Japanese Input on Android Phones

February 15th, 2010

With the release of the first Google Android phones in Japan from NTT Docomo, there are finally phones with Google’s native Japanese keyboard input. The keyboard has been in the SDK, but it has not appeared on any handsets in the U.S. yet. I have not been able to find any information about when non-Japanese Android phones will be able to use the Japanese keyboard input.

Until there is a native Japanese keyboard input, the only usable option is the Simeji Japanese keyboard input. Simeji is a Japanese input app that lets you switch input modes on the fly between English and Japanese. It includes multiple Japanese input modes, including the standard keitai-style mode. Under the phone settings you can configure the keyboard to your preferences. I prefer the vibrate on touch option to keep the Japanese input mode feel similar to the default English keyboard on the HTC Hero.

The biggest drawback to Simeji is that it is an app. Since it is not a native part of the OS, it takes time to load every time you toggle the keyboard. There is also some lag when typing at times. It is always running in the background ready to be toggled to, but it never feels like it is a natural part of the phone’s OS.

Another drawback to using Japanese input on Android is that it does not work with text messages. You can input Japanese and sent text messages; you just can’t read any messages you receive. I don’t know if this is a problem with Sprint’s network or American text messages in general, but it is a problem. I can understand an older phone having problems receiving Japanese text messages. But from Android to Android I expect better. Between Android phones you can always use Google Talk, but there is no guarantee that the person you are messaging has notifications turned on for Talk, whereas with text messages that is almost guaranteed.

Simeji works—for the most part—and has lots of configuration options. It is great that someone has created this app because there is a need for it. But the native Android Japanese input keyboard should be made available to all Android phones. The iPhone gets this right; Google should too.

33 Responses to “Japanese Input on Android Phones”

  1. Joshua Yuan says:

    I use Simeji, but that’s because it’s pretty much the only qwerty anthy app I got to work in cyanogenMod. i wish the phones came with native input metapackages or something to choose from.

    On the other hand, I use HTC IME for normal typing -_- having both makes me have funny keyboard loading time a lot.

  2. Theren says:

    My wife is trying to find a NON-iPhone that has the ability to read Japanese text on websites and received-emails. Also wishes to have a non-iPhone for writing emails to romanji (to convert to hiragana and such…).

    Is the clunky app on the Android app store the only one? Can you advise a phone that would help her situation?

    Thanks for your thoughts. Enjoy the day.

    Theren

  3. Peter says:

    I’ve used the built-in Japanese support on the Japanese version of Android–it’s terrible. It’s a standard keyboard IME–you enter a word in hiragana via either a QWERTY romaji virtual keyboard or a mobile-phone style keybad, tap a button, and Android puts its best guess at what kanji you mean into the text–tap it again and it shows a list of possible candidates to choose from. That’s not bad–the system has been around forever and can work well. Unfortunately, Android’s doesn’t. The dictionary it uses is too small, so much of the time when you enter your hiragana and tap the “convert to kanji” button, it can’t–it can’t even put the word in the list of suggestions. This happens even with common words. So a lot of the time you have to enter words one kanji at a time–which is a pain. If you compare it to the keyboard IMEs in Windows, Windows Mobile, Mac, iPhone, and other phones in Japan, it’s primitive and tremendously frustrating to use. I haven’t tried Simeji to compare, but I can’t imagine it would be any worse.

    I’d love to see google port their Japanese IME for Windows (works almost exactly like and almost as well as the Japanese support in Windows XP) to Android. Asking for something that worked as well as the Japanese support in the Japanese Windows Mobile (which can be hacked into non-Japanese versions of WM) might be asking too much, but the great thing about a platform where development isn’t restricted from above is that if google doesn’t step up to the plate, someone else might–I imagine the situation will be different in 6 months or a year.

  4. Brian says:

    Theren,

    I believe the Blackberry’s can use Japanese input on a system level. It’s no droid, but it isn’t an iPhone either. I understand that you have to install the language for keyboard input, but that it does work it you’re successful.

    Brian

  5. marketiva says:

    Thanks for posting! I really enjoyed the report. I’ve already bookmark this article.

  6. PouncingAnt says:

    Wouldn’t not being able to read Japanese characters in text messaging just be due to limitations in that as a national service?
    I’m pretty sure over here in the UK you can only use western characters.
    Even the Japanese tend to use email for mobile-mobile texting anyway.

    As for Android IME, FlickWnn is my favourite recently. Much faster than bashing each button several times, and less buggy than simeji, which would occassionally freeze on my HTC tattoo

  7. Steven says:

    You are right on, and i do believe that Google will soon relies the potential in going “globally natively”.
    I would like to ask a question though. I recently got my wife an Android X. I have all the IME stuff working. Except her relatives in Japan (DOCOMO) cannot read her email messages from the phone using the Japanese IME’s. Can i possibly be the only one experiencing this? Does anyone actually send to Japanese networks or are most using these IME’s on US networks?

  8. mark says:

    My wife uses Simeji on her HTC Hero Android phone to write emails to her family in Japan on their cell phones. They are able to read the email messages. She usually sends from Gmail to their cell phone emails. Every once in a while some text gets garbled, but normally it works. Her family is mostly using AU phones I think.

  9. BIGMIKEBROOKLYN says:

    Hi,
    for blackberry, just go to the blackberry site and choose pccw as the provider and download their east asia device software. it always has japanese display and romaji input. it is well done and the kanji guesses are pretty decent. I work for a Japanese company in the US and all our Expat users use it or iphone.
    regards,
    -Mike

  10. [...] the best bet so far for phones released outside of Japan for the keyboard input that I can find: Localizing Japan – Japanese Input on Android Phones throw Life – Android Not perfect, for a few reasons they give, but a good place for a start. [...]

  11. Taylor says:

    OpenWnn seems to work great for Japanese input on Android. It is supposed to be better than shimeji…

  12. Yamato says:

    The big drawback seems to be that the characters look Chinese. That is, some characters look Chinese instead of Japanese. Like 今 written with Simeji or Open Winn or viewed on Android phones’ browsers, looks Chinese instead of Japanese. It does make things confusing for some rarer characters if you do not know what they look like in Chinese. I wonder if Japan-based Android phones have this problem.
    I talked to the Simeji Developer he said there’s nothing that can be done about this

  13. noah says:

    I downloaded simeiji but when I tap and hold the Japanese keyboard never comes. What’s wrong?

  14. Yumi says:

    I got an Evo shift. Simeji works great on it. I can use Japanese using my keyboard, text message, romaji nyuryoku, no problem at all. It also does not look like Chinese character. It must have problem on the phone side, not Simeji. I have 32 GB micro SD in it. But, it was also smooth when I had 2 GB.

    I’m Japanese and I really recommend Evo shift if you want to use Japanese on your phone. Ir works like you use PC. My family and friends in Japan never complained. So, I assume they could read all. They all have AU phones or Vodafone phones. I don’t know about Docomo though.

    Noah, keep playing around. I had an exactly same problem. I don’t know what happened. But, when I was playing around, tapping and pushing, then it started working.

  15. Matthew says:

    This seriously IS ridiculous! I can’t believe it’s been over a year and this issue still exists. I’ve been using OpenWnn/Flick which as far as I can tell encodes the Japanese in unicode. Here are the results I get from my tests sending from my Froyo phone to itself and to my email (via my computer).
    email-to-email: Works great! :)
    email-to-mms: Works when sent to myself :(
    mms-to-email: Works just fine.
    mms-to-mms: Mixed results. My fiance can’t see my Japanese text on her L704i, but she gets English text.

    ** these are not conclusive results, but the bottom line is that my fiancé only receives square blocks in place of Japanese whenever I try to send her mms messages using the OpenWnn keyboard on my Froyo phone. :’(

  16. mark says:

    I think American cell phone carriers do not support double-byte languages like Japanese over text messaging. The phones all support it, but I don’t think the text messaging system supports it.

  17. Schale01 says:

    @mark Very few of them do. I do know that Sprint does however. I am able to send full Hiragana and Kanji through text. I usually find the limiting factor is the phones I am sending it to.

  18. Fujimi says:

    I can see a lot of you are having problems finding a proper Japanese input method, I’ve been using shimeji for a while now, but dropped it for Smart Keyboard Pro. By far the most customize-able keyboard app I’ve tried so far. Most definitely worth the 2$.

    Again; check out Smart Keyboard Pro if you’re looking for Japanese input on your Droid.

  19. Max says:

    I completely disagree with the comment above by Fujimi. I’m sorry to say but the integration and the software itself for Japanese on Smart Keyboard Pro is absolutely useless and terrible at the moment. You can reference this by searching “Japanese for Smart Keyboard Pro” on Google.

    As for the alternatives, I recommend Simeji (at least for now). This app, while it needs many improvements, this is still the best one out there in my opinion.

    I, too wished that there is a native Japanese-input support on Android itself that has been perfected from the Docomo’s version in Japan.

    Good luck!

  20. Peter says:

    No one’s mentioned ATOK for Android. ATOK’s a longtime maker of Japanese input methods for various devices and computers. It should be pretty good. ATOK for some other devices also includes excellent Japanese handwriting recognition, but because most Androids use capacitive (aka “multi-touch”) touch screens that just aren’t as precise as the older technology (resistive), ATOK for Android doesn’t include handwriting recognition. But it should be the best keyboard IME out there (has both standard virtual keyboard and phone keypad style for Japanese entry).

  21. Dennis says:

    Hi,
    im just a beginner and dont know any kanji yet. Is it possible to use simeji with hiragana only. I’m able to write the hiragana with simeji but it always tries to replace the hiragana with kanji. Can i disable that feature?

    Thanks alot
    Dennis

  22. Gerry says:

    Still, almost the end of 2011 and no embedded IME for Japanese! This is so disappointing. There’s one for Korean and Chinese, but nothing for Japanese yet. I will certainly switch to an iPhone next, which has had international support since the get-go.

  23. Earl says:

    Update: FlickWnn so far is the best for Japanese IME.

    I recently purchased AT&T’s Galaxy S II: Skyrocket as a replacement for my Vodaphone (cum Softbank) V804ss I used in Japan.

    When I used the v804ss on the AT&T network, I had absolutely no issues with sending/receiving e-mails in Japanese. Not sure if sms and mms worked in Japanese as I never used them in the US. Friends in the US as well as overseas who had phones that could recognize Japanese did not have any issues either.

    Since I switched over to the Skyrocket, I was crushed to learn the only native imes were the major European languages and Korean (Samsung). When I asked the AT&T clerk about installing the Japanese ime (this phone also sells in Japan through NTT DoCoMo so the ime exists), they looked at me as if I were insane…

    I tried Simeji, but did not like it. I am now using Kaede IME, but it is actually worse as it could not transliterate “manzaisi to site katuyaku sita keiken ga aru.” into 漫才師として活躍した経験がある。 So today I will try FlickWnn.

    As the technology to add native language support in pretty much every language already exists, we can only speculate the real motive for holding us global citizens back. Perhaps we are being punished? I mean, my phone has Deutsch, English, Espanol, Francais, Italiano and Korean… and no Japanese. If it were the case this phone was made for the European market, there is no need to add Korean. But again the real question is why not offer everyone the language of their choice? Does a phone sold in the US with native Japanese support threaten the Japanese market? I’d even pay Samsung an additional $5 for it.

  24. Earl says:

    Update 2.0
    Google Japanese IME is a complete waste of time.

    The Go Keyboard has a Japanese IME plug-in that I have yet to try. Will post again after some testing.

    So far, FlickWnn still has my vote for the best Japanese ime.

  25. Jim Breen says:

    Does anyone know about the font situation with non-Japanese Androids? The standard Unicode font that is used by CJK apps has the Chinese versions, so that kanji such as 直 come out in their Chinese forms (i.e. in the case of 直 it has a long stroke at the bottom instead of an “L” wrapper.) It’s high time this was fixed and that locales were honoured.

    Jim

  26. Steve says:

    I see (here and on other sites) several suggestions that European and US carriers will not permit double-byte characters for their text messaging. However, I find in France and UK that I can receive and read texts in kanji/kana sent from an iphone to my Android (Galaxy SII). The problem is that when I try using a Japanese IME to reply it arrives as garbage. So the issue must be how the Android system transmits the message, and not with the carrier which works fine from an iphone.

    I have tried Simeji and Kaeda and another I can’t remember which, but I suspect all of the IME apps have the same problem.

    Can anyone offer some advice (other than buy an iphone)? It doesn’t have to be a free fix (just not so expensive that the iphone becomes a better option).

  27. Kazue says:

    Same for me. My Husband (UK-sold iPhone) can send texts to my UK-sold Samsung Galaxy over UK network in Japanese but my reply using several different J-keyboard apps is corrupted.

    He also said that adding the Japnese input option was much more intuitive and easy, and switching between J and E input is easier.

    I think we just have to say iPhone wins in this category, but I still have 23 months to go on my contract, so if there is a solution, I’d love to know.

    Wish I’d done a bit more reserach about this issue – just assumed smart phones were, er, smart.

  28. geoff says:

    1)

    As far as basic IME go, Simeji, while not perfect, is my preferred option. I leave it enable all the time, and switch between QWERTY and Japanese keyboards within Simeji, as this is much faster than changing the Android input method. Simeji’s QWERTY keyboard is not as hyper-optimized as some, but I get by just fine with it.

    1a)

    Google’s japanese input lacked a proper QWERTY (it had a T9-style multitap for english input!?!) so I ditched it.

    Kaeda had a proper qwerty, but seemed to lack the keitai-style 5-direction kana input I had grown used to.

    2)

    Kanji Recognizer does a decent job allowing input of kanji via handwriting. Simeji has integration to popup kanji recognizer, let you input, and warp the resulting kanji back into the simeji text entry box. This functionality costs a few dollars. I was pretty ready to pay, but for technical reasons you can’t pay via carrier billing, you have to set up a Google Waller account, and I wasn’t quite ready to submit to that.

    3)

    Multilang dict, then install the Japanese plugin, then install the Hanwriting plugin. All free (donation requested). If it has any kana-style keyboard layout, i couldn’t find it (or perhaps it is yet another plugin). Japanese text input works pc-style, using qwerty keyboard to input kana. If you long-press the 123 (keyboard change) button, you can switch to handwriting input. Unlike simeji, handwriting input is fully integrated… which makes it a little cramped, but there is no app switching and you have the context of the app you’re entering text into which can be useful. Brief test shows it to be at least passable. Although I’m not a fan of entering kana via visual qwerty keyboard, this might still end up being my go-to IME. Certainly for those times I have a furigana-less word I need to look up in the dictionary, this looks to be the answer. Once I put it through the paces, will probably donate.

  29. Steve says:

    Sending SMS text messages:
    I found the solution to the problem of sending text messages ungarbled.
    On my Galaxy S2 I had tried every possible option in the “Settings” menu, but there is a separate menu for messaging settings.

    Go to messaging screen
    Select Settings > Input mode > automatic.

    Too easy.

  30. Yogi says:

    Steve is absolutely correct. Just do this. (1) Open messaging app (2) Open settings (3) Select input mode (4) Select automatic option. And thats it. By the way, I have a Galaxy Note N7000 and I have installed FlickWnn for Japanese language support.

  31. Jeff says:

    Thanks, Steve and Yogi! Works like a charm. Now if I can only find a better input mode than Google Japanese beta…any ideas? I have a Galaxy S2 Skyrocket

  32. Gregg says:

    As of October 3rd Google has released Japanese input for the western world (or at least the States). Downloading it now, hopefully this will solve our woes! (search ‘Google Japanese Input’ on Google play)

  33. onomeister says:

    I just got my first Android phone (was always iPhone user), and dl’ed Google Japanese Input… This is by far the best, you can switch input to QWERTY so it inputs in Romanji, and is native onto the Android OS (BLOGGER NEEDS TO UPDATE THIS OOOOOLD POST!!!)

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