I've recently discovered, to my astonishment (having never really thought about it before), machine-sorting Japanese proper nouns is apparently not possible.
I work on an application that must allow the user to select a hospital from a 3-menu interface. The first menu is Prefecture, the second is City Name, and the third is Hospital. Each menu should be sorted, as you might expect, so the user can find what they want in the menu.
Let me outline what I have found, as preamble to my question:
The expected sort order for Japanese words is based on their pronunciation. Kanji do not have an inherent order (there are tens of thousands of Kanji in use), but the Japanese phonetic syllabaries do have an order: ???????????????????... and on for the fifty traditional distinct sounds (a few of which are obsolete in modern Japanese). This sort order is called ???? (gojuu on jun , or '50-sound order').
Therefore, Kanji words should be sorted in the same order as they would be if they were written in hiragana. (You can represent any kanji word in phonetic hiragana in Japanese.)
The kicker: there is no canonical way to determine the pronunciation of a given word written in kanji. You never know. Some kanji have ten or more different pronunciations, depending on the word. Many common words are in the dictionary, and I could probably hack together a way to look them up from one of the free dictionary databases, but proper nouns (e.g. hospital names) are not in the dictionary.
So, in my application, I have a list of every prefecture, city, and hospital in Japan. In order to sort these lists, which is a requirement, I need a matching list of each of these names in phonetic form (kana).
I can't come up with anything other than paying somebody fluent in Japanese (I'm only so-so) to manually transcribe them. Before I do so though:
Is it possible that I am totally high on fire, and there actually is some way to do this sorting without creating my own mappings of kanji words to phonetic readings, that I have somehow overlooked?
Is there a publicly available mapping of prefecture/city names, from the government or something? That would reduce the manual mapping I'd need to do to only hospital names.
Does anybody have any other advice on how to approach this problem? Any programming language is fine--I'm working with Ruby on Rails but I would be delighted if I could just write a program that would take the kanji input (say 40,000 proper nouns) and then output the phonetic representations as data that I could import into my Rails app.