The Jalup Line Group is up and running, and I’ve already been seeing some great things coming from it. A big question came up, and I felt that it was enough to justify a full post on the topic. You have 2 options when using a smartphone and typing in Japanese. You can use the Kana input keyboard or the Romaji input keyboard. Which one is better?
Which is more often used by native Japanese people?
Kana input vs. Romaji input on a computer keyboard is very straightforward. According to a recent survey, close to 90-95% of the current population uses Romaji input. This is significantly different from the way it looked in the 1990s, with Kana input dominating.
However, now there is a new discussion that has begun in the past 5-6 years. Up until the smartphone, everyone had to use Kana input on their mobile device (I used it for 3 years when I was in Japan). It wasn’t until the Qwerty keyboard became easily accessible on the smartphone when things started to change.
So what does the percentage look like today?
According to this 11/2014 study, 66.5% use Kana input, and 33.5% use Romaji input. There are some really interesting charts and breakdowns on this site, so definitely check it out.
However, when you look at the age breakdown, you can see things slightly shifting.
*Images from: http://bto-pc.jp/btopc-com/etc/input-research-2014-11.html
*These sample sizes are too small to be definitive.
Why do the majority of Japanese people use Kana input
Because every Japanese person that switched to a smartphone will have been doing Kana input for years (possibly decades). So of course their speed will be significantly faster than Qwerty. This way of doing things is often passed down to the next younger generation because that’s the way it has “always been done.” Devorak vs. Qwerty comes to mind.
Which is actually faster?
I’m not qualified to answer this question, and I can’t find any research that shows one way or the other. Only strong personal preferences. One thing to note though, is that one of the features that gives Kana input its speed is the flicks that allow you to choose the specific kana in an instant (by swiping in one of the 4 directions). This never existed until the smartphone, so if you look at older generations (30s and up), the percentage of Japanese people who aren’t even using that function increases.
Personally, even after using Kana input for 3 years, I prefer the Romaji keyboard and that’s what I exclusively use now. One factor that is important to me is I occasionally use English (proper names, places, etc.) with my Japanese, especially when I’m talking with other foreigners or Japanese that live abroad. I find it easier to do this with Romaji input, because you often don’t need to switch to the English keyboard.
I can type faster than some Japanese people using Kana input. Some Japanese people using Kana input are faster than me (but this information isn’t helpful, because some people are just faster/slower at typing, especially when it comes to age).
Which should you use as a Japanese learner?
Because of all the confusion above, it’s hard to give a definite answer. I’m going to lean towards Romaji though. Because even if Kana input is proven faster (which it may very well be), the time for adjustment doesn’t seem worth the possible increase in speed, and being able to use English with the Japanese seems a big enough advantage to make up for it.
But then again, I look at this video below and feel slow…
Which do you use?
Kana input or Romaji input? Leave any reasoning below!
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.