Japanese Keyboard Layouts

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Intro to Japanese Writing System and Input Method

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's a summary of the different layouts:

Romaji input. Qwerty layout.
Nicola (thumb-shift)
Kana input. 2 special Thumb-shift modifier keys. Kana with dakuten are typed by pressing the thumb-shift of the other hand. Qwerty layout for English.
Romaji input. Efficient layout. Home row keys are {E U I A O, K S T N H}.
JIS X6004
Kana input. Efficient kana layout. Use prefix shift. Dedicated dakuten key. Qwerty layout for English.
Kana input. Efficient kana layout. English layout is Dvorak. 2 special Thumb-shift modifier keys. Kana with dakuten are typed by pressing the thumb-shift of the other hand.
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.
happy hacking keyboard pro jp type s 447832
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

Nicola Layout (aka Thumb-Shift Layout)

In Nicola Layout (aka Thumb-Shift) layout:

japanese nicola j keyboard layout
NICOLA J keyboard layout. image source


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.

Nicola became super popular in the 1980s, due to Japanese word processors, and still has great number of users.

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

Japan FKB8579 661 thumb shift keyboard 45474 s335x187
Thumb-Shift, 1980

M-System Layout

M-System input system:

NEC M-shiki keyboard NEC PC98 1992 jkhkb-s1239x807
NEC PC9801 3738×2436 [image source reddit.com]

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

[see NEC M-System keyboards History]

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]

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.

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 Keyboard Unit TK1 001. image source 1900×1039

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

Japan FKB8579 661 thumb shift keyboard 45474 s335x187
Thumb-Shift, 1980
NEC PC 8801 K1 keyboard bj3qh-s333x188
NEC PC-8801-KI, 1983
NEC mini7 mqjdk-s306x204
NEC 文豪 Mini7, 1985
TRON Keyboard Unit TK1 s1520x831
TRON, 1986
nec m-type keyboard 1990 36618-s278x225
NEC M-system, 1990
NEC mini7rm 48190-s306x204
NEC 文豪 Mini7RM, 1992
NEC M-shiki keyboard NEC PC98 1992-s333x188
NEC PC-9801, 1992
NEC keyboard pk-kb015 2-s320x195
NEC Ergofit, 1998
scythe ergo diver keyboard left s289x217
Scythe Ergo Diver, ~2003
utron keyboard 02-s289x217
μTRON, 2007
Esrille keyboard 40445-s289x217
Esrille New

Keyboard Layouts



Layout Efficiency

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