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“The tyrrany of qwerty” December 21, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in blogosphere, Japan, Personal Blogroll, technology.

Gen has a post titled as above, referencing an article in which he was quoted.

As comments are still broken chez Kanai, I’m got to write about it here. (Gen: hint. ditch MT ;-))

Gen writes:

My quote is:

“To a certain extent, Asia is a slave to the alpha keyboard, [..]”

I’m pretty sure I said qwerty keyboard, but I’ll let Jeff slide 😉

I’d posit that Jeff’s liberal quote is more accurate. It is not really QWERTY that is the problem, as Dvorak or Maltron or any of the other proposed keyboard layouts which also assume alphanumeric requirements are equally “guilty”.

Gen’s quote continues:

“Many input methods for languages like Chinese and Japanese require knowledge of the Roman alphabet to use, which is crazy when you think of it. Imagine if the PC was developed in China and everyone in the rest of the world needed to know Chinese before inputting their own alphabet. Well, that’s the case for a lot of PC users in China and Japan.”

The more important point is this. Japanese input does not _require_ any knowledge of the Roman alphabet. OK, so Gen said “many”, but to ignore the fact that Japanese PCs come as standard with an ability to input text based on the Japanese alphabet is glossing over a not so trivial detail. All common keyboards sold in Japan have letters of the Japanese alphabet assigned in parallel to the alphanumeric markings (and there are plenty of keys to cover the entire Japanese alphabet. Typically the space bar is also shortened to add a few extra buttons to do things like hira/kata switching). You can even buy keyboards with markings which gives more prominence to the Japanese alphabet than the roman alphabet. I bet Gen’s Macbook has a US keyboard…. 🙂

And as for the software side of things, all common OSes understand the key mappings required to type in Japanese. (And creating a new driver for any new input device is trivial)

I know literally just one single person who actually uses Japanese alphabet input in preference to phonetic (roman alphabet) input on their PC, though.

The current Japanese keyboard format is the so-called “old” JIS format, they actually tried to popularise a newer version but they killed that off due to lack of traction….

I guess if we were to design a Japanese keyboard from scratch, would it contain keys in 5 rows rather than 4? (to reflect the traditional set of 5 grouping in the Japanese alphabet) Do we set up the groups right to left in the traditional layout, or do we go for a layout which is closer to the existing JIS layout? Do we even want to bother in the increasingly heterolingual world we live in? Would there be a real productivity increase?


1. Gen Kanai - December 21, 2007

Trust me, if I can’t fix these problems with MT comments in the next week, I’m dropping it and switching to WordPress in 2008. 😦

I did indeed forget all about the JIS keyboard, which is par for the course for me as I don’t use it, but as you note, neither does anyone else in Japan.

I think we’re stuck with what we have now. Way too much momentum. The keitai keypad input has been popular but it’s a compromise that works for portability and size.

2. Ian - December 22, 2007

I suppose that a lot of Japanese users might feel limited by using a roman alphabet oriented keyboard but I think that given that even Japanese will be required to type roman letters sometimes it’s better to have a roman keyboard.

The hiragana layout that is present on Japanese keyboards is completely different that the roman layout. Which means that typing in Japanese and in roman letters (say English) require entirely different phonetic typing patterns. It would be like learning, using, and switching back and forth between dvorak and qwerty based on what character set you want to use. I think it might get confusing.

Completely getting rid of the roman lettering and using only Japanese would be a nightmare. Henkan from roman lettering to Japanese is substantially easier than the other way around given the abiguity that arises when using Japanese phonetics.

For Japanese users, especially ones that type in English or use roman alphabets, I would suggest using the Dvorak layout. I personally use a Japanese keyboard dvorak key layout.


Vowels are in the home row because they are common in English. They are even more common when typing in Roman->Japanese. Also, d, h, t, n, s, are all in the home row. These are also highly used in Japanese. All the combinations of da, ha, ta, sa are all very easy and quick to type.

3. Ian Lewis - December 22, 2007

You might get me with the neon.ai Ian. I’m Ian Lewis.

4. John - January 6, 2008

How about this keyboard design?
I think the idea seens good.


5. John - January 6, 2008

This site explains the TagType concept better.

6. John - January 6, 2008

Site of the company that designed it.


7. lieben - March 3, 2009

Interessante Informationen.

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