I was trying to register for an account on Nikkei Keizai Shimbun yesterday, and was greeted with a very familiar sight in the registration form.
Under the input fields for “Name” and “Name in furigana” at the top, I was required to enter the text using full-width characters. Interestingly, for the password field at the bottom, I was required to enter in half-width characters instead.
The origins of half-width (katakana) characters is very simple: It is designed to save space on newspapers and periodicals, where every tiny inch counts. The Japanese language itself, has many short-form words and contractions that make it easy to type out long, detailed sentences that don’t take up much space (unlike other languages such as pesky English, pffft).
The big problem though, comes when you have to fill up forms like these. Different Japanese websites have different requirements — some require half-width, others full-width, and sometimes you are required to enter BOTH half-width and full-width into the same form. Enter the wrong character type into the wrong field by accident, and the form will reject it.
It’s tedious and maddening to switch back and forth between both types, and according to a Japanese colleague of mine, it’s something that even native Japanese people despise. This issue extends itself further into Japanese databases: certain metadata have to be inputted in the correct half-width or full-width form, or the software will reject it.
So for non-Japanese speakers, the next time you are trying to register for an account at a Japanese website and wondering why your application keeps getting rejected, be sure to double check the requirements of the input fields:
全角 = full-width
半角 = half-width
You can easily switch between both character types on the Japanese language bar keyboard for Windows.
Yes, some forms require you to enter your numerals in half-width characters as well! This is true for older websites where you have to key in dates or birthdays. Isn’t the Japanese language fun?