We have been using this handy thing called the IME on Windows OS that does some magic to allow us to type pretty easily in Japanese. This is actually a little freebie that has been thrown into Windows. It is quite simple to set up and use. Though we may be using IME since a long time we may not be knowing the proper way to use the various options available. Here i would like to highlight the various features.

Input Modes

To start with, you can open up notepad (or your favorite word processing app and give it a try).  To access notepad, you can simply type notepad in the search window of the start menu and press Enter.

Now, you can see that your IME has switched to Half-width alphanumeric by default and displayed as ‘A’ in the IME bar. When it is in this mode, you can type in English like a regular keyboard. If you switch to Hiragana mode, by clicking on the ‘A’ in the IME bar and selecting Hiragana, you can type in Japanese.

IME Option

In hiragana mode, you’ll see romaji/english letters on the screen until you make a proper japanese word or letter.  For example, if you type hjkly, it’ll show up as romaji.  You must type a valid japanese word/kana and then it will automatically switch to the kana.  So if you type the letters konnichiha, you’ll get こんにちは.  Now if you hit enter, it will simply leave the kana as is.  If you want to use the kanji, you have to hit the space bar.  This will give you the IME’s best guess as to what kanji you want to use.  If you hit the space bar again, you will see a pop up menu where you can select the kanji that you want to use.

Note, this is also the way you can get katakana without having to select it in the IME. Some kana have several kanji available for them. If the kanji or often confused (they have similar meanings, same pronunciation, but different kanji) then there are notes available to help you differentiate. Unfortunately these notes are in Japanese only.

Half-width Katakana characters are displayed at half their normal width (a 1:2 aspect ratio), instead of the usual square (1:1) aspect ratio. For example, the usual Full-width form of the katakana ka is カ while the half-width form is カ. You can also convert to katakana (full/half-width) characters when entering a reading in Hiragana input mode. Press the SPACE key after you enter a reading, and then select the appropriate katakana from the options list.

Half-width characters were used in the early days of Japanese computing. However, these Half-width characters are not generally used today, but find some use in specific settings, such as cash register displays, on shop receipts, bank book, web based forms, Japanese digital television etc., Half-width characters are typically English/Roman (romaji) characters and numbers. You are often required to enter phone numbers and email addresses in half -width on web application forms. Do note that some forms require your address and postal code in Full-width Alphanumeric, including all the numbers. In either the Full-width or Half-width Alphanumeric mode, enter the alphanumeric text, and then press the F9 key to convert to Full-width Alphanumeric characters or the F10 key to convert to Half-width Alphanumeric characters.

Two shortcuts that will definitely come in handy are the keyboard to switch between languages (SHIFT+ALT) and the shortcut to switch between alphanumeric and hiragana (ALT+`). Microsoft IME will remember what you are using in what window. So, for example, if you are typing in Japanese in Wordpad, you should be able to switch to Firefox and type in English without changing it in the IME.

Advanced Features
  • Use special characters
    Having an IME makes it much easier to use the special characters like arrows, stars, hearts, shapes and more, that are available on most computers nowadays. 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. To type a special character, you simply need to know the keyword that will call it up in your IME. Examples are kigou 記号, suuji 数字, hoshi 星, yajirushi 矢印, maru 丸, ongaku 音楽, kakko 括弧 etc.,
  • 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. In the above figure “IME Options” select the Add Word option and enter the required information like the kanji to be displayed, reading of the kanji, user comments if any and part of speech(Noun/Place name/shortcut etc.,) in the respective boxes to add it to the dictionary.
  • 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 or l (for “little”). For example, L + U = ぅ. This only works with the vowel characters, ya/yu/yo & tsu and are the only ones used in down sized form in japanese.
  • Reconverting
    In case you are proof-reading an email or something you wrote in Japanese and notice you accidentally entered the wrong kanji for a word and want to change it. There are two ways to correct the word to the right kanji, one is delete and retype it and the other method is to reconvert it. Select the word you want to change, right click and choose “Reconversion” which will display the kanji list to choose from. 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.
  • Excel IME
    We already know that, Microsoft IME will remember what you are using in what window. But for people who use excel frequently in data entry, they may need to change the IME setting each time they move to a new cell/column in a sheet. In order to overcome this, Excel has an inbuilt provision for IME ,i.e, navigate to Data > Data Validation > IME Mode tab and select the appropriate mode for each column or cell beforehand and see that the input mode changes automatically as you move to the respective cell/column.

Excel inbuilt IME Option

Repair IME

Sometimes you might face issues related to IME like kanji conversions are not happening or proper kanjis are not showing up during conversions. In such cases we can use the “Repair dictionaries” option. Navigate to Properties > “Advanced” button > Dictionary/Auto-tuning tab – “Repair dictionaries” button, now the “Microsoft IME Dictionary Repair” window will pop up wherein we need to click on “Yes” to start the repair. Once the repair is completed, another pop up will show that the repair operation is completed. Now cross check whether the IME issue is rectified or not.

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