Keyboard frenzy

By far the most time-consuming, energy-zapping and frustrating part of working in Japan isn’t the language barrier, the working hours or the culture clash; it is all down to the Japanese keyboard.

The fact the apostrophe is under SHIFT-7 is bad enough, but the real stress comes from the switch between kana and romaji input. The SPACE bar is tiny, which sort of looks cute, but is flanked by two scary looking keys covered in kanji. Looking at the bottom row of my keyboard now the keys are, from left to right: Ctrl, Windows key, Alt, crazy kanji, tiny space, another crazy kanji, some kana switch key, another Alt, another Windows key, another kanji and finally another Ctrl. It’s a full house down there and it’s easy to miss the space and switch the keyboard input into something insane.

The way Japanese is types is phonetic. For example “baka” would be typed as “b, a, k, a” followed by ENTER or alternatively SPACE if it needs to be writ in kanji. So for every word you type you need a carriage return. If there are more kanji available for the sound you typed, which is pretty much always, a second tap of the spacebar brings up a tiny window with a googolplex suggestions. So not only is the input of Japanese text laborious, it is also a two-step process, unlike typing romaji. So if you’re concentrating in Photoshop, using hotkeys and shortcuts and suddenly the program isn’t responding, it is more than likely your thumb slipped and you’re typing “vvvvvvv” rather than selecting the “move” tool.

Slips of the finger are one thing, but the PC deciding you want to write in kana without your permission is another. For some reason typing the name in a Photoshop layer reverts the input to kana. Right-clicking on one of those hateful red wriggly lines Microsoft Word seems hell-bent on littering my documents with reverts the input to kana. Switching from certain programs to others can sometimes revert the input to kana.

To switch back to romaji you need to press the Alt key and some horrendous little key left of the “1” where European keyboard have the tilde. Other keys are littered with extra options, though the kana on the qwerty keys can be ignored the overall effect can give you a headache. It’s not quite as bad as those hilarious kanji keyboard photos that did the rounds years ago but it’s fairly groanworthy nonetheless.

While typing this post I accidentally switched input method three times, and one of those times I got stuck in capitalised romaji. It took me a good 15 minutes to set it back to regular (and no, it wasn't the Caps Lock) which is when the blood starts boiling. Be prepared to shop around for an English PC with an English system and the Queen's own UK keyboard or waste literally minutes switching inputs and cursing.


  1. Wow, that is one hell of a crazy keyboard!
    Are Mac keyboards just as funky?

  2. I know your pain, JC.

    What is worse is when CS2 switches automatically to Japanese input when you select a layer that happens to have Japanese text on it (or the layer name or something - I haven't quite figured out what causes it) and then you try and use a shortcut. I had SO MUCH fun editing the graphics that needed changing for the European language versions of our last game :(

    Anyway, I'm off to work now - probably to endure some more pain caused by this wretched keyboard.

    Also, the Microsoft IME is a piece of crap.

  3. I personally have no problems with the Japanese keyboard (been using them for 10 years or so), EXCEPT with Photoshop's apparently ABSOLUTELY random decision to switch to Japanese. It's the only software I've used which changes my language for absolutely no goddamn reason.

    And a handy tip: I spent about a year pressing "Alt-半/全" to switch languages, before someone pointed out that you can just press the "半/全" button. The "ALT" is unnecessary.

  4. Argh, and I was just about to finally make the jump to CS2! My trusty old Photoshop 7 has no problems with this...

  5. Pah, I spent about 6 years pressing "Alt-半/全" to switch languages, before someone pointed out in a comment on my blog that you can just press the "半/全" button.

  6. I think you only need to press alt if you are using a western language version of windows with the IME installed. I think I have it so that shift+~ (where ~=半角・全角) changes text mode and shift+tab changes language.