Japanese Keyboard Layouts

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

First, you need to learn a bit about Japanese Writing System, and Japanese input methods, to make sense of the various Japanese keyboard layouts. See:

Japanese input method menu 39864
Japanese Input Method

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:

QWERTY JIS Layout

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. [image source geekhack.org, photo by 002] Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro JP Japanese 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, note the kana key.

[see Happy Hacking Keyboard]

Nicola Layout (aka Thumb-Shift Layout)

In Nicola Layout (aka Thumb-Shift) layout:

  1. Each key corresponds to a kana character. The kana are arranged efficiently.
  2. Two 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.
japanese nicola j keyboard layout
NICOLA J keyboard layout. image source

Example:

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 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.

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

M-type Layout

M-type input system:

  1. Use English letters to input Kana.
  2. English alphabet are arranged for kana efficiency. 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 jkhkb-s1239x807
NEC PC9801 3738×2436 [image source reddit.com]

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.

TRON Kana Layout (Dvorak)

TRON is a input system, a 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

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

Esrille keyboard 40445-s289x217
Esrille New
Japan FKB8579 661 thumb shift keyboard 45474 s335x187
Thumb-Shift, 1980
NEC keyboard pk-kb015-s289x217
NEC M-Type, 1983
TRON Keyboard Unit TK1 s1520x831
TRON, 1986
NEC PC 8801 K1 keyboard bj3qh-s333x188
NEC PC-8801-KI, 1983
nec m-type keyboard 1990 36618-s278x225
NEC M-Type, 1990
NEC M-shiki keyboard NEC PC98 1992-s333x188
NEC PC-9801, 1992
scythe ergo diver keyboard left s289x217
Scythe Ergo Diver, ~2003
utron keyboard 02
μTRON, 2007
  1. Japan Input Method
  2. Japan Keyboard Layouts
  3. Hiragana Frequency Table
  4. MSX Home Computer
  5. SANYO Medicom MC-KM5600B
  6. ALPS Kanji
  7. Sukerutoron ST-2000

Keyboard Layouts

  1. qwerty heatmap  to build a fire-s365x171
    Alternative Layouts
  2. Alt Graph, Compose, Dead Key
  3. Most Efficient Layout?
  4. Maltron vs Dvorak
  5. Colemak vs Workman

Dvorak

  1. Dvorak Layout
  2. Hardware vs Software Dvorak
  3. Myth of QWERTY vs Dvorak
  4. Dvorak vs Colemak
  5. Blank Keycaps vs Labeled Keys
  6. List of Dvorak Keyboards
  7. Qwerty to Dvorak, A PhD thesis, 1978

International

  1. International Layouts
  2. QWERTZ, AZERTY
  3. German
  4. German Ergonomic
  5. French
  6. New French Layout
  7. French Ergonomic
  8. French Letter Frequency
  9. Russian
  10. Portuguese Ergonomic
  11. chinese pinyin input 2017-07-19
    Chinese Input Methods
  12. Pinyin Letter Frequency 拼音字母頻率
  13. Japanese input method menu 39864
    Japanese Input Method

Layout Efficiency

  1. English letter frequency To Build a Fire  Jack London 50383
    Char Frequency Counter
  2. Most Efficient Layout for Numbers?
  3. Semicolon vs Apostrophe Frequency
  4. Inverted Number Row Better?

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