Japan Thumb-Shift Keyboard

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

The thumb-shift (親指シフト) keyboard is a efficient input system for Japanese, by using 2 shift keys placed under the thumbs. It was created around 1978, led by Yasunori Kanda, at Fujitsu.

The thumb-shift design were later passed on from Fujitsu to NIHONGO NYURYOKU CONSORTIUM (Meaning, Japan Input Consortium) and officially named “NICOLA layout” (from the words NIhongo-nyuryoku COnsortium LAout).

japan thumb shift keyboards swdjj
Japan thumb shift keyboards

Oasys100 Word Processor, Year 1980

OASYS100 (Office Automation SYStem) is Fujitsu's first Japanese word processor, released in 1980. It's the first to have the Thumb-Shift Keyboard.

OASYS100 vvf6x
OASYS100 word processor [2015年富士通株主総会 By ?. At http://tak05.cocolog-nifty.com/banzai/2015/06/post-430d.html ]
OASYS100 ghr2f
OASYS100 word processor [OASYS 100 and Breadboard Model of Thumb-Shift Keyboard By Ipsj Computer Museum. At http://museum.ipsj.or.jp/en/heritage/OASYS100.html ]
OASYS100 vg3wd
OASYS100 keyboard [OASYS 100 and Breadboard Model of Thumb-Shift Keyboard By Ipsj Computer Museum. At http://museum.ipsj.or.jp/en/heritage/OASYS100.html ]

OASYS 100DP Word Processor, Year 1992

OASYS 100DP came out in 1992.

OASYS 100DP  n65gb
OASYS 100DP [image source http://www.ykanda.jp/catalog/100dp/100dp.htm]
OASYS q5hv5
OASYS 100DP [image source https://twitter.com/eceage/status/579581845991374850]
OASYS b92ff
OASYS 100DP [image source https://twitter.com/eceage/status/579581845991374850]
OASYS 85sym
OASYS 100DP [image source https://twitter.com/eceage/status/579581845991374850]

Fujitsu FKB8579USB Thumb Shift Keyboard, Year 2001

Japan FKB8579 661 thumb shift keyboard 45474
Fujitsu FKB8579USB thumb shift keyboard, came out in year 2001
This keyboard is recognized by the OS as a 106 keyboard, and the thumb left key generates a non-conversion key and the thumb right key generates the same key code as the conversion key. Therefore, in order to perform the thumb shift input, software that emulates the thumb shift arrangement using the conversion / non-conversion key as the thumb shift key is required. The product comes with Japanist, an IME with a built-in thumb shift emulation function. image source

Fujitsu FKB7628-801 Keyboard. Year 2010

Fujitsu FKB7628-801 keyboard. Came out in 2010. A portable thumb shift keyboard. [image source]

Thumb-Shift Layout

japanese nicola j keyboard layout
NICOLA keyboard layout image source

Fujitsu's first Japanese word processor, named OASYS, with thumb-shift keyboard was launched in 1979 and became a big hit. As the line of products expanded, so did the popularity of thumb-shift keyboard. The share of OASYS in the Japanese word processor market reached 20 percent at one time (not all of OASYS were equipped with thumb-shift keyboard, though). But the adoption was slow to spread to other manufacturers' product lines. Although Fujitsu was open to adoption by other manufacturers, there was little incentive for them to adopt their rival's system in the (then) fiercely competitive environment of word processor market. It was only in 1989 when Nihongo Nyuuryoku Consortium (Japanese input consortium) was established with a participation of several companies, including Fujitsu, Sony, Apple Computer, Japan IBM and Panasonic, as the promotion body of thumb-shift. The rights regarding the use of thumb-shift were officially transferred from Fujitsu to the Consortium. It was also a time in which there was a rapid shift from dedicated word processors to personal computers. Although Fujitsu kept producing PCs with a thumb-shift keyboard, including portables, most users preferred ones with an ordinary keyboard and there were very few PC manufacturers which offered thumb-shift. Thus, the growth of PC market did not translate into that of thumb-shift and the share of thumb-shift declined quickly. As of October 2011, three models of thumb-shift keyboard for PC, as well as two portable PCs are on sale.

NICOLA is a variation of thumb-shift keyboard. In this keyboard layout, Henkan (“変換”, conversion) is merged with right thumb-shift and Muhenkan (“無変換”, non-conversion) merged with left one because USB HID does not allow additional key left thumb-shift and right thumb-shift .

[2019-12-08 Thumb-shift keyboard]

See also: Japanese Keyboard Layouts


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

If you have a question, put $5 at patreon and message me.