In response to a commenter’s query on this thread, I googled my way to this page of Japanese learning resources (part of the Zozenawayone site); there are all sorts of goodies there, but the one that first struck me was this:

Into this void comes the Japanese-English Dictionary Server, an online database with kanji, kana, slang, names, technical jargon, and about eighty different ways to show the results. (This is important if your computer isn’t set up to display Japanese.) The dictionary even includes idiomatic phrases, though they’re run together with no spaces between the words (so hotoke no kao mo sando, “to try the patience of a saint,” appears as “hotokenokaomosando”). And to gild the lily, the site loads quickly and is rarely down.

And I’m glad the Zozenawayone author shares my fondness for the Living Language Common Usage Dictionary, which is indeed “surprisingly in-depth for a small dictionary.”


  1. It is absolutely the best japanese-english dictionary I’ve had the pleasure to use.
    I even whipped up a Firefox Search Plugin for it (although it only queries the default dictionary, not the specialized ones.
    Firefox and its search plugins are really extensible, lend themselves to adding things like dictionaries to them, or wikipedia, or what have you.

  2. Thanks for this — and to Mike for his Firefox plugins which turn the Japanese-English Dictionary Server into something I’ll use every day. I have a couple of other tools based on the EDICT, ENAMDICT, and KANJIDIC files but the web interface is superior and it’s nice to have access to other dictionaries, particularly the Four-Character Idiomatic Compounds.
    I don’t, however, share Zozenawayone’s admiration for the Random House’s Japanese-English English-Japanese Dictionary. Perhaps I’m being unnecessarily hardline but I think that Romaji dictionaries are a pox and a blight and should not be tolerated. It’s impossible to learn to read Japanese if one relies on Romaji as a crutch. Kodansha’s Furigana Japanese Dictionary: Japanese-English English-Japanese is far superior.
    On another note, although the Japanese-English Dictionary Server is extremely useful, there’s no substitute for a dictionary that offers example phrases and sentences. As Zozenawayone rightly points out:
    “No matter what resource you use, cross-check it with another. Japanese is enough unlike English that dictionaries contradict one another all the time. Often it’s a matter of the tone or feel of the word, and each reference takes a different slant. Cross-checking will keep you from making some truly embarrassing mistakes.”
    In addition to cross-checking, reading the word in the context of a number of example sentences gives one a much better sense of how to use it appropriately. Even so, it’s still possible to make mistakes. My Japanese language exchange partner and I laugh about this when we encounter words in the essays we write — hers in English, mine in Japanese — which are “not quite right”. We jokingly call these “jisho kotoba” (dictionary words), words which we got from our dictionary but which sound strange to a native speaker.

  3. Romaji dictionaries are a pox and a blight and should not be tolerated
    But Jonathon, not all of us can spend the years necessary to read kanji. Linguists tend to want to get the basic facts of a language, learn how it works and be able to look words up, without bothering with a bunch of writing systems. For their purposes (which are often mine), it’s invaluable to have romanized resources. One of the blights of my life, for instance, is the fact that virtually all material on the languages of India exists only in the local alphabet (of which there are many); I’m not about to learn the Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, Malayalam, &c &c writing systems just to be able to look up the occasional word. I think if you can get past your prejudice and evaluate the Common Usage Dictionary on its own terms, as a repository of forms and usage, you’ll be impressed.

  4. Michael Farris says

    I agree with both Mr. Delacour and Mr. Hat. Of course the serious student of Japanese (or any language written non-Romanly) needs to wean themselves from romaji (or the equivalent). But for lots of other people a romaji or pinyin or whatever dictionary may be really handy.
    Also, I’d say the cross check whatever a particular dictionary says with others is good advice no matter the language.

  5. LH, I stand corrected. I was, as you implied, looking at the issue through the eyes of someone whose sole focus is improving their Japanese reading skills — neglecting, despite being a regular visitor to your site, the needs of those who need to be familiar with a variety of languages.
    Amazon lists two Japanese Common Usage Dictionaries, both of which are out of print. But I’ll keep my eye out.

  6. TheloniousZen says

    Here’s an interesting tidbit: I read that the opposition party to Koizumi was using the slogan “No to Koizumi” in their political advertisements before the most recent election. Because of certain social issues regarding the use of negativity in Japanese speech, I asked a Japanese prof who had recently been there how they had represented that phrase.
    She told me that they actually rendered it “Koizumi ni ‘no'”, actually using the English word. Apparently the Japanese culture feels that in using an english word in that sense (instead of “iie” or something else) it solidifies that the opposition felt strongly on their position. I’m wondering, why don’t they just add “nee” to the end of the phrase? (Soo, desu nee?)

  7. Nay, nay, nee‘s not needed!

  8. TheloniousZen says

    Depends on your transliteration (I use the TheloniousZen system.)

  9. ASAHI Translation Services
    Japanese translation services to and from English or French, website localization in Japanese.

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