D10: Texting in Japanese

This post is in response to a question my mom asked me months ago, but neither Don nor I could answer at the time:

“How does one text in Japanese?”

With the arrival of Don’s cell phone, we have an answer! (Well, we think we do. Neither one of us has yet to send a text in Japanese.)

Japanese cell phone keyboard

There are about 2,000 kanji characters in regular use in the Japanese language, but many (many, many) more that are less common (so Don tells me).  Clearly that would be a challenge for texting!  But, there are also two syllabaries, and words can also be written out in the syllabaries: hiragana for Japanese words, and katakana for words not native to Japanese (for instance, “spaghetti,” from the Italian term, gets spelled out in katakana characters rather than the hiragana characters for the same sounds.  And if I’m confusing you further, just ignore this parenthetical!)

If you look at the numbers on the keypad, they have the standard characters one might see on a phone in the US: “ABC” on the #2 button, etc.

But you can also see that each number has a corresponding hiragana character on the button, as well:

1= the character for a (and presumably you can punch through to the rest of the vowels: a i u e o)

2=ka (ki, ku, ke, ko)

3=sa (shi, su, se, so)

4=ta (chi, tsu, te, to)

5=na (ni, nu, ne, no)

6=ha (hi, fu, he, ho)

7=ma (mi, mu, me, mo)

8=ya (yu, yo)

9=ra (ri, ru, re, ro)

0=wa (wo, n, and maybe the nonvoiced & voiced sounds?  We haven’t quite discovered yet how one indicates those on a cell phone)

So our guess is one types out the words in hiragana and the phone transforms them to the kanji characters, which is what happens when one types on a keyboard, for instance.

So, there you go, Mom!

[PS: I’m thrilled to report my mom is doing well after a major surgery on Friday, but the recovery sounds miserable, so here’s to lots and lots of painkillers and sleep headed your way!]


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