English Windows XP with a Japanese Keyboard

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 ").
    Windows XP language settings for a Japanese keyboard

    Windows XP language settings for a Japanese keyboard

  • 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.


  1. Reply
    Loren February 5, 2008

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!

    I can’t believe it was so simple. After my Japanese-model laptop malfunctoned and Sony refused to touch it in the States, I bought a US model, but I’ve been wanting to use an external J-keyboard with my E-laptop for a long time and even purchased 3 keyboards in Japan, but was always too busy to be persistent enough to figure out the settings. I previously read Cameron Baccario’s article, but still no success.

    I was able to do almost everything I needed on my laptop’s E-keyboard, but some required extra keystrokes. The one function I never figured out really frustrated me. Specifically, with a Japanese keyboard, if you don’t know how to read a kanji, you can simply highlight the kanji and press henkan to see the reading (pronunciation)in hiragana. This saves a lot of time looking things up.

    Using an external Japanese keyboard not only allows me to type faster (full-size keyboard, and easier to find keys without looking), but also gives me additional functionality (noted above) and reduces the number of keystrokes required in many situations, such as switching back and forth between romaji (for Japanese) and “direct Input” (for English), or when using TRADOS translation memory software. I also find I can do Google searches faster on my Japanese keyboard because I can type quotation marks with only my left hand without looking, while using my right hand to highlight text to cut&paste, whereas the English keyboard requires both hands or the right hand, which means taking my hand off the mouse and looking down to find the quotation mark key.

    Anyway, thank you! Where do I send payment?

  2. Reply
    mike February 4, 2009

    how do u set up a system for the japanese keyboard stickers for my american keyboard?

  3. Reply
    Mike February 5, 2009

    Sorry, I’m not familiar with the sticker systems. A Japanese keyboard has more keys than an American keyboard, so my instructions in this post very likely do not apply to what you’re doing.

  4. Reply
    Debs February 28, 2009

    Finally, a really helpful and nicely explained blog site.

    A quick question: my sister has converted a japanese laptop to english system however the @ symbol, which has it’s own key, does not display. Before I call her back will this therefore be fixed by changing keyboard setting to Japanese as you have explained in “English Windows XP with a Japanese Keyboard”…?

    Many thanks.

  5. Reply
    Mike March 1, 2009

    Sorry, I don’t know. I’ve only used English Windows with a Japanese keyboard, not vice versa.

  6. Reply
    Sean April 13, 2009

    In regards to using the Stickers on an english keyboard, you will likely still tell windows that its a 109-key japanese keyboard, but since there is no additional keys for changing modes, you may have to use manual hot-keys similar to if yo were using kana-input with the IME Method editor.

    Ctrl + Shift for instance swaps from EN to JP mode
    Ctrl + ~ then swaps from Alphanumeric entry to Kana input

    Google “Japanese IME” and browse the results.

  7. Reply
    Nancy July 31, 2010

    Specifically, with a Japanese keyboard, if you don’t know how to read a kanji, you can simply highlight the kanji and press henkan to see the reading in hiragana.

  8. Reply
    robert January 11, 2012

    thanks for the article BUT you dont need direct hiragana and katakana input. NO ONE tpyes like that. trust I work in a Japanese office in Japan. JAPANESE peopel type in romaniji and let the computer change it for them. it is the ONLY effective way. mainly becuase of kanji.

    I LOVE japanese keyboards. I like the layout better. After 5 years of having both. 2 with j keyboards, and 1 with a US key board, which finnaly broke. and now I have all 3 jp keyboards, but 1 still on a ENGLISH OS…..
    I love the placement of the “@” key I love that you dont have to hit shift for “:” Some of them have TERRIBLE placement of the enter key… so watch for that. and some have a small space bar but its off center so you will ALWAYS hit the the wrong key.
    but if you find one that matches you old typeing style. than you are golden!!!

    learn to type in romanji!!!! and let it convert. its how the japaense do it. its WAY faster to type. but seeing how this post is fairly old, this advice is just for new leaners/typers of japanese.

    • Reply
      Mike January 22, 2012

      Thanks for the feedback Robert. I actually haven’t used my Japanese keyboard since returning from Japan in 2007. You’re right this is an older post, but it’s still one of the most popular on my site.

  9. Reply
    jac February 13, 2012

    ive been trying to type in hiragana form using the english alphabets in the keybard however the hiragana alphabets on the keyboard appears..PLS help

    • Reply
      Mike February 14, 2012

      Sorry – it’s been years since I’ve used my Japanese keyboard (this post is from 2007)

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