I've been told on Japanese SE to rephrase the question and ask it here, since it isn't so much about the Japanese language, as it is about the correct way of including Japanese in the English language. The original question can be found here.

I'm currently writing a report in English in which I need to explain the meaning of some Kanji. This of course means that I need to display the Kanji, ideally explain how they are pronounced and give a translation. My problem is now that I don't know what the best way is to accomplish that in an English text. As I have stated in my previous question I have seen a lot of 「 」, what seems to be the Japanese version of quotations marks (for example here), in text and gives the pronunciation in parenthesis, for example:「人」(じん). On Wikipedia you will often see something like: 生きる ikiru, „live“.

There doesn't seem to be a fixed way on how one should incorporate Japanese characters in a English text and there is no official style guide regarding this in my institution.

So my questions boils down to: How would one include Japanese Characters in an English text, given he wants to show the character, give one way how someone would pronounce it and a translation.

Further information:

  • The readers of the report won't be familiar with any of the Japanese spelling systems.
  • I would like to include the pronunciation in form of the first example (じん), since I really want to stress the fact that Romaji isn't the standard way.
  • The last point is a personal preference, but if it isn't acceptable please let me know. I would like to have some kind of separation between the Kanji and the text itself, since these characters aren't really meant to be read as the rest of the text.
  • I think the suggestion from @Robusto is spot on. If you really want to show how kana is used for phonetic readings (which is a nice idea), you could do this as an example the first time, eg: 人 (じん, jin, man) or as a footnote (eg “In Japan this would normally...”). I don’t think you need to do it every time.
    – user184130
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 14:43

1 Answer 1


Since you are writing in English the ordinary punctuation rules for English would apply. Use square brackets [] or parentheses () to offset an entire parenthetical sojourn into kanji or kana, and punctuate as necessary.

Sometimes you don't need to set the words off at all, since written Japanese is so far from English that it sets itself off quite nicely. Example from a recent chat post of mine:

When Reagan was president he visited Japan and addressed the Diet. He tried to say the words 日米の友好は永遠です ("Japanese-American friendship is forever") in Japanese. What people listening on the radio heard, though, was 日米の湯女は大変です ("Japanese-American bathhouse prostitutes are a real handful"). Whereupon the wife of the person relating the story sang out "I wonder how he found that out so quickly. He's only been here for two days."

Notice that the English translation is the only part set off in parentheses. Had I wanted to include the transliteration as well, I'd have done something like this:

He tried to say the words 日米の友好は永遠です (nichibei no yukou wa eien desu, "Japanese-American friendship is forever") in Japanese.

Here I distinguish the transliteration from the translation with italics. I have seen transliterations rendered with furigana, however, the tiny kana over the kanji that give the pronunciation for Japanese speakers who may be unsure, but this would speak to a more advanced readership than you may be addressing. Also, furigana would be difficult to render in standard English writing software. I'm not even sure how you would do that, though obviously it must be possible.

All of this may be a matter of personal style, but personal style seems to be the norm. All of the English works I have read on Japanese handle such things in the ways that suit their needs, and these can be quite different. Sometimes kanji clips are parenthesized, sometimes rendered whole (as above) and sometimes they are even set off on their own lines in the middle of a paragraph. You really have to choose what works for you. I'd suggest consulting such works and choosing a method based on works that are closest to what you are trying to accomplish.

  • 2
    I agree, there usually is no need to distinguish noon-Roman characters typographically beyond just using the non-Roman characters (in contrast to the convention of using italics for foreign words that do use approximately the same characters as English). As an aside, after your second quote you say "Here I distinguish the transliteration from the transliteration with italics." I assume you meant one of those transliterations to be some other word—maybe translation?
    – 1006a
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 13:16

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