How do I use Gboard

Writing in Japanese on a smartphone (Google Android, Apple iOS)


For a long time, typing in Japanese or activating a Japanese keyboard on Google Android smartphones was not as convenient as you wanted it to be. What had been a matter of course for owners of an Apple iPhone or iPad with iOS for a long time only received attention from Google from 2014 and finally fulfilled the long-cherished dream of easy-to-set-up multilingualism on November 20, 2017 with the integration of a Japanese keyboard into its in-house Gboard keyboard .

But how do you get the Japanese characters Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana on your own smartphone? On his iPhone, iPad, androids from Samsung, Sony, Huawei and whatever their names are?

Past solutions can be found at the end of the article under “Archive”. Owners of older devices / software may also find help there. Otherwise Jakyo only concentrates on the current state of the art.

Write Japanese on Google Android

Set up the Gboard keyboard app

Even if this has not always been the case, writing in Japanese is very easy to set up on Android smartphones today. There are several keyboard apps, but Jakyo recommends the in-house Google app called Gboard, no ifs, ors, or buts. If the keyboard isn't preinstalled, the first step to Kanji and Kana is to install Gboard from the Play Store:

Let's further assume that the keyboard was not already pre-installed and activated. In this case you have to activate Gboard manually after the installation. To do this, go to the settings of your smartphone and scroll down to the point [System]. Then choose in System [Languages ​​and input] off, goes to the point [On-screen keyboard] (missing in the picture) and first adds Gboard via [Manage keyboards] added. If necessary, you have to grant Gboard the necessary rights.

In [On-screen keyboard] click on [Gboard]to get into its settings. In the settings click on [Languages]to then add Japanese as a keyboard. There are several keyboard layouts to choose from. For native speakers with an alphabet as their writing system, QWERTY is likely to be the best choice for the time being. If you want to take some time to get used to it, you can opt for the flick layout [12 keys]. This is based on the original mobile phone input for Japanese and you scroll from the A sound to the desired hiragana. The integrated handwriting input should be ignored, more on this below under “Bonus: Handwriting input”.

Example of the flick method:

い ← あ → え

But before you start writing, you should check two settings. To do this, go to the Gboard settings Sub-item [Settings] and makes sure that [Show emoji switch button] turned off and [Show language change key] is turned on is. This language switch button (a small globe to the left of the space bar) can be used to quickly switch between all languages ​​activated in Gboard.

Tip: To quickly change the keyboard app or to get to the language settings, you can hold down the space bar on the Gboard keyboard until the keyboard menu appears.

Why Gboard and not other keyboard apps?

Gboard isn't the first keyboard app to integrate German and Japanese at the same time. The problem with the other apps was always the apparent focus on quantity instead of quality. You have integrated an incredible number of languages, but it would be better to say: integrated characters. Because the so important conversion or prediction of the alphabet in the respective writing systems was often inadequate. With the many European languages ​​or languages ​​with an alphabet as a basis, this was usually not a problem, but especially with Japanese, the prediction or the conversion of Kana into Kanji is extremely important for practical suitability in everyday life. That was missing from these apps, which is why Jakyo started ignoring these apps early on.

Bonus: handwriting input

Japanese learners are likely to be all too familiar with the problem: one comes across a kanji that is completely unknown to one and consequently does not know a single reading of the kanji. Classically, you can look up the Kanji in the dictionary using the number of lines, the radical or Kami-sama knows what. However, this is often not practical on the go. Then there are many offers or apps that offer you to simply swipe the Kanji with your finger and it will be recognized. Experience has shown that this is usually a cramp, as many apps are very strict with the input (stroke order, etc.) and even with absolutely correct input, the correct Kanji often does not come out. Google probably had mercy on souls plagued by Kanji and published its own app for handwriting input, which can be “misused” as an app for Kanji recognition: Google handwriting input.

The big advantage of this app is the really amazingly good Kanji recognition. Even if you don't follow the stroke sequence correctly and you rather draw a picture (aka pig claw), the hit rate is so good that you don't want to miss this handwriting entry any more.

Two settings should be made for the misuse as Kanji recognition: 1) Activate only Japanese as input language and 2) Deactivate the automatic selection, otherwise you cannot take your time with the comfortable copying (... tracing) of the respective Kanji. The last option is missing from the handwriting input built into Gboard.

Since there doesn't seem to be a setting for it, the language switch button (the beloved globe) seems to be activated by default. As with the Google keyboard, the direct selection for the languages ​​is to hold down the space bar.

Write Japanese on iPhones and iPads (Apple iOS)

Setting up the Japanese keyboard on an iPhone or iPad is also very easy. To do this, go to the settings and navigate via [Keyboards] to the sub-item [Keyboards], where you can add the keyboard [Japanese - Romaji] for alphabet input or [Japanese - Kana] as a keyboard for flick input. Due to the lack of his own iPhone or iPad, Jakyo can no longer write about it.

General information on special Hiragana & Katakana

Small hiragana characters like yu, ya etc.

A common problem, the solution of which can usually only be found out through a little research: how can you write small hiragana like ゅ or ゃ directly, without the annoying detour via other hiragana like き ゃ (so-called diagraphs)?

If you have Flick as the input layout, you only need to enter the corresponding hiragana. Depending on the hiragana, the icon for diacritics on the Gboard keyboard changes to the bottom left (these are the two lines or the circle at e.g. は → ば or は → ぱ). To giveya and yu a, the diacritics now become two Kanji, small 小 and large 大. A click on this icon then converts the hiragana into the small or large version.

With the keyboard / Romaji layout, all you have to do is start with an X in front of the corresponding hiragana to convert it to the small version. So if you write XYU, you get the small ゅ. This also works on the keyboard on the desktop *.

* Attention: on the desktop, the Japanese IME uses the English keyboard as the keyboard layout for the alphabet, i.e. the keys for Y and Z are swapped. So you have to enter e.g. for the small YA ゃ XZA instead of XYA.

Hiragana characters are also lower case

Another way to capitalize Hiragana is the L for English ‘little’. The X and L can be exchanged as desired, any combination works.


German umlauts with their own keys directly on the keyboard

Are you missing the German umlauts Ä, Ü and Ö as separate keys directly on the keyboard in Gboard? So far it worked like that you have to hold down the keys for A, U and O to get to their umlauts. But there is a trick to display umlauts in Gboard directly on the keyboard. To do this, you have to select the following language in the Gboard language settings: German> German (Swiss)> (keyboard layout) Swiss and you have a keyboard with German umlauts as your own keys. Strange, but it works!

Since it is still a German keyboard version, there doesn't seem to be any disadvantages with regard to the predictions or the like.

Write TI / DI in Japanese

For European names in particular, you often need the Japanese equivalent for ti テ ィ or di デ ィ. Personal suffering: otherwise Christian usually becomes a Chris-chan ;-) If you logically just enter ti or di, you get a normal chi ち or the more exotic ji ぢ. To get the ti or di you want in this case, you have to type dhi デ ィ when using a Latin keyboard. Alternatively, you can also use the input sequence dexi (Why? See little Hirgana a little further above).

With a flick input, you simply write the katakana te and i and make the i lower case using the upper / lower key.


The source of all problems: no app for everything

As already mentioned at the beginning, it was inconvenient, even tedious, to use German and Japanese at the same time with Android for a long time. There was no perfect solution. What would be the perfect solution anyway? That would be a single keyboard app that could be used to type perfectly in German and Japanese, and now it's getting a bit dangerous: like Apple does on the iPhone!

The umlauts are important for the German input, several factors are important for the Japanese input, such as the conversion of Kana into Kanji and the prediction or suggestions of particles and spelling variants. Many keyboard apps focus mainly on English and Japanese, so English typists have it much easier. If you try different keyboard apps, you often come across the following two problems: 1) You cannot enter German umlauts and 2) The conversion or suggestions from Kana to Kanji are rudimentary, i.e. almost unusable.

In the case of Google and Android, the perfect solution does not yet exist. The official Google keyboard boasts numerous supported languages, but languages ​​from Asia, of all places, are being outsourced to separate keyboard apps - including those for Japanese. But Google has two specialists on offer that are very well linked and almost feel like an app on powerful smartphones: the aforementioned Google keyboard and Google Japanese Input *.

* Also available as a desktop version

Note: Newly installed keyboards must first be activated via the Android settings “Language & Input”!

Now that you have conveniently installed and activated the two keyboard apps Google Keyboard and Google Japanese Input, you may have to activate the following so that you can switch between languages ​​quickly and easily:

Tip: If the keyboard is currently displayed, you can quickly get to the settings by holding down the comma key (Google keyboard) or 'あ a' (Google Japanese Input), then swiping on the cog and then the keyboards in the menu -Settings selects.

In the settings of the Google keyboard under “Settings” → “Show language change key” activate (about in the middle).

Activate “Show language switch key” in the Google Japanese settings under “Input” → “Show language switch key” (at the bottom).

If the language change key is active, you will now find a small globe to the left of the space bar (Google keyboard) and to the left of the わ key (Google Japanese Input), provided that no text is being entered. By clicking on the globe you can now rotate between these two languages ​​- if only these two languages ​​are activated.

In Article Manual placeholder

If you have other languages ​​active, such as English input using the Google keyboard, English also joins this rotation. That makes sense if you often have to write in English and want to fall back on the suggestions of the respective language. If you want to avoid this whole rotation and instead select a language directly, that is also possible. All you have to do is hold down the following keys for the selection menu to appear: Spacebar (Google keyboard) or the language change key (Google Japanese Input) or the globe.

But there is another Japanese input app that is very useful: Google's handwriting input.


  • Nexus devices from Google are used for the configurations and solutions shown here.
  • Even if it's unfamiliar, anyone who wants to write in Japanese should try the typing called Flick. After a certain period of getting used to it, this input is very effective.
  • The screenshots used come from a custom rom called CyanogendMod with an English language setting. Custom Roms can be obtained from, the largest and best-known point of contact for Android programming.


  • Stock Android: Pure Android without a customized interface.
  • IME: Abbreviation for input method, eng. Input Method Editor, simple keyboard.
  • Notification bar: the top bar in Android where notifications appear. Can be pulled down. English notification bar.
  • Navigation bar: the lower bar in Android, on which from Android 4 the three soft buttons Back, Desktop and Multitasking are located. English navigation bar.
  • Quick bar: if you swipe up from the navigation bar, the quick bar or its shortcuts will open. The links can be modified with Custom Roms. English Quick launch and Quick launch shortcuts.

The keyboard apps

Here keyboards are presented that are either recommended for Japanese input or - mostly with restrictions - for German and Japanese. Almost all keyboards are recommended for German input, but especially those from Google itself.

Google Japanese Input (Japanese)

The first keyboard app comes from Google itself. The Google Japanese Input app is programmed by Google Japan and unfortunately has the tunnel view in English and Japanese. In return, the app is very extensive in terms of Japanese input, unfortunately the setting and customization options are relatively meager. The conversion into Kanji is fantastic and is enhanced by additional features. For example, 「き ょ う」 (Japanese for “today”) can also be converted into “2012/02/08”, ie today's date. There is a short video introduction about these features on Youtube.

Google Play Store: Google Japanese Input (free)

Swype (German / Japanese)

The paid keyboard app Swype impresses with its wide range of settings and innovative input methods. The number of supported languages ​​can also be seen, but behaves similarly to the specification of megapixels for digital cameras: more does not necessarily mean better. While the predictions for German input are relatively good, for Japanese input they are rudimentary at best. Swype offers Japanese voice input, but unfortunately converting it to Kanji is a bit fiddly. Definitely usable, but still far from the optimum.

But Swype has one big advantage: you don't have to change the app to change the language. So definitely worth a look. Unfortunately, this advantage is negated because you have to press the space bar for a long time to change languages, whereupon a selection box opens. This can be an advantage on slow Android phones because the keyboard app is not reloaded, but on powerful phones it can hardly make a difference.

Google Play Store: Swype (€ 0.76 or free trial)

The silver bullet: the Google keyboards

Path 1: across the globe

Before we now explain in detail the variants in which you can switch between the keyboard apps, it makes sense to introduce the easiest solution first. As of May 2015, the easiest way to write German and Japanese in parallel on Android is via the keyboard apps from Google itself. You still need two keyboard apps, but two or more languages ​​/ keyboards have appeared for some time -Apps a globe icon on the bottom left. If you tap on the globe, you rotate between all activated languages, but then also through all keyboard apps. It therefore makes sense to only have the keyboard apps Google Japanese Input enabled for Japanese input and Google Keyboard for all other languages. If a keyboard app is active that does not have this globe, the problem-free rotation is destroyed. The Google voice input can be active here, as it does not count as a separate keyboard app and can be called up via the microphone symbol in the two Google keyboards.

If you have these two Google keyboards active, the following operation results:

  • Tapping the globe rotates between all languages ​​and keyboard apps.
  • Holding down the space bar or the globe calls up the IME selection, in which you can select any language and keyboard app directly.

In this way, for example, you can have the languages ​​German and English active with the Google keyboard and the Japanese language with Google Japanese Input. You can quickly switch between all languages ​​using the globe.

Way 2: Via the space bar

If the globe is not available, you can use the space bar to switch between languages ​​and a separate standard keyboard for Latin input (version 2.0.X or higher) and the keyboard for Japanese input (version Just hold down the space bar to open the keyboard selection menu.

Way 3: Input Method Key (from version Lollipop)

In Google Android Lollipop, Google is introducing a new button in the navigation bar that appears when a keyboard is activated. This can also be used to open the menu for keyboard selection.

Alternatives: Switching between the keyboard apps

If the use of the above-mentioned Google keyboards is not possible or you have another favorite app, the following alternatives are available.

Notification bar (from Android Stock 4.0 ICS)

Change speed: medium

As of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), a method for switching the keyboard via the notification bar has been introduced. As soon as a keyboard is activated, an additional setting called “Choose input method” appears in the notification bar. A selection menu appears in which you can choose between all activated keyboard apps.

Quick start (from CyanogenMod 10)

Change speed: very fast

With the Custom Rom CyanogenMod (CM) it is possible to add two more menu items as a quick start link in addition to the Google search. This enables a very quick change between the keyboard apps, which could be the fastest change on powerful mobile phones.

Settings >> (PERSONALIZATION) Interface >> (NAVIGATION BAR) Quick start links

Settings >> (PERSONALIZATION) Interface >> (NAVIGATION BAR) Quick launch shortcuts

Swipe to the desired point and then select “Select input method” (“Open IME Switcher”) in the menu.

Via keyboard app

Change speed: fast

As you can see with Swype, it can also be that the keyboard itself has a button to change the input method. But that's not always the fastest way.


As is so often the case, there are various options on Android that lead to the goal. There are also numerous other options that have not withstood everyday demands, e.g. with the Tasker app. Anyone who has root access or a custom rom on their Android will have more options than without root or custom rom. Fortunately, the best way to use the Google keyboards is to manage without root, provided you have a reasonably up-to-date Android version on your smartphone.

More ideas on how to write Japanese on Android or even problems? The comments are open to you.