Writing Japanese characters

Like many people, you probably think you speak no Japanese at all - but you're wrong. Ever heard of sushi, karaoke, sudoku, ninjas or futons? These commonly understood Japanese words are far from alone. If you're interested in horticulture, you're probably familiar with bonsai trees, or perhaps with ikebana flower arrangements. Food lovers know their wasabi from their shiitake mushrooms, and martial art masters are familiar with karate, aikido and kendo.

Japanese words are actually becoming more and more prevalent in English and other Western languages, and as distances grow smaller and communication is made easier, this is bound to happen even more in the future. The last few years have seen the rise of both anime and harajuku girls, for example.

So what should you do if you want to be able to write these words, or perhaps your own name, using real Japanese characters? Can you type Japanese letters on your normal keyboard, or do Japanese people have separate keyboards?

First of all, you should know that the Japanese language actually uses three separate scripts: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. Kanji is based on characters with a Chinese origin, whereas both hiragana and katakana are syllabaries, i.e. use characters to represent different syllables. Confusingly, for an outsider at least, all three systems can be used together. Consider these facts:

  • Kanji is used for nouns, adjective and verb stems, and names
  • Hiragana is used for inflectional endings for adjectives and verbs
  • Katakana is used for foreign, technical and scientific words

Tricky, isn't it? However, it is made easier (or perhaps more complicated!) by the fact that you can also choose to write everything in e.g. hiragana, depending on context, conventions and readability.

For a detailed look at the different ways of typing Japanese on your computer, have a look at this article - but bear in mind that it is time-consuming and fairly complicated. If you're interested in inserting a few Japanese characters into a document, or perhaps creating a Japanese email signature, there is a far easier solution - PopChar.

How to write in Japanese on your computer - insert Japanese letters quickly and easily

This easy, user-friendly character map lets you insert Japanese characters with a quick mouse click - and it works with all your applications. Whenever you need a Japanese symbol, PopChar is there to help. Click the little "P" box in the system tray to display a table of characters. Select the desired Japanese character and it instantly appears in your document.

PopChar is useful for other things too! You can insert characters for many other foreign languages, Unicode, HTML and more, and it is easy and intuitive to use.

Read more about the Mac version or the Windows version of PopChar here.