Who in the heck uses half-width alphanumeric input?

If you write Japanese, you'll be familiar with using a front-end-processor (FEP) to input Japanese text. On Windows, this is typically the IME.

Selecting the kanji for koutei in the IME

Selecting the kanji for koutei in the IME

IME lets you choose between various "input methods": direct input (normal keyboard typing), hiragana (which can be converted to kanji as needed), katakana, and so on. With the exception of direct input, you have to enter characters and then accept your input after performing various conversions on it. For example, to enter kanji characters (which are far too numerous to correspond to single keys on a keyboard), you enter how the kanji is pronounced, and then select the correct kanji for that pronunciation (of which there may be many).

The most useless input method has got to be "half-width alphanumeric." Under this input method, what you type at the keyboard is entered just like with direct input, except you've got to "accept" every string you type.

I can't see any reason why someone would want to use this input method. If you want to enter half-width alphanumeric characters, you would go to direct input and type them normally. It seems to me that the software designers only added this feature because they could, not because there was any use for it.

Half 'wit' alphanumeric input in Notepad

Half-width alphanumeric input in Notepad

The problem is, on my Japanese keyboard, there's a key to switch the input method right next to the (shorter) space bar. It's thus really easy to hit this key by accident, and switch the input method. And what is the method it switches to? Half-width alphanumeric. Arrg!

This scheme also has a more insidious impact on Japanese to English translators. Since Japanese has no distinction of upper and lower-case letters, clever IME developers have figured out that if you type an upper-case letter while in Japanese input mode, you want a Roman alphabet letter. Japanese writers have therefore learned that if they want to quickly insert an English word into their Japanese, they should capitalize it. Some have become so used to seeing English words capitalized in this way, they'll insist that the words stay capitalized in your English translation (that you must use the same English words that they chose is a foregone conclusion). Double arrg! And a curse on IME developers everywhere.

7 comments to Who in the heck uses half-width alphanumeric input?

  • Wataru Tenga

    ATOK has this “feature” as well, but I think I can see the wisdom of it in this case. It is useful for people writing in Japanese as their native language who want to insert an occasional English word of phrase, and who are served by the special features such as predictive entry and spell checking. The mode is triggered by hitting the Caps Lock key, so there’s no need to capitalize.
    I’m typing in this mode now in ATOK, and as I type, various suggestions come up in a pop-up window. It’s not really hard to use, and I can type a whole sentence without having to hit Enter until the very end.

  • The caps lock also works for IME, and nicely sidesteps the initial capital problem. But I think it would still be better to have caps lock drop down to direct input, then pressing caps lock again return to hiragana/katakana input. This is the same number of keystrokes (replacing an Enter key press with a Caps Lock key press), but gives the benefits of direct input, like auto correct, auto completion, look-ahead searching, easier drag and drop of text, and so on.

  • I totally agree about the half-width alphanumeric… yargh!

    I found this trick by accident–if you want to add an English word into the middle of Japanese make sure you’re starting a new string and type the word normally. It’ll look awful–“have” turns into 「はヴぇ」, for example. But instead of confirming the string with enter or space bar hit ctrl+t instead. It’s not the most elegant solution and I have no idea why it works, but there you go. ^_^

  • Karla;

    Just pressing F10 works as well. Press it again and the word becomes all caps. Press it third time only the first letter is in caps.

  • Nice one, Philip

    Since we’re swapping character conversion tricks:

    F6: Convert to Hiragana
    F7: Convert to Katakana
    F8: Convert to Half-width Katakana
    F9: Convert to Full-width Romaji
    F10: Convert to Half-width Romaji

    This works for all the modes. For example, when in Hiragana input mode, you can press F7 to quickly enter a Katakana word.

  • We have the similar problems with IME in Mandarin Chinese. As beautiful as Asian languages are, they are simply not practical.

  • Oh, MAN!!! Using Caps Lock to switch to/from half-width alphanumeric!!
    Thank you for this!!! This issue has been a thorn in my side for years!!!
    I never knew…

    Tenga-san, thank you(over two years after your post, but thanks are well-deserved)!

    And Ryan, thank YOU for this blog!! I just found it today and have been catching up
    on all the posts.

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