Tools

How to Type Japanese on Your Computer – Tips and Tricks

OK, so you’ve set your computer up to type Japanese by activating the keyboard, and now you’re typing away and having fun. But how do you type those small kanas? And how do you get the rarely used づ for words like つづく in Japanese?

I’m going to show you how to type Japanese on your computer so that you don’t have to search the internet and pull a copy-paste move every time you know what you want to type, but aren’t exactly sure how to go about it.

Think of this post as more of a reference than anything else. You might need to pop back in sometime in the future if you’ve forgotten how to do anything in particular.

With that being said, let’s get started!

Oh Wait, You Haven’t Set Up the Keyboard Yet?

I am assuming that you’ve already set up the Japanese keyboard on your computer (PC or Mac) and are able to type the kana and kanji characters just fine. But if you haven’t done that yet, then check out the step by step process that I wrote by clicking on the link below. It should only take a minute or two.

Click Here to Activate the Japanese Keyboard on Your Computer.

Once you’ve done that, come back to this page and read on to learn the basics, and some more advanced uses of the virtual Japanese keyboard.

Understanding the Basics

Have you even been told that knowing Rōmaji is a waste of time? Well if you have, I’ve got good news for you: you’re going to be using Rōmaji to type Japanese!

Once you’ve activated the Japanese keyboard on your computer, and then switched to it so that it’s turned on, you can begin typing Japanese.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Think of the kana or kanji that you want to type
  2. Type it out in Rōmaji
  3. The keyboard will automatically convert it to Japanese

So for example, if you wanted to type the Japanese word for “good morning” you would type these letters on your keyboard: ohayou (yes, lower case is necessary)

While you are typing these letters on your English keyboard, the characters on the screen should automatically start changing to the correct kana as おはよう.

You’ll notice that the kana are underlined while you type them. This is to let you know that you can cycle through the words by pressing the Space button. I’ll get to that in a second, so for now just know that you press Enter to confirm the word and get rid of the underline.

The primary difference between regular Rōmaji and this “typed Rōmaji” is that when you type on the keyboard, you will never include spaces to spell the word.

Remember, the input will be converted so you have to think to yourself “how do I want the end result to look?”

To elaborate on this, the polite way to say “good morning” in Japanese is actually two words in Rōmaji “ohayou gozaimasu.”

As you can see, there is a space between each word. But when you type it on your keyboard, it needs to be written as “ohayougozaimasu” with no spaces so that the conversion comes out correctly and looks like “おはようございます.”

“But wait, what about the kanji that’s supposed to be in there?!”

I’m glad you asked!

If you’re on a Mac, it should automatically switch from the hiragana to the kanji (although this feature can be turned off if you want), but if you’re on a PC then all you have to do is press the Space button once you’ve fully written out the word.

It will then change おはようございます into お早うございます.

Since Japanese has so many homophones, if you type in the pronunciation for a word and the wrong kanji comes up, just keep hitting the Space button to cycle through all the options.

You might type in “hashi” which brings up the hiragana はし because you want to say something about chopsticks. But when you press Space the kanji appears, which is the Japanese word for “bridge”

Once you start smashin’ dat Space button,  will eventually appear. Then you just need to press Enter to confirm your choice!

Typing Japanese Punctuation and Stuff

OK, so there’s not all that much explaining that needs to be done in this part, so here’s the format:

The Japanese character – What you type on your English keyboard

Japanese Punctuation Key on English Keyboard
.
、​ ,
/
?
!
「​ [
]
~
\

You are probably wondering where all the other things are, such as these bad boys: 【】

It’s pretty simply, you remember how you can cycle through different options when you hit the Space bar? All you have to do is press [ on your key board and it will change it to 「 and then you can press Space to change it to 【 or 『 or whatever you’d like.

So if the symbol you want isn’t in the table above, try to think of which shape it is closest to,  and then press it to see if what you want is in the alternative choices.

Also, remember when I said that you aren’t going to use “spaces” when typing in Japanese? Well technically you can, but it might look a little weird when you do.

That’s because the English keyboard uses what are known as “half-spaces” for the distance between words, whereas the Japanese keyboard uses “full spaces” if and when a space is actually typed. Let’s take a look at them.

These are English words that have half-spaces between each of them.

These are English words that have full-spaces between each of them.

If you click and drag your mouse on the above sentence, you will see that even though each word is really far apart, the computer only recognizes it as a single space.

It’s probably because the Japanese people really want to emphasize the space when it’s used on the computer, since it’s not a normal part of the language.

But that’s really just a guess. If you know the real reason, let me know with a comment below.

All Those Pesky Kana

This section might be the most useful for people who have been typing in Japanese for a while, but aren’t totally sure how to get the right kana that they want from the typed Rōmaji.

If you’tr having trouble getting ん just type in nn and it sould 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 if you are yelling, you might want to type あぁぁ!

All you have to do is type a for that first normal sized あ kana and then xa or la for the smaller ones.

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.

Type di to get ぢ (ji) and du to get づ (zu).

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.

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 probably didn’t know 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. So don’t feel bad if you didn’t know.

Here are 12 common words that use the irregular お for the second o instead of う like you would expect:


1. おおい (many)
2. おおきい (big)
3. とお (ten)
4. とおい (far)
5. おおさか (Osaka)
6. おおどおり (main street)
7. とおり (street)
8. ほお (check)
9. とおる (pass through)
10. おおかみ (wolf)
11. こおり (ice)
12. おおう (to cover)

A Few Shortcuts

When you’ve got both a Japanese and an English keyboard activated on your computer, you should be able to switch between them by pressing Shift + Alt.

Just know that sometimes the Japanese keyboard will have it’s own English keyboard activated, which you will see notated with an “A” in the bottom right corner. You can then press Alt + ~ to switch back and forth between kana and letters.

With this feature mastered, you could even turn off the normal English keyboard if you wanted to since the Japanese keyboard has both.

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!

And if you’ve made a mistake, just tap Esc to exit the kanji options and press Esc again to erase what you’ve typed.

Start Typing

Alright, you should now know everything that you need to in order to type your thoughts in Japanese correctly.

What I’ve shown you how to do today is basically everything that I know when it comes to using an English computer to type in Japanese.

If you know anything that I left out, any tricks or things like that, I would love it if you would share!

Leave a comment below and let me know!

2 Comments

  • Daniella

    Hi Nick,

    Great article, I’ve found very useful!

    I love Japanese, and it’s been a long time that I’ve dreamed to learn this language. I was always discouraged to start learning because let’s face it. It is not an easy language to learn:). I will begin by typing these simple words on my keyboard so that I can get into it and realize my dream!

    Thank you very much for this helpful post!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Daniella, yeah Japanese is definitely one of the harder languages for English speakers to learn, and the officials (The Foreign Service Institute) actually say it’s THE hardest!

      I think it takes longer than languages such as Italian or French simply because it’s so different from English. This is most apparent when it comes to the written system, but Japanese grammar also gives people trouble when they start.

      Good luck with your studies and you can always come back here to JT to pick up new learning methods and discover great resources to use along the way!

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