Japanese Keyboard Layouts

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Intro to Japanese Writing System

First, you need to learn a bit about Japanese Writing System, and how Japanese is typed on keyboard, to make sense of the various Japanese keyboard layouts.

See intro at

Japanese Input Method

Japanese Keyboard Layouts

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 are the different layouts:


This is the standard, most popular layout used in Japan. It is basically the same as USA keyboard.

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

Every kana requires 2 keystrokes (2 English letters).

This is the least efficient method and layout.

happy hacking keyboard pro jp type s 447832
see the circle arrow key 🗘, that's 変換 (reads “henkan”, meaning “conversion”).
On the left with a slash is 無変換 (reads “muhenkan”, meaning “no conversion”.)
Also, see the kana key. 〔photo by 002 from image source
Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro JP Japanese

[see The Idiocy of Happy Hacking Keyboard]

jp keyboard layout jis qwerty
JIS QWERTY layout on the NISSE keyboard. [see Esrille New Keyboard Review]

M-type Layout

M-type input system:

  1. Use English letters to input Kana.
  2. The English alphabet are arranged to make it easier for Japanese kana. For example, left hand home row is {e u i a o}, and right hand home row is {k s t n h}. This latter is the order of kana.
NEC M shiki keyboard NEC PC98 1992
M-system keyboard for NEC PC98 from 1992. image source
jp keyboard layout m type 82407
M-Type layout on the NISSE keyboard. [see Esrille New Keyboard Review]

M-type input system and keyboard was designed by Dr Masasuke Morita at NEC in 1983.

NEC keyboard pk-kb015-s289x217
Japan M-Type keyboard

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 Hiragana Frequency Table]

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.

Nicola Layout (Thumb-Shift)

In Nicola Layout (aka Thumb-Shift) layout:

  1. Each key corresponds to a kana character.
  2. 2 special shift keys: left thumb-shift key and right thumb-shift key. Each is a independent modifier key.
  3. Only 3 rows are used for kana, each row has 5 keys per hand. So, left hand has 15 keys, right hand has 15 keys, total 30. Multiply by 2 thumb-shift keys, you have 90 possibilities, enough for all kana letters.
Japan FKB8579 661 thumb-shift keyboard 45474
Japan FKB8579-661 thumb-shift keyboard image source

Note: the 2 distinct thumb-shift keys means, some character need to be typed using the same hand, thumb holding the shift.

Nicola became quite popular in the 1980s, and still has great number of users.

Yasunori Kanda and others at Fujitsu developed Thumb-Shift layout in the late 1970s.

[see Japan Thumb-Shift Keyboard]

jp keyboard layout nicola type f 59675
Nicola type-f layout on the NISSE keyboard. [see Esrille New Keyboard Review]

In Nicola layout, Kana characters with a Dakuten can be typed by pressing the Kana character key and the thumb shift key at the other side at the same time.


TRON Kana Layout (Dvorak)

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

TRON input system:

  1. Is kana input system. That is, keys correspond to hiragana directly.
  2. Uses Dvorak layout for English. [see Dvorak Keyboard Layout]
  3. kana arrangement is optimized for efficiency.
  4. Tron uses left shift and right shift to input different hiragana. The left/right shift are positioned for the thumbs.
  5. left/right shift is also used to input left/right brackets on the number row, and different punctuations on other keys.
TRON Keyboard Unit TK1 001 KeysUp-s1520x831
TRON Keyboard Unit TK1 001. image source 1900×1039
Japan keyboard layout tron d 09292
TRON layout on the NISSE keyboard. [see Esrille New Keyboard Review]

The TRON Kana layout was developed by Prof. Ken Sakamura in the TRON keyboard sub-projects of the TRON project in the mid 1980s.

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

TRON Keyboard Unit TK1 s1520x831
TRON keyboards

New Stickney Layout

This is a new efficient layout.

new stickney layout v11 2017 07 26
New Stickney Layout, version 11, as of 2017-07-26.

see https://esrille.github.io/ibus-replace-with-kanji/layouts.html

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

Japan keyboards

  1. Japanese Input Method
  2. Japanese Keyboard Layouts
  3. Tiny Space Bar on Japanese Keyboards
  4. Esrille New Keyboard Review
  5. μTRON Keyboard
  6. TRON Keyboard
  7. Japan Thumb-Shift Keyboard
  8. NEC 日本電気 M-Type keyboard
  9. MSX Home Computer
  10. SANYO Medicom MC-KM5600B keyboard
  11. ALPS Kanji keyboard
  12. Sukerutoron ST-2000 Keyboard
  13. Japanese Hiragana Frequency Table

Keyboard Layouts

  1. Alternative Layouts
  2. Dvorak
  3. Alt Graph, Compose, Dead Key
  4. International Layouts
  6. German
  7. German Ergonomic
  8. French
  9. New French Layout
  10. French Ergonomic
  11. French Letter Frequency
  12. Russian
  13. Portuguese Ergonomic
  14. Chinese Input Methods
  15. Japanese Layouts

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