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…
But 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):