ATOK Japanese Input System Review

What is ATOK?

ATOK is a Japanese input method for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. Of course, the first question people have when they hear about ATOK is "Can't I already type in Japanese? Why should I pay for something that I already get for free with my computer?"

As you know, I'm a big fan of free stuff. Yet I opened up my wallet for ATOK. ATOK has been in development for a long time and is probably the best Japanese input recognition system available today. But is it good enough to spend the money on if you're just starting Japanese? No. It won't help you at all. If you can't read Japanese fluently, ATOK won't be any more help to you than your standard Japanese input system.

However, if you can read Japanese, ATOK is a dream come true. The feature I love most of all is instant dictionary lookup. Unfortunately, the dictionaries are sold separately; the good news is, you can get 明鏡 and Genius in one package for about $40 (for details on the dictionaries, see below).

The beauty of using the input system as a dictionary is that writing becomes a breeze. Remember a word but you're not quite sure what it means? Just type it in and press END on your keyboard. Bam! The word instantly appears with its definition. Know an English word you want to use but forget the Japanese equivalent. Just type it, press END, and the definition immediately pops up.

ATOK has changed the way I write Japanese for the better, as I can instantly look up any word, and can do so at any time. One other feature I use heavily is the くだけた言い方指摘, which will instantly notify you if you accidentally type たべてる instead of たべている.

Yes, ATOK is expensive- the software plus the dictionary costs over $100. However, as much as it embarrasses me to admit it, the speed of looking up words in ATOK has replaced my (far more expensive) electronic dictionary in daily use.

ATOK also has built-in stroke order lookup and many other features, such as typing in a Japanese postal code and instantly generating the address. I find most of these features gimmicky, but there may be some gems in the rough depending on your needs.

If you always have an internet connection, of course, you can just use the web as well. But, for its reliability and convenience, nothing beats ATOK for me.

Windows, Mac, and Linux

ATOK is one of the few companies to support Windows, Mac, and Linux side-by-side. Well, almost. The Windows version is the most "up-to-date" and has the most features. The Mac version is generally about a year behind the Windows version, though it is released alongside the Windows version every year (although the 2010 Windows version is out, the Mac version will be released later).

Linux, unfortunately, gets the short end of the stick, with a new release once every three years. However, given how horrible all the other Japanese input methods are on English, ATOK is practically a must.

The Dictionaries

There are many dictionaries available for ATOK, but the two you are most likely to be interested in are 明鏡/Genius (together in one pack) or 広辞苑. 広辞苑 is the golden standard for Japanese dictionaries, but it's expensive. You get what you pay for. 明鏡 is a concise dictionary, which is helpful for non-natives as the descriptions are shorter and use easier vocabulary. Also, 明鏡 is bundled with the Genius dictionary, so it allows you to look up English and Japanese words as well.

Note: Even though Genius is an English-Japanese dictionary, there is no ふりがな for the Japanese, you will need to be able to read kanji well to effectively use the software.

Personally, I would recommend purchasing the 明鏡/Genius series first, and then grabbing 広辞苑 as well if you feel the need. My guess is that you won't.

Again, I only recommend using ATOK for advanced students of Japanese (1級 level and above). If you're not there yet, your money would probably be much better spent on some good textbooks.

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