It would have been much more difficult for me to figure out how to setup my Japanese keyboard without the help of the articles, blog posts, and forum posts that others wrote describing their experiences. I figured out a few things that no one else has written about, so the purpose of this post is to give something back to the community of folks who have also struggled with using Japanese in Windows.
I decided to try my luck using a 109 key Japanese keyboard with my English Windows laptop. I thought it might help my Japanese writing if I learned to use the direct Hiragana and Katakana input, instead of typing in Romaji and relying on MS Word to do the conversions for me. I succeeded in getting everything working, but it took some doing.
The place to start is the excellent article Windows XP Japanese Input. As thorough as that article is, it wasn’t quite enough to get my keyboard working correctly. So the next step is Cameron Beccario’s instructions for installing a Japanese keyboard. My keyboard is USB, but the only driver option available for a Japanese keyboard is PS/2. I picked that anyway and it’s working fine. But that only gets the driver in place – you still need to do some configuration work:
- Under Control Panel / Regional and Language Settings / Language Settings / Details, I added “English (United States) – Japanese” as the default input language. You do this by going into the “Installed Services” box, and in the “English” section under “Keyboards” click “Add.” Then in the next window, select English as the input language and Japanese as the keyboard layout. After you click “OK”, this should make “Japanese” appear in bold under “Keyboards” in the “Installed Services” box, meaning it’s the default keyboard layout. You need this setting in order for the keys on the Japanese keyboard to map correctly. If you don’t do this, the Japanese keyboard will still work, but the keys will be mapped to a US keyboard layout (which means, for example, you’ll get an @ symbol when you try to enter a ").
- With the foregoing setup, if you use the language bar to – for example, switch Microsoft Word to Japanese – you can make the appropriate selections in the Language Bar, type Romaji, and Word will convert it to Hiragana just as it would with a US keyboard. If you want to set it up so that you can simply type the Hiragana as it appears on the Japanese keyboard, then in the Language Bar, select Input Style / Properties, and in the General tab change the input method to Kana.
Some other things worth noting:
- Under Control Panel / Regional and Language Settings / Advanced, I left English as the language for non-Unicode programs. As explained in the article, setting it to Japanese will cause the \ character to appear as ¥ (the yen symbol) and this setting can cause some programs to automatically install themselves in Japanese. And personally, even though there’s no harm in it, seeing yen symbols where backslashes should be in file paths would drive me crazy.
- At least with my keyboard and MS Word, the ¥ will give you a ¥ only if you’re in Romaji input mode (and if you hit it twice, it’ll give you a double backslash). If you switch to Kana input mode, then you can’t get a ¥ from it all – it instead gives you the Katakana vowel extender character (which looks like a stylized em dash).
- In the Kana input mode, you can make use of the 4 special Japanese language keys on the keyboard. A found a nice description of them on this Keyboard scancodes page:
To the left of the spacebar, (Shift-JIS) 無変換 (muhenkan) means no conversion from kana to kanji. To the right of the spacebar, 変換 (henkan) means conversion from kana to kanji. In Microsoft systems it converts the most recently input sequence of kana to the system’s first guess at a string of kanji/kana/etc. with the correct pronunciation and a guess at the meaning. Repeated keypresses change it to other possible guesses which are either less common or less recently used, depending on the situation. The shifted version of this key is 前侯補 (zenkouho) which means “previous candidate” — “zen” means “previous”, while “kouho” means “candidate” (explanation courtesy of NIIBE Yutaka) — it rotates back to earlier guesses for kanji conversion. The alt version of this key is 全侯補 also pronounced (zenkouho), which means “all candidates” — here, “zen” means “all” — it displays a menu of all known guesses. I never use the latter two functions of the key, because after pushing the henkan key about three times and not getting the desired guess, it displays a menu of all known guesses anyway.
Next on the right, ひらがな (hiragana) means that phonetic input uses one conventional Japanese phonetic alphabet, which of course can be converted to kanji by pressing the henkan key later. The shifted version is カタカナ (katakana) which means the other Japanese phonetic alphabet, and the alt version is ローマ字 (ro-maji) which means the Roman alphabet.
Near the upper left, 半/全 (han/zen) means switch between hankaku (half-size, the same size as an ASCII character) and zenkaku (full-size, since the amount of space occupied by a kanji is approximately a square, twice as fat as an ASCII character). It only affects katakana and a few other characters (for example there’s a full-width copy of each ASCII character in addition to the single-byte half-width encodings). The alt version of this is 漢字 (kanji) which actually causes typed Roman phonetic keys to be displayed as Japanese phonetic kana (either hiragana or katakana depending on one of the other keys described above) and doesn’t cause conversion to kanji.
- It took me a while to figure out the diacritical marks when in Kana input mode, but I finally got it. For example, to make a た (ta) into a だ (da), you hit the た key, and then the ゛ key (the @ key when in English mode), and then Word will merge them into a single character.
- I have the keyboard hooked up to a laptop which has its own regular US keyboard. There is no way that I know of to have dual keyboard configurations. So this means the laptop keyboard defaults to behaving like a Japanese keyboard, resulting in a a number of keys not mapping correctly. I found this isn’t so bad, as you can toggle between the keyboard layouts in the Language Bar (but you just need to remember the Language Bar settings are per program, so you need to toggle each program; and, of course, you can always change the default keyboard layout back to US English).
- I also discovered that all the Regional and Language Bar settings are per user. So you need to go through all of these steps (except for the driver installation) for each account used on your PC 🙁 (I imagine this can be dealt with at the Administrator level, but I haven’t checked).
I’m a fairly fast typist, and it’s taken about a week to retrain my fingers for some of the different key positions. The hardest thing to get used to is the teeny tiny space bar (it’s only about twice the width of a regular key). Some of the layout reminds me of my old Commodore 64 – double quote is Shift-2, @ has its own key, etc.