Thursday, August 27, 2009

How to look up Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters by radical in Mac OS X

If you're running Mac OS X, you've already got a built-in way to look up Chinese and Japanese characters by their component pieces, i.e., their "radicals": it's known as the Character Palette. (It, by the way, also works for the Chinese characters that used to be used in Korean as well, if you're into that.)

How to use the Character Palette to look up characters by their radicals, after the jump.

The first thing you need to do is make sure you have the Character Palette enabled.
  1. From the Apple menu, open System Preferences.
  2. In the Personal section (the first row of preference panes), click on International.
  3. Select the Input Menu tab.
  4. Make sure Character Palette is checked.
  5. At the bottom of the window, make sure "Show input menu in menu bar" is checked.

Incidentally, this is also where you can select the languages in which you want to be able to type; just check off the appropriate boxes below the horizontal dividing line in the list above.

Once you've set that up, you'll have a menu that you can get to from your menu bar that looks something like this:
And here's how you can then look up a Chinese or Japanese character by its radical:
  1. From the input menu, select "Show Character Palette".
  2. From the View pull-down menu at the top of the Character Palette, select Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, or Japanese, as appropriate.
  3. Immediately below the pulldown menu, select the "by Radical" tab.
  4. Immediately below that, select the appropriate radical in the left-hand pane.
  5. Select the character you're looking for from the right-hand pane.
  6. To see information on the character, such as the reading, click on the triangle icon next to "Character Info" until the triangle is pointing down and the character information is displayed.
  7. To see how the character looks in a variety of fonts, click on the triangle icon next to "Font Variation" until the triangle is pointing down and the font variants are displayed.

Or, if you already happen to have the character on your computer and don't need to go the radical search route, just copy and paste the character into the search field at the bottom of the Character Palette, and all the rest'll pop right up for you.

And that's it. It's a simple, always-handy way to look up Chinese and Japanese characters on your Mac.

P.S. If there's an analog to this on Windows, let me know and I'll add it.


  1. looks good for offline use, but if i'm connected to the internet i just draw it with my mouse using

  2. True, websites like currently have that advantage over a Mac, but with the new version of Mac OS X that comes out tomorrow, that will no longer be the case. From Apple's website:

    Innovative Chinese character input.
    Until Snow Leopard, if you wanted to enter Chinese characters on a computer, you had to type in the phonetic spelling of Chinese words and the computer would convert them into proper Chinese characters. Snow Leopard offers a breakthrough new way to enter characters: You draw them right on the Multi-Touch trackpad in your Mac notebook. They’ll appear on the screen in a new input window, which recommends characters based on what you drew and lets you choose the right one. The input window even offers suggestions for subsequent characters based on what you chose.

    Check out the pic at that link; it looks pretty sweet (hat tip: Tofugu).