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What Kind of Computer Keyboards are Used in China and Japan?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 16, 2024
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Where Western alphabets are divided into single letters, Asian languages use syllabic and meaning-based symbols which are less straightforward. These inherent differences between Western and Eastern language systems render traditional Roman character keyboards less efficient for the Chinese and Japanese. As a result, modified keyboards have been created for use in China and Japan. Other languages, including Russian, have their own modified keyboards as well.

Japanese, also called nihongo, is a syllabic alphabet which is translated to a computer keyboard in a fairly simple fashion. Like a western keyboard, most Japanese keyboard models have one or two symbols per key, conforming to the Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS), a system similar to the Western QWERTY system. To type words on a Japanese keyboard, you simply spell the word out by syllable as you would if you were writing it down.

Most computers can also take transliterated Japanese words, that is, Japanese words phonetically written in Roman characters, and translate them into Japanese characters. Japanese keyboards, therefore, also include Roman letters and symbols as well. Having western characters on their keyboards is also helpful when participating in Western-based activities, like Internet commerce for example. Some keyboards include a “mode” key that allows users to switch between syllabic Japanese and Roman alphabets.

Chinese keyboards are considered to be more difficult to standardize as the written language is comprised of thousands of meaning-based symbols. A keyboard that contains all the characters in the alphabet is made further impractical as each character may have several meanings dictated by pronunciation and context. To get around these issues, Western keyboards are adapted with input method software. There are many different types of input methods for Mandarin and Cantonese, the two separate "Chinese" languages which are based on the same characters.

The Wubi input method uses a keyboard that is marked with the various lines used to hand draw characters. The typist then presses the keystrokes in the way that he would write the character. With more complicated "words," the user enters the first three units and the last unit to get a list of possible options. While this method has the advantage of eliminating pronunciation or spelling differences caused by the numerous Chinese dialects, it is considered extremely difficult to learn. The expert typist, however, can use these methods to type quite fast.

Most Chinese computer users use the Pinyin method which takes the Roman transliteration and translates it into the proper Chinese character. Many Pinyin input methods also have a suggested word completion feature, which suggests the word you are attempting to type to cut down typing time. Dialects and contextual differences can cause problems with the Pinyin method.

Less popular methods for Chinese keyboards include voice and handwriting recognition. These can be handy for those computer users that are not used to typing. Yet rigorous training is needed to ensure the computer recognizes the user’s voice or script.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for EasyTechJunkie. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon18606 — On Sep 26, 2008

Thank you for your explanations. I had always wondered how chinese or japanese could be written on a simple keyboard!

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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