Using Linux in Japanese

I use Linux as my primary operating system now. I love it for too many reasons to recount here. However, Japanese support in some of the major distributions can be quite poor, so I'll review the state of things here.

This article reviews distributions with the thought that you want a complete system in Japanese, not just the ability to do Japanese input. If you just want to do input, it's very complicated, and you should refer to one of the many other guides available on the net.

Distributions

To use Linux nearly everyone pulls one of the existing distributions. I'll review the best three candidates briefly.

TurboLinux

TurboLinux is a Japanese company that has produced a Linux distribution for more than a decade. They developed and funded a significant portion of the Japanese support now common through the Linux world. For the prospective Japanese learner, then, this should be the perfect distro.

Unfortunately, it's not. Although there is a free live CD, you need to buy a copy and register with a license key (this is Linux!?) before you can add software using the TurboLinux repositories. This made me pass over TurboLinux immediately.

Mandriva

Mandriva (formerly Mandrake) is also more than a decade old. Interestingly, Mandriva and Turbolinux have now parterned to develop kernels and other resources to share between their distros.

Mandriva has a long history of good international support and produces an official Asian CD which includes a Japanese install. Even better, Mandriva has the best hardware support in the business. I installed it on my eeePC with relatively little trouble, and getting it running in VMWare was a piece of cake.

Also, while Mandriva by default installs KDE4 (scary! sometimes Mandriva is too up-to-date for my tastes, something I find pretty rarely in the world of open source), they also officially support GNOME fully. So you can choose the distro independently of your window manager preference.

I've used Mandriva on and off for years and I just keep coming back because they make the hard parts of Linux (hardware detection/internationalization/keeping up to date with the latest software) really easy. This is my personal recommendation.

Ubuntu

Of course, Ubuntu is the most popular Linux right now. If you're looking for Japanese support in Ubuntu, I recommend the Japanese team's rollout.

I prefer Mandriva over Ubuntu for a few reasons.

  • Mandriva's hardware detection support is better on my hardware.
  • Mandriva lets you choose KDE or GNOME in the official versions, and the Japanese support in Mandriva is official. In Ubuntu, the KDE distro is supplied by one group, and the Japanese version is supplied by another (and if I wanted a version that supported by eeePC, I must download yet another distribution supported by another team), so when I want to get Ubuntu I find myself choosing between different things that I wish were all handled together by one group. After all, I'm choosing a distro so I don't have to make those kinds of choices; Mandriva allows me to do that.
  • Mandriva ships more current versions of software than Ubuntu.
  • Mandriva has a great general system config utility.

There's nothing wrong with Ubuntu, but for full Japanese support, I think you'll find Mandriva easier to get up and running. The only thing Ubuntu has over Mandriva, in my opinion, is that Ubuntu's community support is much better.

Software

I'll briefly list the most helpful software I use to study Japanese on Linux.

  • Mnemosyne (the most important program)
  • Firefox (with Rikaichan)
  • StarDict (great general dictionary with loads of Japanese content available; versions for both KDE and GNOME)

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