12 Japanese IME Tips

If you’re serious about learning Japanese, I’m sure you will eventually either want to or need to be able to type in Japanese on your computer. Typing in Japanese is done with software called an IME (Input Method Editor), which allows you to type Japanese phonetically (romaji) and have the your typing automatically converted to Japanese characters.

You may have already set up your IME and have some experience using it (if not, please check out Greggman.com’s excellent guide to installing/setting up your IME). However, it’s common for foreigners to overlook some of the finer points of its usage. This article aims to provide novice IME users with an introduction to some of the intermediate and advanced features literally waiting at their fingertips, providing a basis for improved typing efficiency, problem solving and expanded usage.

For this article I’ll presume that:

  1. You have your IME installed, set up and ready to use
  2. You have a basic understanding of how to use it (how to make hiragana appear when you type, how to convert a word to kanji)
  3. You have a basic understanding of hiragana/katakana and Japanese phonetics
  4. You are a Windows user (sorry Mac and Linux folks)

Tip 1: Easy IME on/off toggle

English Keyboards: ALT + Tilde. (This is a tilde: ~. It’s usually on the top left corner of your keyboard, right below the escape key.)
Japanese Keyboards: 半角/全角/漢字 (Top left key of the keyboard, below the escape key. ALT not needed.)

This is a very basic tip but one of the most important. Everyone needs to start here. Clicking around on your language bar to change the IME mode is just a waste of time; use this quick shortcut whenever you need to toggle your IME.

Tip 2: Reconverting

Reconverting (再変換 – saihenkan). So you’re proof-reading an email or something you wrote in Japanese and notice you accidentally entered the kanji 慎重 when you wanted 身長 (meanings are different but both are read: shinchou). There’s two ways to fix this; you could delete the incorrect characters and type it in again (a minimum of 12 keystrokes), or you could reconvert it.

“Reconverting” is essentially calling back the kanji selection list for a word that has already been entered. Sounds useful, eh? To do this, simply select the word you want to change, right click and choose “Reconversion.” Voila! You’ve got your list back.

Reconvert an incorrect kanji instead of re-typing

On Japanese computers this option does not appear on the right click menu so you must use the 変換 key (usually to the right of the space bar on Japanese keyboards) to initiate a reconvert.

NOTE 1: Reconverting via right-click isn’t possible in all settings.  If your IME is on but you don’t get the reconvert option, try copying the text into a different application (eg. Wordpad).

NOTE 2: On a Japanese computer, you could alternatively use the space bar instead of the 変換 key to initiate a reconvert, but keep in mind that if you’re in English input mode this method will simply replace your text with an empty space. (you should really be using the 変換 key anyway)

Reconverting is also useful for finding the reading to a word you don’t know: copy and paste the unknown word into Notepad or another text editor and reconvert it (the hiragana/katakana will appear on the conversion list box as shown in the image above).

Poweruser tip: if you notice your mistake immediately after you’ve entered it (after you hit enter and the underline goes away), you can use CTRL + Backspace to do a quick reconvert.

Tip 3: Use special characters

This is a fun tip. Having an IME makes it much easier to use the special characters that are available on most computers nowadays. I’m talking about things like arrows, stars, hearts, shapes and more. While these characters don’t always display properly on every computer and in every software environment, they are becoming more usable all the time and are particularly well supported in Japan (because Japanese has so many characters, fonts are fewer and special character sets and more standardized).

To type a special character, you simply need to know the keyword that will call it up in your IME. Here’s a table showing some of the major keywords and a sample of the characters they give you access to (this table is by no means exhaustive, there are many other keywords out there):

Keyword Romaji Meaning Symbols
記号 kigou symbol ёゝ★℃【】㍉№¶㈱♪≒♂√㎡㍻£Ⅷ (and many more…)
数字 suuji number ①②③⑳ⅳⅧ
hoshi star ★☆※*⁂✮✰☄✱❈✪
矢印 yajirushi arrow mark ↑↓←→⇔⇒↪➱➷➤☞☈↻➔
四角 shikaku square ■□◆◇◩❖❐☑▩
三角 sankaku triangle ▼▲△▽∵∴▹▿◥◂
maru circle 〇○●◎。①⑳㊤㊧゜☮☯◔❍◉
ten dot ∵∴ ・ ‥ … ¨゛゜
音楽 ongaku music ♪♭♯♬♩♮♫
mesu female
osu male
郵便 yuubin mail 〠〶
括弧 kakko brackets ()<>『』【】“”〝〟{}
kao face ☺ ☹ ☻
te hand ☜☛✍✌☝☟
星座 seiza astrological sign ♉♎♐♑♋♍♏♈♌♓♒♊
チェス chesu chess ♘♙♕♞♛♝
トランプ toranpu playing cards ♡♥♤♠♧♣♦♢
天気 tenki weather ☁☀☃☂☼

Note: Characters in blue require the symbols dictionary to be activated, see Tip #4.

Tip 4: Use more special characters

Out of the box your IME has some symbols, but if you want to use any of the ones from the table above that I’ve colored in blue, you’ll need the symbols dictionary activated. Here’s how:

How to turn on extra symbols for your Japanese IME

Tip 5: Mini hiragana characters

The hiragana characters あいうえおやゆよつ and corresponding katakana アイウエオヤユヨツ can all be sized down at will to meet your needs. Simply prefix the sound as you would type it normally with an L (for “little”). For example, L + U = ぅ. This only works with the vowel characters, ya/yu/yo and tsu ( in Japanese these are the only characters you should ever find opportunity to make small.)

Alternatively, you can downsize these characters by converting them (eg. “u” + spacebar), but prefixing the character is a much better option because it allows you to size as you type, which allows your IME’s parsing activity continue interrupted.

Tip 6: Zu and Zu, Ji and Ji

In Hepburn romanization, hiragana ず and づ (and katakana ズ and ヅ) are both “zu.” However, if you want to type 続く (tsuzuku) with your IME, typing t s u z u k u will not work. Why? Because according to your IME, zu is always ず, but the correct character in this case is づ. The keystrokes to bring up this character is du (since T-line sounds become D-sounds with the ゛ added). The same is true of the difference between じ and ぢ.

Chart of character combinations for zu and ji

Tip 7: Save keystrokes with non-Hepburn typing

Your IME supports Hepburn (except as noted in tip #6). But since you need to get used to du and di instead of zu and ji, you might as well take advantage of the opportunity to ditch a couple more Hepburn habits. It seems like very petty keystroke savings but trust me, once you get used to it you will not want to go back.

  • TSU ⇒ TU (Hepburn ⇒ Shortcut)
  • CHI ⇒ TI
  • SHI ⇒ SI

I use the above shortcuts, but still prefer the Hepburn ji/ja/ju/jo for じ/じゃ/じゅ/じょ ( which would be zya/zyu/zyo otherwise), since in these cases the non-Hepburn method doesn’t offer me any keystroke savings and the Z key is less convenient than the J key.

Tip 8: Force the N character

Say you want to type the word 勧誘, which in romaji is kan’yuu. Hey, what’s that apostrophe doing in the middle of the word? It’s there to show that the word is read かん + ゆう and not か + にゅう. It may seem like a small difference to you but in Japanese this is actually a pretty big deal. In cases when you need to make this distinction as you type in Japanese, you can tell your IME that you want to use the ん character by hitting N twice consecutively. So to type 勧誘 your keystrokes would be k a n n y u u.

Tip 9: Register custom words

The IME has some built in functionality for detecting which conversions you use most and prioritizing them, and detecting non-standard conversions you use and automating them. However, there may be cases where it would be easier to just add a certain word to your IME’s dictionary. For example, if your boss or coworker has a name with a rare kanji reading, or if you and your friends use a certain niche word that’s not in the dictionary. Do this:

  1. The reading for the word. Put the hiragana in here
  2. The kanji you want to come up.
  3. Part of speech (noun, adjective, verb, etc.)
  4. User comment (optional)

Tip 10: Shift the parsing range

A common source of IME headaches is when a word you want to type is for one reason or another not parsed (split into parts) correctly, preventing you from easily bringing up the particular kanji that you need. This can drive you crazy trying to fix it if you don’t know what to do. Fortunately, the solution is pretty easy:

How to fix parsing range problems on your Japanese IME

In cases such as this, you can adjust your IME’s parsing range manually by using Shift + Left/Right. This will move the right-hand delimiter of the currently selected parse range.

By the way typing ハート (type: h a – t o) gives you the following symbols (if you have the symbols dictionary on [Tip #4]): ❤❦❥♡♥❧

Tip 11: Force katakana input

As brought up in the previous tip, by default your IME tries to parse your input for starts and stops of words based on its dictionary. And it’s surprisingly good at it too. But if you’re trying to type a romanized version of someone’s personal name or a company name (anything your dictionary doesn’t know), this can lead to some pretty ugly results. For example, if you’re trying to enlighten a Japanese person about the greatest comedy of all time:

Japanese IME botches Monty Python

Sure, you could go back part by part and change those kanji into katakana manually, but why not eradicate the problem at its root? To avoid awkward conversions like this, there is a katakana only input mode. Here’s how to toggle it:

On English keyboards: CTRL + Caps Lock to begin Katakana mode. ALT + Caps Lock to return to hiragana.
On Japanese keyboards: use the 無変換 key (next to the space bar)

Just don’t forget that you need to toggle it off again when you’re done.

Tip 12: Temporary English mode

If you’d like to mix an English word or sentence into your Japanese typing for whatever reason, you don’t need to toggle your IME. Begin an inline, temporary English input mode by starting any word with a capital letter. You’ll be able to type in English as usual except with your trusty IME underline. Use the Enter key to close out the inline English segment and return to normal Japanese input.

Important: On non-Japanese keyboards, you should convert your Japanese input before entering temporary English mode. This is because once in temporary English mode, you lose the ability to use your space bar to convert Japanese. On Japanese keyboards this isn’t a problem because you can still use the designated Convert (変換) key.

NOTE 1: If you are in English input mode on a Japanese computer, selecting something and hitting space bar will just replace the selected text with a space character (undo = CTRL + Z). You must be in Japanese input mode to use the space bar this way. (but you should really be using the 変換 key anyway).
Posted under Language & Study, Living & Enjoying Japan by Nihonshock.

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