Using a Japanese OS to Learn Japanese

Using a Japanese OS to Learn Japanese post image
using a Japanese OS

Using a Japanese OS has its good sides and bad sides.

We’ve all heard the best way to learn any language (or any skill) is through totally immersion. The idea is to surround yourself with the language in every possible way with music, books, your Internet reading. The principle behind this is that your brain is only capable of comprehending one language at a time.

And although I think translation can still be useful in some situations. I agree with the total immersion theory. It just helps you think in the language more. It breaks your first language crutch that is so easy to rely on.

Since you most likely use a computer or some other web-viewing device (you are reading a blog after all) one possible way to immerse yourself is to change your device over to a Japanese OS. For example, if you use windows you can, depending on the version you have, change windows to be in Japanese.

This will make everything about the OS Japanese. So if you open up a program, and it has been translated, you’ll see all menu items and settings in Japanese. This is pretty much as immersive as it gets if you work on a computer a lot.

But, is this a good solution? Do you really learn the language this way? I’ve been using Windows and iOS (iPhone/iPad) over the last few years, sometimes in Japanese and sometimes in English. It has its merits and demerits.

Merits of a Japanese OS

The first obvious advantage of a Japanese OS is that words are directly linked to function. When you click コピー it copies. If you do image editing, you can play around with tools and literally see the changes you are making. This is great instant feedback.

Also, like I said before, you are going to be using your computer anyway, so you may as well be learning something at the same time. This is especially true if you know your computer well. If you are very comfortable whizzing in and out of programs like a champ, changing all the commands to Japanese is no problem.

Another great thing is with some OSs, you have voice recognition. The mobile OSs seem to do better in this category, notably iOS and Android. Although voice recognition is never going to be spot on, I often use Siri on my iPhone to write emails, set remainders, and a few other things. It works okay, and is generally good practice. Better than talking with yourself, but not exactly a replacement for real conversation.

Demerits of a Japanese OS

The greatest advantage is its greatest disadvantage as well. Yes, everything is in Japanese, but that means everything is in Japanese – the menus, settings, update information, etc…

If something goes wrong with your PC and you aren’t used to trouble-shooting, having everything in Japanese can be pretty painful. Usually you have the time to look up unfamiliar kanji and move, but if you are in a hurry, looking up all that kanji can be a huge burden.

I used to run Windows 7 in Japanese and it was generally a good experience, but as we all know, Windows isn’t the most reliable system in the world. I started to get tired of fiddling with settings and guessing at what they mean. I eventually switched back so that I could actually get some work done in a decent amount of time.

Now, I generally run some programs in Japanese (the ones I’m familiar with) and others in English. For example, my browsers are set to Japanese, but GIMP (an open-source photo editor) isn’t because I don’t use it enough to be familiar with all the jargon. Windows itself is in English in case something breaks.

On the other hand, a simpler device, like my iPhone is a lot better to try your hand with a Japanese OS. My phone is completely Japanese (as well as the family iPad) because there isn’t a lot that could go wrong that can’t easily be fixed with a reboot.

And I’ve switched Siri (iPhone’s voice-activated personal assistant) over to Japanese as well. She is setup more for America than Japan (can’t recommend a good restaurant for example) but it is handy to check the weather with and ask funny questions to.

One more problem is that because there are no easy tools to help you with the reading of kanji, you sometimes end up learning what a kanji means, but not how to say it. The most common example of this is 設定 or settings. For the longest time I knew this kanji meant settings (because of the icon above it), but not how to pronounce it.

Compound this with the fact that there are some words that might not even be in your dictionary and the only way to know what they mean is to be able to know what the kanji mean.


Changing out some programs here and there is a good way to practice. But, if you rely on a program for work or some other reason, it might be best to hold off until you are more comfortable with Japanese before switching. Switching your phone over is pretty easy and good practice I think. Your work desktop? Mmm, maybe not.

But, what do you think? Do you have any experience with Japanese OSs? I’d love to hear what you think about them in the comments below.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • junti March 23, 2013, 5:23 am

    I’m doing the same and can recommend it for the OS and stuff but not for the real complex programs, like for example Photoshop. The Japanese in programs like Photoshop is not really messed up, but it is made up and has no real use in real life in my opinion.
    Besides of this it’s a nice thing to do, but you just learn vocabulary, not really how to use it 😉

    • Clayton MacKnight March 24, 2013, 7:06 am

      Great advice, exactly. Photoshop is full of one-off vocabulary that really isn’t useful anywhere else.

  • Tim Gough March 31, 2013, 12:36 am

    I had to use a Japanese OS when I was living in Japan. It made programmes like Word or Excel kinda tricky to work with (and extremely frustrating if you went from Office 2003/07 to 2010 on a different computer), but in a way you do get used to it. My laptop is a Japanese laptop, but I have had it running in English for quite a while now.

    However, on my non-Japanese laptop, I switched Chrome to Japanese… and it won’t switch back to English, no matter what I do! It’s odd, but I don’t actually have a problem with it, because all the standard stuff is pretty obvious anyway. You may not get pro at using Windows (or Office progz) in Japanese, but familiarising yourself with it is pretty beneficial.

    • Clayton MacKnight April 3, 2013, 3:12 pm

      I definitely recognize a lot more kanji than I did before and I’m better at puzzling out what certain words mean. Overall, I think it is good in moderation.

  • Adit March 31, 2013, 12:19 pm

    I agree that if you get used to it, it will help greatly… Although, I’m not confident I can read it if I change most of my program to Japanese, since I haven’t learned much in Japanese computer jargon… But most of my folder name, video, and pretty much everything that I typed, I turn them into kanji… I can’t do the same with my android though… I’m searching for ways to change English to Japanese, but most program can only change a few program name to Japanese, not all of it, and especially not in settings… If anyone have anything that can change it completely, I like to hear about it…^^

    • Clayton MacKnight April 3, 2013, 3:19 pm

      I don’t know that much about Android, but I think you have to ‘root’ the device and install a different ROM in order to completely switch it over to Japanese or another language with a new ROM it will think it is Japanese. Of course, you will have to live with all the Japanese only settings to, like some services might not be available (and some other services might come available). That is just my rough guess, but if you google ‘root (name of your device)’ you should be able to find out more.

      Of course, rooting is a little dangerous and my ruin your phone so please be careful and definitely read more before trying it. There should be plenty of Japanese apps for Android though, because it is much more popular than the iPhone here.

  • Nate August 5, 2015, 2:48 pm

    thanks for the cool article. I want to use my iphone in japanese, but I want to try to memorize the kanji and study them. Any recommendations for resources that have the kanji that show up on a iphone? THANKS!

    • Clayton MacKnight August 19, 2015, 2:49 pm

      You mean you want to study just the words/kanji that are used in the iPhone UI?

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