How to Type in Japanese

Typing in Japanese is much easier than you’d think, especially if you use an IME (input method editor), which is essentially a virtual keyboard to help with writing non-English languages. Save yourself the pain of buying a physical Japanese keyboard, which has a counterintuitive layout for native English users, and get this tool for free. The first step for any Japanese language student is to install this handy device on their computer (or smartphone!) and no one explains it better than Tofugu’s great article “How to Install a Japanese Keyboard”, which breaks the process down by operating system and/or device (with pictures!).

Have you got your IME installed? Great! Let’s talk about some of the basics of typing in Japanese.

First, for those of our students who groan at the sight of kanji, have no fear! The IME device primarily uses romaji as the input method. This means that even a beginner can start typing in Japanese without too much hassle in 5 simple steps:

1) The IME menu shows up on the task bar as a “JP” symbol. Make sure this is what is displayed. (If the letters are “EN” then it is set to English instead of Japanese. Just click the icon to swap it over.)
2) Make sure your input mode is set to hiragana. (This appears as a hiragana あ icon. This is usually the default.)
3) Begin typing as you would in English, using the romaji spellings of Japanese words. The IME will convert the romaji letters to hiragana as you type.
4) Press the space bar after spelling out a word to convert that word to kanji or katakana, if necessary. You will notice that the active word for conversion is underlined. (Tip: It’s usually easiest to convert word-by-word as you type. Once a phrase is not underlined once you move on, it is not able to be converted after the fact.)
5) Use the up/down arrow keys to change the selection of the available kanji. When the correct selection is highlighted, press Enter to confirm the change.

Tip: Use the ALT + ~ shortcut to quickly toggle back into English input mode. You can use this shortcut again to re-enter Japanese mode.

An alternative way to get katakana input is to type in hiragana first, and then press F7 for an instant conversion into katakana. This is especially handy for people’s names since the IME does not always auto-convert them accurately. The IME does have the capacity to learn new words, so if it notices you are converting certain phrases into katakana regularly, it will store them for future use and they might show up in the main space bar list.

As an additional note, the other function keys also correspond to various input methods:
F6: Converts to hiragana とよた
F7: Converts to katakana トヨタ
F8: Converts to half-size katakana トヨタ
F9: Converts to full-size (double byte) English letters toyota
F10: Converts to regular size English letters toyota

Special Romaji Tricks

There are a few tricks out there to help with certain letter combinations that are used in katakana. Here are some examples:

1) ウェット whetto uletto Meaning: wet
2) フィックス fikkusu Meaning: fix
3) パーティー pa-thi- (or) pa-tli- Meaning: party
4) ボディー bodhi- (or) bodeli Meaning: body
5) を wo (particle, such as in nihongo o benkyo shimasu.)

There are a couple of ways to get the small letters, but one of the most straightforward is to type L + (character), e.g. for ィ, type L + i and you will get the desired letter (just remember that “L” stands for “little”!).

Typing in Japanese does take a bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it will make interacting with the language on digital platforms far easier.