I remember when I first started learning Japanese, I wondered how Japanese text entry could work on a computer. I pictured some horrible keyboard with hundreds of keys, with one for each kanji character, but in reality Japanese computers use the same QWERTY keyboards as the rest of us (though they sometimes have cool katakana printed on the keys). Japanese input is accomplished through a front-end processor, basically a program that ships with Japanese Windows, Mac OS X or whatever OS you're using, which handles converting your text into the correct mix of hiragana, katakana and kanji before it's pasted into your document. With Japanese text input selected, you type some text with the keyboard -- for example, the word ken -- then hit the space bar until the correct kanji comes up. In this case, ken can mean a ticket (like to a concert), one of Japan's 47 prefectures, a case (as in a murder case) or a sword. You need to become good at identifying which character is which, since sending an email with the wrong kanji inserted is as embarrassing as misspelling there-they're-their in English. When you get used to the system, you can enter Japanese text quite quickly, although there's a downside -- entering Japanese into a computer becomes so easy that you'll forget how to write kanji manually, and as a result, a person's writing ability drops off sharply when they graduate from school. As with operating systems, there are various kanji entry systems on the market, and users will rally around one product or the other -- users of EG Bridge might flame fans of ATOK, with both camps expressing their disgust for Kotoeri and IME. Transliterating words of Japanese with the QWERTY keyboard can be difficult, and Elecom has a handy Roman Letter Mouse Pad to help us out.
Ever wondered how to type kanji?