Enabling Japanese | Japanese Input | Word Processing | Internet Searching | Moodle | Email | Chat

Enabling Japanese on your computer

Both Windows and Macintosh computers are capable of typing in Japanese with a little configuration. Please see these general instructions on how to enable languages on your computer and then come back here for more Japanese-specific information for Macintosh and Windows.

Japanese Input

Most Japanese seem to use the roman-ized input method that works well for those of us used to touch-typing. The system is fairly easy to learn to do, but requires that you know your vocabulary well (it can't reliably translate to kanji if you don't input long vowels or double consonants correctly).

Once you've enabled Japanese input on your computer, you can use the language bar (Windows) or keyboard menu (Macintosh) to Japanese. When you start typing now, all of your words will be underlined with a dashed line. Use the standard Hepburn system romanizations to input words.

e.g. Type: n i h o n => にほん

If you want the word to appear in hiragana, then hit the enter key to accept the displayed characters and the dashed line will disappear.

Typing Kanji

If you need kanji, type the word as described above, but instead of hitting Enter hit the space bar. You'll see a small menu of available characters appear just below your cursor that will allow you to select the desired character combinations. Use the arrow keys to scroll among the available options. Then use the Enter key to select the desired combination, and hit Enter again to accept the change.

Special and Rarely used Characters

There are some characters that don't have one standard romanization or whose romanizations don't work with the accepted input. Here are some of the quick ways of typing some of those funny characters.

Character Input
ー(katakana long vowel) hyphen key
「 」 (quotation marks) [ ] (bracket keys)
ぁ ぃ っ... (small kana) xa xi xtsu ...
かった (small tsu) katta
/ (slash key)
ウィ wi
ティ thi
ヴィ vi
ディ dhi

Word Processing

MS Word handles Japanese quite well on both Windows and Macintosh. The files are interchangeable with each other (i.e. from platform to platform) and also with the localized Japanese versions of Word that is found on computers in Japan.

However, there are some handy add-on tools that you'll want to know about and make use of. These include the ability to add phonetic guide (i.e. furigana) to characters, use enclosed characters, write vertically and others. For more information about these and other handy features for Japanese computing, see my page on Additional Tools for Japanese.

Internet Searching

Google (is there really anything else?), has some built-in language prefrence tools that allows you to search in both English and Japanese automatically.

To go the main Google page and click on Preferences. Here you can set your preferred interface language, and any languages that you want to include in your searches. You can also configure Google's SafeSearch settings (for blocking explicit content), the number of results per page and whether or not to display results in a new window.

These preferences are done via cookies, meaning that you'll need to change these preferences in every browser you use (and on every computer).


Japanese works extremely well in Moodle. I have found no areas in which it is a problem. If you encounter problems using Japanese in Moodle, please report them to me immediately.


OK, this is where it gets a little interesting. There are a few different character encodings that are typically used for Japanese: UTF-8 (aka Unicode), ISO-2022. SHIFT-JIS and EUC. It seems to be a good idea to avoid EUC, in an effort to be more compatible with different operating systems.

For all intents and purposes, I recommend choosing UTF-8 for your default encoding. If you do a lot of emailing with folks in Japan whose computers have a hard time reading UTF-8, the next best thing is ISO-2022.


I recommend using Thunderbird for email. While Outlook may work, it is a constant target for virus and spyware writers, and therefore not a safe email client to use. You can download Thunderbird at www.mozilla.com.

See my page on Multilingual Settings for Thunderbird for details on how to set your default encoding options.


Mac's built-in email client, called Mail.app, is a wonderful email client and works great with most languages (the exceptions are RTL languages, like Hebrew and Arabic). I highly recommend using it for your email.

On OS 10.3.x and higher, the default encoding when typing in Japanese is now UTF-8 (aka Unicode). This is fine unless you are emailing someone in Japan using an email program not designed for reading UTF-8. Most computers in Japan still default to ISO-2022 or EUC encodings, so you may find some people in Japan complaining about mojibake (garbage characters).

The workaround for this problem is to use the Terminal to hardset your default encoding to ISO-2022 when you type Japanese (this setting does not affect the encodings for other languages). Here's what to do:

  1. Open Applications > Utilities > Terminal
  2. Type this exactly:

    defaults write com.apple.mail NSPreferredMailCharset "ISO-2022-JP"

  3. Hit Return
  4. Quit Terminal


There are several options out there, but Trillian seems to be the best bet for Windows users. The free version allows you to type Japanese using the built-in Windows keyboard.

For Macintosh, iChat works great over the AIM protocol. I've successfully chatted in Japanese from iChat on a Mac to a Windows Trillian user over AIM.