How To Write Japanese

“Im Curious” Modern Connection — 1

It is easy to forget that while technology usable by me and people like me, I, as a native English speaker am not the exclusive audience. There are billions of people on Earth that belong to countless different cultures, and all of those cultures have different languages with which they interface with the world around them. When it comes to technology, I know what it is like to type on a keyboard in English. However, there are many languages that don’t have alphabets that function in the same way that mine and many other Latin-based languages do. Japanese, for example is a complex writing system with tens of thousands of characters. So how does a culture like Japan interface with a cellphone? The answer is actually quite simple: transliteration.

a hiragana keyboard.

The Japanese language is an interesting mix of three character systems: kanji — which is borrowed from the Chinese and is used for traditional words and name — and two phonetic alphabet systems called katakana and hiragana. Japanese keyboards on cellphones or computers have keys that are assigned to different katakana or hiragana characters. As the users type out words phoetically, an input method editor in the operating system of the computer interprets the characters and suggests a kanji replacement. The process of writing in Japanese is so different from English it is difficult to draw a simple parallel, but it is often through this sort of phonetic autocomplete process.

Technology’s principle role is to aid in the growth and development of human-kind, and I believe increasing the ability of people to communicate with each other is invaluable. Although roots may very different, technology has found a way to include countless languages and cultures, no matter how many thousands of characters are in your alphabet.


Tamas, Matyas. “How Do Computers Type In Japanese?” Quora, 1 June 2011. Web. 12 Jan. 2017.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Kana.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 04 Mar. 2016. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.

Lo, Lawrence. “Ancient Scripts: Japanese.” Ancient Scripts: Japanese. Ancient Scripts, 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.