There are many ways computers can help further your interests in Japan:
Firstly by letting you browse the Web or Newsgroups for links related to
culture, travel etc- but what if you want to see pages which are written in Japanese?
Western computers are not geared up to display the vast range of special characters required by Japanese script and you will often find sites which seem to be full of A%%X##-\G) or such apparent nonsense. Western writing systems use a relatively small range of characters which can be handled by a small range of codes, but this is insufficient to handle the thousands of kanji characters. Japanese systems use a special form of character coding, such as the EUC or Shift-JIS systems, which use the equivalent of two Western character codes together to represent one kanji or kana character. The result is that when you look at Japanese web pages using a Western-style browser it interprets the codes individually, not in pairs, and so delivers gibberish.
The good news is that there are several ways to overcome the problem.
To look at the occasional web page in Japanese there are various
'translator' websites where you simply type in the address of the page you want
to view and it (sort of!) translates it for you - start with
Babelfish but you can also find
other such translators by using a search engine.
For regular use you can get hold of special decoders which run alongside
your normal browser and show Japanese fonts correctly. If you use Internet Explorer
and Windows you can download Microsoft's Japanese add-on pack which will enable
your browser to handle these - and other - character sets. Go to the
Microsoft website and search it for
'Japanese' - you'll find relevant software and articles.
If you use non-Windows systems or need further information, try the page on Using Japanese Fonts on your computer to find some of the technicalities and ways around problems or simply go to a search engine (Google etc) and search for 'Japanese on your computer' or similar which should bring up lots of helpful sites.
Secondly you may want to learn Japanese. You can buy CD's to help - we like Power Japanese and the Berlitz Japanese CD. There are also quite a lot of useful tutorial programs available as shareware.
Thirdly you may want to start writing in Japanese. This brings up the same character coding problems so the best method is to use a specialist word processor. There are several available but we really like Stephen Chung's brilliant word processor JWP. But for a quick and easy taster, you can get up to 150 words translated automatically at the Systran website.
Now you want to know where to find all these goodies. You will probably find most of the software you need (and excellent info on Japanese art, culture etc) on Jim Breen's Japanese Page or one of its mirror sites. You could also try contacting the Shareware search engine and doing a search on 'Japan' to see what else you can turn up. For more local links try the University of Sussex Japanese section of The Virtual CALL Library.
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