Friday, April 26, 2013

iOS for Japanese - The Romaji Keyboard

In this post, I'll be showing you the ins and outs of the Japanese Romaji Keyboard on your iOS device. Using the Romaji Keyboard is great because it can be used by beginners from a very early point as long as you are at least familiar with all of the hiragana and katakana characters. 

I'll show you how to type your first Japanese word, and I'll also show you how to avoid one of the most common problems encountered when typing in Japanese. 

To make things clear before we begin, typing Japanese with the Romaji Keyboard built into iOS is not the same as writing in Romaji. 
  • "Car" in Romaji would be typed out as "kuruma" and then would remain "kuruma" (in other words, you don't need to install any Japanese keyboard to type in pure romaji)
  • "Car" using the Romaji Keyboard will have you typing out "ku-ru-ma", but this time the software will automatically change that to hiragana 「くるま」which you can also then convert into kanji so that it becomes 「車」
All clear?  Yep?  Fabulous!

So...the Japanese Romaji Keyboard comes pre-installed on all iOS devices like the iPhone, the iPad and the iPod Touch, but you have to navigate a few menus to actually make it come up as an option when you are typing out a message. 

If you already have it enabled, please continue to the next section "Selecting the Romaji Keyboard".

If the Japanese Romaji Keyboard doesn't show up for you, take a look at my earlier post about enabling the Japanese Romaji Keyboard on your iOS device. You'll be done before you can say Bob's not your uncle!

Once you've enabled the Japanese Romaji Keyboard, keep reading

Selecting the Romaji Keyboard

While using an app which makes use of the on-screen keyboard (e.g. Messages, Mail, Safari, Notes etc.), you can easily switch from English to the Romaji Keyboard by tapping the globe icon in the lower-left corner of the screen.

Right next the 123 button!

You can also hold down the globe icon until it goes blue and then you should see a list of all the keyboards you have enabled so far. Here we want to (swipe) choose the one that says:


Your keyboard should now look like this:

At first glance, nothing appears to have actually changed... But wait! 

Let me point you towards the bottom-right corner:

 Space is now replaced by a symbol representing the lower half of a bashful smile.

Return is now replaced by 改行(かいぎょう / kaigyou) 

Luckily for us, the functions of both buttons are still the same as before! That should clear up any confusion for those who were wondering why only those two buttons changed. The reason that none of the other buttons have changed is that we will be using the keyboard almost like we use it to type out English words. 

If this is your first time inputting Japanese, read the following section carefully to ensure that you don't fall into the same traps many face when trying to type in Japanese.

Your very first digital Japanese word!

Let's go through typing the word 学生(がくせい)(or student).


when you type "ga" using the keyboard, it should automatically change to 「が」
"ku" will automatically change to 「く」 and "i" to 「い」

Once you've typed がくせい、(or even once you've typed がく), the predictive system will come into play and you'll be able to tap 学生 from the list above the keyboard. 

Or tap 次候補(じこうほ - next option) to select 学生 (it will get bolded) and then hit 確定(かくてい  - confirm). 

Pretty simple, right?!

Although I'll often tell you that Romaji is the root of all evil when it comes to learning Japanese, you obviously need it to be able to use the Japanese Romaji Keyboard. 

However, if you want to type using an interface that resembles a Japanese mobile phone handset (i.e. the one I use all the time), then you might be better off using the Kana Keyboard (link is coming soon!).

But watch out!

Firstly you need to make sure you know the kanji you want to use before you convert the hiragana into kanji. There are plenty of differences between these three compounds:

開放 (liberalisation)
解放 (liberation) 
会報 (bulletin/newsletter) 

But they all read (かいほう

There are plenty of other examples when the wrong kanji compound can completely alter the meaning of sentence or render it completely meaningless.

So just be careful!

Also, words containing「ん」"n" can sometimes cause problems for beginners (and intermediates if they aren't paying attention!), and you'll see why in a moment. 

Now, if we type both 下人 (menial/low-rank person) and 原因 (cause/reason) in romaji, we get genin in both instances. However, if we just type genin with the Japanese Romaji Keyboard, we get げにん, which would then direct us to the kanji compound 下人. 

This is because the kanji 下人 contains げ ge)and にん nin)so inputting genin logically brings us to that kanji. 

If you want to type 原因, you need to know that げんいん is different from げにん.

下人=げ-にん=ge-nin    原因=げん-いん=gen-in

So, you simply double tap the "n" in this instance, which stops the "n" from connecting to the "i" to become 「に」. Instead, by double-tapping "n", you'll convert it into a 「ん」which then allows you type 「いん」 after it instead of 「にん」

Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes! 

If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments box below. I'll get back to you as soon as I can!

Thanks for reading and until next time, see ya!


  1. Thanks that double n solved my problem for so long!

    1. Hi Mikkol,

      Glad that I could help :)

  2. Nice guide, Seb! For those on Android, we have a current guide on typing Japanese on any device and operating system at

  3. So do you have a site or social network where you can published any quotes and infos etc from English into Japanese?

    1. Hi Baybii Dee, could you explain a little more about what you're looking for?


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