how to find a laptop with an English keyboard

Japan is known for its electronics. The name brands familiar around the world: Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, etc. So finding a computer in Japan should seem like no problem. And really, it's not. At least not if you are OK with using a Japanese keyboard. Are Japanese and English keyboards really that different? Actually yes, they are. If you've ever tried using a Japanese keyboard for writing (typing), you'll soon realize just how impractical it is. The enter/return key is usually shaped like an "L" on a Japanese keyboard, with an extra button in between, making that conditioned reach over with the right pinky futile. Or the fact that the semi-colon and apostrophe requires extra button pushing, instead of the gentle one-finger tap. Even just writing e-mails can be a pain, and whenever I use Japanese computers, sometimes I grow lazy and just keep typing the keys that substitute those on the English keyboard, ending up with something that is sometimes undecipherable.

So what to do? In my hunting the last few days, here's what I've discovered.

1) Most electronics stores do not carry laptops with an English keyboard. If they do, then they'll most likely be found in Tokyo or another metropolis. Don't expect to walk into a local store and walk out with a laptop if you expect to get an English keyboard.

*Note: I haven't actually gone through and asked every single electronics store in Japan of course, but from stores around where I am (Shizuoka), there aren't.

2) Most stores probably don't offer an option of ordering a laptop with an English keyboard (see note above).

3) Shopping online, perhaps on a product's company site, is possible, but in most cases will be frustrating (if you can't read Japanese). So far, I've found that Sony allows options to choose an English or Japanese keyboard. However, the site is all in Japanese. I've also checked Toshiba, Fujitsu, Acer, and NEC (all the main computer brands in Japan, aside Sony) and none of these have any options for ordering an English keyboard online.

4) Pamphlets at electronics stores generally list whether the computer has a ten-key on the laptop, and say nothing about an English keyboard.

So, how do you find the elusive laptop with an English keyboard?

1) Buy a Mac

Yes, I know, I'm biased. I own a Mac, and have been a loyal Mac user since I was a child. However, they are great computers - user-friendly, have few technical problems or virus issues, are easily recyclable, can run Windows (if you can't live without it) and are just plain amazing. Plus, it is easy to order a Mac in Japan, with an English keyboard! Low hassle.

2)  Buy a Sony Vaio 

I can't recommend it, as I don't know much about the Vaio, having not used it. I know Sony is a good brand, they seem like nice computers, and are typically priced about the same as Macs. However, if you want a laptop with an English keyboard, that is a PC, then this is probably the best option.

3) Buy an English keyboard (external)

Yes, it defeats the purpose of a laptop. However, if you just want a PC laptop, and want the ease of writing less often than all the time, this may be an option.

4) Buy a laptop before coming to Japan, or order online from an English-speaking country

Laptops are easily portable, so no problems with bringing them to Japan. May need a converter if not from the US, but otherwise, no big deal. Or, just order a laptop online, from an English-speaking country. Yes, the shipping may cost more, but time is money too, isn't it?

*One reader noted in regards to ordering online, that the customs fees are exorbitant, so if you DO consider ordering one online, prepare to fork over even more cash.

If anyone has had a different experience feel free to leave a comment and let me know. Again, I didn't call every electronics store and ask, nor did I travel to Tokyo to find one. This is more for those living outside of metropolises. I'll update this as I learn more or find anything different.

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Anonymous said...

Great minds think alike... so I ended up with a nice new Vaio. But that's just the start of it, even choosing the (expensive) multi-language OS, there's still lots of installed software that is either Japanese only, or doesn't display properly when the OS is set to English mode. So if you can, get your shiny new laptop and software before you come to Japan.

Ashley said...

Yes, that is the other half of the equation! Thanks for the comment - it's a good thing to keep in mind.

AnnaTrouble said...

Do NOT order a laptop online from an English speaking country! NO NO NO! You will be raped by customs!

I asked at our local electronics store, and they said it IS possible to order a laptop with an English keyboard. It may take some time, and the staff generally doesn't want to deal with it, it can be done.

Loco said...

Good post!
Yeah, I bought a Vaio too....then did the stupidest thng and ruined it. Getting repairs is another mission. Gotta "how to" for that?

Ashley said...

@AnnaTrouble, good point, I'll have to edit and add that in.

Do you know which brand/kind they allow you to order with an English keyboard? Or did they say all of them? Was this in a major city, etc?

Thanks for the helpful comments.

Ashley said...


Not currently - but let me see what I can find out. :) I've got a Mac so whenever (if any) repairs are needed, the process is quite a bit different. :)

AnnaTrouble said...

It was at Yamada in Utsunomiya. It took them a LOOOOONG time to find out, but when they came back with the answer, they said it could be done. Unfortunately, I don't remember the brand/model. I ended up buying another mac. LOL!

Ashley said...

@AnnaTrouble - lol!! I'd do the same thing - as a fellow Mac user. :D

Good to know though, thanks for checking. I'll have to do some more investigating next time I'm in some other electronics stores. It certainly seems like you should be able to get them with English keyboards more easily, considering that the same brands are sold in the US and other English-speaking countries...

James in Nara said...

Another option, if you don't need to look at the keys to type, you can just choose an English keyboard layout from the regional options and it will remap the keys on your keyboard. I brought my monster dell laptop from the states, and bought a wireless keyboard here. Then I changed the external keyboard to a US layout. So now shift-2 = @ like it should instead of " like it does on Japanese keyboards.

Ashley said...

@James in Nara,

Thanks for the idea! I've heard of some people who also do that. Does the enter key or other keys bother you at all? I know for me, the fact that the enter key is shaped differently drives me crazy (when using a Japanese keyboard), as I have to reach much farther than when using an English keyboard.

kalleboo said...

Actually, you mean "american" keyboard. An actual English (or British if you will) keyboard will have the same large enter key and basically the same layout as a japanese one.

Ashley said...


Thanks for the comment. As far as I know, they are still called "English" keyboards here in Japan, regardless (英語 or 英字). I can't speak for anyone from the UK, but I know someone from New Zealand wanted a computer with an "English" keyboard, (so, like the American one I'm talking about here). Although, I don't really know what the norm there is either.

Do you find much difference between an actual English/British keyboard and a Japanese one? I mentioned the enter key, but are the other keys different/similar?

Found a wikipedia article on it:

Mr GT Chris said...

I actually settled into a Japanese keyboard pretty quickly. Also, the dedicated keys for switching from kana to roman characters are nice if you are going back and forth between Japanese and English a lot. Another point would be that if your workplace is going to have you using computers, then it might be a good idea to get used to the Japanese layout sooner rather than later. Of course, if you are planning to take it back to your home country, then you might end up with a JIS keyboard for no real useful purpose.

One of the draw backs is needing option+¥ to do a back slash (on my Macbook pro). If you do much programming it's a real hassle compared to a keyboard with a dedicated key.

Ashley said...

@Mr GT Chris,

Yeah, I used a Japanese keyboard at work (for a year and a half) but hated the fact that the enter key was so far away, and the keys were all different (apostrophes were impossible) and since I couldn't exactly change the layout to English... They just aren't that conducive for writing (but then again, I'm a writer, and others may not find them that annoying). Or the backslash, as you mentioned (something I also use, but maybe not everyone needs that so much). Anyway, I ended up bringing my laptop to work a lot to type longer blocks of text, etc.

I bought my Macbook Pro with an English keyboard here in Japan. I made the mistake of accidently leaving it on the JIS keyboard option when purchasing so had to return it for one with an English keyboard. I did try typing with it, but it was just like at work, really just makes writing difficult.

Also, for Mac users (I'm sure you know this already, Mr GT Chris, but for anyone else who might not), you can set the Mac to change through languages (mine is set to use U.S. English, Romanji, Katakana, and Hiragana) by pressing command+space (press space again for the next one, and so on). So it's just as easy as the buttons to alternate between English, katakana and hiragana on a JIS keyboard.

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