The Hepburn romanization system (Hebon-shiki Roomaji) is named after James Curtis Hepburn, who used it to transcribe the sounds of the Japanese language into the Latin alphabet in the third edition of his Japanese-English dictionary, published at Yokohama in 1887. The system was originally proposed by the Society for the Romanization of the Japanese Alphabet (Roomajikai) in 1885. The Hepburn system was subsequently revised and called Shuusei Hebon-shiki Roomaji. This revised version was referred to as Hyoujun-shiki Roomaji (standard style) before.
Hepburn is based on English phonology, not Japanese, and as such has faced some opposition in Japan. In particular, a September 21, 1937 cabinet ordinance proclaimed an alternative system now commonly known as Kunrei to be Japan's official romanization for all purposes, but this was overturned by the Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP) during the Occupation of Japan. The ordinance was reissued in 1954.
In 1972, a revised version of Hepburn was codified as ANSI standard Z39.11-1972. It was proposed in 1989 as a draft for ISO 3602, but rejected in favor of Kunrei. The Z39.11-1972 standard was consequently deprecated on October 6, 1994.
Although Hepburn is not a government standard, some government agencies mandate it. For example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requires the use of Hepburn on passports, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport requires the use of Hepburn on transport signs, including road signs and railway station signs.
In many other areas where it lacks de jure status, Hepburn remains the de facto standard. Signs and notices in city offices and police stations, at shrines, temples and attractions also use it. English-language newspapers and media use the simplified form of Hepburn. Cities and prefectures use it in information for English-speaking residents and visitors, and English-language publications by the Japanese Foreign Ministry use simplified Hepburn too. Official tourism information put out by the government uses it, as do guidebooks, local and foreign, on Japan.
Many students of Japanese as a foreign language learn Hepburn.