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Multilingual Dictionary Books


Welcome to the start of my reviews on tools. I’ll be covering a large variety of programs, games, websites, books, and such to help you out on your journey in learning Japanese. I will do my best to layout how to use, get, or find the tools and what people are saying about them. Though some of these tools will be lumped together, don’t forget that you can still go out and research any of them even easier. So without further ado…

Why have thou forsaken me bookstore!

One of the most common places to look for Japanese dictionaries is a bookstore. We all assume that walking down those isles of tightly bounded books written by experts and lovers of knowledge would certainly provide what we need in learning a language. Surely!

While some bookstore probably, maybe will, I know that in my experience, it really hasn’t  got what is best. There are some tools though that you may find in your favorite place of places, but feel free to break through the physical world and go into one of the best resources out there, the internet.

Since there are so very many different forms for dictionaries right now, and a lot of resources out there in each format, I’m going to cover Paperbacks first. The other formats (like hand held devices, internet, and gaming systems) will come later. This also includes Japanese to Japanese dictionaries. There is just so much to cover!

Dictionary Guidelines:

This is most likely the first resource that will pop into your mind. Who can learn a new language without that good ol’ love-able dictionary? This is easy enough to figure out, but how do you know the dictionary you’re picking up is worth the money you’re going to pay? Researching online is really convenient, but make sure to ask yourself the following questions to see if it is a keeper:

-Does this dictionary have English to Japanese/Japanese to English? (seems simple enough but you’d be surprised, one way dictionaries aren’t always the most helpful.)

-Does this dictionary use Kanji and Kana? (Romaji is the devil. If you’re looking at a dictionary that doesn’t use kanji/kana but only romaji, set it down and run in the opposite direction. While it wouldn’t hurt for romaji to be there -in addition- you’d really want it to be there, not at all.)

-Does it have a wide variety of words? (This one is a lot harder to tell, pocket dictionaries are cute to carry on the go, but honestly, they’re not always beneficial. Use those kinds for supplement, but you really want to buy a dictionary that is large with many many Common words. Think of some words you use a lot and see if they’re in there!)

-Does this Kanji dictionary provide me with all the information I need: (You need to find one with readings, stroke order, etymology, common compounds, and references. This is an important addition to a regular dictionary because you may see a new kanji and want to know more but can’t figure out how to find it in your dictionary.)

-Is this dictionary mono-lingual? (Once you have some exposure into the language you’ll really want to try switching over to a mono-lingual dictionary. That’s just fancy talk for saying a Japanese dictionary for Japanese speakers, no English at all. It’s kinda like how when you were in middle school looking up new English words in an English dictionary.)

-Is the order traditional to Japanese or English in the Japanese listings? (If you didn’t know, Japanese dictionaries are ordered by kana (あ、い、う、え、お、か、き、く, ect) rather than our traditional a, b, c, d… Though this isn’t as important in a multi-lingual dictionary, you do want to make sure your mono-lingual one is in the traditional format for Japanese.)

Dictionary Reviews: Word Dictionaries

Kodansha’s Furigana: Japanese – English Dictionary/English – Japanese Dictionary:

There is actually three books of this kind. One is a Japanese to English only, then an English to Japanese, and one thatcombines both books. All three of these are considered really great for a beginner before monolingual. The reason this is pretty pimp for beginners is there is furigana (kana that shows pronunciation) on all the kanji. This means you can begin to already decipher words you hear without worrying if the kanji is correct. Kondansha’s products themselves are very versatile and the company is known for its reliability in correct presentation of information. Another really great thing about these dictionaries is they offer sentence examples of the word. This is especially nice if you’re doing AJATT. So a quick sum:


  • no romaji!!!!!
  • furigana over all kanji
  • easy layout, easy to read and understand
  • example sentences of some words
  • decent number of words covered for beginners


  • if you get one way dictionaries, might be a hindrance
  • a little pricey
  • limited entries compare to some other dictionaries

Random House Japanese English – English Japanese Dictionary:

Random House’s dictionary is probably one of the second most picked dictionaries out there for Japanese learning. Random House of course has a name for itself that is pretty reliable. Though there is a lot of disadvantages to this dictionary, it is said to have over 50,000 entries.


  • Lots of entries geared towards meeting all levels versus just one
  • contains both Eng-JP and JP-Eng
  • easy to follow in the English section
  • romaji crutch for those needing it
  • kana chart


  • more Eng-JP entries than JP-Eng entries
  • use of romaji extensively, no furigana
  • no sample sentences

Langenscheidt’s Pocket Dictionary: Japanese/English English/Japanese

Like the Random House’s dictionary, Langenscheidt’s dictionary one is very similar in its romaji setup, kanji, with no furigana. This one however has more references and some sentences and explanations. Though it is meant for on the go, and has limited entries, its still well rounded and praised by people buying them.


  • best praised variety of words that include modern/slang types
  • on the go, sturdy construction
  • romaji crutch for those needing it
  • stroke count kanji list, kana chart
  • both Jp-Eng, Eng-JP


  • use of romaji extensively, no furigana
  • can’t use kanji look-up if you don’t know stroke count of kanji
  • compact size makes print smaller, less overall words

Oxford Beginner’s Japanese Dictionary:

I must say for a beginner’s dictionary, Oxford Beginner’s Japanese Dictionary is kinda impressive due to how its setup.


  • JP to Eng side is in traditional JP order
  • kana/kanji only
  • kana symbols, phrase finder, culture/social guide, dates, and more covered
  • blue print for JP makes it easier to read for some
  • various terms meant strictly for beginner learning


  • doesn’t take you to advanced level
  • some explanations are very limited, sometimes unclear
  • limited vocabulary due to size
  • very little kanji

Dictionary Reviews: Kanji Dictionaries

So far we’ve covered dictionaries that are based on finding words you hear or finding words that correlate to the English word you already know. Now we’re going to talk about a group of dictionaries that serve the purpose of teaching more about a specific kanji. I’m going to start out with my absolute favorite one(though it sadly has one major flaw) that I use myself.

Also a word to those who may not understand such, but a Kanji Dictionary is not made to be a way to go about learning kanji (like RTK) but rather is a reference guide to find/understand kanji you may not remember/have never seen before and its common compounds. Trying to use these books to learn kanji would be like trying to get an pig to fly.

The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary:

To sum up this awesome addition to your bookshelf:


  • 2,230 entry characters, including all the kanji in the Joyo and Jinmei Kanji lists
  • 41,000 senses for 31,300 words and word elements show how each character contributes to the meanings of compounds
  • 1,200 homophones with core meanings explain differences between closely related characters
  • 386 variant forms used in prewar literature and in names
  • 1,945 stroke order diagrams show you how to write each kanji stroke by stroke
  • 7,200 character readings, including name readings
  • Over 2,000 cross-references and five appendixes give instant access to a mass of useful reference data

All those numbers seem so overwhelming, but it really just equals out to easy mode once you realize how simple the dictionary is. However, there is argument to the ease of the ‘SKIP’ system that it uses. I find it straightforward, but some people argue that its rather hard to use.  So far in my studies I’ve not come across a single kanji that it didn’t have. That doesn’t mean that they’re all in there, by no means, just that it really covers the most useful kanji out there (and I am more of a beginner than I am an advanced learner so far lol).


  • lots of features
  • detailed information on stroke count, meaning, vocabulary, ect.
  • durable binding and smaller book
  • beginner-intermediate user’s level, some advanced
  • inexpensive considering Kodansha’s overall quality
  • multicolored is helpful to some


  • *t uses romaji for sounds, though it will show the kanji/kana counterpart, there is no furigana, it major downfall sadly
  • difficult for some to use
  • is not the Kanji dictionary for an advanced language learner
  • is not a substitute for a standard dictionary people!
  • some claim the multicolored font is distracting

The New Nelson Japanese-English Dictionary:

If you’re not familiar with the original Nelson dictionary (which is currently out of print), then it might be a little easier for you to look at the New Nelson Dictionary without any preconceived feelings about how it should be. That said, this kanji dictionary has a lot of haters and lovers all wrapped up in one. Though the original seems to have a lot more popularity, it is extremely outdated.


  • high quality entries
  • more for advanced users than beginners (ie. no stroke counts)
  • meant as pure reference as a reader
  • quality book build, sturdy, easy to read
  • has a compact version that packs punch


  • system of looking up kanji is debated to be extremely hard
  • not meant for ease to beginner learners
  • not as thorough as older edition, some desire more kanji.
  • large and cumbersome book

NTC’s Japanese-English Character Dictionary:

NTC’s Character dictionary does not have many complaints on its layout or entries, and receives a fair amount of praise out there.


  • Lots of information that is helpful to beginners-advanced users (stroke count, phrases, cross references, compounds, ect.)
  • sometimes contain detail explanations of meanings
  • multiple ways to look up kanji for the quickness
  • shows alternate way to draw the character out to help you read (print, pen, ect)


*large and heavy

*limited on number of kanji covered overall compared to some other kanji references

*the look up systems are not like the JP-JP kanji dictionaries, you’d have to learn new system


As it stands your head may be spinning, considering these resources are only the tip of the iceberg as to what is out there in paperback that is multilingual. Fear not though, you can never go wrong with just trying something out. I often give the advice of get it free if you can (ie, try to find someone who use to study Japanese that will hand over materials), but if not, used bookstores, and buying used online is second best. I have found a lot of the used books I’ve ordered through places like Amazon always are in good quality, and super cheap!

I wouldn’t recommend buying a lot of dictionaries that are multilingual either. If you have lots of internet access throughout the day, you really only need one for on the go anyways. There are lots of dictionaries online that are super useful, though if you’re on a trip of some kind or at school without internet, or your internet goes down for a bit (or hell your computer crashes and burns into a firey pit!) you don’t wanna be caught without a dictionary.

Also, you’ll be upgrading to a monolingual in no time anyways, so don’t worry about finding the “best of the best of the best” in your initial step. Once you’re further in the language you’ll know what you want and how you feel finding things. Good luck and stay tuned for Dictionaries Part II – Internet (multilingual).

Mikoto Neko

The Ring leader of multiple projects who is studying japanese and raising a family! Who needs time for sleep?

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