Script Basics: Mixed Scripts

Modern Japanese writing mixes four different scripts, including the Latin alphabet,
depending on the word and context of the material. The four major scripts
used in Japanese are:

  1. Katakana (カタカナ)- One of the native phonetic syllabaries (each character is a syllable).Katakana is used for foreign words, some company names, new Japanese wordsand other words in which a pronunciation needs to be specified.
  2. Hiragana (ひらがな)- The other native phonetic syllabary (each character is a syllable) which is used for specifying certain grammatical endings. Hiragana (literally "women’s writing") is circular with larger loops. Katakana is more angular and resembles a streamlined printed Chinese character. Case endings or grammatical endings written in Hiragana are called Okurigana.
  3. Kanji (漢字) – The Japanese name for Chinese characters used in writing many Japanese words.
  4. Romaji (Rōmaji) – The Japanese name for the Roman (English) alphabet which has been adopted as part of the writing system. Note that the Romaji includes long marks (macrons) on vowels.

In addition to the scripts listed above, Japanese writing can also include these scripts.

  1. Half-width Katakana (カタカナ) – a more narrow version of Katakana used in older Japanese computing systems (see sci.lang.japan article). The narrow style enabled Japanese to have the same width as Western letters which are narrower than Japanese characters. Half-width forms can be found in systems like cash registers, printers for mailing systems, some banking computing systems and retro typography.
  2. Furigana/RUBY – A style of Japanese writing in which phonetic Katakana and Hiragana are placed above Kanji (Chinese) characters in order to provide a pronunciation hint. The RUBY specification for vertical writing systems is designed primarily for Furigana writing.
    Note: "Hurigana" is an alternate spelling of Furigana.
  3. Hentaigana – An older, more ornate form of Hiragana used in formal Japanese documents such as diplomas and shop names.
  4. EmojiPicture icons used in Japanese text messages similar to emoticons, but also including weather symbols, holiday symbols, food and drink symbols and more. The use of symbols is so popular in Japan, that many are scheduled to be included in future versions of Unicode.

Some References

Test Sites

If you have your browser configured correctly, the Web site below should display the correct characters.

If this site is not displaying correctly, see the Browser Setup page for debugging information.

Fonts by Platform

Both Windows and Mac (and mobile platforms) provide a set of Japanese fonts, but more decorative versions may be found through font vendors or font download sites.

  • Windows – MS Mincho, MS Gothic, MSPGothic, MSPMincho, MSUIGothic, Meiryo (Vista +)
  • Mac OS X – AquaKana, Hiragino Kaku Gothic Pro W3,W4,W6,W8, Hiragino Pro W3,W6, Osaka, Osaka Mono


Activate Utilities for Typing

In Windows, Macintosh/iOS and Droid, input options for all the Japanese scripts are available. See the links below for more information.


  • CosCom – Instructions for multiple Windows version, including Windows 10
  • YesJapan – Windows 7/Vista



You can also view generic documentation for

Long Vowels (Macrons) for Rōmaji

When Japanese is transliterated into English in the Romaji systems, long marks are used to indicate long vowels. These can be written in one of several ways depending on the operating system.

Windows Microsoft Word ALT Codes

Capital Vowels
Vwl ALT Code
Ā ALT+0256
Cap long A
Ē ALT+0274
Cap long E
Ī ALT+0298
Cap long I
Ō ALT+0332
Cap long O
Ū ALT+0362
Cap long U
Lower Vowels
Vwl ALT Code
ā ALT+0257
Lower long A
ē ALT+0275
Lower long E
ī ALT+0299
Lower long I
ō ALT+0333
Lower long O
ū ALT+0363
Lower long U

Notes on the Codes

  • These work only in Microsoft Word
  • You must use the numeric keypad. More detailed instructions
    about typing accents with ALT keys are available. 
  • The font in your document must be set to one that includes these characters.
  • If this is not available, you can use the Character Map to insert the characters in a master document, then cut and paste as needed.

Macintosh OS X Extended Keyboard

You can activate the ABC/Extended Roman keyboard to type the long marks.

Macron Code on Mac
Macron ā, Ā Option+A, V

For example, to insert lower long O ō, you would type Option+A, then O.

Typing the Yen Sign

Below are the codes for typing a Yen sign in different platforms.

Yen Sign Codes
Platform Description
Windows Type Alt+0165. You must use the numeric keypad. See details
on the Alt Key page.
Macintosh Type Option+Y
HTML Use the code ¥ to specify a Yen symbol. See details on the HTML code page.

Web Development

This section presents information specific to Chinese. For general information about developing non-English Web sites, see the Encoding Tutorial or the Web Layout sections.

Historical Encodings

Unicode (utf-8) is the preferred encoding for Web sites. However the following historical encodings may still be encountered,

  • shift_jis
  • euc-jp

Language Tags

Language Tags allow browsers and other software to process text more efficiently.

Vertical Text

See the Vertical Text page for information on vertical Japanese text.

Japanese Computing




Other Platforms (Including DOS/Unix)

Japanese Writing System

Web Development Tips


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