Japanese Keyboard Layouts

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Intro to Japanese Writing System and Input Method

Japanese Keyboard Layouts

There 2 category of Japanese layout.

There are many ways to arrange the English letters on keyboard. And there are many ways to arrange the kana on keyboard too. So, there are many different layouts.

Here is a summary of the different layouts:

  • Romaji input.
  • QWERTY layout.
M-System (1983)
  • Romaji input.
  • Right hand keys are ordered in Japanese consonant order {K S T N H M Y R W}, for ease of learning. Right-hand home row keys are {K S T N H} and above it is {M Y R W (P)}
  • Left home row keys are {E U I A O}.

[see NEC M-System keyboards History]

Nicola (thumb-shift) (1978)
  • Kana input.
  • 2 independent Thumb-shift modifier keys.
  • Kana with dakuten are typed by pressing the thumb-shift of the other hand.
  • QWERTY layout for English.

Nicola became very popular in the 1980s, due to Japanese word processors. [see Japan Thumb-Shift Keyboard (NICOLA layout)]

JIS X6004 (1986)
  • Kana input.
  • Efficient kana layout.
  • Use prefix shift.
  • Dedicated dakuten key.
  • QWERTY layout for English.

JIS X6004 was a Japanese industrial standard established in 1986.

TRON (~1985)
  • Kana input.
  • Efficient kana layout.
  • English layout is Dvorak Keyboard Layout.
  • 2 special Thumb-shift modifier keys.
  • Kana with dakuten are typed by pressing the thumb-shift of the other hand.

The TRON layout was developed by professor Ken Sakamura in the mid 1980s.

New Stickney Layout
  • Kana input.
  • Use prefix shift.
  • Dedicated dakuten key.


QWERTY JIS Layout is the most popular layout used in Japan. It is basically the same as US keyboard.

You use English letters to type kana, then press a key to convert previous kana to kanji if needed.

Every kana requires 2 keystrokes (2 English letters).

This is the least efficient method and layout.

Apple keyboard Japan
Apple keyboard Japan. • Note the 英数 (alphanumeric) key, and かな (kana) key. • Note the space bar, span about only 3 key spaces. On English Apple keyboard, it spans 5 to 6.
hhkb pro jp-type-s N294D
Happy Hacking Pro keyboard, Japan version. [see Happy Hacking Keyboard] [image source geekhack.org, photo by 002]
The circle arrow key 🗘 on the right of spacebar is 変換 (reads “henkan”, meaning “conversion”).
On the left with a slash is 無変換 (reads “muhenkan”, meaning “no conversion”.)
Also, note the kana key.

For explanation of Japanese special keys, see Japanese Input Method

M-System Layout

M-System input system:

[see NEC M-System keyboards History]

Nicola Layout (aka Thumb-Shift Layout)

In Nicola Layout (aka Thumb-Shift) layout:

japanese nicola j keyboard layout
NICOLA J keyboard layout. [image source 2017-07-15 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NICOLA_J.PNG ]


Note: this means, some character need to be typed using the same hand. This can cause hand strain and can increase risk of Repetitive Strain Injury.

JIS X6004 Layout

JIS X6004 is a very efficient layout.

It is kana based input. Each key types a kana directly.

The kana are arranged according to frequency and ease of the key-press position.

[see Japanese Character Frequency (Hiragana)]

The Shift key act as prefix key. That is, press it, release it, then the next key press will be effected.

When Shift key is prefixed, a different kana is typed. (Left Shift and right Shift are not differentiated.)

A dedicated key is used for the Dakuten . (it's on the L key)

jp keyboard layout jis x6004 60014
jp keyboard layout jis x6004 60014

JIS X6004 was a Japanese industrial standard Kana layout established in 1986 to amend various issues in the current, old JIS standard Kana layout. While its technical design was superb for professional typists, JIS X6004 was abandoned as a JIS standard in 1999 due to its unpopularity in the market.

JIS X6004 allows a shift key to be placed in the center of the keyboard where a space-bar is placed. Since white space characters appear far less frequently in Japanese than in English, the same typing method can be used both in Japanese and English with this JIS X6004 configuration.

We could see JIS X6004 as a Japanese Dvorak or Colemak layout, and the current JIS standard Kana layout as QWERTY. Today its superior technical design has been re-evaluated as it becomes easy to scan and analyze huge Japanese texts and n-grams using personal computers. Even though JIS X6004 is no longer a JIS standard, it is actually still in use and its variations are also being developed by the enthusiasts.

[source http://www.esrille.com/keyboard/layouts.ja-jp.html]

TRON Kana Layout (Dvorak)

TRON is a input system, a layout, and a special ergonomic keyboard.

TRON input system:

TRON Keyboard Unit TK1 001 KeysUp-s1520x831
TRON TK1. 1900×1039 [image source http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ファイル:TRON-Keyboard-Unit-TK1_001-KeysUp.jpg]

TRON Kana layout has a quite high efficiency regarding the number of required key touches to input Japanese texts.

New Stickney Layout

This is a new efficient layout.

new stickney layout v12 2023-10-28
new stickney layout v12 2023-10-28

see https://github.com/esrille/new-stickney

2017-07-15 Thanks to the site http://www.esrille.com/keyboard/layouts.ja-jp.html for providing much info on this page.

Japan input method and keyboard layout