We live in a digital age, which means that typing is an essential skill that we all have to learn and develop. It’s even more important when you’re learning Japanese, so today I’m going to go over how to type in Japanese on all electronic devices.
I’ll be covering both computers and smartphones, but to be even more specific I’ll explain how typing works on Windows, Mac, Android, and iPhone.
I’ll even talk about how you can do it online through your internet browser.
Now, you may be wondering “what about tablets?” but if you can type on a phone then you can type on a tablet. They are nearly identical.
So, first things first: make sure that you have a Japanese keyboard installed on your device!
It’s free and easy to set up. If you need some help then click here to see my walk through on how to do it.
Otherwise, let’s begin!
How To Type In Japanese On Computer
The basic method for typing in Japanese on your computer is to type the words as if you were doing so in romaji.
For example, the way to type か is to press “ka” on your keyboard while it’s set to the Japanese language.
What this is going to do is convert your English letters into their hiragana equivalent. Interestingly enough, that means that knowing how to spell things in romaji is actually a useful skill.
Who would have thought?
Anyway, since Japanese uses several writing systems (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) you need a way to navigate through each of them. The system takes this into account.
How it works is that you type your entire sentence in romaji and while the hiragana appears on screen, a box of full Japanese pops up underneath it that includes all three writing systems.
Here’s a screenshot of what I’m talking about:
Let me break down what you’re looking at.
I typed this sentence in romaji, which you can clearly see at the bottom of the box inside of those quotation marks.
Notice that there are no spaces when typing Japanese.
The system showed me the results of what I typed in hiragana at the very top with everything underlined to let me know that it was still in the writing process and hadn’t been finalized yet.
At the top of the box is what the system recommends I use, and all that it did was take what I wrote and put it into its most common form.
In this case, we see that it recommends the kanji for the first word and then katakana for the name (Sandra). Everything else would remain in hiragana.
In order to accept the computer’s recommendation, all you have to do is press the space bar and it will then turn the underlined hiragana into the full kanji, katakana, and hiragana form.
You’re not quite done at this point though. Now each individual word is underlined because you can move to any specific word with the left and right arrow keys and then press the space bar to cycle through options.
Maybe you don’t want to write 初めまして in its kanji and hiragana form. Maybe you want to write it entirely in hiragana or entirely in katakana.
That’s where you can keep pressing the space bar to cycle through the different versions until you find the one you want.
This is an essential function when you type in words that are pronounced the same way but use different kanji for different meanings.
For example, if you wanted to type in the Japanese word that means “to wear clothing” you would enter it in romaji as “kimasu” which would bring up the hiragana as きます. Then as soon as you press the space bar it would change it to 来ます which actually means “to come” in Japanese.
This means you need to cycle through the options until you find 着ます which is the correct one to use when talking about clothes.
Once you find the version of the word that you’re happy with, then all you have to do is press the enter key and it will finalize the process.
This is the basic process that you use to type in Japanese on a computer. Continue reading below for specific tips on typing when you’re using a Windows or a Mac.
There are also some important spelling tips below that you might find helpful when dealing with odd kana.
Windows Specific Tips
The most important thing is to know how to quickly and easily switch back and forth between the English setting and the Japanese one so that you can type in the language you want to.
For Windows, the hotkey is shift + alt.
Once you’ve done that, you will be in the Japanese keyboard, but it will still show the Alphabet when you type, so there’s one more hotkey you need to press.
Click on alt + ~ to change the Japanese keyboard from the Alphabet to hiragana. You should be good to go at that point.
Also, when you are typing out words you can press F7 to turn them all into katakana. Or you could press F8 to turn them into miniaturized katakana!
Mac Specific Tips
For the Mac, the way that you switch between languages on the keyboard is by pressing control + space bar.
Just make sure that the shortcut is enabled. The way to do that is to go into the keyboard settings and turn it on. I show a walk through of it on the post where I explain how to get the Japanese keyboard activated.
Another thing that is unique to the Mac is then you are typing in Japanese, it should automatically switch from the hiragana to the kanji removing the need to hit the space bar like you do with Windows.
This feature can be turned off if you want, but I’ve always found it to be nice.
The Mac Japanese keyboard can be further customized in many ways, but in order to do so you need to go into the input sources section in the keyboard settings.
One change that I found useful was changing the shift key action from enter romaji mode to type katakana. That way if there’s ever a time I wanted to type a word entirely in katakana all I have to do is press shift while typing.
How To Type Online Without A Japanese Keyboard
Sometimes you may find yourself at a computer that’s not your own and you need to type in Japanese but you can’t set up the keyboard since it’s someone else’s computer.
In that case, I would recommend that you head on over to Google Translate.
Once you’re there, change the language of the left box to Japanese.
Then, in the lower right hand side of that box you should see a little あ symbol that is grayed out. Click on it to turn on the input method.
Now all you have to do is type in the box as if you had turned on your Japanese keyboard and it will effectively function the same way.
Type in what you want, press the space bar to look through the different spellings until you find the right one, and then press enter to use it.
Then you can just copy and paste the Japanese text to wherever you need it.
Spelling Tips For Japanese
For the most part, if you can remember how to spell something in romaji, then you’ll know how to spell it in Japanese using the keyboard.
But there are a couple of kana that are weird and you have to know a special way to type them.
If you’re having trouble getting ん just type in “nn” and it should pop up.
If you want to type small kana, all you have to do is put either an “x” or an “l” in front of it when you type.
So to get あぁ you type in “axa” and it appears.
What about the kana ぢ (ji) and づ (zu) that rarely get used, but still pop up every now and then? The trick is to remember that they belong to the d-group, and not the t-group in romaji.
Type “di” to get ぢ and “du” to get づ.
On the flip side, if you actually do want something like the “di, ti, or du” sounds then you will need to type them like:
- dexi / deli = ディ
- texi / teli = ティ
- doxu / dolu = ドゥ
And you can continue that pattern for any sound that’s not common in Japanese. Just remember most will be spelled in katakana, so hit the space bar to go from hiragana to katakana before you’re done.
Speaking of katakana, when you want to spell an elongated vowel in katakana use the “-” key located near the backspace button. This is how you get the ー in words like コーヒー for coffee.
What if you’re typing the word for “wolf” in Japanese, but it’s just not coming up? After all, it’s spelled ōkami, right?
Well my friends, you might not have known that there are Japanese words with irregular spellings!
Even though most of the time the elongated-o sound is represented with the “u” kana う, sometimes you actually use お for it.
I’ve only ever read this fact in one book!
Here are 12 common words that use the irregular お for the second “o” instead of う like you might expect:
- おおい (many)
- おおきい (big)
- とお (ten)
- とおい (far)
- おおさか (Osaka)
- おおどおり (main street)
- とおり (street)
- ほお (check)
- とおる (pass through)
- おおかみ (wolf)
- こおり (ice)
- おおう (to cover)
These spelling tips are primarily useful for typing on a keyboard since it’s a lot simpler to find the correct kana on you phone.
Speaking of which…
How To Text In Japanese On The Phone
Now we switch things over to texting in Japanese when you’re on your smartphone.
For this most part, texting in Japanese is intuitive. The keyboard will show you a grid with all of the hiragana families starting with their “a” sounds. So, あ・か・さ・ and so on.
When you want to reach a non-a kana, you have two ways to do so.
The first way is to press and hold on the kana family that you want and then the other four options should appear with the i-kana to the left, the u-kana above, the e-kana to the right, and finally the o-kana at the bottom.
Just slide your finger to the one you one to select it, and then let go.
The other way is just to repeatedly tap on the a-kana and it will cycle through the different options in the same order as I listed above. Once you’ve found the one you want, just stop clicking and it will settle on it.
The basic way to text is to spell out the word you want in hiragana and look at the top bar for predictions on what the phone thinks you’re trying to say.
When you see the correct kanji or katakana, just click on it and it will convert you hiragana message into it.
Two other things to keep in mind is that when you choose a kana you can press on the bottom-left button to make that kana small or big again.
It can also be used to add some dakuon or handakuon, which are the two little lines in the top right of a kana or the small circle in the same spot.
That bottom-middle tile that defaults to わ is hiding a couple of useful options that you’ll want to take advantage of as well. They are the を・ん・－・～ options.
How To Improve Your Texting / Typing Skills
The basic formula for getting good at typing or texting in Japanese can be stated as:
- Learn how to do it
- Do it a lot
I know… secrets of the universe here, lol!
But in all honesty, you’ve already done step one which is to learn how to type and text in Japanese.
Now all you need to do is step two and practice doing it over and over again. As you use these skills more, they will naturally improve.
Perhaps you could start a blog in Japanese? Or if shorter thoughts are your thing you might consider setting up a Twitter account where you can tweet in Japanese.
There are also lots of apps and online forms where you can talk to and communicate with native Japanese people, so try checking around for opportunities where you can type and text a lot.
Eventually you will be able to do so with ease. Good luck!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: