The Agency of Cultural Affairs recently recommended that Kunrei, one of the two competing romanization systems for Japanese, be phased out. The decision is still pending general approval by the education ministry, but if it does go through, the agency can only be congratulated for its bold proposal.

To recap, for decades, there have been two slightly divergent sets of rules for the romanization of Japanese: Hepburn and Kunrei. Hepburn is considered more Westernized, in that its rules are modeled after Italian vowel and English consonant readings. By contrast, Kunrei is more faithful to the inner logic of Japanese, including etymology, word formation and regular sound shifts.

The differences between the two systems concern only a handful of syllables, and yet they are the source of much confusion.