Japanese Computing

Warning! This information may be outdated, especially with regards to Windows XP, which may have changed with each service pack. I intend to rewrite it soon, and also to add some Linux and OS X notes.


So you want to read and write Japanese on your non-Japanese Windows computer? Then read on, and I’ll explain how.

Windows 98/Me

These versions of Windows use 8 bit encoding (or multi-byte encoding in the case of CJK versions) and can therefore display only one character set at a time. However, don’t despair! Applications can be written for Unicode even though the operating system itself is not. In particular, Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer, and Outlook Express support Unicode. This enables you to use email, write and print documents, and browse the web, all in Japanese.

The easiest way to do this is to install (for free) the latest version of Internet Explorer.

During install, the first screen after the licence agreement will give you two options. Choose the second, “Install minimal, or customize your browser”.

On the next screen, select either “Typical” or “Minimal” in the second white box from the top, depending on your preference. I recommend “Typical”. Don’t click Next yet! We are going to add the components that will allow us to read and write Japanese.

From the list, select the following options:

  • Outlook Express
  • Language Auto-Selection
  • Japanese Text Display Support
  • Japanese Text Input Support

Now choose Next and wait for the install to finish. In my case, installing Internet Explorer 6 onto a fresh install of Windows 98 required it to download 27MB, which took about 10 minutes to download with 512kbit/s ADSL. If you don’t have broadband internet, either be prepared to wait about two hours on a modem, or look out for a CD version of Internet Explorer on the cover of a computer magazine.

When the installation finishes and the computer has restarted, you will be able to display and type in Japanese in Internet Explorer, Outlook Express and Microsoft Word (Office 97 and later).

Windows 2000

Go to the Control Panel (Start/Settings/Control Panel). Open Regional Options. In the lower of of the window, you should find a heading Language settings for the system. Scroll down to find Japanese, and tick the box. Choose Apply. The computer will probably ask you for the Windows 2000 CD, so put it in when it asks. After some copying, it will be finished. If you are asked whether you want to restart the computer, choose no, because we have another task to complete first.

After a short wait, the window will be ready to respond to you again. Move to the Input Locales tab and click on Change…. To be able to type Japanese, you need to click on Add… under Installed Services. Choose Japanese and click OK.

That’s it!

Windows XP

This is largely the same as Windows 2000, although the control panel is a little different (it has a sort of ‘simple mode’ as standard). I’ll explain this in more detail once I’ve had an opportunity to test it out on a computer running XP.

Typing Japanese

The keys you need to know are: Alt+Left Shift to change between keyboard layouts, and Alt+` (that’s the key to the left of the number 1 on most keyboards) to change between kana and Roman alphabet when using the Japanese keyboard. When you see a blue EN in the system tray (bottom right of the screen), you are using the English keyboard. To type Japanese:

  • Press Alt+Left Shift so that the EN symbol changes to JP (or a red blob depending on the version).
  • Press Alt+` to change between Roman alphabet (symbol A) and kana (symbol hiragana a).

Note that depending on the version of various components of your system, the symbol indicating whether the system is in Roman or kana mode will either be in the system tray area or in a small window floating in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. Operation is not fundamentally different in either case.

Typing in Japanese is achieved by typing the romaji equivalent to the kana you wish to type. Pressing space will attempt to convert a sentence or fragment into kanji as appropriate, but it doesn’t always get it right, and you may have to edit it with the arrow keys. This is best learned by trying it out.

N.B. On Windows 98/Me, this will only work in Unicode applications (Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and some Microsoft Office programs).


From Outlook Express, choose New Message. In the new message, go to the Format menu and select Encoding and the Japanese (JIS) (you may have to look under More to find it). You are now ready to send emails to your Japanese acquaintances by following the instructions above for typing Japanese.


This one is easy. Just type in the address as usual, e.g. http://www.asahi.com/. The Japanese text will be displayed.

Occasionally (or rather regularly…) you will encounter badly-constructed web pages that do not tell the browser which encoding to use. If a Japanese web page appears as a lot of garbage characters (which we call mojibake) then you will need to select the correct encoding. In Internet Explorer, just go to the View menu then Encoding and choose Japanese (Auto-select). Likewise, if you find that some characters are being garbled in non-Japanese web pages (e.g. 痴 meaning, appropriately enough, ‘stupid’ instead of apostrophe-s), then you will have to set the page back to the correct encoding, probably Western European (Windows) or Unicode (UTF-8).