In order to type Japanese characters on an English keyboard, you'll need to install language packs. The link below will guide you through the steps for either a Macintosh (Apple Computer) or Windows PC.
Japanese Typing Practice for Beginners (Windows and Mac installation instructions included)
for those who use Linux, you can use the following instruction set to install fonts, then use the keyboarding guidelines for Windows.
The first link will also take you to a practice site where you can test your ability to type in Japanese. I'm excerpting the important shortcuts you'll need to know here. These are tips I wish I had taken the time to learn earlier.
1. If you need to create a small character such as the っ in あさって, hit "x" or "l" before the letter that you would like to make small. You can also do double letters, such as asatte, if that's easier for you.
2. To toggle between modes for Hiragana, Katakana and English, on a Windows PC you can use:
- Alt-Caps Lock for カタカナ (Katakana)
- Ctrl-Caps Lock for ひらがな (Hiragana)
- Either Shift-Caps Lock or Alt-[tilde] toggles AlphaNumeric English and Hiragana
- Alt-Shift will toggle between language packs, e.g. Japanese Microsoft IME and English
On an Apple PC you can use:
- CTRL+SHIFT+j switch to hiragana input
- CTRL+SHIFT+k switch to katakana input
- CTRL+SHIFT+; switch to romaji (standard English) input
- APPLE + SPACE switch between English/hiragana/katakana
3. If you hit the space bar, the computer will suggest a series of different Kanji for your typing. To avoid using Kanji (I'm at the stage where if I use it, I have to look it up to make sure it hasn't changed into something else), don't use the space bar. Use [enter] instead. Or, you can hit F6 to accept the typing entirely in hiragana or F7 to accept the typing entirely in katakana. F8 will also toggle between Kanji choices.
4. “Reconverting” is essentially calling back the kanji selection list for a word that has already been entered. Select the word you want to change, right click and choose “Reconversion.” On a Mac you can use two fingers on the touchpad to simulate a right click.
4. If you make a mistake, don't worry. In Windows you can still use Ctrl-Z to undo your work. On the Mac, use Command-Z.