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What is the difference between the two kanji variants for 「けいさんき」, the other word for 「コンピューター」?

  • 計算器
  • 計算機
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not sure if you want to through the word 端末 into there as well. As pretty much any 電気製品 falls into that category. Like telephones for instance. – Mark Hosang Jul 5 '11 at 0:56
@Mark: 端末 is really a terminal. Something that almost doesn't exist anymore, unless you consider ATMs (but you would say ATM), or "virtual terminals" as with unix operating systems, but then it's not hardware anymore… – Axioplase Jul 5 '11 at 2:07
@axio: My company uses the word terminal to refer to almost any electronic device that handles sending and recieving. So computers, telephones, hubs, routers, and load-balancers all get called 端末. Though I know 端末 is for terminal in english, i think the meaning and usage is more wide than that. But then again , could just be my company's corporate culture. – Mark Hosang Jul 5 '11 at 4:54
Mark: Your remark makes perfect sense indeed. But then it's not about "計算" anymore (just as in English), just about being literally an "endpoint". – Axioplase Jul 5 '11 at 5:11
We virtually never use anything other than コンピュータ or パソコン for "computer", except maybe for legal documents as YOU notes. I've in fact never seen it myself. I've seen 電子頭脳(でんしずのう) used in Tezuka Osamu and Doraemon manga from the 70s -- but that's about it. Similarly, I know that in Korean they use 写真機 for camera, but in Japanese, we'd just say カメラ. Try not to use kanji words for things that there are commonplace katakana words for. – Rei Miyasaka Jul 5 '11 at 9:37
up vote 5 down vote accepted

計算機 usually means a calculator, although it can also mean a computer in academic contexts and legal contexts as YOU, Axioplase, and Rei stated. For example, the Information Processing Society of Japan has a special interest group called 計算機アーキテクチャ研究会 (the Special Interest Group for Computer Architecture). The usual word for a computer is コンピューター or パソコン (for パーソナルコンピューター (personal computer)), as Axioplase and Rei noted.

The notation 計算器 is rare. According to web search, the notation 計算器 seems to mean either:

  • a slide rule, although 計算尺 (けいさんじゃく) seems to be a more common word for a slide rule, or
  • a mechanical calculator (as sawa observed), although 計算機 is also valid for a mechanical calculator.

I think that in general, using 器 instead of 機 implies simplicity, which sometimes refers to mechanical nature but not always. As an evidence that 器 does not always mean a mechanical construction, the Japanese word for an adder, an electronic circuit for addition, is usually written as 加算器, although the notation 加算機 is also sometimes used.

Edit in revision 2: Added that 計算器 can mean a slide rule.

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For what it is worth, パソコン and コンピュータ are also very valid words for computer, used in IT and CS contexts. I don't think we use 計算機 except to express the wording "a machine that does computations".

Edit: I just asked around me: 計算機 is a technical word. You will be understood by specialists (like computer scientists, who were likely to be the only ones to have access to computers initially when the word was coined), but the average person will think of a pocket calculator instead. パソコン、 コンピュータ、 PC、and マック are used by the non specialists.

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Today's computers are not called as 計算機 anymore? – Lukman Jul 5 '11 at 6:52
@Lukman: not as frequently. Just compare the frequencies on google, or try to buy a 計算機 on kakaku.com to be convinced… – Axioplase Jul 5 '11 at 8:06

機 usually refers to a somewhat large(-scale) "machine" (機械), while 器 usually refers to a small(-scale) "tool" (器具). So I think the latter would be closer to a computer (back when they were huge, beastly machines) and the former would be closer to a calculator (電卓). But the 機 or 器 definitely implies scale.

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Problems arise when you start looking at image results on google for both terms... :p – repecmps Jul 4 '11 at 14:44
@repecmps both terms give lots of calculators :P – Lukman Jul 5 '11 at 3:03

計算機 means computer, while 計算器 means calculator.

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I wonder if the distinction is really as simple as that. – Lukman Jul 5 '11 at 7:48
A calculator is usually written as 計算機, not 計算器. – Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 5 '11 at 21:18
カシオ計算機 is a manufacturer of calculators. – Gradius Aug 7 '12 at 7:49

Japanese Law related to computers use as 電子計算機【でんしけいさんき】

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The rough difference (with possible exceptions) are as follows:

`器` mechanical, has direct contact with human, not motored, often human powered, handy
`機` not necessarily mechanical, large, motored

Nowadays, most computers are electronically driven, with no mechanical parts playing a crucial role (fans, disks are not used for computing). In addition, it is electrically powered, (E.g., without necessity for a human turning a crank). So to mention the present computers, is appropriate. If you want to mention a physically driven human powered calculator/computer, like Pascal's calculator, then is appropriate.

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Are today's computers still considered large to qualify as '機'? – Lukman Jul 5 '11 at 6:49
@Lukman No, they are not large, but not being mechanical and being electronically motored outweights it. – user458 Jul 5 '11 at 8:43
Japanese prefers to use 計算機. Chinese seems to use rather 計算器 than 計算機. – Gradius Aug 7 '12 at 7:48

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