Setting up Japanese on a Windows PC is easy as pie if you follow the simple steps below.
Android, Linux or Mac OS X user? Check out our full Japanese reading & typing guide
Reading Japanese on Windows
If you have Windows Vista, 7 or 8, your computer is pre-bundled with Japanese fonts and everything necessary to start reading Japanese websites and documents with no additional setup.
If you nevertheless come across content which does not display correctly, try following the tips below:
Most modern websites use the UTF-8 Unicode encoding, and the encoding of older sites should usually be guessed automatically by your browser.
If you still see squares, question marks or random character on the page, try changing the browser encoding to Shift_JIS, EUC-JP or ISO-2022-JP. One of these will usually solve the problem.
Google Chrome: Menu button > Tools > Encoding
IE: Right click page > Encoding > More
The encoding of some CSVs containing Japanese characters might be misrecognized by Excel. To fix the problem, go to the Data tab, click From Text under Get External Data, choose your file, and a window will appear which will allow you to choose an appropriate encoding (most of the time it will be automatically pre-selected so you’ll only have to click Next a couple of times).
All newer Japanese software should work fine on Windows with no setup necessary, but older applications (think pre-2000) might not display correctly on non-Japanese Windows. One possible solution is to:
- Press the Win key
- Type ‘region’
- Select Region under Settings
- Open the Administrative tab
- Click Change system locale…
- Choose Japanese (Japan)
Note that you must have administrative rights to change this setting, and you can only have one locale selected at a time so older applications in other foreign languages might stop working properly.
Typing Japanese on Windows
To add a Japanese IME (Input Method) which will allow you to type in hiragana, katakana and kanji, simply follow the steps below.
- Press the Win key
- Type ‘input methods’
- Click Change input methods
- Click Add a language
- Choose Japanese
You can now safely remove the English language setting. The Japanese input mode already allows you to type in English (Direct Input mode) so having a separate input method is redundant.
To quickly switch between the two modes, press Alt + ~ (the tilde key left of the ‘1’ key). If you have a Japanese computer, use the 半角／全角 key instead.
Alternative Japanese IMEs
There are also several alternative Japanese IMEs available:
Google IME is simple to install and use, but does not offer any benefits over the default MS IME. The main difference is that kanji autocomplete options tend to be slightly more colloquial, as the suggestions are pulled from language used online instead of a pre-built dictionary. The effect is hardly noticeable however.
The input method used by most Japanese companies and preinstalled on many computers in Japan is ATOK IME. It is one of the most advanced IMEs on the market, with many useful features for professionals working with Japanese on a daily basis, though they come at a steep price of almost $100.
Using Windows in Japanese
A good way to practice Japanese is to use in Japanese, websites and software that you know well enough to navigate without reading every label. Facebook is a good place to start as you can use browser extensions such as rikaikun to quickly look up kanji on buttons when necessary, but as you get more proficient, you might want to switch the entire Windows interface as well.
- Press the Win key
- Type ‘language’
- Select Language under Settings
- Choose 日本語 and click Options
- Click Download and install language pack
- Return to the Language screen
- Click Advanced settings
- Choose Japanese under Override for Windows display language
- Restart Windows
Note that you must have administrative rights to change this setting.