Hey everyone! Now, I believe in being thorough, and checking things, and all that good stuff. But you really can do too much of that — it’s called OCD. And the bigger the task, the more important it is to start with what’s at hand. It’s not one of those things where starting off on the wrong foot will harm you irreparably. If anything, not starting at all is the greatest danger.
I’m reminded of that story (I don’t remember the details so I’m going to make them up) about a wealthy French army officer, a colonel or something. This colonel asked his gardener to plant a special type of tree that takes decades to bloom. The gardener was hesitant, saying: “Dude! WTF? What’s the point? It’ll take like 20 years to grow!”
To which the colonel replied: “In that case, there’s no time to lose — you’d better get started right away”.
With that in mind, almost everything on this site is done in the spirit of “best answer at the time”, because good enough beats perfect. At the time, I told you about the best (online) dictionaries that I knew of. But the situation has changed a bit. With that, I present to you some new dictionaries that Google has given, that can help you in your noble quest for example sentences and Japanese fluency. So, in order of current preference:
Based on the same paper dictionary as Goo, so no difference in terms of raw content, but a much nicer interface; it even stores a dated history of your searches. This is a great help, because you’ll be doing lots of jumping from definition to definition within the dictionary, and so now you have a much more convenient jumping method than simply using your web browser’s “back” button. Definitely a keeper
Sanseido Web Dictionary
Official site of the actual Sanseido dictionary on which many (most?) other online Japanese dictionaries are currently based. When you first run a search on the site, it opens itself a new window (“hey, don’t mind if I do!”), which I personally find a bit presumptuous. On the plus side, it searches and displays full entries from the respective Japanese-Japanese, English-Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries *simultaneously*. So, if you’re just taking your first baby steps towards Japanese-only lookup, then this is valuable set of training wheels. Just be sure to wean yourself off them.
Note: The romanization is “Sanseido”, but it actually should be “Sanseidoh” or “Sanseidou” (三省堂＝さん・せい・どう）; it’s a long “o” sound. This isn’t just a matter of being pedantic; with incorrect pronunciation, you might have difficulty entering the word into a computer. This is just another one of the many reasons why romaji sucks.
Weblio is another Sanseido clone, so nothing special there. What’s different about it is this: it not only searches your word, but it also links you to a list of articles containing that word (so, usage examples) in the Yomiuri Online. You probably already know this, but this is the online version of the highest-circulation newspaper in the world; it’s popular, so it must be good, right ;)? Not only that, but you also get links to books on Amazon.jp containing that word in their titles. Very cool. Unfortunately, the newspaper articles can be slightly, hmm, what’s the word I’m looking for…boring. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a very cool search, and a great example of adding a lot of value for very little actual work.
Psssh. Goo? That’s soooo two weeks go. Here it is for reference, though.
ALC Onomatopeia Dictionary
A specialist dictionary with a narrow focus on onomatopeia. Onomatopeic words are, of course, those that sound like the thing they’re describing. It happens a lot in English. Bombs go boom. Little feet go pitter-patter. Mice squeak. Japanese has a ton of words like this, too. They’re really fun and they get used a lot, even in formal situations. It won’t be your only online dictionary, but it will be useful.
CAUTION: The ALC website also features a Japanese/English/Japanese dictionary called Eijirou. It looks good, and it will seem to have everything you want in terms of usage examples. Unfortunately, these examples have not been edited and have no usage cautions on them even though they should; That makes them dangerous for most people like you and me, who do not yet know all the more subtle nuances of a given word in Japanese; our “this doesn’t sound right” detectors are still weak. Besides, do you know all that poorly worded English you sometimes see written by Japanese speakers? That’s what happens when you use Eijirou. So, stay away from it if you can.
That’s it. My personal pick right now is the InfoSeek one. Have I missed any? Are there any you find interesting or useful? Please feel free to comment on it.