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The following situation:

  • Someone has a PC with Linux Ubuntu as well as a mobile phone with Andoide, which is set to English so far and has an English keyboard label.
  • He wants to write Japanese characters like Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji on these devices via keyboard or touchpad.
  • He has never done this before, knows no description and has never, except perhaps in film clips, seen anyone writing Japanese on such devices.
  • He would like to be able to do this in common programmes such as any word processor as well as any browser.

What is a common way to write Japanese characters on the above two devices?

  • What is a common keyboard layout in Japan?
  • What keyboard settings or additional programmes are common, necessary or useful?
  • What else should I know, but I can't ask exactly because I don't know the process?
  • Do you write in Romaji, for example, which is then converted character by character into Hiragana and, if a corresponding Kanji is available, is then converted into Kanji independently ? And what would one have to do, for example, to prevent a possible automatic partial conversion of hiragana into kanji, if one wants to write pure hiragana, for example ?

Additional information:

The people on the situation above:

  • Know the differences of Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji
  • are able to read and write Hiragana and Katakana alphabet and a hand of Kanji by hand.
  • He is interested in informations, which describe him what he need and how use this, to be able to write Japanese caracter on his PC or Mobile Phone.
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For Ubuntu 20.04 I would follow the step-by-step instructions here.

I'm afraid I do not know the best method for Android.

The most common keyboard layout in Japan is the QWERTY JIS Layout. It's basically the same as the standard US keyboard layout though there are a few minor differences such as ease of access to the ¥ (yen) currency symbol. However, it is not necessary to use a special keyboard to type in Japanese.

Assuming that you have zero knowledge of Japanese the most important thing to understand is that Japanese is a phoenetic language. Secondly there are 3 major character sets; hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

Hiragana is the basic building blocks and consists of 46 letters, each of these letters can be represented by either a single vowel or by a combination of one consonant and one vowel. For example the vowel "A" is "あ" or the letter "ふ" is "Fu". This chart should give you some idea of the possible combinations.

In addition some letters can have unique derivatives denoted by special symbols. For example "Su" is written as "す" but the addition of two short lines (similar to a quotation mark) on the upper right corner like "ず" will change the sound to "Zu". Or a small circle in the upper right corner may change "ひ" (Hi) to "ぴ" (Pi).

Katakana is essentially the same as Hiragana but all the letters are different and more angular. For example "A" in hiragana looks like "あ" but in katakana it looks like "ア". Katakana is used exclusively for non-Japanese loan words like "computer" (コンピューター)or "table"(テーブル). Since Japanese does not have extended vowels we use the "ー" symbol to elongate the vowel. For example "タ"(Ta) vs "ター" (Tahhh). Here's a chart for reference.

Kanji are Chinese characters that Japanese borrowed. Since hiragana are the basic building blocks it is possible to spell out every Kanji character phoenetically. The best approximation I can give you is if you imagine typing the word "copyright" and after pressing space it automatically gets converted to the "©" symbol. A more literal example would be if you typed the keys "SoRa" which is displayed on screen on as "そら" with an underline beneath it. Once you press space it gets automatically converted to the kanji character "空" (Sky). If you don't want to convert the hiragana to kanji you don't press space, you simply press Enter.

Of course you should be aware that this is a gross oversimplification. Many Kanji characters can be pronounced the same way similar to English homonyms (mail-male, loan-lone, ate-eight). This means you need to know which specific character, of several thousand, you want to use. To make matters worse when multiple Kanji characters are used in sequence they revert to their Chinese(ish) pronounciation. But those quirks and minute nuances of the Japanese language are beyond the scope of this crash course, if you want to know more about it you'll have to do your own research.

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