First the legal stuff: Doing some of these things can cause loss of data or damage to your operating system. The reader procedes at their own risk and the author is in no way responsible for any problems or damage caused by trying things in this article.
A frequent question on the Nihongo Computing list is how does one read and/or write Japanese on their operating system. Assuming that one is using Windows, there are a few choices. The two most popular, especially prior to Windows 2000, were installing Microsoft's Global IME or to partition the hard drive and install two operating systems, one English, one Japanese.
While I'm no expert on this, I have tried both solutions, and offer my opinions here. The reader can also investigate www.japan.co which has sections on Win9x and Win2k.
The global IME is the easiest solution. A free download from Microsoft, it enables one to read and input Japanese text in Outlook 2000, Word 2000, Outlook Express and a few other applications. For example, my former ISP has a web based mail page, where I was able to access my email--the Global IME works there as well, since it is running in Internet Explorer. However, on an English O/S I have found that the Global IME doesn't work in, for example, Word 97. (If one only wants to read Japanese on the web, they don't have to do anything--Internet Explorer enables reading of Japanese--I think Netscape does too, but I'm not sure)
To install the IME, one goes to Microsoft's Global IME download site. (This link is correct at time of writing, however, whimsical little company that they are, Microsoft sometimes changes locations. If the link doesn't work, do a search on their site for "Global IME" and you should find it.) Downloading and installation are fairly straightforward, they walk you through it. Download the Microsoft Global IME 5.01 (at time of writing) for Japanese -- with language pack.
I haven't done this in awhile, but I believe you'll have to do at least one restart. When done, you'll see a little square in your task bar with the letters EN on it. If your cursor is in an application that can use the IME and you click on the little square it will also offer the option of Japanese. I've found that the cursor must be inside the application--for example, if one has Outlook open and clicks on the EN, it won't offer you the Japanese option. However, once the cursor is inside the window where you compose email, and you then click on the box, the Japanese option is shown.
Once it's selected, you should see a toolbar on your screen--if you don't, click on the pen that should show up there, and then you should see it. (You can also use Alt + Shift) There's a capital letter A on there. At this point, though Japanese has been selected, anything you type comes out as English.
Click on the capital A and you see choices in Japanese--in general, you'll select the top one which is hiragana. Click on it and the rest of what you type will come out in hiragana. Kanji are selected, when a group of hiragana is underlined, by hitting the space bar.
When one downloads the file, a help file, with instructions in both English and Japanese are included. It's a fairly straightforward thing.
The keyboard shortcuts (that I know of) are as follows: Alt + Shift will change the EN to a JA. Once you're there, Alt + ~ will switch between English and Japanese input. Its disadvantages are that it's fairly limited to use with Outlook and Word 2000 and only includes two fonts. However, it is adequate for reading and writing email (it also works with Outlook Express 5) and writing documents, assuming that one has Word 2000. It will not, however, allow you to do vertical text.
The other, somewhat more complex solution, is to install a 2nd operating system. This has several advantages. One can use Japanese in all programs--for instance, in an English version of Photoshop, one can, on a Japanese O/S, use the text tool to make kanji.
The disdavantage is that it takes more resources and that it's a little more complicated to set up. However, if you're familiar with partitioning drives and installing O/S's, it's not a big deal, especially if you use third party software like PartitionMagic. (Others prefer System Commander, but as I'm not familiar with it, I can't give many details about it.) One can also use the DOS fdisk command, however, if you're reading this, you may not be familiar with partitioning drives, and may find it a bit complex. It's also far easier to to make mistakes with it, so, I am not giving details here
I use PartitionMagic from PowerQuest. The partitioning with PM is quite simple. The software costs about 60 dollars, but is quite worth it. Install it on your current operating system. Backing up important files won't hurt, but I haven't lost an O/S using it yet. Shrink your current partition. Use the newly created free space to make a second primary partition, make it active, activate the changes, reboot, and be ready with the second O/S's boot diskette.
Charles Aschmann has pointed out that PM does not, at least through version 6, work with Win2k partitions. As all my Win2k installs have been done on unused space on a disk, I haven't tried it--after hearing that, I don't plan to, either. Therefore, if you are planning to boot one or more operating systems including Win2k, it is suggested that you create your other partitions first and leave space on the disk for 2k which will, during installation, be able to create its own partition in the unused space. I do suggest that you check out their manual first. It's fairly straightforward, but there are a few possible gotchas. PM in conjuntion with BootMagic does automatically hide the inactive O/S which is quite important. If the other language partition is not hidden, and, for example, your English O/S crashed and you ran scandisk, it could scramble your Japanese O/S beyond repair.
When one installs PartitionMagic, one should also install BootMagic (on the same CD, included with the program.) Make the BootMagic rescue disk--this is very important. (It's not so important to make the PartitionMagic rescue disk.) If one had, for example, Win9x English, then installs Win9xJ on the second partition, the new O/S overwrites the Master Boot Record, and you will be unable to boot into the first operating system. When one has installed BootMagic and has made the rescue disk, one simply boots the machine with the rescue disk in the A: drive and the machine will then go into the partition containing BootMagic--from there, one can configure BootMagic to boot either O/S. One can read the documentation before buying, and download a sort of weird trial version--it will take you through the steps, but you can't actually activate the changes.
There are a myriad of possible configurations--for example, Win9x and WinNT can be installed in the same partition, assuming it's formatted as FAT rather than FAT 32. If one chooses to do this, install Win9x first. However, assuming that the most likely scenario would be Win9xEnglish and Win9xJapanese, I would recommend the following.
Assuming your hard drive was at least 4 gigs, make a one gig partition for Win9xE and one gig for 9xJ. Then, make a third partition for applications. This way, although you do have to install an application once in each O/S (assuming you're planning to use it in both) it takes far less room.
For example, say you want to install Photoshop, which, depending upon what options you select can take up quite a lot of space---my installation is 87 megs or so. If I install it in Win98J and Win98E and put it on C: drive in both O/S's, I've used 87 megs of both operating systems. However, if I put it in the third partition (which will, in Win9x be E, assuming you only have one hard drive) then it only takes up 10-15 megs in each O/S, due to changes in the O/S's registry.
Windows 2000 has greatly improved support for other languages. One is given the option to add additional language support during the install, but even if this is not done, it can be added afterwards. The procedure is the same for Professional and Server.
Go to Start/Settings/Control Panel. Click on Regional Options. The installed language will be English. (This is of course, assuming that the reader is an English speaker who chose English as the default language at time of installation.)
In the General tab, there will be box marked language settings. Various languages are listed. Check the one marked Japanese.
Then click the tab marked Input Locales. Click the Add button. Under Input Locale add Japanese. The box underneath, Keyboard Layout/IME should also change to Japanese. Click Apply, then click OK. You may have to reboot. This will enable you to use the Japanese IME as described above. However, in addition to working with Outlook, Outlook Express and Word, it will work with several other applications, including Notepad.
John De Hoog has kindly added the following
"In Control Panel, open up Regional Options. In Advanced, near the bottom of the list of code page conversion tables, add a checkmark for 932 (Japanese). Close the Advanced box and then, back in Regional Options, add a checkmark for Japanese. One or the other of these steps will require a reboot. In Control Panel again, open up Regional Options again. Click the Input Locales tab. Open up properties for the installed input locale for English (United States), and change the layout to Japanese. Still in the installed input locales section, do an Add and select Japanese with Japanese. Note that this was not my original contribution, but was adapted from something Norman Diamond posted to a Usenet group some time back. It will not result in Japanese menus, as far as I know, but should enable Japanese programs to run normally"
My personal experience is that if Japanese is not set as the default language, various programs don't run properly, nor can you input kanji as text in Photoshop. For more on that, see below.
The above refers to Windows 2000 with English as the default language but support for Japanese added. Recently, I tried installing it with Japanese as the default language. (This refers to the English version of Win2k) Although system menus are still in English, unlike my English with support for Japanese installation, Eudora 4.0 Japanese worked with no problem. In addition, Photoshop 5.5 enabled me to input kanji with the text tool. Word 2000 allowed me to do a vertical text layout. So, even for someone who is weak in reading and writing Japanese, it seems as if, if you are going to use Japanese programs at all, you are better off choosing Japanese as the default language. As most menus (save for Japanese programs, such as Eudora J) and help files are still in English, they are usable. In addition, it gives you better support for Japanese than does putting English as the default language, even with Japanese support enabled.
When I tried to change the default after installation, some Japanese programs wouldn't run, and I couldn't input kanji as text in Photoshop. However, the trick is this. Hopefully, you have installed Japanese language support during installation. (I imagine you can add it afterwards, but I've never gone that route.) Go to Start/Settings/Control panel. Go to Regional Options. On the General tab, change the top text box (Your locale) to Japanese. Click Set Default then click Apply, then click OK. Next, go to Input Locales, and make sure that Japanese is set there as the default. (I had skipped the General tab setup part and this caused problems.)
It seems quite possible that for an English speaker, who does not need help files or menus in Japanese that Win2k may eliminate the need for dual O/S's. So far, no friends or acquaintances have told me of Japanese software that failed to install or work--assuming that during installation, Japanese was chosen as the default language
Not every computer is going to be compatible with Win2k. They have a useful utility, located in the I386 folder on the CD, called ckupgrd.bat. Running it will generate a report, telling you of possible problems your particular computer might have if you choose to upgrade. For example, had I blithely upgraded my wife's laptop, several things might have stopped working. If the report indicates that there would be problems, you might investigate the website of your computer's manufacturer. Several of them provide the necessary drivers and such to enable a particular model to upgrade to Win2k.
At time of writing, Windows XP has not yet been officially released. However, playing with RC2 (Release Candidate 2) I found that I was able to change the default language to Japanese after installation with no problems--that is to say, I was able to input kanji as text in Photoshop, etc.
A quick word about Linux. With MS's recent position on XP, where one will supposedly have to call for an activation code if various changes are made on a machine, many people are thinking more seriously about switching to Linux. I have a small article here about that. The newer Linux distributions are offering better Japanese support out of the box.
Well, that's about it. It is hoped that this is useful to some people, and that it may help avoid some of the simpler constantly recurring questions on Nihongo computing. If you have comments or criticisms (but be nice, ok?) feel free to drop me a line.
In addition to those mentioned above, I would also like to thank Keith Wilkinson, MCSE, CCNA, CCNP, CCDA, CCDP for his suggestions which greatly improved this essay.