Japanese Dictionary
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Japanese Dictionary

Japanese dictionaries (Japanese: ?, Hepburn: Kokugo jiten) have a history that began over 1300 years ago when Japanese Buddhist priests, who wanted to understand Chinese sutras, adapted Chinese character dictionaries. Present-day Japanese lexicographers are exploring computerized editing and electronic dictionaries. According to Keisuke Nakao:

It has often been said that dictionary publishing in Japan is active and prosperous, that Japanese people are well provided for with reference tools, and that lexicography here, in practice as well as in research, has produced a number of valuable reference books together with voluminous academic studies. (1998:35)

After introducing some Japanese "dictionary" words, this article will discuss early and modern Japanese dictionaries, demarcated at the 1603 CE lexicographical sea-change from Nippo Jisho, the first bilingual Japanese-Portuguese dictionary. "Early" here will refer to lexicography during the Heian, Kamakura, and Muromachi periods (794-1573); and "modern" to Japanese dictionaries from the Edo or Tokugawa era (1603-1867) through the present.

Lexicographical terminology

First, it will be useful to introduce some key Japanese terms for dictionaries and collation (ordering of entry words) that the following discussion will be using.

The Wiktionary uses English dictionary to define a few synonyms including lexicon, wordbook, vocabulary, thesaurus, and translating dictionary. It also uses dictionary to translate six Japanese words.

  • jiten (, lit. "word reference-work") "dictionary; lexicon; glossary"
  • jiten (, lit. "character reference-work") "character dictionary"
  • jiten (, lit. "thing reference-work") "encyclopedia, encyclopedic dictionary"[1]
  • jisho (, lit. "word book") "dictionary; wordbook; lexicon; glossary"
  • jisho (, lit. "character book") "character dictionary; dictionary"
  • jibiki (, lit. "character pull/arrange) "character dictionary; dictionary"

The first three homophonous jiten compounds of ten (? "reference work; dictionary; classic; canon; model") are Chinese loanwords. However, Chinese distinguishes their pronunciations, avoiding the potential ambiguities of Sino-Japanese jiten: cídi?n "word dictionary", zìdi?n "character dictionary", or shìdi?n "encyclopedia". The usual Japanese word for "encyclopedia" is hyakka jiten (? "100/many subject dictionary", see Japanese encyclopedias). The jiten, jisho, and jibiki terms for dictionaries of kanji "Chinese characters" share the element ji (? "character; graph; letter; script; writing").

Lexicographical collation is straightforward for romanized languages, and most dictionaries enter words in alphabetical order. In contrast, the Japanese writing system, with kanji, hiragana, and katakana, creates complications for dictionary ordering. University of Arizona professor Don C. Bailey (1960:4) discusses how Japanese lexicography differentiates semantic, graphic, and phonetic collation methods, namely:

  • bunruitai ( "classification form") "semantic collation; grouping words with similar meanings; thesaurus-like organization"
  • jikeibiki (? "character shape arrangement") "logographic collation; organizing kanji dictionaries by radicals (recurring graphic components)"
  • onbiki ( "pronunciation arrangement") "phonetic collation; organization by the Japanese syllabary in iroha or goj?on ordering"

In general, jikeibiki organization is for a readers' dictionary, bunruitai for a writers' dictionary, and onbiki for both types.

The Japanese writing system originated with the introduction of Chinese characters around the 4th century CE, and early Japanese dictionaries developed from Chinese dictionaries circa the 7th century CE. These three Japanese collation systems were borrowed and adapted from Chinese character dictionaries.

The first, and oldest, Chinese system of collation by semantic field (for instance, "birds" or "fish") dates back to the ca. 3rd century BCE Erya. Only a few dictionaries like the Xiao Erya, Guangya, and Piya used semantic collation. This system is inefficient looking up a word unless the dictionary user already knows its meaning; imagine, for example, using Roget's Thesaurus without an alphabetical index. Bunruitai collation is obsolete among modern Japanese dictionaries, with the exception of thesauri.

The second system of dictionary collation by radicals (Chinese bushou, Japanese bushu, "section headers") originated with the 121 CE Shuowen Jiezi. Japanese dictionaries followed the Chinese example of reducing the number of radicals: original 540 (Shuowen Jiezi), adjusted 542 (Yupian), condensed 214 (Zihui, Kangxi Zidian), and abridged 189 (Xinhua Zidian). Japanese jikeibiki collation by radical and stroke ordering is standard for character dictionaries, and does not require a user to know the meaning or pronunciation beforehand.

The third Chinese system of ordering by pronunciation is evident in a rime dictionary, which collates the characters by tone and rime. The 601 CE Qieyun is the oldest extant Chinese dictionary collated by pronunciation, and was expanded in the Guangyun and Jiyun. The shortcoming of this unwieldy tone-rime method is that a user needs to know, or guess, the pronunciation of a character in order to look it up. The modern Chinese dictionary improvement is alphabetical collation by pinyin romanization. Japanese onbiki dictionaries historically changed from poetic iroha to practical goj?on ordering around 1890. Compare the former pangram poem (i-ro-ha-ni-ho-he-to, chi-ri-nu-ru-wo, ... "Although flowers glow with color, They are quickly fallen, ...) with the latter "fifty sounds" 10 consonants by 5 vowels grid (a-i-u-e-o, ka-ki-ku-ke-ko, ...).

Early Japanese lexicography

The first Japanese dictionaries are no longer extant and only known by titles. For example, the Nihon Shoki (tr. Aston 1896:354) says Emperor Tenmu was presented a dictionary in 682 CE, the Niina (, "New Characters") with 44 fascicles (kan ?). The earliest dictionaries made in Japan were not for the Japanese language but rather dictionaries of Chinese characters written in Chinese and annotated in Japanese.

Japanese lexicography flowered during the Heian Period, when Chinese culture and Buddhism began to spread throughout Japan. During the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, despite advances in woodblock printing technology, there was a decline in lexicography that Bailey (1960:22) describes as "a tendency toward simplification and popularization".

The following review of the first published Japanese dictionaries is divided into the above lexicographical jikeibiki, bunruitai, and onbiki types.

Graphically organized dictionaries

Jikeibiki graphic collation began with the oldest extant Japanese dictionary: the circa 835 CE Tenrei Bansh? Meigi, edited by the Heian monk and scholar K?kai. It enters approximately 1,000 characters under 534 radicals, and each entry gives the seal script character, Chinese fanqie reading, and definition (usually copied from the Yupian), but does not give native kun'yomi Japanese readings.

The first dictionary containing Japanese readings of kanji was the circa 900 Shinsen Jiky?, which the editor Sh?j? () compiled from the Yupian and Qieyun. It enters 21,300 characters, giving both Chinese and Sino-Japanese readings, and cites many early Japanese texts. Internal organization innovatively combines jikeibiki and bunruitai methods; a simplified system of 160 radicals is ordered semantically (e.g., 5-7 are Rain, Air, and Wind).

The circa 1100 Buddhist Ruiju My?gish? dictionary lists over 32,000 characters and compounds under 120 radicals. The structure and definitions closely follow the Chinese Yupian and Qieyun. This Heian reference work gives both Sino-Japanese and Japanese readings for kanji, usually with Kanbun annotations in citations from Chinese classic texts.

The circa 1245 Jiky?sh? collates Chinese characters primarily by the 542 Yupian radicals and secondarily by semantic headings adapted from the Iroha Jiruish?. This Kamakura dictionary, edited by Sugawara no Tamenaga (?), exists in 3, 7, and 20 fascicle editions that have convoluted textual histories.

The next jikeibiki collated dictionary of kanji was the circa 1489 Wagokuhen. This "Japanese Yupian" was based on the Chinese Yupian, actually the 1013 Daguang yihui Yupian (, "Expanded and Enlarged Yupian"), which was current in Muromachi Japan. The Wagokuhen went through dozens of editions, which collate entries through various systems of (from 100 to 542) radicals, without any overt semantic subdivisions.

Two historical aspects of these logographically arranged Japanese jikeibiki dictionaries are reducing the number of radicals and semantically ordering them. The radical systems ranged from 542 (the Yupian), 534, 160, 120, down to 100. Both the Shinsen Jiky? and Jiky?sh? refined logographic categorization with bunruitai-type arrangements. While Chinese dictionaries have occasional examples of semantically ordered radicals (for instance, Kangxi radicals 38 and 39 are Woman and Child), Japanese lexicography restructured radicals into more easily memorable sequences.

Semantically organized dictionaries

Japanese bunruitai semantic collation of dictionaries began with the 938 CE Wamy? Ruijush?, compiled by Minamoto no Shitag? (). This Heian dictionary adapts the ancient Chinese Erya dictionary's 19 semantic categories into 24 Japanese headings with subheadings. For instance, Heaven and Earth is subdivided into Stars and Constellations, Clouds and Rain, Wind and Snow, etc. The character entries give source citations, Chinese pronunciations, definitions, and Japanese readings in the ancient Man'y?gana character system.

The circa 1444 Kagakush? was an anonymous Muromachi era Japanese language dictionary or encyclopedia that defined some 3000 words into 18 semantic categories. It was designed for the literate public rather than for priests and literati, and was reissued many times.

Phonetically organized dictionaries

Japanese onbiki phonetic collation began during the late Heian Period. The circa 1144–1165 CE Iroha Jiruish? was the first dictionary to group entries in the iroha order. Words are entered by 47 first kana syllables, each subdivided into 21 semantic groups.

The circa 1468 Setsuy?sh? was a popular Muromachi dictionary collated in iroha order and subdivided into 12 (later 13) semantic categories. It defined current Japanese vocabulary rather than borrowed Sino-Japanese compounds, and went through many editions and reprints.

The 1484 Onkochishinsho was the first Japanese dictionary to collate words in goj?on rather than conventional iroha order. This Muromachi reference work enters about 13,000 words, first by pronunciation and then by 12 subject classifications.

All three of these onbiki dictionaries adapted the bunruitai method to collate primarily by first syllable and secondarily by semantic field. This is comparatively less efficient than modern Japanese dictionaries with single-sorting goj?on collation by first syllable, second syllable, etc.

Modern Japanese lexicography

The development of early Japanese lexicography from Chinese-Japanese dictionaries has cross-linguistic parallels, for instance, early English language lexicography developed from Latin-English dictionaries. Nonetheless, modern Japanese lexicography adapted to an unparalleled second foreign wave from Western language dictionaries and romanization.

During the Nanban trade Period (1543–1650 CE) when Japan was opened to Europeans, the Jesuit Mission Press published two groundbreaking dictionaries. The 1598 monolingual Rakuy?sh? (, "Collection of Fallen Leaves") gave Sino-Japanese and native Japanese readings of characters, and introduced the small raised circle (handakuten ) to indicate the p sound (compare ha ? and pa ?). The 1603–1604 bilingual Japanese-Portuguese Nippo Jisho or Vocabvlario da Lingoa de Iapam dictionary is still cited as an authority for early Japanese pronunciation. The year 1604 was at the beginning of the Edo Period and also, as Nakao (1998:37) points out, the date of the first monolingual English dictionary, the Table Alphabeticall.

During the Sakoku Period (1641–1853) when Japan was closed to foreigners, with the exception of the Dutch East India Company, Rangaku ("Dutch/Western learning") influenced Japanese lexicography through bilingual Japanese and Dutch dictionaries. Another notable publication was the 1712 Wakan Sansai Zue encyclopedia, which was based on the 1609 Chinese Sancai Tuhui.

Japanese language dictionaries

Kokugo jiten/jisho (?/ "national language dictionary") means "Japanese-Japanese dictionary, monolingual Japanese dictionary". This "national language" term kokugo, which Chinese borrowed as guoyu, usually refers to the Japanese language as taught in Japanese schools. Nihongo jisho ( "Japanese language dictionary") is a neologism that contrasts Japanese with other world languages. There are hundreds of kokugo dictionaries in print, ranging from huge multivolume tomes to paperback abridgments. According to Japanese translator Tom Gally (1999:n.p.), "While all have shortcomings, the best kokugo dictionaries are probably among the best reference works in existence in any language."

The Edo Kokugaku scholar Tanikawa Kotosuga (ja:?, 1709–1776) began compilation of the first full-scale Japanese language dictionary, the Wakun no Shiori or Wakunkan ( "Guidebook to Japanese Pronunciations"). This influential 9-volume dictionary of classical Japanese words was posthumously completed and finally published in 1887.

The first truly modern Japanese language dictionary was edited by the grammarian and English translator ?tsuki Fumihiko, who used Webster's Dictionary as the model for his pioneering Genkai ( "Sea of Words, 1889–1891)". His revised 5-volume Daigenkai ( "Great/Comprehensive Sea of Words", Fuzanb?, 1932–1937) dictionary continues to be cited for its definitions and etymologies.

The Daijiten ( "Great/Comprehensive Dictionary", Heibonsha 1934-36), edited by Shimonaka Yasabur? (), is the largest kokugo dictionary ever published. The original 26-volume edition, which is still available in condensed versions, entered over 700,000 headwords, listed by pronunciation, and covered a wide variety of Japanese vocabulary.

The Nihon Kokugo Daijiten (Shogakukan, 1972, 1976) is the modern equivalent of the Daigenkai and Daijiten. This multivolume historical dictionary enters about 500,000 headwords, and is currently the most complete reference work for the Japanese language.

The bestselling kokugo titles are practical 1-volume dictionaries rather than encyclopedic works like the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten. For present purposes, they are divided between large-size dictionaries that enter 100,000-200,000 headwords on 2000-3000 pages and medium-size ones with 60,000-100,000 on 1300–1500 pages. The following discussion will introduce the central kokugo dictionaries, excepting the numerous smallest editions.

Larger single-volume Japanese language dictionaries are a highly profitable and competitive market for Japanese publishing houses.

  • The K?jien ("Wide Garden of Words", Iwanami Shoten, 1955, 5th ed. 1998), edited by Shinmura Izuru, enters 200,000 headwords. This highly respected dictionary gives definitions in chronological order, which is useful for understanding diachronic semantics. Japanese newspaper editorials commonly cite K?jien definitions as authoritative, but the following dictionaries are sometimes lexicographically superior.
  • The Daijirin ( "Great Forest of Words", 1988, Sanseid?, 2nd ed. 1995), edited by Matsumura Akira (), has 233,000 headwords. This highly-evaluated rival of the K?jien gives detailed definitions, and arranges word meanings with the most common ones first, instead of historical order.
  • The Daijisen ( "Great Fountainhead of Words", Sh?gakukan, 1995, 2nd ed. 1998), also edited by Matsumura Akira (above), has 220,000 entries, and is practically a twin of the Daijirin. Two minor improvements are color pictures instead of line art and replacing classical usage citations with contemporary ones.
  • The Nihongo Daijiten ( "Great Japanese Dictionary", K?dansha, 1989, 2nd ed. 1995), edited by Umesao Tadao (?), enters 175,000 headwords. It is distinguished by numerous color illustrations and occasional English translations.

The hefty scale of these larger dictionaries provides comprehensive coverage of Japanese words, but also renders them cumbersome and unwieldy.

Medium single-volume dictionaries have comparative advantages in portability, usability, and price.

  • The Sanseid? Kokugo Jiten (? "Sanseido's Japanese Dictionary", 1960, 5th ed. 2001), edited by Kenb? Hidetoshi (?), has 76,000 headwords. It emphasizes contemporary usage and includes many colloquialisms.
  • The Iwanami Kokugo Jiten ( "Iwanami's Japanese Dictionary", 1963, 5th ed. 1996), edited by Nishio Minoru (), has 57,000 headwords. It is marketed as a reliable authority, but sometimes overlooks current terminology.
  • The Shin Meikai Kokugo Jiten ("New Lucid Japanese Dictionary", Sanseid?, 1972, 6th ed. 2004), edited by Kindaichi Ky?suke, gives 76,500 entries. This popular and distinctive dictionary achieved notoriety from Akasegawa Genpei's 1996 bestseller that listed many amusingly idiosyncratic definitions.
  • The Meiji Shoin Seisen Kokugo Jiten (? "Meiji Publishing's Selected Japanese Dictionary", 1972, 2nd ed. 1995), edited by Miyaji Yutaka () and Kai Mutsur? (?), has 50,000 headwords. It includes many uncommon features such as synonyms, antonyms, stroke orders, and JIS encoding.
  • The Gendai Kokugo Reikai Jiten ( "Modern Illustrated Japanese Dictionary", Sh?gakukan, 1985. 2nd ed. 1993), edited by Hayashi ?ki (), gives 69,000 entries, and includes numerous tables explaining Japanese usage.
  • The Gakken Kokugo Daijiten (? "Gakken's Great Japanese Dictionary", Gakush? Kenky?sha, 1978, 2nd ed. 1988), edited by Kindaichi Haruhiko () and Ikeda Yasabur? (), enters about 120,000 headwords. This was the first Japanese dictionary fully edited with computers, and give illustrative citations from over 350 published sources.

Some Japanese publishers sell both a larger dictionary with more archaisms and classical citations as well as a smaller condensation with more modern examples, for instance, Sh?gakukan's Daijisen and Gendai Kokugo Reikai Jiten.

Chinese character dictionaries

Kan-Wa jiten (? "Kan[ji] Chinese [character]-Wa Japanese dictionary") means "Japanese dictionary of kanji (Chinese characters)". This unique type of monolingual dictionary enters Japanese borrowings of kanji and multi-character compounds (jukugo ), but is not a bilingual Chinese-Japanese dictionary. A Kan-Wa dictionary headword (oyaji "parent character") entry typically gives variant graphic forms, graphic etymology, readings, meanings, compounds, and idioms. Indexes usually include both radical-stroke and pronunciation (on and kun readings), and sometimes other character indexing systems like the four corner method.

The history of Kan-Wa dictionaries began with early Japanese references such as the Tenrei Bansh? Meigi and Ruiju My?gish? (above). In 1716, the Edo author of Yomihon, Tsuga Teish? (?, 1718–1794) published the K?ki Jiten (?), a Japanese version of the Kangxi Dictionary, which standardized the Kan-Wa jiten system of 214 Kangxi radicals. The first dictionary titled with Kan-Wa was the Kan-Wa Daijiten ( "Great Kanji-Japanese Character Dictionary", Sanseid?, 1903), edited by Shigeno Yasutsugu (?, 1827–1910), founder of the Shigaku zasshi. The Daijiten ( "Great Character Dictionary", Kodansha, 1917), edited by Eida Takei ?, went through numerous reprints.

The best available Kan-Wa dictionary is unquestionably Morohashi Tetsuji's 13-volume Dai Kan-Wa Jiten ("Great/Comprehensive Kanji-Japanese Dictionary", Taish?kan, 1956-60), which contains over 50,000 characters and 530,000 compounds. It was condensed into the 4-volume K? Kan-Wa Jiten ( "Broad Kanji-Japanese Dictionary", Taish?kan, 1982), edited by Morohashi, Kamada Tadashi (), and Yoneyama Toratar? (), which enters 20,000 characters and 120,000 compounds.

The following major Kan-Wa dictionaries are presented in the chronological order of their first editions. Note that the numbers of character headwords include variants.

  • The Kan-Wa Daijiten ( "Great Kanji-Japanese Character Dictionary", Gakken, 1978), edited by Todo Akiyasu (?), enters 20,000 headwords and 120,000 compounds.
  • The Kadokawa Daijigen ( "Kadokawa's Great Source of Characters", 1992), edited by Ozaki Y?jir? (), gives 12,300 characters and 100,000 compounds.
  • The Dai Kangorin (? "Great Forest of Chinese", Taish?kan, 1992), edited by Kamada Tadashi and Yoneyama Toratar?, includes 13,938 characters and 100,000 compounds.
  • The Shin Daijiten (? "New Daijiten, K?dansha, 1993), edited by Ueda Kazutoshi (?), enters 21,094 characters and 110,000 compounds, and is a modern revision of the Daijiten.
  • The Jits? ( "Mastery of Characters", Heibonsha, 1996), edited by Shirakawa Shizuka (), includes 9,500 characters and 22,000 compounds, collated by pronunciation in goj?on order. It combines two other Heibonsha dictionaries edited by Shirakawa, the etymological Jit? (, 1994) and the phonological Jikun (, 1995).
  • The Taish?kan Gendai Kan-Wa Jiten ( "Taishukan's Modern Kanji-Japanese Dictionary", 1996), edited by Kimura Sh?ji (?) and Kurosawa Hiromitsu (?), enters 7500 characters and 25,000 compounds.
  • The Goj?on Biki Kan-Wa Jiten ( "Kanji-Japanese Dictionary Indexed by the Fifty Sounds", Sanseido, 2004), edited by Okimori Takuya (?), gives 6,300 characters and 30,000 compounds, collated by pronunciation (like the Jits?) rather than radical.
  • The Shincho Nihongo Kanji Jiten ( "Shincho Japanese Kanji Dictionary", Shinchosha, 2007), gives 15,375 characters and 47,000 compounds.

Kan-Ei jiten (? "Kanji-English dictionary") refers to a character dictionary designed for English-speaking students of Japanese. An early example of, if not the prototype for, this type of dictionary is Arthur Rose-Innes' 1900 publication 3000 Chinese-Japanese Characters in Their Printed and Written Forms , issued in Yokohama.[2] Reprinted in 1913, a revised and enlarged edition appeared in 1915 and that volume was reprinted by United States Government Printing Office in 1943.[3] This work evidently expanded for the second edition of Rose-Innes' Beginners' Dictionary of Chinese-Japanese Characters with Common Abbreviations, Variants and Numerous Compounds appeared in 1927 and contained 5,000 characters.[4] Far from being a hastily-compiled wartime production, Rose-Innes' Beginners' Dictionary was an established work when reprinted during World War II--new editions having appeared in 1927, 1936, and 1942. Reprints of various editions were made in 1943, 1945, and 1950. A third edition appeared in 1953 and a fourth in 1959. Currently, an edition is kept in print by Dover Publications. However, the Beginner's Dictionary of Chinese-Japanese Characters (Harvard University Press, 1942, Dover reprint, 1977), edited by Arthur Rose-Innes is not the only one reprinted by Dover for it also reprinted the 1959 edition. A "new eighth edition" of the Beginner's Dictionary of Chinese-Japanese Characters appeared in Tokyo (the publisher was Meiseisha) in 1984. However, it has the same pagination of the 1959 edition, so, it may merely be a reprint.[5] Another early English character dictionary is ? = 6000 Chinese Characters with Japanese Pronunciation and Japanese and English Renderings by J. Ira Jones and H.V.S. Peeke published in 1915 in Tokyo.[6] The fourth edition of this work appeared in 1936.[7]

There are currently four major Kan-Ei dictionaries.

  • The Modern Reader's Japanese-English Character Dictionary (, Tuttle, 1962, 2nd ed. 1974), edited by Andrew Nelson and commonly called "Nelson's dictionary", enters a total of 5,446 characters (including variants) and 70,000 compounds. It is collated through an idiosyncratic "Radical Priority System" reorganization of the 214 Kangxi radicals.
  • The Japanese Character Dictionary With Compound Lookup via Any Kanji (?, Nichigai, 1989), edited by Mark Spahn and Wolfgang Hadamitzky, lists 7,054 characters and nearly 47,000 compounds, collated under a simplified system of 79 radicals. This "reverse dictionary" cross-references compounds by their component characters; for instance, the ten ? headword lists compounds including jiten ("dictionary") under the second position, hyakka jiten (? "encyclopedia") under the fourth, etc.
  • The New Japanese-English Character Dictionary (, Kenky?sha, 1990, NTC reprint, 1993), edited by Jack Halpern, enters approximately 3,500 characters, emphasizing etymologies and historical semantics. Primary collation follows a "System of Kanji Indexing by Patterns" (SKIP), but pronunciation and radical indexes are provided. It was revised as The Kodansha Kanji Dictionary, (Kodansha, 2013), and its abridged Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary.
  • The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary (?, Tuttle, 1997), edited by John H. Haig, is a complete revision of Nelson's, and includes 7107 characters and 70,000 compounds. It employs a modified Kangxi system of 217 radicals, and has a 230-page "Universal Radical Index" that fully cross-references under each component radical. For example, t? or agari (? "gallop, prance; soar; rise up") is entered under radical 187 ? "horse", but is also indexed under radicals 1 ? "one", 12 ? or ? "eight", 37 ? "big", and 130 ? "meat; moon".

It is noteworthy that all four of these Ei-Wa dictionaries attempted to improve upon the traditional radical system, which can be problematical for users, but none of their improvements has been widely accepted.

Japanese and English dictionaries

Since Japanese bilingual dictionaries, which are available for most major world languages, are too numerous to be discussed here, the two cases in point are Ei-Wa jiten (?) "English-Japanese dictionaries" and Wa-Ei jiten (?) "Japanese-English dictionaries".

First, the history of English-Japanese dictionaries began at the end of the Edo period. The English missionary Walter H. Medhurst, who never traveled to Japan, compiled the first bilingual wordbook An English and Japanese, and Japanese and English Vocabulary (Batavia, 1830). The Dutch translator Hori Tatsunosuke (? ), who interpreted for Commodore Perry, compiled the first true English-Japanese dictionary: A Pocket Dictionary of the English and Japanese Language (, Yosho-Shirabedokoro, 1862). It was based upon English-Dutch and Dutch-Japanese bilingual dictionaries, and contained about 35,000 headwords.

English-Japanese dictionary publishing flourished during the Taish? period. Kanda Naibu (?) used the Century Dictionary as the basis for his Mohan [Model] English-Japanese Dictionary (?, Sanseid?, 1911). Saito's Idiomological [sic] English-Japanese Dictionary (, ?bunsha, 1915) was edited by Saito Hidesaburou ().J?kichi Inouye (?), a graduate of London University, edited Inouye's English-Japanese Dictionary (?, Shiseid?, 1921). Kenkyusha's New English-Japanese Dictionary on Bilingual Principles (, 1927) was edited by Okakura Yoshisaburo ().

In the present day, four major English-Japanese dictionaries are available.

  • Iwanami's Comprehensive English-Japanese Dictionary (?, 1970), edited by Nakajima Fumio (?), has 110,000 headwords.
  • Shogakukan Random House English-Japanese Dictionary (), 1973 edited by Katsuaki Horiuchi, 2nd ed. 1994 edited by Konishi Tomoshichi (?), has 345,000 headwords and 175,000 usage examples.
  • Taishukan's Unabridged Genius English-Japanese Dictionary (?, 2001), edited by Konishi Tomoshichi (?) and Minamide Kosei (?), has 255,000 headwords (see Minamide 2002).
  • Kenkyusha's New English-Japanese Dictionary (, 6th ed. 2002), edited by Takebayashi Shigeru (), has 260,000 headwords.

Second, the history of Japanese-English dictionaries began towards the end of the Edo period. The American missionary James Curtis Hepburn edited A Japanese and English Dictionary with an English and Japanese Index (, Shanghai, American Presbyterian Press, 1867), with 20,722 Japanese-English and 10,030 English-Japanese words, on 702 pages. Although designed to be used by missionaries in Japan, this first Japanese-English dictionary was so popular among the Japanese that nine editions were published by 1910.

The history of English-Japanese dictionaries began with the arrival of HMS Phaeton, in order to better facilitate sakoku policy in the future due to the Nagasaki Harbour Incident. The Rangaku interpreter, Motoki Sh?zaemon ( ), compiled the first Japanese English dictionary, purported to contain 6000 words in 1814 with the help of Dutch scholars in Japan titled "Angeria Gorintaisei" ().

An Unabridged Japanese-English Dictionary, with copious illustrations (, Sanseido, 1896), edited by Frank Brinkley, Nanj? Buny? (?) and Iwasaki Gy?shin (?), adapted and expanded Hepburn's dictionary into 1687 pages. It was primarily intended for English-speaking learners of Japanese. Jukichi Inouye (?) also edited Inouye's Japanese-English Dictionary (?, Sanseido, 1909), which was the first dictionary intended for Japanese learners of English. Takenobu Yoshitar? () edited the authoritative Takenobu's Japanese-English Dictionary (?, Kenkyusha, 1918), which had more coverage and better usage examples than any contemporary dictionaries. It was subsequently revised as Kenky?sha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (2nd ed. 1931) in order to compete with A Standard Japanese-English Dictionary (, Taishukwan, 1924), edited by Takehara Tsuneta (?), with 57,000 headwords and 300,000 examples; and Sait?'s Japanese-English Dictionary (, Nichi-Eisha, 1928), also edited by Saito Hidesaburo, with 50,000 headwords and 120,000 examples. Kenkyusha's mainstay dictionary is now in its fifth edition, with little contest.

  • Grand Concise Japanese-English Dictionary (?, Sanseid?, 2002), has 210,000 headwords and 110,000 usage examples.
  • Kenky?sha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (, 5th ed. 2003), edited by Watanabe Toshir? (?), Edmund R. Skrzypczak, and Paul Snowden, has 480,000 headwords.

Specialized dictionaries

Senmon jiten (?) means "specialized dictionary" and senmon-go jiten () means "jargon dictionary; technical dictionary". Since specialized Japanese dictionaries are too diverse and numerous to be covered here, four exemplary types are reviewed: dictionaries of old words, current words, loanwords, and thesauri. (See the bibliographies listed under "External links" below for more complete listings of specialized dictionaries.)

Kogo jiten (?) means "dictionary of Classical Japanese." Pre-modern or Classical Japanese can vary considerably from the modern language, and kogo dictionaries are essential for anyone reading historical texts.

  • Kadokawa Kogo Daijiten (?, 1982–1999, 5 vols.), ed. Nakamura Yukihiko, is the most comprehensive, with 80,000 classical words, including many proper names
  • Jidaibetsu Kokugo Daijiten (, Sanseido, 1967–2000, 5 vols.) has a total of 70,000 headwords, with diachronic distinctions in semantics
  • Sh?gakkan Kogo Daijiten (, 1994), ed. Nakada Norio, has 55,000 headwords compiled from the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten
  • The Obunsha Kogo Jiten (? "Obunsha's Classical Japanese Dictionary", 1960, 10th additional ed. 2015), edited by Matsumura Akira (), has 43,500 headwords. The most famous and popular Classical Japanese dictionary in Japan. The first edition went on the market in 1960, a total of 11 million copies have been sold so far, in 2001 9th edition went on.
  • The Obunsha Zenyaku Kogo Jiten ( "Obunsha's All Transrated Classical Japanese Dictionary", 1990, 4th ed. 2011), edited by Miyakoshi Ken (), has 22,500 headwords. This dictionary is the first Classical Japanese dictionary adopted on the electronic dictionary in 2001.

Ry?k?go jiten () is a specialized wordbook of catchphrases and buzzwords. Japan, like most other countries, continually creates new and ephemeral terms. Three publishers put out annual paperback dictionaries that cover the latest native coinages and foreign borrowings.

  • Gendai Y?go no Kiso Chishiki (, Jiy? Kokuminsha, 1948-)
  • J?h? Chishiki Imidas (, IMIDAS [Innovative Multi-Information Dictionary, Annual Series], Sh?eisha, 1987-)
  • Chiez? (, Asahi Shinbunsha, 1990-)

Gairaigo jiten () means "loanword dictionary". Beginning with Chinese borrowings, the Japanese language has imported many foreign loanwords and abbreviations. Here are some of the best gairaigo dictionaries.

  • Kihon Gairaigo Jiten (?, T?ky?d?, 1990), ed. Ishiwata Toshio
  • Kank?ch? no Katakanago Jiten (, Sanseid?, 1994), ed. Shimokawabe Jun, 10,000 headwords
  • Ryakugo Daijiten (, Maruzen, 2nd ed. 2002), ed. Kato Daisuke
  • Konsaisu Katakanago Jiten (, Sanseid?, 2004), 47,400 "katakana words" and 7,800 acronyms

Ruigo jiten (?) means "thesaurus," synonymous with Japanese ruigigo jiten () and the English loanword shis?rasu ().

  • Kadokawa Ruigo Shin Jiten (?, 1981), ed. ?no Susumu, 49,000 entries
  • Ruigo Dai Jiten (, Kodansha, 2002), ed. Shibata Takeshi, 76,000 entries
  • Nihongo Dai Shis?rasu (, Taishukan, 2003), ed. Yamaguchi Tsubasa, 200,000 entries
  • Sanseid? Ruigo Shin Jiten (, 2005), ed. Nakamura Akira, 50,000 entries

Electronic and online dictionaries

Denshi jisho (?) refers either generally to "dictionary software" (on CD-ROM, hard drive, onrain jisho ? "online dictionary", etc.) or specifically to "a dedicated PDA-type dictionary" also known as a denshi jiten (?).

The specific meaning of handheld "electronic Japanese dictionary" became popular in the early 1980s. Modern stand-alone dictionaries resemble a PDA or small clamshell computer. Different manufacturers and models offer various user features, Japanese input methods, and multiple-volume capacities for switching between dictionaries of Modern Japanese, Classical Japanese, Kanji, English, medical terminology, etc.

The general denshi jisho meaning of "dictionary database software" has evolved from early floppies that Japanese users copied onto their local computers to contemporary server-based dictionaries accessible by users with cell phones. Japanese dictionary software is available in either freeware or commercial versions, both of which are found online.

Many online dictionaries of Japanese are based upon Jim Breen's voluntary EDICT (Japanese-English Dictionary) Project, which consists of the 170,000 entry-strong core JMdict (XML) and EDICT (text) files (under Creative Commons license), and associated files such as KANJIDIC for kanji. Eijir?, another major online database, is targeted primarily at native Japanese speakers, and as such lacks some of the features to make it more accessible to non-native speakers. Here are some major non-commercial online reference sites.

Second, many other online and Web dictionaries use commercial software from Japanese print dictionary publishers. Sanseido, for example, sells printed and CD-ROM dictionary versions, leases dictionary software to commercial Websites (especially search engines), and sells subscriptions to their Web Dictionary. Here are some dictionary websites that are popular in Japan.

From these high-tech online reference works, the path of Japanese lexicography extends back to early Chinese character dictionaries compiled by Heian Buddhist priests.


  • Aston, William George, tr. 1896. Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697. Kegan Paul.
  • Bailey, Don Clifford. (1960). "Early Japanese Lexicography". Monumenta Nipponica 16:1-52.
  • Gally, Tom. (1999). Kokugo Dictionaries ?, review article.
  • Minamide, Kosei. 2002. English-Japanese Lexicography and the Unabridged Genius. Kernerman Dictionary News 10.
  • Nakao Keisuke. (1998). "The state of bilingual lexicography in Japan: learners' English-Japanese / Japanese-English dictionaries." International Journal of Lexicography 11.1:35-50.
  • Okimori Takuya ?, et al., eds. (1996). Nihon jisho jiten ("Encyclopedia of Dictionaries Published in Japan"). Tokyo: ISBN 4-273-02890-5 [Review by Michael Carr. (1999). International Journal of Lexicography 12:163-176.]
  • Smith, Henry. (2005). "Report on the Current Generation of Japanese denshi jisho ?". Columbia University.

External links

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