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Texting in Japanese: A Common Concept With Some Unique Spins

26 Jul 14:00 by Zentern Team


Hi Zenterns!

Today our intern, Angela, is posting an interesting article regarding texting in Japanese.
Texting in Japanese is pretty different from what we are used to. Check it out:

(。・ω・)ノ゙ Greetings! Today I’ll be talking about two interesting aspects of writing in Japanese on mobile devices: Kaomoji and Flick input.

For Better or Worse Everyone Loves Using Their Cell Phones

Even after studying train etiquette and picking up enough Japanese to interact with service people and to go about most tasks without relying on English, standing out in Japan is pretty much inevitable and you will notice it. But while immersion in a new culture may be initially daunting because you don’t share country-specific common knowledge such as what it’s like to prepare for Japanese university entrance exams and how to purchase meal tickets from a machine before finding a seat at a restaurant, rest assured that Japanese natives are not cyborgs and there is something familiar and relatable to find in every foreign culture whether it be an enthusiasm for food or a certain style of clothing fashion. Personally, during my internship in Japan, I found solace in the fact that a majority of people were attached to their smart phones and that spending practically all your idling time during daily commutes on instant messaging was the norm.


Speed up your typing with Flick input!


Did you know that Japanese has its own keyboard layout optimized for speed and simplicity? While Japanese can also be typed using English alphabet keyboard layouts such as the QWERTY or numpad styles, the most widely preferred style in Japan is called Flick input. Flick input takes advantage of the organizational structure of the Japanese syllabet in which each consonant is paired with five vowels: あ、い、う、え、お (which are pronounced as ‘ah’, ‘ee’, ‘oo’, ‘eh’, and ‘oh’). The あ-stem syllable is achieved by tapping the corresponding key while all other stems are achieved by holding down on the key and flicking in the appropriate d-pad direction as depicted below:.

A figure and screenshot of my android keyboard that demonstrate how Flick input works

It takes a while to get used to the Flick input layout but once you’re adjusted, you’d be surprised how easy it is to use. Not only does this input method only require one hand, the flicking action is comfortable and oddly entertaining. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, try racing people to type out a sentence! The way I practiced was by playing an iOS rhythm game called Miku Flick where you input characters corresponding to the lyrics of numerous vocaloid songs in time with the melody.


Express yourself to a tee with Kaomoji


Finally, the last interesting difference between texting in Japanese versus other languages is the availability of a menu for choosing “kaomoji,” character-based smiley faces constructed carefully out of symbols and letters from various alphabets to portray a wide variety of emotions and actions. If you have ever incidentally looked over the shoulder of some train passengers glued to their phones in Tokyo, you would see that the average Japanese 20-something not only uses universal emoticons but also incorporates kaomoji such as (o^∇^o)♪. The sideways smiley faces that germanic language speakers use like “:D” are in fact sometimes difficult for Japanese natives to recognize because they are more accustomed to reading vertically-oriented kaomoji.


What I appreciate most about kaomoji is that they are easy to modify to make the perfect expression for your mood. By pasting multiple kaomoji in a row and deleting the characters you don’t want, you can morph several kaomoji to create something new or tell a story. This flexibility, not available with the use of normal emoticons, allows for a more personalized texting style. Although the Japanese google keyboard has a basic kaomoji menu, for anyone interested in obtaining a larger library of options, I highly suggest a mobile application called Simeji, which not only has a much larger default list of kaomoji to use upon installation but also allows users to download additional dictionaries for specific themes such as valentine’s day or cats.


I hope that this brief introduction to texting in Japan will bring some additional fun and functionality to your Japanese language practice.
Leave a comment describing your experience trying out Flick input and integrating kaomoji into your texting style!