How to display Japanese characters on your PC (Windows XP)

by Paul Goodchild

There are 2 main aspects to “using” Japanese on your Windows XP computer:

  1. viewing/reading, and
  2. writing.

It’s actually quite straight forward to set it up to do both and I’m going to show you how.

Firstly, adding basic East Asian language support

To complete this section you will need:

  • Windows XP CD-ROM
  • local Administrator priviledges

First thing you need to do is enable, if it isn’t already, supplemental language support in Windows.  You can do this only when you’re logged on as an Administrator (if you’re unsure, give it a shot anyway and you’ll soon learn if you can do it or not).

  1. Click the ‘Start‘ menu on the bottom-left corner, and click the ‘Control Panel‘ menu item.
  2. From the window that opens, double-click the icon ‘Regional and Language Options
  3. You will then be given a little window to select various options.  Click the ‘Languages‘ tab at the top, and on the lower half of the window you will see a check box labeled: ‘Install files for East Asian languages‘. Check this box on (if it’s not already) and insert the Windows XP CD-ROM when you’re prompted to do so.
  4. Restart the computer.

Second stage: Japanese writing system

Now that the support for these languages is present on the system, you can now add the ability to type Japanese (including Chinese, Korean and more…) in Windows programs. Microsoft calls these Input Method Editors (IMEs) and the steps to do this is as follows:

  1. Again, launch the ‘Regional and Language Options‘ program in step (2) above and go to the ‘Languages‘ tab.
  2. Click the ‘Details…’ button which opens another dialog window called ‘Text Services and Input Languages‘.
  3. You will see a list of all the currently active/’installed services’ in the middle of the dialog. If this area has never been configured before, you’ll probably have just 1 entry, likely English. Click the ‘Add…‘ button and in the dialog window that pops up, select Japanese in the first drop-down menu box and click OK.
  4. At the top of the now-open window be sure to select the ‘Default input language‘ to whichever you prefer – English or Japanese.
  5. One more setting I recommend is to click the ‘Language Bar…‘ button at the bottom and select to ‘Show the Language bar on the desktop‘. The other options you can set to personal tastes.

And you’re done!

Toggling between input languages


Language bar input selection

When you want to switch between the input language, normally you use the language bar and select it.  However, one very convenient method of running through the options is to, on your keyboard, hold down the ‘Alt‘ key and tap the ‘Shift‘ key. You will see the language bar state rotate through each of the input locales that you selected from the previous section.

One further quick tip is that when you’re in the Japanese input locale context, to quickly switch between normal direct English text input and Hiragana/Katakana, is to hold down the ‘Alt‘ key and tap the key on the upper-left hand side of the keyboard, beside the ‘1’ key. This is typically the tilda ~‘ key. This works on most keyboards, but I can’t speak for all.  Just try it out and see…

Typical character display issues

Sometimes there are problems with displaying Japanese characters even though you’ve performed the steps in the first section. This comes from the fact that not all programs are created equally and the text embedded in the program is programmed in such a way that they cannot be displayed by Windows unless you tell Windows the correct language context, i.e. Japanese. For example, I use Office XP here at work and when I get emails with Japanese in the subject, I get a load of nonsense text. The only way to get past this is to tell Windows to interpret the text as Japanese. It’s a pain, but there is a way out.  Here is how you do it:

  1. Return to the ‘Regional and Language Options‘ program and go to the ‘Advanced‘ tab.
  2. There is a drop-down menu under the section entitled ‘Language for non-Unicode programs‘. Select Japanese from this.
  3. Restart the computer when prompted to do so.

The one issue I take with this is that changing this setting to Japanese can have far-reaching implications to your daily use of Windows. Nothing too serious, but if for example a program is written for both English and Japanese, the Japanese will take precedence.

One more issue is web browsing. Ideally you should be using Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome to surf the web. I don’t know about Chrome, but in Firefox when you come across a Japanese page displayed as nonsense, just go to the View menu -> ‘Character Encoding’ and pick one of the 3 that are available for Japanese under the ‘More Encodings’ menu.

That’s the basics for now, I hope you find some of this useful. If you’d like a further visual walkthrough for some of the above, please take a look here.

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