James Curtis Hepburn

James Curtis Hepburn bigraphy, stories - Translators

James Curtis Hepburn : biography

March 13, 1815 – June 11, 1911

James Curtis Hepburn, M.D., LL.D. (March 13, 1815 – June 11, 1911) was a physician who became a Christian missionary. He is known for the Hepburn romanization system for transliteration of the Japanese language into the Latin alphabet, which he popularized in his Japanese–English dictionary.


  • (first edition) 690pp
  • (4th edition), 962pp (gives Japanese next to romaji)
  • (2nd. ed. abrdiged), 1032pp (romaji only)


Hepburn was born in Milton, Pennsylvania, on March 13, 1815. He attended Princeton University, earned a master’s degree, after which he attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his M. D. degree in 1836,http://www.bdcconline.net/en/stories/h/hepburn-james-curtis.php and became a physician. He decided to go to China as a medical missionary, but had to stay in Singapore for two years because the Opium War was under way and Chinese ports were closed to foreigners. After five years as a missionary, he returned to the United States in 1845 and opened a medical practice in New York City. – famousamericans.net

In 1859, Hepburn went to Japan as a medical missionary with the American Presbyterian Mission.http://www.bdcconline.net/en/stories/h/hepburn-james-curtis.php He opened a clinic in Soko-ji (temple) in Kanagawa, a post station on the Tokaido (now part of Yokohama). After the Japanese authorities forced him to close it in 1861, he moved his operations to Yokohama, the newly opened port near present-day Tokyo. There, in addition to his clinic, he founded the Hepburn School, which developed into Meiji Gakuin University. Hepburn’s Japanese pupils include Furuya Sakuzaemon, Takahashi Korekiyo, and Numa Morikazu (沼間守一).

Hepburn compiled a Japanese–English dictionary. In the dictionary’s third edition,

published in 1886, Hepburn adopted a new system for romanization of the Japanese language developed by the Society for the Romanization of the Japanese Alphabet (Rōmajikai). This system is widely known as the Hepburn romanization because Hepburn's dictionary popularized it. Hepburn also contributed to the translation of the Bible into Japanese. 

Hepburn returned to the United States in 1892. On March 14, 1905, a day after Hepburn’s 90th birthday, he was awarded the decoration of the Order of the Rising Sun, third class. Hepburn was the second foreigner to receive this honor.

He died on June 11, 1911, in East Orange, New Jersey, at the age of 96.