Using Japanese on a Mac

This site describes how to use Japanese on a Macintosh computer, particularly for people who use a Mac predominantly in English but also want to read, write, browse, and email in Japanese. This front page contains information on activating Japanese support in Mac OS: start by following the instructions below, then consult the other pages on the site for information on specific tasks and applications: email, web browsing, dictionary software, etc.

The instructions on this site are for Mac OS 10.9 (Mavericks), but you can use them with slight changes for earlier versions of Mac OS X. (For significantly older systems, see the "Other Resources" page on this site.)

Getting Started: How to Enable Japanese Input in Mac OS

Today using Japanese with the Mac is relatively seamless. Mac OS comes installed with support for reading and editing Japanese--in documents, in email, and on the web. If you receive Japanese email in Apple's Mail application or go to a Japanese web page in Safari, the Japanese will probably display correctly without your doing anything special or reading any further on this page. If this does not work smoothly, if you want to enable additional features in these programs, or if you want to input Japanese text (to create documents, do web searches, or send email in Japanese, for example), you'll need to take some extra steps. These are described below, and on the other pages of this site.

To enable input in Japanese (or other Asian languages), go to System Preferences from the Apple menu, click on the blue flag icon labeled Language & Region. Click on the button marked with a plus sign in the lower left to add a new language, then select Japanese from the menu and click the Add button. You will be asked you if you would like to use Japanese as your primary language; for now choose "Use English," unless you want the menus and dialogs in the finder and other applications to switch to Japanese.

System preference panes

System preferences languages pane adding Japanese

If you have a trackpad, you may also want to repeat this process to add "Traditional Chinese" and/or "Simplified Chinese," which will bring up a second window allowing you to choose the "Trackpad Handwriting" option. This will let you enter kanji characters by drawing them on the trackpad. Finally, find the box that says "Show input menu in menu bar" at the bottom of the preferences pane and make sure it is checked.

The next step is to set the options for Japanese input. Click on the "Keyboard Preferences…" button at the bottom of the Language & Region window, which will take you directly to the Input Sources tab of the Keyboard Preferences pane. From the menu on the left, choose "Kotoeri," which is the poetic name of the Japanese input method, and you'll see the different Kotoeri preference options. To start with, just check the boxes for hiragana and katakana.

Kotoeri preferences

If you now look at the menu bar at the very top of the screen, you should see the icon for the input menu--it probably looks like a little flag. You can now select Hiragana or Katakana from that menu to enter Japanese text in almost any application. For more on how to enter Japanese text, see the page on Typing in Japanese elsewhere on this site.) If Hiragana or Katakana is already selected as the input method when you click on the input menu, you'll get a longer menu with options specific to Kotoeri, including Kotoeri help.

Input menu Input menu with Japanese input selected

Here's an optional tip: there is a keyboard shortcut to switch between languages without using this menu. It is Apple-space bar. You can switch between the last two input methods by pressing this key combination, and holding it down it brings up a menu in the center of the screen with input options you can cycle through. Unfortunately, it may not work, because the same shortcut is assigned to Spotlight. You can fix this conflict under System Preferences: click on Keyboard icon and select the Keyboard Shortcuts tab, then uncheck one of the conflicting shortcuts or reassign it.

System preferences keyboard shortcuts

Do I need a Japanese Keyboard?

Most users (including native speakers) enter Japanese by typing the pronunciation in roman characters, so you do not need a special Japanese keyboard. If you have a Japanese a keyboard, it has a few extra keys you can take advantage of, as well as the option of dispensing with roman character input and having each key map to a specific kana character. The online Apple store now has an option that lets you select a Japanese keyboard as an option when you buy a new Mac. If you are using a Japanese keyboard or laptop, you can choose between the ômaji or kana input method in the Kotoeri preferences.

Choosing English or Japanese Menus in Applications

To enable Japanese menus in the Finder and other applications, you can go to System Preferences under the Apple menu, then select the icon for the Language & Text preferences pane. Add Japanese to the list of languages as described above, if it does not appear there already. If you drag Japanese above English in the list, the finder and many other applications will open next time with Japanese menus. Even if you do not want Japanese menus, make sure Japanese appears somewhere in your list of languages. Just having it there unlocks Japanese features in certain software, like Japanese encoding in Apple's Mail application.

System preferences languages pane

You can also set the menu language of specific applications individually. Many (though not all) applications have menus in different languages built in--you just have to activate the Japanese ones. You used to be able to set this for each application using the "Get Info" command in the Finder, but for more recent versions of Mac OS there is a third-party application called Language Switcher.

Enabling Japanese in Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office applications have special features for dealing with Japanese, but they are not activated by default. To activate these features you need to use a program called the Microsoft Language Register. (It should be in the Microsoft Office folder under "Additional Tools"; if not, look for it on your Office install CD). Different versions of the Language Register work slightly differently; just open the application and it will give you instructions. Once these features are enabled, the applications will have new menu and preferences options for working with Japanese.