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Last week, @andoryuu3 on Twitter told me about Google IME. Since then, I’ve been trying it out to see if it’s worth writing about. Obviously it is (if you haven’t figured that out already), so I’ve written up a little article talking about why Google IME is actually pretty awesome. The differences are pretty subtle, but over the long term Google IME is a great way to type out your Japanese.

What’s An “IME”?

IME stands for “Input Method Editor.” To simplify things, a “Japanese IME” basically lets you type in Japanese on your keyboard. For example, if I have my IME going and I type in the letter “a” an あ will appear. If I type in “sushi” then すし will appear. It allows me to type in Japanese, choose what kanji (or whatever) I want, and then move on to the next word / phrase. It essentially makes it so I don’t have to have one key per kanji, which would be kind of ridiculous.

There are various IME’s out there, and all main operating systems come with them. Windows has their own thing, Mac has Koteri, and now, it seems, Google has their own. So why would you want to install Google’s IME when you already have a pretty good one built in?

Click the image above to read a little comic (in Japanese) about Google IME

What Google IME Does Better

At first, I wasn’t super impressed with Google’s IME. It was good, and it definitely wasn’t any worse than any built in solution, but it took me a week to realize why Google’s IME was actually better. I’ve spent years using Koteri (MacOSX’s built in IME) so I really needed the week to get used to some of the (subtle) differences. It interacts with kanji in different ways. Backspace does slightly different things when you have a kanji chosen (backspace takes you back to the hiragana version of the kanji before you switched to it). The shortcut keys were even a little different (being a shortcut key champion already, change was, and still is, very hard). These changes don’t really make things better or worse. They’re just different. Now I’m starting to see the cool little features Google IME has built in, though. Things like:

  • The ability to type 今 (now) to type the current time.
  • Typing 明日 (tomorrow) will give you an option to output the actual date (2011/02/15) as well. You can do this for 明後日 (day after tomorrow), 昨日 (yesterday), 一昨日 (day before yesterday), and (I’m sure) more. This is great, because I rarely know what day it is! :)
  • Typing in 今年 (this year) will give you output options of the Western year (2011年) or the Japanese style year (平成23年). This is cool because I never know what year of 平成 it is.
  • If you type in an actual year (say 1987年) it will also give you the option output the year in the Japanese style Emperor Year: 昭和62年
  • It has the power of Google’s AI built in. So, even if you don’t know something, it might have a suggestion for you. Google knows everything, and they’re using this to make their IME suggestions better.
  • There are some built in shortcut keys (and I believe you can create your own, too, though I haven’t tried this yet) that let you type in some of those weird characters more quickly (like arrows →) if you use them a lot.
  • Some words are more commonly written in katakana (their example was Spain) even though they have a kanji. These kanji can be pretty hard, so Google IME will show these kanji even when you type in the katakana. スペイン (Spain) for example is 西班牙.
  • It can find things even if you misspell them (you won’t notice this until you use it for a while).
  • It has kaomoji built in, though you’ll have to know what to type to get them. ヽ(^。^)ノ You can cheat and see what will call up what kaomoji by typing in 顔文字 (kaomoji) in Google IME then hitting space a lot. Next to the kaomoji you’ll see what you have to type to get it next time.
  • Works on both Windows and Mac, so if you switch between the two, you’ll at least have something that’s consistent for when you type in Japanese.

To see all of these little features (and more), the Goog made a video showing everything along with some fancy music.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHRLN1wzCiw’]

If you decide to switch to Google IME, I’d recommend giving it a week or two to sink in. The more you use it, the more you’ll get used to it. Only once you are used to it will you start noticing the benefits as well. Stick with it, I think you’ll end up liking it!

Here’s the Google IME Download Page (this page is in Japanese, but the application is in English).

P.S. You should follow Tofugu on Twitter

P.P.S. Have no idea what any of this Japanese stuff says? Maybe you should learn Japanese.

  • http://hiraganamama.wordpress.com Hiragana Mama

    Thank you for sharing! I’ll be checking it out soon.

  • http://twitter.com/kamokow Zachary D

    I was hoping that there might be a Linux version, but I guess not ;_;. Oh well, I guess I’ll just stick with iBus/Anthy.

  • http://lastingdreams.tumblr.com/ lastingdreams

    I’ve been using the IME packages from Microsoft and they’re good. I’m not sure if it’s the same thing as the one for the Mac, but the little extra tricks Google offers is quite tempting. What I like about the one I have is that if I find a kanji I don’t recognize, like in a book, I can use the IME pad and draw it out using my mouse and it can give me options to what that kanji is.
    Thanks for sharing; I may have to switch over some time :)

  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlRZxWcwuWbdSzPrXKowoAr1estc_F0Z24 tyroney

    If you have 64 bit windows XP, it looks like you’re out of luck.

  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlRZxWcwuWbdSzPrXKowoAr1estc_F0Z24 tyroney

    Oh great. Now my openid is all wrong, and google thinks I prefer to see all its UI in Japanese.

  • Anonymous

    Sounds worth checking out. Right now I’m using the Windows IME, but I find those auto-dating features appealing, even if I don’t type the date very often…

  • http://twitter.com/Meroigo Johannes Sundlöv

    One thing I like with the Google IME is the ability to write names of companies or works that can be pretty obscure or new but it will still manage to figure out what I wanna write. :) I write おれの and instantly I get 俺の妹がこんなに可愛いわけがない! (name of an anime)

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/tyroney tyroney

    well, halfway better. Still no Google IME. I’ll have to try it out at work.

  • http://twitter.com/kristisan Kristi

    Good to know–thanks for writing this up!

  • http://twitter.com/jintymac Janet

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m still a beginner so it doesn’t affect me in the same way as I don’t mind trying a few different input methods out before deciding on the one I like best :D

  • http://twitter.com/edgarjon Jon

    Is there a feature like the Windows IME where you can draw a kanji with your mouse to have the computer try & guess what kanji you’re looking for?

  • Lena

    “It can find things even if you misspell them (you won’t notice this until you use it for a while).”

    Sorry, but I find this to be a terrible function! People should learn to spell things properly in Japanese, and having an “autocorrect” built in definitely won’t help with the learning process :( Google’s IME sounds great and all, but I’d rather continue building a proper Japanese foundation rather than relying on the spacebar.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Even words in katakana, that don’t really have consistant spellings half the time? I think that’s what this feature is mainly for. I know I don’t want to learn a bunch of non-Japanese words converted into Japanese in multiple ways :(

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    hmm, not that I’ve seen :(

    Sounds like a cool feature, though – does it detect what you draw in well?

  • the stray

    I love this feature. As long as you make the strokes look relatively like the kanji you’re trying to draw, it knows what to do. It gives you a bunch of possible kanji suggestions every time you draw a new stroke. I don’t think you even need to follow the correct stroke order.

  • http://www.facebook.com/FrancescoDiSano Francesco Di Sano

    there is even a cool linux version based on google ime
    check out “mozc”

  • http://twitter.com/SykoRyoko SykoRyoko

    I was all ready to not like google ime and the more you said about it the more it actually seemed pretty okay. i’ll give it a shot. thanks for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/SuperNoonim SykoRyoko

    is there some way to get google ime to let me use the japanese keyboard layout? ._. i’m used to that, and i can’t figure out how to get that set up. sorry to ask.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Hmm, I don’t think they have a Japanese keyboard layout option – really
    impressed you can even use the Japanese keyboard layout, though – I don’t
    think I know anyone who can, actually…

  • http://twitter.com/SuperNoonim SykoRyoko

    awww. then i’ll probably keep ime, also.

    haha i won’t lie, i cheated and have keyboard stickers on. but i found that it helped me when i was learning kana (if i wanted to type く i would look for く instead of thinking “ku”…)

    thanks for answering~

  • http://twitter.com/Samufugu Sam Barrow

    I appear to be having a problem. The Google IME only appears to be working when I have the Windows IME enabled also. Is this how it’s supposed to be? I hope I’m just being dumb and there’s nothing I have to fix.

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  • Hinoema

    Vista 64 user, here, so no love for me. Ah, well.

  • Hinoema

    No, there’s a 64 bit version now. I’ll try it out and see how it works.

  • Hinoema

    Ok, two strikes in ten seconds after installing.

    -It causes Word to crash within seconds after inputting a simple word.

    -The IME interface is now a little box docked t the bottom of Word, so I have to look all the way down the page from my cursor to see what the IME is doing. Very bad.

    So far, not liking it.

  • Omnislashlb

    Nice! I’ll have to check that out! こういち、ありがとうございます。

  • http://yonasu.com/ yonasu

    The best thing about Google’s IME in my opinion is that it knows names of celebrities, companies etc.

  • Jocelyn

    Man, definitely testing this out after the AP test. Thank you!

  • http://thejapanjourney.blogspot.com Geckomayhem

    Sometimes, pushing the spacebar can be a better learning process than cramming dictionary words into your head. I find that it is often easier to simply recognise kanji than it is to know exactly what you are looking for. Heck, even Japanese people do this! Especially when it is outside of the joyo kanji range. :)

    My Japanese skills after two and a half years leave much to be desired; but you take what you can get. And pressing spacebar is, in my experience, just one of those learning processes.

    As for the Google IME: I use computers all over the place, not just at home. I can’t see any advantage other than having the date autofilled for you. Still, some of it sounds like a nice idea. :)

  • http://twitter.com/andoryuu3 案努龍

    Holy crap! I get mentioned in an article and it takes me a week to notice! Haha

    I had no idea about all of the above examples of Google IME’s usefulness, but if I may, I’d like to share how I stumbled upon Google IME in the first place, as well as my use for it as an elementary level Japanese learner.

    Every six months the University of Kitakyushu (北九州市立大学) sends 15-30 students to my community college in a study abroad partnership (Tacoma and Kitakyushu are sister cities). Since I’m learning Japanese, I often hang out with these students and show them around the Seattle area and beyond. Today we’re going to Boeing in Everett. Fun.

    Typically if any of them experience a computer problem, I’m the go-to guy to get it fixed. So, one of the girls approaches me and asks if I can fix her laptop. I decide reinstalling Windows 7 is the best option. After installing the Japanese language pack (which isn’t required to type Japanese, if I remember right), Microsoft IME would NOT allow her to type Kanji! She could type the kana fine, she just could not convert it with the space bar.

    I looked for other IME options because of this incident, and that’s when I discovered Google IME. I’d like to say Google IME saved the day, but I’ll never know if it would have now. After two days (and probably at least 3 reboots), Kanji in MS IME suddenly worked.

    In the meantime I had been testing it out and using it with my netbook. It saw most of it’s use on my homework out of the Genki I Workbook. The nicest thing about Google IME for me right now is the fact that Kanji suggestions show up as you type.

    Most all of us know how Anki works– through repetition we’re able to absorb information faster. From seing the Kanji pop up as I write my basic sentences, I become more exposed to these symbols. The best part is I’m starting to recognize them. This is not something I can do with MS IME.

    I’m not surprised that there’s features that cater to more advanced users of Japanese (and really cool to read about them!), so now I have a little more to look forward to. :)

    Anyway, this is why I enjoy Google IME. Thanks for the shoutout Koichi! Hope everyone else finds similar pleasure in using it as I do.

    Cheers,
    -andoryuu3

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    and thank you much for sending it to me! This post was made possible by…@andoryuu :)

  • http://twitter.com/andoryuu3 案努龍

    No problem! You were one of the first people I thought might be interested.

    On top of that, I’m sure you’d put it to better use than my friend who said “F it” to our last two Japanese exams. (lol)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/LukeHero Luke Hero

    This is great as I use both Windows 7 and Snow Leopard.
    Now ive got the same way of typing Japanese across both platforms :D

  • Satoru

    Uhm i accidentally accepted the bloody thing as my default… So now every time i type AW in any new window, QZ comes up. brilliant (not!). how can i rewind this? make my native keyboard my default again? PLEASE Kouichi D:

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    What operating system are you on?

  • markgunma

    I can’t download it. Every time I get to the end of the process, the mini-window says this can’t be downloaded on this system…any help would be appreciated!

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  • http://radicalturtle.com/ Leslie

    do you use control+shift+J to switch over using shortcuts? Even with koteri the shortcuts didn’t work for me…

  • http://www.facebook.com/hilda.orozco Hilda Orozco

    Thanks for sharing!!! This is cool. 

  • http://twitter.com/badgerhunt Jeremy Mawson

    When it starts installing it tries to connect to the web. I’m behind a proxy. Eventually I get an HTTP 403 error. Does anyone know how to configure the proxy for the installer?

  • Ame

    this sounds like a good way to learn to read japanese

  • Godzilla50

    Google 日本語IMEは素晴らしいです.

  • Justin

    So I just downloaded the google IME, I”ve been using microsoft’s version for some time now. It actually seems like it will be a lot more fun to use, but I only have one issue. For some reason when I hit ‘space’ to shuffle through the list of available kanji, all of the kanji are in the unrecognizable form: ロロロロロ with the little boxes. Its strange because I never had this problem with the windows IME, anyone have any suggestions?

  • Tobias

    I have the same problem. Does anyone know how to fix this?

  • Anna

    If you still need help: go to Control Panel -> Fonts -> find the font with the squares and delete it -> restart. That’s the only thing that helpled me.

  • Russell Murray

    To correct this, just go to the desktop and create a text document called 火.txt
    (Windows scans the desktop when it starts and this will make windows switch to unicode which will display kanji, hebrew and the like)

  • 乃亜 印場

    You miss out on the biggest advantage of Google IME, which is that it doesn’t just randomly combine stuff based on sound (which is about what the standard Microsoft IME does), but takes grammar into account heavily. For example, “くうこうにいった” could be translated into “空港に行った” or “空港に言った” either way is perfectly possible, but the first one means “went to the airport”, while the second one means “said to the airport”. Since people don’t usually talk to airports, it makes sense to take into account that “行く” is commonly used with airport, while “言う” is not. Google Japanese IME is much more intelligent about the suggestions it gives. That said, Google is competing with ATOK, which most Japanese computers come with because the built in Windows (and Mac) options are so bad. There are some videos on YouTube with entertaining ATOK vs. GJIME comparisons. (Hint: Google’s IME knows slang better).

  • ウイ好きー

    After having suggested this IME to others plenty of times over the past few months, it is only just now that I am in the process of installing it. For whatever reason Windows IME has started to refuse the kanji form of a random assortment of simple words (こどもとかむずかしいとか...) , so I’m taking the plunge and allowing yet another Google product into the toolbelt (give it time, I’m sure Google will have neural augmentation apps). Being the cool frood that you are, I’m willing to give this IME a few weeks to see if it’s worth the nothing I paid for it.

    Those date and time features actually look really nifty. Thanks for the article, 河豚さん.

  • Lưu Vĩnh Phúc

    I can run it find in both US and Japanese keyboard layout. It will automatically detect the layout for you

  • ragu.u

    Is スペイン (Spain) really 西班牙 in Kanji? Is this 熟字訓 (じゅく+じ+くん)? In Chinese, Spain is 西班牙 (Xībānyá) which is a transliteration of España. :)

  • sonaakali

    Thank you so much for this post! I can’t use Windows IEM since I need fast switching between English and Russian doing translations, and one more language will make me do my job slower, and this Google IEM is just great!

  • Lodellica

    I’ve been testing this IME out recently but it refuses to work in anything other than my internet browser. Has anyone had the same problem as me? If so, how do I fix it?