The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Typing, from Installing Keyboards to Using Them
Typing is practically second nature to us these days.
We’re texting, writing essays, working online gigs, exchanging ideas and sometimes (or a lot of the time) having arguments with each other on social media.
Typing is integral to how we communicate—it’s even surpassed handwriting in importance.
Knowing how to type is vital if you’re learning Japanese, and we have the best possible guide to get you started.
- Gather Your Japanese Typing Resources
- Understand How Japanese Keyboards Work
- Use Hiragana When Typing in Japanese
- Learn to Communicate in Japanese on Social Media
- Is it Really That Important to Learn How to Type in Japanese?
Gather Your Japanese Typing Resources
To begin typing in Japanese, you’ll need a few tools.
We’re not talking about actual physical keyboards. We’re talking about virtual keyboards.
Virtual keyboards can be installed onto just about any device, from laptops to tablets to smartphones. Find out how below!
Installing a Japanese keyboard on a Windows computer
- To install Japanese input for Windows 10 devices, start by clicking on the Start Menu symbol.
Open your Control Panel.
- Under “Clock, Language, and Region” select “Add a language.”
- Click “Add a language” above your list of already installed languages.
- Under “J,” find the keyboard labeled “日本語” and select it, then press “Add.”
- After adding Japanese to your language packs, go to “Language options” and select “Advanced” under “Japanese.”
- Here you can choose how you’d like things to be formatted when you use your keyboard. We suggest leaving the input method as “romaji.”
Installing a Japanese keyboard on a Mac
- Under your System Preferences, click “Language & Region.”
- Click “+” underneath your list of already installed languages.
- Scroll down and select “Japanese,” then “Add.”
- Select “Use English.”
- Select “Keyboard preferences.”
- Select “+,” then “Japanese,” then “Add.”
- Select “Hiragana (Google).”
- At the top of your Mac’s menu bar, you’ll see a new symbol. Select it to toggle between English and Japanese.
Installing a Japanese keyboard on an iPhone
- Go to “Settings” then “General.”
- Select “Keyboard” then “Keyboards.”
- Click “Add New Keyboard” and browse through the languages until you get to “Japanese.”
- Select “Japanese” and then “Romaji.”
- Now whenever you go into “keyboard mode” on your phone, you’ll be able to click the little globe symbol to toggle between Japanese and English keyboards.
Installing a Japanese keyboard on an Android smartphone
- Download Google Japanese Input from the Play Store.
- Install the app and open it.
- Consent to whatever permissions it asks for.
- After installing and setting up, you’ll automatically be taken to “Language & Input” in your Settings.
- Toggle the switch to activate Google Japanese Input.
- Like with iPhones, you just need to click the little globe on your keyboard to switch to Japanese.
It’s worth noting that some Android devices don’t require a download of Google Japanese Input. In some cases, you may be able to look into your phone’s keyboard settings and simply add Japanese to your device. Before downloading anything, check and see if this is a possibility on your device.
Japanese Typing Aids
Typing aids will help you practice typing in Japanese and track your progress.
One of the best typing aids is 10 Fast Fingers. Once you install and figure out how to use your Japanese keyboard (don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a moment), use this typing aid to practice.
It’s easy: Simply type the Japanese words displayed as quickly and accurately as you can. At the end of the test, you’ll see how many words you typed correctly and your speed will be evaluated. This is a great resource to practice kanji in particular since there’s no furigana.
Tanoshii Japanese also has a handful of fun Japanese typing games that can help with typing speed and accuracy. This resource improves typing abilities in kanji, katakana and hiragana.
Understand How Japanese Keyboards Work
Pretty much all Japanese keyboards work identically across platforms and operating systems.
If you followed our above guide to installing and setting up your virtual Japanese keyboard, your default input method will be rōmaji.
This means that you’ll be typing out rōmaji words in order to be matched with the appropriate hiragana or kanji.
Once you see the correct kana as you’re typing the rōmaji word, select it. It’ll automatically be added to your SMS or comment box. Some keyboards will even automatically convert English letters into kana as you type and all you have to do is pick the right kanji (if you’re using kanji).
How easy is that?
Use Hiragana When Typing in Japanese
We suggest using hiragana more often when typing in Japanese, especially if you’re learning to type so you can engage with Japanese speakers online.
Since katakana is reserved for loanwords, foreign words and sound effects, hiragana is more commonly used to communicate.
Some of the keyboards we walked through are automatically set up to display hiragana characters first. If yours isn’t, it’s easy to “train” your keyboard to suggest hiragana before katakana.
When you first start using your keyboard, every time you type out a rōmaji syllable or word, scroll through the suggested kana until you find the correct hiragana. The next time you type that syllable or word, the appropriate hiragana will pop up first.
If you’re still getting used to hiragana and how that syllabary works, there are many handy resources online for getting the hang of it.
Learn to Communicate in Japanese on Social Media
Now that you have your new keyboard and know how to use it, it’s time to put it to the test with real people!
Here are some popular Japanese social media sites where you can try out your typing skills:
- Twitter: Everyone’s favorite short-form conversational social media.
- Facebook: Share some cat pictures, find out what your elementary school friend is up to and learn Japanese in one.
- Instagram: Although it’s mostly about pictures and hashtags, there are some hidden language lessons on Instagram, too.
- Pixiv: This Japanese art-based community is great for connecting with visual artists or just enjoying some cool art.
- Mobage: If you’re a gamer, this Japanese social media site is a great place to interact with other gamers, particularly mobile phone gamers.
- Mixi: The focus of this social media site is to turn strangers in Japan into friends through common interest connections.
Try searching “日本語” to find Japanese users and accounts on social media sites that aren’t exclusive to Japan.
Some other useful keywords include ペンパル (ぺんぱる) — Pen-pal and “Japanese friends.” Another good idea for finding Japanese friends with similar interests is to type in something you enjoy + “Japan.”
We’ve covered Japanese internet slang in the past as well, which may be handy for interacting on social media sites. Japanese internet slang isn’t that different from English internet slang, though Japanese internet slang tends to use more numbers and interesting abbreviations.
There’s no getting around it: You’ll just have to learn some to fit in! OTL
Is it Really That Important to Learn How to Type in Japanese?
As you’ve probably gathered by now, the answer is yes!
Here are the key takeaways to summarize why Japanese typing is such a viable language skill:
- If you plan on communicating online in Japanese, learning how to type is vital.
Typing in Japanese isn’t the same as typing in English. If you’d like to communicate with Japanese readers via social media, you’ll need this crash course on how Japanese typing works.
- Some online courses require a Japanese virtual keyboard, so knowing how to type in Japanese can come in handy.
Who doesn’t love online lessons? If you plan on learning Japanese online, there may be some situations where you’ll have to type in Japanese. For instance, FluentU requires typed answers for the personalized quizzes based on authentic media clips. So learn how to type now to avoid struggling later!
- Learning how to type in Japanese can help with romaji-kana word association.
Even if you don’t plan on using Japanese social media or taking online Japanese courses, the way Japanese keyboards are set up will help you match 漢字 (かんじ) — kanji with ローマ字 (ろーま じ ) — rōmaji. This helps substantially when it comes to associating written characters with their pronunciation.
As long as you have a basic grip on kana and rōmaji, and you get your spiffy new virtual Japanese keyboard installed, you’ll be a Japanese typing pro in no time!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist who writes about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.