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Why I’m in Love with my Japanese-Japanese Dictionary

This is a guest article by Momoko, Khatzumoto’s…how do you say…”special lady”. This was meant to be a regular article, but it unintentionally turned into a book recommendation. In keeping with the other book recommendations, we will later discuss the cons as well as the pros of this book…Probably. Maybe.

At first I was scared sheetless stiff at the thought of using a monolingual Japanese dictionary. My husband encouraged me from early on, but I was very skeptical. I didn’t think I knew enough vocabulary. I couldn’t even understand Japanese children’s books written for 2-year-olds without some serious effort…still can’t; [Note: I attempted to soothe her ego with a reminder that these books are either designed to be read to children by parents, or are written in all-hiragana — which is really hard for even Japanese adults to read. Certainly I find them quite unwieldy — Khatzumoto]. So the idea of looking up a word I didn’t know…only to encounter 10 times as many words I didn’t know in the definition…and then looking all those up only to encounter even MORE new words, and so on, seemed like opening a Pandora’s box of horrors. My husband tried to console me by telling me it would all come around in a circle to the starting point…there were only a limited number of words that could be used to describe a concept. But that just made me feel even more uneasy. If I didn’t understand any of the words in that circle anyway, how was that going to help?

At first I dipped my toe into the swimming pool with the Sanseido dictionary—a ‘concise’ Japanese-Japanese dictionary for adults. But I still found the definitions to be a bit wordy and confusing and difficult to navigate, since the search box works best with hiragana and I didn’t know the furigana on all the kanji. I went back to the trusty kanji-reading “Translate Words” function in WWWJDIC and contented myself with its wealth of English definitions. Once in a while I would salve over my guilt by cutting and pasting the simplest Japanese definitions from Sanseido (that I never fully understood and never cross-referenced). I’d stick them in the bottom of my SRS answers, telling myself that someday I’d know more words and those cryptic definitions would make sense…

Cover imageBut I have finally seen the light. My husband helped me select a Japanese-Japanese dictionary from the bookstore that is made for Japanese children: チャレンジ小学国語辞典(チャレンジ-しょう-がく-こく-ご-じ-てん)/The Challenge Elementary School Japanese Dictionary, published by Benesse, and edited by 湊吉正(みなと よしまさ), fourth edition. It has furigana on EVERY kanji in the book (woo hoo!), so I’m never lost in how to pronounce what I am reading or in looking up new words I encounter. The definitions are concise and clear, and there are helpful example sentences for each entry. I’ve been surprised at how much I already do understand, despite my limited knowledge of vocabulary. Sometimes I check my understanding with a Japanese-English dictionary, but usually I’ve already guessed right from the context—the multiple synonyms and the way the word is used in the example sentence(s). [Note: By having simple definitions and furigana on every kanji, this dictionary makes up for not being electronic — Khatzumoto].

And best of all, I no longer see the cross-referencing process as a burden…it’s a bonus—a way to easily and quickly mine new sentences for my SRS. Whenever I look up a word in my Japanese-Japanese dictionary, I enter the example sentence. Then I look up a word that’s new in that sentence (or from the definition) and use the example sentence(s) from THAT, and so on… Life is sweet.

Here is a sample page (click to enlarge):

  27 comments for “Why I’m in Love with my Japanese-Japanese Dictionary

  1. Tony
    July 25, 2007 at 23:38

    Can you post an example page? I got on amazon but, as what I usually find, amazon japan’s doesn’t let me look in the book!

  2. khatzumoto
    July 25, 2007 at 23:41

    Crap! It’s supposed to appear with the article. Here you go:

  3. July 26, 2007 at 14:04

    Also another question (I think my last one got put in moderation…)
    What would a beginner put on the back of the flash cards? I have started doing sentences, and I do want to move away from putting English on the back. But I’m not sure what I should put on the back, so that I know if I got the correct answer. At the moment I’m testing both ways:

    Japanese Sentence -> English translation, kana if I am still learning the kanji
    English Sentence -> Japanese translation with kana under if I’m learning the kanji

    The english sentences first really gets me thinking, because reading is easier, and sometimes I can guess what is being said…

    I’m not sure exactly how to move it to the next level 🙂

  4. July 26, 2007 at 21:59

    Sounds good and I can’t believe I never thought of using a children’s J-J dictionary; would make life a lot easier.

  5. Daniel
    July 27, 2007 at 04:34

    As much as I love spending money on Japanese stuff, I got a little disheartened when I saw the shipping to US is 25 bucks when the book is only 15… Is there any other way?

  6. July 27, 2007 at 07:43

    Daniel – Just buy 2 books! The shipping is still mighty expensive, but at least it will end up costing less than the books. It just feels better. And you get more sentences that way.

  7. Daniel
    July 28, 2007 at 01:08

    Touché Brett! Each additional book is apparently only a couple bucks more in shipping. I’m thinking about getting Harry Potter. Also, back on the topic of getting example sentences from Japanese dictionaries, has anyone tried the “Sono Mama” dictionary for Nintendo DS, and are the example sentences any good?

  8. Saru Sponge
    July 28, 2007 at 07:57

    I’m planning to buy Sono Mama in the near future. I would be curious as well.

  9. Joe
    July 29, 2007 at 00:22

    Thanks for the dictionary suggestion. As much as I love technology, I still love the feel of real books. Sanseido Books opened a store in Chicago, about 90 minutes away, and I’m going to call them to see if I can get “チャレンジ小学国語辞典”.

  10. khatzumoto
    August 1, 2007 at 21:49

    Carlie! I lost track of comments! Sorry!

    You want this:

    Japanese Sentence–>Kana readings and Japanese dictionary defs

  11. August 2, 2007 at 07:52

    Thanks khatz!

  12. Tony
    August 24, 2007 at 10:55

    Two questions, albeit a bit late.

    1) How do you distinguish between the definition and the example sentence? I mean the example sentence doesn’t appear to be separated like in italics or bold. I tried reading some of the entries on the example page but I couldn’t see any.

    2) When I went into the bookstore there was another book beside this one that looked like a beginner’s kanji dictionary. Do you know anything about that? The doraemon dictionary had the same kind of companion book beside it.

  13. khatzumoto
    August 24, 2007 at 11:01

    1. The example sentences come after the definiton and are prefixed by 〔例〕, which is short for 例文 (example sentences).

    2. You don’t need a kanji dictionary, IMO. If you know Heisig, that’s more than enough. Those kanjidics are for Japanese elementary school kids learning kanji the slow way.

  14. Tony
    August 24, 2007 at 15:49

    Ah ok. I was trying to read the kanji dictionary but I couldn’t pick out enough of the characters to make sense of what it was. Only about 250 away from Heisig and I am really excited about getting into dictionaries (which is probably the last thing I thought I would ever say.)

  15. Daniel
    August 25, 2007 at 04:20

    I ended up ordering this and I must say that while paper dics may be slower than electronic dics, they are definitely not slow because the alphabet is very regular あーいーうーえーお (although I still get tripped up reading right to left), and also I think it is good practice to type in the sentences from the book when I enter them into my SRS. If anyone is on the fence about whether to get this monodic, go ahead and get it – you will not regret it – and order some fun reading material to go along with it.

  16. Charles A.
    September 23, 2007 at 22:38

    How ironic, I found this dictionary by accident in the Daiei Mall bookstore in Yokosuka. I went to the E-J dictionary in the Foreign section, found the term for J-J, asked the receptionist and got the dictionary section pointed out to me. Definately, the furigana is what sold me.

    So, a great suggestion which will soon be purchased by myself. I’m still in the Heisig phase, soon to go to the Rosetta phase (use the image and audio files from rosetta in the Anki flash card set-up) while making my own phrases.

  17. Charles
    September 25, 2007 at 11:51

    Hi Charles A.
    I got the same dictionary at the same bookstore. How funny! Good luck with your studies.

    Charles Y.

  18. Will
    October 26, 2007 at 02:43

    Hello, all.

    An alternative to, is Kinokuniya’s U.S. Bookweb service. Mine shipped from NYC to Orlando, arrived in 3 days, cost $22.55 plus $7 S/H (total $29.55). The entire website is in Japanese, so you can get some real world practice ordering stuff. Good luck. And thanks for the recommendation, Momoko.

  19. Tony
    December 18, 2007 at 16:00

    I decided on the くもん国語辞典 because it looked like it had more examples sentences. I started using it today because the Yahoo Dictionary was hard for me to use as a beginner. I’m having a blast using it too! The reason I went with this one is because it looked like it had more example sentences than the チャレンジ one. I tried to compare both of them in the store to see what I thought of them, there was another too that I quickly determined I didn’t like. I forgot to read this entry again before I bought it, so I didn’t think about seeing what the difference is of kanji use in the examples. It looks from the sample page above though that the くもん辞典 doesn’t use as many kanji, but it also has furigana with all of them that it does use.

  20. Janra
    June 27, 2008 at 01:32

    I will probably be buying this dictionary in any case, but you do have to know how the word you’re looking up is pronounced, right? In that case, you would have to use another dictionary for checking that, which seems somewhat inconvenient.
    This probably applies for all traditional Japanese dictionaries.

    Of course, I also anticipate to see how much I can understand of it at this point (or perhaps, how much I can’t, yet ^^;).

    Since this is also my first time commenting here, I want to thank you for this great site.

  21. CPerez
    September 5, 2008 at 00:39

    Hello, I have been working on my SRS for sometime now and I am gathering sentences and definitions from different online dictionaries (yahoo japan, sanseido, goo dict. etc).
    I have a quick question though, is there any “standard” on the symbols they use?
    I’m talking about those little triangles (black or white, up or down) (ie ▼, ▽) that they use sometimes. It seems some dicts. use them to identify characters outside the 常用漢字表, or examples, or synonyms… but it does not seem to follow a rule.
    So far I was able only to find the “explanation” of some for goo dict under their help:
    … but I’m not at the level of understanding it completely… :$
    Any light on this, or any other links I could look at?

    PD By the way, Khatzumoto-san, thank you very much for the review on チャレンジ小学国語辞典, I might be getting a copy for myself :D.

  22. Gabriel
    June 2, 2009 at 22:05

    its actually a really good monodic. the combination of furigana and kanji stroke order make it an absolute winner x

  23. aniseed
    June 25, 2009 at 18:41

    I got the dictionary Momoko talked about. This one is the fourth edition (第四版). The cover looks different from the one Momoko shows in the article. In the bookshop it was available in two sizes, regular and compact. The contents is exactly the same. The compact size approaches the size of a manga book, and the font is smaller. the regular size was only about 300 yen more, and felt authoritatively heavy so i went for it mainly because I liked the bigger font (retail price is JPY 2095 excl. tax). Its got 1137 pages, and the binding is very nice. You can leave it open at any page and it won’t close itself (and make you lose what you’re looking up), like a paperback would. Also, the dictionary came with a poster containing the kanji taught in the first six years of school (i.e. up to age 11) The ISBN for this dic is: ISBN978-4-8288-0477-4.

    I’ve used it to do a few lookups. Here are my notes on the experience:

    First I tried ばあい(場合 – case, situation). I found that but had trouble understanding the definition, but its not a simple word to explain so i moved on.

    The next lookup was ありえない (impossible). I wasn’t able to find it, although it also didn’t feature in another, adult’s mono-dictionary. It seems that the canonical form is ありえる (to be possible) but that did not appear in this children’s dictionary either (it was in the adult dic though).

    Next I looked up そうだん (相談 – consultation,discussion). That worked very nicely. the explanation was clear and coveyed the idea of asking for another’s opinion, even though my vocabulary is quite limited. Excellent entry. The furigana helped here.

    Next I looked up しんけん (真剣 – seriousness; earnestness; also means real sword). Again, very good experience. Clear definitions that even I could understand, thanks to the furigana. By the way, it helped tremendously here to have learned the heisig kanji already so this should underline Katzumoto’s advice to LEARN THE KANJI ASAP.

    I looked up one more term (I think it was a noun) and that went very well too, so all in all i am very satisfied with this dic. i am going to consult it before any other dic from now on, and fall back to other stuff when needed.

    By the way, the kanji dictionary that goes with this dictionary also comes in two sizes and costs about the same, but as Katzumoto says, its better to learn Kanji using Heisig’s method.

    Momoko, thank you for writing about your dictionary. Thanks to you I have started using a monodic in earnest!

  24. chad
    December 23, 2009 at 04:20

    i picked up the 4th edition from amazon also, and received it in the mail today. My copy came with a kanji poster listing the kanji for jouyou kanji grades 1-4 on the front, 5&6 on the back. There are a wealth of pictures and other interesting tidbits scattered throughout the dictionary.

    thank you for your recommendation to pickup this J-J dictionary, i’m excited to start using it when i get to the sentences phase of AJATT.


  25. アメド
    December 23, 2009 at 04:48

    Dictionaries such as and 三省堂 Web Dictionary(sanseido) are so great when mining sentences. I’ve actually already reached around 5300+ sentences. And so far it’s been 4 months of immersion+srs sentences. So 7 months in total so far with the addition of kanji. What i’ve noticed so far is that, well aside from the obvious things such as reading+understanding. But the ironic part is the things i least considered seemed to be going up. I.e. understanding. It seems that listening has risen substantially from when i began immersion+srsing. Watching shonen anime has began quite a joke (Well i mean like, understanding wise there isn’t any doubts i can understand 80% of everything i hear in those animes lol such as bleach,naruto,etc,etc.). The “movie method” which I watch dramas and follow the subs, so i can get some enjoyable practice with kanji. And also since I’m on winter break as everyone else is. I get time to play games, and yes they are Japanese! Filled with kanji. Although i cannot read all the kanji(yet), knowing there meanings helps+following what the characters say, also adds to my understanding level. Also I’ve tried to speaking any Japanese i know, randomly lol. It seems i can actually speak easier nowadays, i can link sentences together. So i;m noticing improvement overall, but not at the level i want it to be. I suggest for people who are in the sentences phase(mainly the phase of going monolingual) to start as soon as possible. Forget about translating those sentences. I had a translation for the first 2000 sentences, but then i decide i better start going monolingual. When you go monolingual you’re brain is trying to adapt to Japanese in it’s entirely. Forcing it to go in that direction will lead to you think in Japanese and utterly understand Japanese as a whole a lot better then translating back to you’re base language. So when you don’t translate you may ask, will i understand it? You will, by exposing yourself in it’s entirely you will inevitable understand it without much effort actually. I started the immersion+srsing sentences in sept.2009, and now it’s dec.22 2009. Around sept.2010 i’ll consider that a full year of doing the immersion+srsing sentence phase. I’ll get back to everyone on that, when i get there (If i’m improving this much at 4 months, imagine a full year!! lol). Anyhow yea, monlingual i.e. full japanese is quite sweet. Knowing all those kanji seems to be paying off (I learned 3115+ kanji)

  26. Ren
    April 22, 2010 at 05:19

    Guys, when I search for this book on Amazon I get no results, and won’t let me make an account for some reason. Where else can I find it??

  27. Annie
    October 22, 2016 at 08:16

    Hey is there a way to find something like this in the epwing format?

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