LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese

Setting up Japanese for your computer

Posted by Tae Kim

Before you can fully start taking advantage of online resources, you'll want to make sure your computer is properly configured to support Japanese. Fortunately, this has become a lot easier with modern software, often only requiring setting some configuration options and in some cases, inserting the original installation disk.

Below are guides that explain the process fairly well.

  1. Instructions for Windows
  2. Instructions for Mac OS X
  3. Instructions for Ubuntu

Here are a few tips that I found useful for using Japanese on the computer.

Windows Tips

  1. You can safely remove the English language setting. This is done in the same window you used to add Japanese input language. Simply click the "EN" English input language and click "Remove". It will inform you that you will need to restart to remove it completely.
    The Japanese input mode already allows you to switch to English so having a separate English setting is redundant and only adds more key-strokes for switching languages.
  2. Press the Alt and "~" keys (the tilde key left of the "1" key) to quickly switch between English and Japanese input. If you have a Japanese keyboard, you can simply press the 半角/全角 key, also located left of the "1" key.
  3. Press the F7 key after you type something to quickly change it into Katakana.
  4. While not necessary for displaying and inputting Japanese, some older Japanese programs may require you to set Japanese as the default language in order to function properly. This will also replace your backslash key with the Yen mark.

Mac OS X Tips

  1. Press the command key and space-bar to toggle between the current and the previously used input method. This shortcut replaces the shortcut to bring up spotlight. That shortcut should now instead be ctrl+space. All shortcuts can be configured in the "System Preferences" under "Keyboard & Mouse".

Japanese Input Basics

In order to start typing in Japanese, you should be at least somewhat familiar with the main concept of Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.

Though there are some minor differences, the basic concept behind typing in Japanese is the same for all platforms. The vast majority of people type using a modified form of romaji, or the latin representation of Japanese sounds.

By default, the text will display as Hiragana.

When you've finished typing a word (or words), you can press space to convert the Hiragana to Kanji. If you do not wish to convert, you can simply press "Enter" to enter as is. Or you can press "Esc" to quit and start again.

After you've converted the text by pressing space, you can simply continue typing the next phrase without having to press "Enter".

Special Characters

Here are some tips on how to type certain characters that differ from regular romaji.

  1. 「ん」 = "nn"
    Some input methods will be able to figure it out with just one 'n' most of the time but others require you to type it exactly as 'nn'.
  2. Small Characters = prepend 'x' or 'l' (depending on the OS).
    For example, 「ぁ」 (smaller than the regular 「あ」) can be typed as "xa" or "la". The input editor will usually type small characters automatically by context such as 「きゃ」 ("kya") or 「ファ」 ("fa"). However, you will sometimes need to type it explicitly for ambiguous situations such as 「ティ」 (typed as "texi" or"teli"). The phonetic representation "ti" will output as 「ち」 instead.
  3. 「ぢ」 = "di" and 「づ」 = "du"
    Though these characters don't actually have a "d" sound, they belong to the same category as other d-consonant sounds. If you wanted the phonetic "di" (ディ) and "du" (ドゥ) sound, you would need to type "deli/dexi" and "dolu/doxu" as explained above.