Google Japanese IME For Better Typing In Japanese

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.

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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.

  • 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?