the following consonant to be repeated (to illustrate in a strange mix: "Niッta" becomes "Nitta").

According to the above-mentioned standard, the double consonant character cannot be used at the beginning of a new line in a Japanese text. While there is no direct relation, you might interpret it that you shouldn't start a line with a double consonant (easier to understand when you hear it pronounced), so for the name "Nitta" you should rather go with "Nit-ta".

4) Japanese language uses long vowels. In Hepburn they are marked by a dash above like ō or ūm but depending on romanization type they can be indicated by doubling the vowel, or adding "h" or "u" to the vowel. For example "dō" could be written as "doh", "dou" or "doo".

You cannot break apart those constructions. So it would be a mistake to hyphenate a name 毛利 "Mōri" written as "Mouri" "mo-uri", or to hyphenate a name 道庵 "Dōan" "Dohan" in the following way "doh-an".

That is you shouldn't break them apart in English, because in Japanese those long vowels are written with two characters "mo-u-ri" and Japanese typesetters do not refrain from breaking the "mo u" characters. But that would be a bad style in English

5) Not all double vowels in a text constitute a long vowel in speech. For example it would perfectly ok to hyphenate a name 藤井 "Fujii" as "fuji-i"

  • 5
    This should be an answer in the Japanese SE, but you know what happened. I don't think it belongs here, but at least I hope it helps.
    – macraf
    Oct 12, 2015 at 14:45
  • I too think so. I made a post there, but it seems the mods there didn't think the post is Japanese enough. For me, the important thing is that I get my answer and that the knowledge is shared. Thank you very much!
    – yo'
    Oct 12, 2015 at 14:59
  • The Wikipedia article states that English words are 分離禁則, not 行末禁則. This means you can't break English words at line endings (which is not a universally enforced rule. Some Japanese typesetters will sensibly hyphenate English words, while others opt to do 欧文泣き別れ, which is to break an English word wherever you want with no regard to syllable boundaries and without a hyphen. The horror!)
    – mirka
    Oct 12, 2015 at 15:14
  • @mirka I write in a latin script, so I fortunately don't have to learn yet another writing system (and I respect everybody who have learnt various diverse languages and writing systems!)
    – yo'
    Oct 12, 2015 at 15:23
  • @mirka That's even better (wiki is badly formatted, my mistake). Well, I know, but the OP asked for sources and that standard is probably the only one. And it is an industrial standard, so more for developers of word processors rather than style guidelines.
    – macraf
    Oct 12, 2015 at 15:23

I would recommend going with Aki-yama which would split the name on kanji; assuming the kanji is 秋山.

A translated Japanese novel from a major Japanese publisher, Kodansha, has the name of a character split like this.

On page 591 of Musashi, 政宗 became Masa-mune:Hypenated name in English version of Musashi

If Kodansha does it like this then you are probably safe to do it this way too.

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