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I remember seeing a Japanese keyboard sometime ago where each button mapped directly to a Japanese letter, for example there was keys for か and き.

Oftentimes I feel that my typing in Japanese is very slow and sometimes I wonder if it would be helpful for me to use a keyboard like that, or at least change my computer's configuration so I could type that way (though it would require painting over my keys, or memorizing each letter). It seems clear that this would be much more efficient in terms of the reduced number of strokes for most of the letters.

My question is whether this type of keyboard/input system is used commonly in Japan, or if Japanese people have just gotten used to typing "k a" for か.

EDIT: I am looking mostly for information about how many people actually use a keyboard like this on the desktop, and am not much interested in mobile.

migrated from japanese.stackexchange.com Mar 3 '16 at 8:46

This question came from our site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language.

  • This is probably OT. In my experience, I never saw anyone use this on a PC, but have seen it more than a few times on smart phones. YMMV. – kiss-o-matic Feb 29 '16 at 17:14
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    If you're using the Microsoft IME, there's a button marked KANA that will enforce this behavior. Like you say, though, you'll have to re-learn the keyboard. – Eiríkr Útlendi Feb 29 '16 at 17:39
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    On smart phones, フリック入力 is used almost unilaterally for Japanese input. It's almost an order of magnitude faster, after all. – Darius Jahandarie Feb 29 '16 at 17:42
  • I'm most concerned about desktop machines, whether people actually use keyboards that have kana on them. – Locksleyu Feb 29 '16 at 18:26
  • I have seriously never seen anyone use this. Ever. Even if it was used somewhere, I like the point brought up by Jimmy's answer. You would still need to learn and use QWERTY. This is even more obvious in fields like programming. – Amani Kilumanga Mar 1 '16 at 4:45
  • @Lcksleyu: Standard romaji input is inefficient but JIS kana is even worse. I use neither myself. – user4092 Mar 2 '16 at 3:22
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    @user4092 What do you use? – snailcar Mar 2 '16 at 18:31
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    @snailboat My own custom layout: viharati.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/miloq.html – user4092 Mar 6 '16 at 13:08
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I'm only going off of personal experience, But I'd say 80~90% of the Japanese people use ローマ字入力 (roman letter input). And most of those who use かな入力 (kana input) are older, 35 and up.

Definitely, かな入力 is much more efficient. You can type over twice the speed of ローマ字入力. But it takes a lot to learn, and not all keyboards nowadays have the keys printed on them. Plus, with so much English in the Japanese language, you're still going to have to learn the English keyboard, so it's twice the work.

But it is a must in workplaces that do a lot of typing. I know a few people who work for publications and they are incredibly good at かな入力.

  • If you're looking for an even more efficient system, 親指シフト lets you not have to stretch your fingers into the number row (among other improvements). Downside is it either requires special hardware or some messing with the alt key mapping (which is suboptimal positionally). The letter positioning isn't that great either; I've come up with a bit better layout based on Dvořák-y principles. – Sjiveru Feb 29 '16 at 23:09
  • The fastest way is actually the real-time subtitling keyboard used at TV stations. It's so specialized it may not be practical though! youtube.com/watch?v=KUiURlbopaA – Jimmy Mar 2 '16 at 16:58
  • Thanks, The 80-90% figure is just what I was looking for! – Locksleyu Mar 3 '16 at 5:26
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Computers sold in Japan have a keyboard like the one below:

Japanese keyboard

You can use it in two modes: kana-input and romaji-input. Romaji-input is what you use all the time and kana-input allows you to directly input the kana printed on the keys.

From what I have seen a lot of people tend to use the romaji-input even in Japan.

You can use this disposition with all keyboards (you just have to specify kana-input in your IME) but if you look closely you will see that there are some extra keys that are not on a traditional keyboard: 無変換・変換・ひらがな カタカナ・半角/全角. To make use of that you will have to remap them to weird combinations like ctrl [+ alt] + key, which is not very convenient.

The 変換 key has the same behaviour as the space key on a regular keyboard, the space key allows to choose between hiragana and katakana version of a word, and 無変換, 半角/全角 do exactly what it should.


Indeed, you could improve your typing speed and reduce key-misses (eg. typing i in place of o just after k). Personally, I have considered making the switch but in fact I do not think fast enough in Japanese so the limiting factor is not my typing speed. I think that is also a point to consider, because if your limiting speed is not your typing speed there is no reasons to learn a new keymap.

  • Which way were you taught in school (pre-smartphone days anyway)? And in pre-computer days? As a native English speaker, it is easier to think and type in kana rather than go back and forth. For example in romaji input, ま (intend to type) - ma (typed) - ま (result on screen). Maybe it is a problem with me because I am a native ABC person, but while I originally learned the romaji input method, now it seems like an extra step that only serves to slow me down. – user3169 Mar 1 '16 at 5:17
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    @user3169 In Japanese schools we are only taught ローマ字入力. – Chocolate Mar 1 '16 at 13:41
  • @choco Thanks. Was this because early Japanese word processors were similar to western models for some reason? Or some other reason? To me the difference between phonetic vs. kana input is not so much. – user3169 Mar 1 '16 at 16:03
  • When I went to High School in Japan they taught both input types in the computing classes (2007). Maybe it depends on the school? – The Wandering Coder Mar 2 '16 at 4:00
  • It's 2010 when MOE instructed use of romaji, if I remember it correctly. – user4092 Mar 6 '16 at 13:10
  • @user4092 Fair enough. I never managed to pick up kana input anyway. Too used to writing with English letters I guess. – The Wandering Coder Mar 9 '16 at 7:22
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http://neutral.x0.com/home/sushida/play3.html
http://typing.twi1.me/game/1622

I think these pages of online typing lessons for Japanese will be good if you want to learn Japanese typing.
In actuality, a conversion key is used additionally.

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