Reading Asian Web Pages on Western Computer Systems

When I began compiling this information in 1996, the situation for Western Windows users who wanted to read Asian Web pages and e-mail was pretty bleak. Mac users approached the challenge with aplomb, as Apple has always been aware that computing and digital communication are not the sole province of any one company, culture or nation. The company licensed solid, universally applicable language kits that could be plugged easily into the system and that worked with any program.

In the past year things have changed tremendously. Microsoft is finally offering some enriched language capability in some of its products. In the case of Internet Explorer it is now so easy to install seamless, high quality Asian font rendering that we are finally prepared to suggest that if you only wish to read Web pages in Japanese, downloading that browser and its add-ins is really your most convenient choice.

In Microsoft's case, we suspect that this progress was not motivated by customer need (I and many others had sent torrents of mail to Microsoft over the years, taking them to task for making their operating system so obdurately language-challenged), but by the growing realization that there were still some companies they hadn't put out of business yet. This is by way of saying that if you're interested in the third-party solutions on this page, we'd suggest you get hold of them as soon as possible.

Judging from the volume of mail we still receive all the time from people who prefer using Netscape, Eudora and other non-MS applications, and our correspondence with people who are still producing aids that do not limit users to MS products, this page still has purpose.

The problem:

You get to a Web page, open an application or come across a Usenet message that's clearly from Japan, China or Korea, but all you see is incomprehensible jumbles of letters.

The cause:

Because of their complexity, Chinese, Korean and Japanese written languages require a system that utilizes twice as many bytes of information to render each individual character on your computer display.

The solutions:

These will depend upon the nature and needs of your particular Internet practices, but as you'll see, there are many, and many are free. I've selected some favorites below.

This page is by no means authoritative but I'm willing to make it a repository of all the best knowledge on the subject. If you've anything to contribute, please let me know.

For those who primarily wish to view Japanese Web pages, but generally do not require a Japanese language reader for other applications, there is an excellent, easy solution.

If you use Microsoft's Internet Explorer, download the "Japanese Extension" from their site. This will enable you to read Japanese in a clear, bold Tohaba typeface.

Great News!

If you prefer not to use Microsoft's product, go to Patrick's Cyber-Domain.

Once again, a Chinese developer comes to the rescue of Japanese-reading Net users with an easy, sensible way to apply Microsoft's Japanese Extension in Netscape Navigator or Communicator, so that you can read web pages and news groups (using Netscape's news reader). The results are outstanding. This also establishes one of the easily numerable cases on record of the Microsoft Corporation doing something to benefit the world at large; although, of course, as in all such cases, it is inadvertent.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Microsoft is no longer offering this font as a download, as they have improved language support in newer versions of their Internet Explorer (and clearly they didn't want people to be able to use the font with other browsers). However, I have located the font file and placed it in a private download area. You should still follow the directions on Patrick's site, but you can get the font by clicking HERE. I believe Patrick may also have posted a link to a font somewhere that is suitable for this. Many, many thanks to Mr. Patrick Pang of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada for his efforts on behalf of Asian language readers everywhere.

AND NOW...TIME FOR A CONFESSION: I'd been swimming upstream, bearing with shaky shareware in order to read and write in Japanese while avoiding the use of Microsoft Internet Exploiter. Then along came Y2K and I found that my Japanese mail client, KMail 2.1, was not compliant, and the developer has apparently vanished.

It is with not a little reluctance that I admit I have installed and used MSIE and Outlook Express with Microsoft's free Global IME/Japanese. It allows you to read Web pages, place entries in forms, read and write e-mail and post to newsgroups. It works, it offers excellent results, it's easy and it's free (not wishing to argue the toll the attendant animus takes at the moment).

If Your Needs Go Beyond Reading Web Pages

NJWin and AsiaSurf

Note: the following programs will enable you to read Japanese (Chinese and Korean as well) in a variety of situations under western language-based Windows. However, neither program includes a character input feature. For that you will need to rely on a Japanese word processing or text editing program, such as NJStar (below) or KanjiWord.

I am calling these "preferred" solutions because they are excellent programs, inexpensive, and the majority of inquiries we've received have been from individuals who expressed the desire simply to be able to view Web pages and read news/e-mail. Both of these programs work well with everything I've found, are easy to obtain, and both are minimally intrusive upon system resources.

Go here to get NJWin

Go here to get AsiaSurf
Mr. Ni Hongbo has been offering this lightweight
versatile Chinese, Japanese and Korean reader as
shareware since early 1995. Mr. Ni's company, Hongbo Data Systems, also makes the NJStar Japanese word processor, which is a pleasure to use.
You can find both on their site, as well as some useful links to learn more about the subject.

Combine NJWin with the NJStar word processing system (a bit more costly - it's the company's flagship), and you have a complete Japanese front-end IME/reader.

Mr. Ni's active support and constant development of his programs has earned him great respect in the field.

NOTE: Dynalab has discontinued selling
their AsiaSurf product, and in fact have discontinued their original site. You
can still obtain AsiaSurf at a discounted
from the linked site above.
Dynalab's new product, GlobalSurf,
claims an input method and several other conveniences. It is modestly priced at
USD $59. At present we are not familiar
with GlobalSurf, and so cannot yet
recommend it.

AsiaSurf works with the same ease as NJWin. It has a slightly slicker (but not really better) interface.

The primary difference between the two programs is in the way they each handle font displays (see comparisons below).

AsiaSurf offers one thing that NJWin does not, which is an outline font (NJWin's font is bitmapped). It is slightly more expensive than NJWin.

Feature Comparison

  • Works with everything, very easy to use, minimal impact on system resources.
  • Strong, clear Tohaba-type bitmapped font - good presentation.
  • Greatly improved font mechanics in newest version make cutting and pasting (such as in e-mail or HTML editing) less tricky.
  • Inexpensive, renowned for support.
  • Works with any Windows version.
  • May not display certain HTML tags, notably bold.
  • Problems with letting. Lines tend to sit flush atop one another.
  • Bitmapped font is very "jaggy" in headline sizes.
  • Small type (under 11 pt.) appears broken (this has been improved with V. 1.2).
Timed demo version available, registered version USD $50.
  • Works with everything, very easy to use, minimal impact on system resources.
  • Refined, clear Mincho-type outline font. Same font that is standard in Japanese Windows.
  • Layout very true to original (as viewed under Japanese Windows). Renders all HTML tags accurately.
  • Works with any Windows version.
  • Occasional (very minor) font errors.
  • Mincho font style is rather old-fashioned and textbookish.
  • Small type (under 11 pt.) appears broken.
  • More expensive than NJWin.
Dynalab's new GlobalSurf is USD $59, packaged. Copies of AsiaSurf may still be available, if you contact the company, at $69.
A note about both products: All of the notable work in this area can be credited to the efforts of Chinese developers. Native Japanese readers were evenly divided on which of these programs they found easier to read -- neither was deemed "superior", and each was praised for specific features. But as good as these programs are, native readers of Japanese repeatedly told me that there was something awkward ("unnatural") about the way the fonts were rendered (Chinese and Korean readers did not report this). From my standpoint as a non-native reader, both programs perform to the height of my expectations. Individual users will draw their own conclusions on the basis of their experience.

Screen Shots

Click for full-sized images.



Using A Font Reader With Netscape Navigator

When you use a font rendering system such as NJWin with Netscape Navigator (or any browser), the process may not be not fully automatic. Unless the page is specifically tagged to force your browser to use a Japanese encoding method, you will still have to make some adjustments to the setting called "document Encoding" in order to have the page lay out properly. It's a pain, but you may have to adjust this several times a session, sometimes even on different pages within the same site. If you don't, tables and other advanced formatting devices won't work, and the page will still be only marginally readable. Fortunately, this is easy. Just get used to going to OPTIONS | DOCUMENT ENCODING and selecting "Japanese (Shift-JIS)" or "Japanese (Auto-Detect)". Upon occasion you'll also find pages encoded in EUC Japanese. "Auto-Detect" works properly in most cases, whatever the Japanese encoding, but you'll see for yourself. One other note about order: you should execute your font reader first, then adjust document encoding. If you close the reader and reopen it, repeat the procedure.

Reading Japanese on Other Platforms

Mac Users

Apple has supported its many Japanese users rather well over the years (Japanese users constitute the Mac's largest single market share). If you're using a Mac Operating System version lower than 8.5, your options in this area are pretty much limited to switching to Macintosh Japanese System or using the Japanese Language Kit, but this will enable you to do everything you need to quite easily.

MANIFORM uses both the Mac and Win95 platforms. We have found the Japanese Language Kit with US English MacOS to be fairly flawless, although it is might become weirdly unfriendly with certain (mostly communications) programs, and may sometimes, not often, be at the root of lock-ups when connected to an external network. It is still a lighter-weight solution and more compatible with Western hard- and software than the Japanese MacOS. The input is smoother than ATOK, and the output is professional. The JLK costs between $125 ~ $150.

Outstanding News If You Use Mac OS 8.5 or Higher

Some time ago we received correspondence from Mr. Robert Valencia, residing in Japan.

Mr. Valencia explained that:

"For a US system (and presumably others) WorldScript I and II with basic fonts and some input systems are available as an optional install in Mac OS 8.5, it's the option called "Multilingual Internet Access". Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Korean, and Japanese are among the languages supported.

So, if the reader is only interested in reading Japanese on a Western OS, she can choose a Custom Installation of Multilingual Internet Access and select only the software 'for the Japanese language' -- this adds the two Osaka fonts, WorldScript II extension and the Japanese resources (scripts and keyboards) for using them. This package only adds 5.5 MB to the hard drive. A full romaji-style input system, like that sold with Apple's JLK, is not installed."

Even better...Apple's newest OS versions actually include full functioning versions of the language kits, including the means to input characters.


A while back we came across what appears to be an excellent web surfing solution for Mac users that does not require the installation of any language kit. From the description it appears to work almost exactly like NJWin above. The application, called "ELIXER" had a home page, but that seems to have vanished. A search turned up this page with ELIXER and a number of other useful tools.

The site this is on is very much worth viewing. It has an entire section on the Japanese Language kit and it was put together by Mr. Funado Yoichi. You can jump to his main page here.

Windows NT

Matthew A. Davis wrote to tell us that Microsoft has made Japanese language capability much easier with Windows NT. Apparently they've chosen to include language tools right on their OS installation disk, much as Apple did with OS 9, some time ago (who would have thought that Windows™ would get an idea for its OS from Apple? Imagine!)

He writes:

The Windows NT CD includes a directory called "langpack" - just browse to that directory, right-click on Japanese.inf, and select "Install". In Netscape you have to go to your font options and select MS Mincho as the font for Japanese encoding. When you come to a page with Japanese text, use the View menu to set the character encoding to Japanese.

Note: Many pages, such as the ones on this site, will be encoded so as to force newer browsers to use a Japanese character set automatically. In these cases the final step Matthew mentions will be unnecessary.

Asian Windows Versions

Japanese Windows and Windows 95 can be purchased from a variety of sources, including some on the Web, such as Asiasoft. However, Japanese software is often much cheaper when obtained in Japan. Our experience indicates that using a Japanese OS with Western software is generally more successful than the other way around, but users can forget about support from US applications developers when things go wrong. If you are possessed of the frontier spirit or are very experienced in the field, AND if you plan to use Japanese software, obtaining the local OS is the way to go.

Other free- and shareware solutions available to Windows users:

Union Way ( is an all-in-one solution that includes front-end support for input and character rendering. In its earliest incarnations it was comparable to NJWin, above. The program has grown in popularity as it has grown in features over the years. The shrink-wrapped KanjiKit for Windows is a customized OEM version of Union Way designed specifically for Japanese. However, if you go to the Union Way site you can put together your own feature package from a menu and get an application that is more targeted to your needs and (probably) less costly. The online offering structure is a bit confusing, so read carefully before downloading, and contact them with questions.

Union Way works under both Windows 3.x and Windows95.


We'd lost the first and the best on-line Japanese reader, SHODOUKA, a few months ago, and I can't tell you how many people wrote to me to express their profound dismay.

I'm extremely happy to report that Mr. Ka-Ping Yee has written to me to say that his SHODOUKA is back, and it's more brilliant than ever. Thanks to its use of the HTTP/1.1 protocol and other changes the author has made to the system, SHODOUKA is reportedly even faster than before. Its page renderings were always sharp and faithful to the originals.

Set a bookmark to SHODOUKA, and enjoy easy and convenient access to Japanese Web sites without any extraneous software.


When I first learned of the apparent demise of SHODOUKA, I searched for an alternative to recommend to people.

Monash University came to the rescue with their Japanese resource page, which can be accessed by clicking on the name above.

The site offers a Web reader that appears to have much of the same functionality that SHODOUKA offered. You'll compromise in the look of the page but the text will be clear and easy to read. Bookmarking this site is also highly recommended to those whose need to read Japanese on the Web is more occasional.


This site is sheer salvation for users like me, who learned Japanese by exposure to it, but never studied formally, and thus continue to have trouble reading. I'm extremely grateful to the developer, Mr. Todd Rudick, and applaud his efforts. Rikai immediately became one of my most valuable research tools.

You'll need to have MS Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator/Communicator version 4 or above to use it, as well as the font add-ins I describe above to enable Japanese font rendering in your browser.

What RIKAI does let you read the Japanese page of your choice in proper format, and when the mouse is moved over some kanji, a little tip-box will pop up near the word with the Japanese readings and English definition (the tip-box data is from Jim Breen's renowned EDICT dictionary). RIKAI is a must-bookmark for Japanese users at all levels.

For More Information

  • I first came across Pat Willener's authoritative page on Bilingual Windows Computing when searching for the English name of an obscure Japanese ingredient. You see, Pat also offers "Patto's Gourmet Dictionary", which may be the only place on the Web to find the familiar English names of obscure food items in six different languages. More germane to the immediate concerns of this site is the Bilingual Windows Computing page. Pat has gone into much greater depth in many areas than I have here. An absolutely essential bookmark for anyone who works with Japanese computing in any capacity.

  • This is the best FAQ I know of right now on reading/writing Japanese on English systems

  • Crossroads is Adam Rice's site. His "Honyaku Home Page" is filled with valuable information and serves as the launchpad for the Honyaku mailing list. A superb resource for those involved in Japanese translation.

    We welcome all contributions to this page!

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