How-to guide: Reading and typing Japanese

How-to guide: Reading and typing Japanese

The ultimate guide to setting up Japanese on your computer or mobile device, from installing the correct fonts, through typing with a Japanese IME (Input Method Editor), to changing the language of your software and the entire operating system.

Reading Japanese on Windows 10

If you have Windows Vista, 7 or 8, your computer is pre-bundled with Japanese fonts and everything necessary to start reading Japanese websites and documents with no additional setup.

If you nevertheless come across content which does not display correctly, try following the tips below:

Websites

Most modern websites use the UTF-8 Unicode encoding, and the encoding of older sites should usually be guessed automatically by your browser.

If you still see squares, question marks or random character on the page, try changing the browser encoding to Shift_JIS, EUC-JP or ISO-2022-JP. One of these will usually solve the problem.

Google Chrome: Menu button > Tools > Encoding
Internet Explorer: Right click page > Encoding > More

Excel

The encoding of some CSVs containing Japanese characters might be misrecognized by Excel. To fix the problem, go to the Data tab, click From Text under Get External Data, choose your file, and a window will appear which will allow you to choose an appropriate encoding (most of the time it will be automatically pre-selected so you’ll only have to click Next a couple of times).

Japanese encoding Excel

Software

All newer Japanese software should work fine on Windows with no setup necessary, but older applications (think pre-2000) might not display correctly on non-Japanese Windows. One possible solution is to:

  1. Press the Win key
  2. Type ‘region’
  3. Select Region under Settings
  4. Open the Administrative tab
  5. Click Change system locale...
  6. Choose Japanese (Japan)

Note that you must have administrative rights to change this setting, and you can only have one locale selected at a time so older applications in other foreign languages might stop working properly.

Typing Japanese on Windows 10

To add a Japanese IME (Input Method) which will allow you to type in hiragana, katakana and kanji, simply follow the steps below.

  1. Press the Win key
  2. Type ‘input methods’
  3. Click Change input methods
  4. Click Add a language
  5. Choose Japanese

You can now safely remove the English language setting. The Japanese input mode already allows you to type in English (Direct Input mode) so having a separate input method is redundant.

To quickly switch between the two modes, press Alt + ~ (the tilde key left of the ‘1’ key). If you have a Japanese computer, use the 半角/全角 key instead.

Alternative Japanese IMEs

There are also several alternative Japanese IMEs available:

Google IME is simple to install and use, but does not offer any benefits over the default MS IME. The main difference is that kanji autocomplete options tend to be slightly more colloquial, as the suggestions are pulled from language used online instead of a pre-built dictionary. The effect is hardly noticeable however.

The input method used by most Japanese companies and preinstalled on many computers in Japan is ATOK IME. It is one of the most advanced IMEs on the market, with many useful features for professionals working with Japanese on a daily basis, though they come at a steep price of almost $100.

Using Windows in Japanese

A good way to practice Japanese is to use in Japanese, websites and software that you know well enough to navigate without reading every label. Facebook is a good place to start as you can use browser extensions such as rikaikun to quickly look up kanji on buttons when necessary, but as you get more proficient, you might want to switch the entire Windows interface as well.

  1. Press the Win key
  2. Type ‘language’
  3. Select Language under Settings
  4. Choose 日本語 and click Options
  5. Click Download and install language pack
  6. Return to the Language screen
  7. Click Advanced settings
  8. Choose Japanese under Override for Windows display language
  9. Restart Windows

Note that you must have administrative rights to change this setting.

Reading Japanese on Mac OSX

When you go to a webpage that shows text in Japanese, it should display as it would if you bought your computer in Japan. Nothing more to do.

However, a number of different encodings are used to display Japanese characters, and it may be that your browser is not recognising that the web page is encoded in Japanese if the text is not displaying properly: usually because the web page did not specify in the HTML which one to use, and the browser cannot work it out for itself.

If you’re having trouble with a particular web page, in Safari, select Text Encoding from the ‘view’ menu, then select one of the different options until the characters display as it should. You’ll need to manually change this encoding back to default after you’ve visited the page.

Typing Japanese on Mac OSX

There is actually nothing you need to install separately in Mac OS X Mavericks to type Japanese - you just need to click a few buttons in the settings panel. You can type Japanese perfectly with a non-Japanese keyboard with the help of an IME.

  1. Click System Preferences from the Apple menu,
  2. Click the blue flag icon labeled Language and Text
  3. Select the Input Sources tab.
  4. Scroll, and find Kotoeri, and select Hiragana and Katakana
  5. Click the box next to Show input menu in menu bar at the bottom of the preferences pane. This will add a little flag to the top-right hand corner of your screen.

Alternative Japanese IMEs

Google IME is simple to install and use, but does not offer any benefits over the default MS IME. The main difference is that kanji autocomplete options tend to be slightly more colloquial, as the suggestions are pulled from language used online instead of a pre-built dictionary. I use it myself, as I think it better handles place names better, but I probably wouldn’t notice if I used the default one.

The input method used by most Japanese companies and preinstalled on many computers in Japan is ATOK IME. It is one of the most advanced IMEs on the market, with many useful features for professionals working with Japanese on a daily basis, though they come at a steep price of almost $100.

Reading Japanese on Ubuntu

On more recent versions of Ubuntu and most other Linux distributions, reading Japanese should work from the get go.

That said, some of the default fonts may not be adapted for the screen and use all the latest technology. To improve readability, it is recommended that you manually install the fonts-vlgothic Japanese package on your machine.


Japanese font package for Ubuntu (Screenshot from Ask Ubuntu)

Typing Japanese on Ubuntu

Japanese input is much easier to install and use in Ubuntu 14.04 and 15.10 that it was in the past:

  1. From Dash home, search for Language Support
  2. On the Language tab of the Language Support screen, click Install / Remove Languages...
  3. On the Installed Languages screen, scroll down to Japanese and check Installed, and then click Apply Changes
  4. Enter your password and click Authenticate
  5. Log out and and back in again to apply the changes
  6. Click the language icon from the top panel and select Text Entry Settings...
  7. Click the + icon on the button left of the Input sources to use area
  8. On the Choose an input source screen, scroll down and select Japanese (Anthy)
  9. Click Add

Reading Japanese on Android

Reading Japanese websites and using Japanese-language apps shouldn't require any additional set-up on more recent Android devices.

Typing Japanese on Android

To type in Japanese, you will need to install a Japanese IME, or Input Method Editor.

Your best bet is to go with the official Google Japanese Input available for free in the Play Store.

It's reliable, easy to use, and allows you to eventually graduate from romaji-based input to the 9-key kana swiping mode once you're ready.

Watch Google's short promo video below for a quick overview of all the features:

You should also consider installing the Google Handwriting Input which allows you to input Japanese by scribbling the characters on the screen—a life saver when looking up unknown kanji.

Handwritten Japanese input

Reading Japanese on iOS

Reading Japanese websites and using Japanese-language apps won't require any additional set-up on your iPhone or iPad.

Typing Japanese on iOS

To type in Japanese, you will need to install a Japanese IME, or Input Method Editor. Simply follow the steps below:

  1. Go to Settings and tap General
  2. Select Keyboard
  3. Tap Keyboards
  4. Select Add New Keyboard
  5. Tap Japanese
  6. Select Kana and tap Done