Unlike many other languages, writing Japanese requires the use of special characters - Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana. This is relatively simple when writing with a pen and paper, but gets a bit tricky when it comes to typing on a computer. Virtually all computer keyboards use Roman characters, and while you can type Japanese using Romaji, there may be cases where you want to type in proper Japanese.
Typing Kana characters on your Mac using your Roman keyboard is possible, however, it requires you to switch your keyboard language and interpret the Kana using Roman characters. So read on to find out how to do so!
If you're still learning how to read, write and type Japanese - either Hiragana or Katakana - we highly recommend the book and CD Japanese Hiragana & Katakana.
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Table of Contents
Changing Your MacBook Language Setting
The first thing you're going to have to do is change your Mac's keyboard language. To do so, open the System Preferences and click on the "Language & Region" pane. You will then have to add "Japanese" to the preferred languages pane on the left-hand side, as per the screenshot below.
Now click on the "Keyboard Preferences" button and in the "Input Modes" section of the screen that comes up make sure that Katakana is ticked, as well as Hiragana.
Set Your Typing Language
Now that you've enabled Hiragana and Katakana, you can make either one your "typing language" at any time. To do so simply go up to the top menu-bar, click on the flag symbol and select either Hiragana or Katakana from the resulting list.
Hiragana and Katakana are relatively straightforward to type. All you need to do is select Hiragana/Katakana in the menu shown above, then type the Romaji for the Kana you want to enter.
For example, if you wanted to type "ありがとう", you'd select Hiragana from the menu, then type "arigatou". As you type macOS will spell out each sound in Hiragana on the fly, seeing as it's faster for most people to type the Romaji and have it converted than dedicate a key to every character. The same works for Katakana.
If you would prefer, it is also possible to select the Hiragana and Katakana characters from a table rather than typing the roman characters out. To do this simply select "Type using Kana table" from the language drop-down menu and the table of Kana characters will appear. Then you can simply press each character on the table and it will appear in the selected text field.
Kanji is a little more complicated, though. Because a Kanji character does not represent a single sound, you must type out the sound of the character in Hiragana or Katakana, then choose from a list of Kanji combinations. For example, if I wanted to type "日本" I'd have to type "nihon", which macOS would automatically convert to "にほn" (or "ニホn" if you're using Katakana), then hit the down arrow, followed by the enter key (to select the second option on the list, which is "日本") to get "日本". It does sound complicated, but be assured that you'll soon become fast at it!
Buying a Keyboard Cover
Another option is to purchase a keyboard cover for your Macbook. This allows you to easily switch between using Japanese and English keyboard characters without changing any software settings. It's a great option for people who use both languages frequently or are just learning Japanese typing. Below is an affordable option for a Japanese MacBook keyboard cover.
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The secret ingredient to solving my problem was the "hit the down arrow". So close but so far ... Thanks again!
Does anyone know how to do this on a MacBook? It does not give me a Kotoeri option but rather just Japanese, and when I select the Japanese, and when I type in the Romaji it doesn't switch it to Katakana or Hiragana.
Sorry Cate, it seems to have changed in recent versions of OS X. I have updated the article now to reflect how to do it on the newer operating systems. Let me know if you have any further problems.
Did anyone else have open book icons next to their kanji options that showed their definitions to help you choose? Ever since I updated to El Capitan, this convenient icons disappeared!
Here's a picture of it:
Gut geschrieben. Echt toll. Danke.