Electronic Japanese Dictionaries
(Updated 2006/10/06)

�E title=   Electronic Japanese Dictionaries (EJD) are popular devices in Japan that can be used effectively in learning Japanese as a foreign language. With rapid entry and lookup of words, and being far more compact and portable than a set of paper dictionaries, electronic dictionaries allow learners to quickly decipher new words and phrases.  A wide range of models exist today, with some providing only a few of the most essential dictionaries, while others include over twenty dictionaries and a broad range of topics.

    2006/10/06 - A solid choice for those wanting an inexpensive pen input EJD is the Nintento Gameboy DS Lite and the Τޤ DSڰŵ (Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten) Dictionary Cartridge. Quite inexpensive, works well, and is a convenient portable for travel and study.  An ongoing review is available.

    2004/01/04 - Two good, solid choices in EJD's, which can be used for many years, are the Sharp PW-S7100 and the Seiko SR960.

    The Seiko SR960 is a very compact, pocketable EJD which is smaller than most other models. It fits easily into a small shirt pocket or purse, and uses the Kenkyusha dictionaries. While it is not as advanced as other available models, it has all of the basics you will need in a basic, simple-to-use dictionary.

    The Sharp PW-S7100 is a wider, super-thin plastic & aluminum body EJD which has very useful features not found in most other EJDs: dual-time, worldwide clock; calendar and note memos; letter templates covering many business and other topics; multiple language phrase dictionary (including French, Italian, Chinese, and others); super-search across all built-in dictionaries; currency, measurement (metric/English) and date (Japanese emperor) converters; and significant place and person names.

    Both of these products can be exported from Japan by: www.conics.net (let them know Silverace.com sent you!)

    In looking for a suitable electronic dictionary for study, you should consider some key points (not necessarily in order of importance):

    1) The brand and number of words in the Japanese to Japanese (J/J) dictionary.
This is the most popular J/J dictionary you'll find included in almost all EJDs made today, called Kojien (�E, published by Iwanami Shoten). With over 230,000 entries, Koujien exists in a field of Japanese dictionaries that has few rivals, of which are Daijirin (缭 , published by Sanseido) and Daijisen (缭�E, published by Shgakukan). But of these three dictionaries, only Koujien has been put into an EJD.

(One E/J translator rates these three dictionaries as Daijirin > Daijisen > Koujien in terms of their usefulness in use for translating texts. However, personal preferences will vary among users, therefore this ranking is a subjective one. On another note, if you are in Japan and have a iMode cellphone, you can access Kojien online anywhere you go in Japan as an alternative to using an EJD. Also, all three dictionaries are available in CD-ROM format for use on computers, including portables such as the 1kg/2lbs Toshiba Libretto notebooks.)

While there are some beginner/learner EJDs with compact editions of various J/J dictionaries, they are simply not worth closer examination due to their limited vocabularies. It is simply much more annoying to find out a word you want to look up is missing from the entries when it would have been easier to have bought an EJD with a large J/J dictionary. If one wonders if 230,000 entires will ever be used, they will! Even the most basic 2nd grade Chobun (primers) in Japan use words such as honba ( , the small leafs/cotyledon of a budding plant) and you'll easily frustrate yourself working with a smaller J/J dictionary.

Thankfully, the rapidness by which one can look up words in an EJD eliminates the problem of bulk and weight that prevents many learners of Japanese from quickly and frequently referring to the same large J/J dictionary in paper form.

    2) The brand and number of words in the Japanese to English & English to Japanese (J/E, E/J) dictionaries.
There are two major sets of J/E & E/J dictionaries in use in EJDs today - Genius and Kenkyusha's New College.

The differences between these two are often quite significant, and you'll find yourself going between the two in order to ascertain the exact meaning of Japanese words. Both contain most of the words you'll encounter in daily usage.

One notable difference between these two dictionary sets is visible in the entry for fuwafuwa (�Eդ�E, light, lightly, soft, softly, fluffy, fleecy, spongy, unsteady, flighty, vacillating). The Kenkyusha entry provides the learner with the best and broadest definition (all of the above except fluffy & fleecy) whereas the Genius entry has little to help explain the word (only soft, fluffy, fleecy). Here, perhaps the most significant difference is the missing definitions for flighty/unsteady/vacillating in the Genius entry - a usage that is found in basic texts such as 2nd grade Chobun primers (where fuwafuwa is used to describe a balloon vacillating in gentle breeze).

On the other hand, the Genius entry for ai ( , love) is significantly longer, with more examples and definitions than that found in Kenkyusha.
(compare, Genius: love, charity, favor, brotherhood, adoration, fondness, affection, etc. with pages of example sentences vs. Kenkyusha: love, affection, and several example sentences that is about 1/4 shorter than the Genius examples) The Genius E/J entires often indicate the correct sentence structure to use for a particular word (eg. SVO - subject, verb, object - in that order) whereas the Kenkyusha entires do not do so (here is one feature which is useless for an English learner of Japanese as one would already know the correct word order. This feature is best used by Japanese learning English.)

One notable difference apparent to native English speakers using these dictionaries is the differences in the level of writing level. The Kenkyusha entires and examples are written at a lower, more friendly level than those in the Genius entries. Thus, you'll find the Kenkyusha examples more like speech used in conversations; the Genius examples more appropriate for translating and understanding texts and novels.

The Kenkyusha entries are often briefer and more succinct - better for understanding the meaning of a word quickly - whereas the Genius entries are filled with longer, more varied examples - better for identifying the proper words, word order, and sentence structure to use.

In my opinion, neither is preferable over the other due to their significant differences and limitations. It would be better to have both, if possible, or even better, a new, improved J/E & E/J dictionary set that would combine the best features of both sets and improve upon them. Unfortunately, no EJD today contains both sets of dictionaries.

    3) The quality of the definitions and examples provided.

The quality of the definitions and examples provided depend greatly on the type of J/E, E/J, J/J and E/E dictionaries included, as noted above. However, many EJD manufacturers can further collect and organize the examples to make them easier to comprehend and use.

    For example, the Casio XD-V4000 has a most-appropriate word-grouping lookup. The word test brings up an organized list of Japanese words that are best for expressing certain uses of this word. (eg. test in terms of to undergo, take, have, sit one is ukeru in Japanese, while to inspect, test, check, audit as kensasuru listed)

    The benefit of having brief, organized lists of examples, uses, etc. greatly enhance the ability of Japanese learners to quickly understand which word to use and how to use that word correctly. Here, the best way to gauge the breadth and depth is to try out the various dictionaries in person since these features are often not dependent upon the dictionaries used, but rather the customization the manufacturers have added.

    4) The ability to select any character or word and jump to its entry in another dictionary.

Perhaps the most important feature a Japanese learner would want and use in an EJD is the ability to look up the entry of an unknown word or character by selecting it on-screen and jumping to its entry in one of the dictionaries in the EJD. 

    Here, most modern mid to top end EJDs have this option. It is almost required to have it included as a Japanese learner who wants to efficiently utilize an EJD! Because there is no way to lookup the Kanji (complex Chinese characters used in Japanese text) quickly on most keyboard-based EJDs, this feature is the only way to rapidly find the meaning, and most importantly, the pronunciation of unknown words.

    EJDs with handwritten input eliminate the problem of not being able to look up unknown Kanji quickly, but this does not eliminate the need for having the ability to select and jump on the displayed entries.

    Unfortunately, not all dictionaries can jump on all words. Some can only jump on English word entries, whereas the more powerful models can jump on both English and Japanese words - a more useful feature for Japanese learners.

    Some EJDs cover up the text surrounding the word you have selected to jump on once you have brought up the jump selection window, making it difficult at times to ascertain the correct entry to choose. On the more advanced EJDs, both the original entry and the dictionary entry jumped to can be displayed on-screen at the same time for easy reference to both. Most EJDs however only display one dictionary entry at any time, and users must go back and forth, from the dictionaries to the original entry, in order to translate and understand all of the words a long sentence.

Example: Word to dictionary jump feature.

(Note: This example is from a Seiko SR960. This model can only jump from Japanese text to Japanese-only dictionaries, not the Japanese-to-English dictionary, a feature useful to Japanese learners who don't know the meaning or pronunciation of a particular Japanese word.

However, notice how the pronunciation is displayed while you select a dictionary to jump to. This reduces the steps needed to find out how a word is pronounced vs. other dictionaries which require you to jump to another dictionary before displaying the pronunciation. This feature can help learners who already know what most words are if they know the pronunciation of it, but not the Kanji.

Notice how the jump window (middle) hides the original text during the selection process, making it more difficult to use.)

Example: Word to dictionary jump feature.

(Note: This is an example of the jump feature found in the Casio XD-V6200.

Notice how you can jump from a Japanese word to any of the available dictionaries, including the Japanese-only and Japanese-to-English dictionaries.

However, notice that the pronunciation is not displayed until you have selected a dictionary to jump to. This extra step can slow you down when you want to examine all of the available possible entries to pick from, or when you are simply looking for the pronunciation.

Thankfully, the Casio XD-V6200 is a very fast EJD, so going back and forth among the various levels is accomplished with almost instantaneous and quite rapid response.

Notice how the original entry is not displayed at the same time as the word jumped to.)

Example: Word to dictionary jump feature.

(Note: This example is from the Sharp PW-9700.

Notice that while the selection window displays the possible choices to jump to among the various included dictionaries, the pronunciation of the Kanji are not displayed.

Notice how the original text is displayed at the same time the definition of the jumped word is. Very useful for rapid translation of multiple words in a sentence for understanding it.)

Example: Word to dictionary jump feature.

(Note: This example is from the Seiko SR-T6500.

Notice that the jump selection window covers the original text.

Notice that the jump selection window does not display the Japanese equivalent of the English words unlike the Sharp PW-9700 example above.

Notice how the original entry is not displayed at the same time as the word jumped to.)


    5) Whether keyboard or handwritten entry is used

There are currently only two main EJD entry methods in use today - by keyboard and by handwriting.

    Keyboard entry is used by the majority of EJDs today due to the implicit understanding that most EJDs are used by native Japanese who already have a comprehensive grasp of the pronunciation of most words and their knowledge of the various pronunciations possible for each Kanji. Thus, native users can look up entries quite rapidly even if they do not enter the right combination of pronunciations for each word correctly at first.

    However, for Japanese learners, it is often quite difficult and tedious to look up unknown words when Kanji is used (due to the fact that each Kanji pictogram is written uniquely and there is no basis for discerning the pronunciation, ie. correct way to type the entry, from the shape of the Kanji alone). The methods often used are stroke count and main Kanji component, both of which take time to learn, and time to look up since both methods often bring up a list of potential matches several pages long. And even after looking up one character, a Japanese learner is often faced with the enormous challenge of deciding which pronunciation to look up compound character words, where each character in the word can possess numerous possible pronunciations.

    It is perhaps why a few companies have released EJDs that accept handwritten input, and that beginners without a firm grasp of Kanji should consider having a primary or secondary dictionary that allows them to find entries this way until the day comes when they have at least memorized the basic 1006 Kanji, if not the 6000+ Kanji in daily use.

    Here, even a used, Sharp Zaurus PDA selling for under $50 USD used in Japan would greatly enhance the ability of Japanese learners to quickly look up new and unknown words. Note that on most of these older Sharp Zaurus PDAs, such as the MI-506, MI-610, etc., the handwriting input is quite accurate and one can even write cursively in Japanese. However, it depends upon stroke order at times to understand what you are writing, so the drawback of using EJDs with handwriting input is that you must learn how to write Kanji in the proper stroke order taught. Nevertheless, having to rewrite a Kanji a few times in various stroke orders is oftentimes faster than looking up the word by stroke or component.

    6) Screen capabilities

The newest EJDs possess large, high-resolution screens and zoom capabilities that are very useful to Japanese learners. Kanji is often written with numerous strokes and on lower resolution displays, one will discover that many of the characters have been abbreviated (ie. have modified or missing strokes or squished out of shape) in order to correctly display within the confines of the display. Unfortunately, this leads users to make mistakes in learning Kanji and in recognizing them when printed or written. A large, high-resolution screen allows one to see more information at once with everything in clear and sufficient detail.

    The zoom feature differs between EJDs. Some allow you to zoom in on just one line you have selected but not let you select another line without returning to the non-zoomed display. Others allow you to continue scrolling up and down the entry displayed while the current line is zoomed.

    Some EJDs allow you to change the entire display to a larger or smaller font size. Even among zoom or variable font models, the degree to which you can zoom in or the largest font size can vary, with some models having only two display sizes while others have many more. This feature allows you to scan long entries quickly at a smaller font size and allows you to examine and read complex Kanji passages in clear, large detail at a larger font size.

    Some EJDs possess a smaller screen for compactness, others possess a larger screen to allow you to read more information at once. Another feature which allows the display of more information on screen is the use of variable width font display. This feature eliminates the spaces between characters and displays them in the more natural manner used in most printed books.

    No matter how big or small the screen is, the resolution of the entire display affects the clarity by which all text is displayed on an EJD screen. Higher-resolution displays will allow better display of complex Kanji without the jarring blockiness associated with lower-resolution displays, and allow the display of more information on screen.

    The latest color EJDs can display everything quite beautifully, and are the only models which can be used in low-light and in darkness. No non-color EJD (as of the date of this publication) has a backlit display!! - quite a surprising disappointment considering how useful such a feature would be and the many years most manufacturers have been making EJDs. The benefit of having a color display is that pictures from the built-in dictionaries and encyclopedias can be displayed in better detail, and often times, the only way to distinguish something (eg. colors).

    For learners who truly want to test themselves, EJDs with the option of right-to-left, top-to-bottom display of text as it is written in common Japanese publications (eg. books, newspapers, etc.) will allow them to practice their ability to read text displayed in this format.

Example: Line at a time zoom.

(Note: On some models, the entire text of the line being enlarged is displayed on screen at once (upper example), which is more convenient than on models where you must scroll to see the entire enlarged line (bottom example, from the Sharp PW-9800).)

Example: Adjustable display font size.

(Note: Not all EJDs possess all font sizes shown.

The upper example is from a Sony DD-IC7100

The bottom example is from a Sharp PW-9800 with a 320x240 pixel screen and variable 9 to 48 point display font.)

Example: Variable font width.

(Note: The upper and middle examples of variable display are from the Sharp PW-9700.
The bottom example of non-variable font display is from the Seiko TR-5000.)

Example: Low resolution display.

(Note: This is an example of a 96 x 32 pixel screen used on the Sharp PA-630.)

Example: High-resolution color display.

(Note: This is an example from the Sharp PW-C6000.)

Example: Vertical display of text in traditional Japanese style.

(Note: Example is from the Canon Wordtank IDF-4500.)