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About the author:

Lee Wee Tiong is currently studying at Kyoto University, Japan. He started using Linux a year ago, and is now dual-booting Windows 98 with Redhat 5.1 because Linux still doesn't support his cheaply-bought parallel port scanner. He regretted the purchase very much....


  1. Introduction
  2. Using Japanese Distributions
  3. Installing Japanese Packages
  4. Conclusion
  5. For more information:

Japanese on Linux Part I



This article takes a brief overview at how to make your Linux system Japanese-capable.



This article is intended for Linux users who want to use Japanese on their Linux systems but aren't really prepared to read documentation written in Japanese. In other words, I assume you are a Japanese newbie. ;-)

There are basically two ways to get Japanese into your computer: the easy and the hard. The easy way is to install a Japanese Linux distribution on your computer. If you do that, the moment you finish installing Linux, you also finish installing the bundles of software needed for using Japanese. Alternatively, you can do it the hard way: hunting Japanese packages across the Web, downloading and if necessary, compiling, and finally installing them over your existing Linux system. Actually, this isn't as hard as it sounds, but it depends very much on your configuration. More on this later.

I will refer you to a lot of online Web resources, and some of them are, unfortunately, available only in Japanese. But even if you don't understand Japanese, I think you'll definitely prefer seeing Japanese characters displayed correctly on your browser rather than just pure gibberish. Therefore, I'll end this section with a quick no-brainer about how to make your browser, specifically Netscape Communicator 4.x, displays Japanese correctly.

  1. Fire up your Netscape Communicator/Navigator.
  2. Click View -> Encoding. You should be presented with a list of possible language encoding methods.
  3. Choose Japanese (Auto-Detect). This setting should work for most Japanese webpages, but sometimes when it fails to work, try choosing Japanese (Shift_JIS) or Japanese (EUC-JP).

For your information, I'm using Netscape Communicator 4.05 that comes with Redhat 5.1, and sure enough, it displays Japanese okay.  

Using Japanese Distributions

This is, in my opinion, the easiest way to use Japanese on Linux. If you are planning to install Linux and at the same time you want to have Japanese support, don't look any further! Included below is a table listing the Japanese Linux distributions I know of with links to their respective homepages plus some remarks.

Name Language Remarks
Plamo Linux Japanese Based on Slackware. Includes Japanese installer, Mule, TeX and other Japanized applications. Latest version is 1.4. Download here. Has a support mailing list.
Vine Linux Japanese Based on Redhat 5.x. Comes with Japanese installer, applications from PJE, and independently-developed Vine Tools. Latest version is 1.0 beta1. Download available here. User mailing list available too.
TurboLinux (Japanese) Japanese Read about it in English at http://www.pht.com/products/index.html.
Linux MLD III Japanese No need to create new Linux partitions.
Power Linux Japanese Both Macintosh and Intel version are available.

The language column refers to the language the homepage is in. Please don't get discouraged just because they are all in Japanese. Some of the distributions, namely Plamo Linux and Vine Linux, offer free downloads through anonymous FTP.

I've tried installing Plamo Linux 1.3 and TurboLinux 3.0-J beta5 and I'm happy to say that they met most of my needs.  

Installing Japanese Packages

You've already installed a Linux distribution on your system and you don't want to install a brand new one just for the sake of using Japanese. Well, that's fine with me. You just need to grab the various Japanese software packages and install them on top of your Linux system. Sounds easy, isn't it? Wrong! First, where on Earth can you lay your hands on those Japanese software packages? And how would you know which one to choose? Luckily for you, some volunteer groups have kindly packaged for us a nice bundle of Japanese software ready to use. Just visit their homepages and download the packages targeted for your system.

Name Language Remarks
Project Japanese Extensions (PJE) Japanese Latest version is 0.1.5 and should run smoothly on Redhat 4.2 and Slackware 3.5. Redhat 5.x users can't use this version. You could use 0.3alpha instead, but it is, as its name suggests, alpha quality. Download here. And don't forget to read the PJE-HOWTO, which is available in both English and Japanese. My advice is: try reading the HOWTO before even attempting to download any of the stuff.
Japanese RPM Project (JRPM) Japanese This volunteer group packages Japanese software using the RPM utility developed by Redhat. There are currently packages for both Redhat 4.2 and 5.x systems. You can download them from here. The i386 column is divided into two parts: the upper one is for Redhat 4.2 and the lower for Redhat 5.x.
Debian JP Project English/Japanese If you are using Debian GNU/Linux, then you're in luck. It's easy to Japanize your system using packages provided by this volunteer group.

As of the time of writing, Japanese packages for glibc-based systems are few. libc-based systems like Slackware 3.5, S.u.S.E. 5.3 and OpenLinux 1.3 should encounter no major problems installing and using Japanese. As PJE has provided a well-written PJE-HOWTO, I won't delve into its installation details. libc-based Linux users would do fine using PJE 0.1.5. As for glibc-based Linux users (e.g. Redhat 5.x), here are some tips:



This article tries to give an outline of installing Japanese extensions onto your Linux systems. It gives some information about the various Japanese Linux distributions available and installing Japanese packages onto libc-based systems, with some pointers on how to get glibc-based systems to run Japanese applications thrown in as well. But there are still a lot of things this article fails to address, things like how to read and write using what application, inputting Japanese in Netscape, kana-kanji conversion and so on. But don't worry, as the Japanese packages usually come with a lot of detailed documentation included as well, and you are advised to make full use of them.

This is the first installment of a series of articles on "Japanese on Linux" I'm writing. I haven't really given any thought on what should be written in Part II, perhaps a tutorial on installing onto glibc-based systems? Feedback on this and future articles is most welcome.  

For more information:

These are in addition to the various resources I've mentioned here and there in the article.

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© Lee Wee Tiong
LinuxFocus 1999