Website: Denshi Jisho
URL : http://jisho.org/
Languages: Japanese, English
Finding good dictionaries online can be somewhat of a pain for any language, but this is especially true of languages that are not written in roman script, such as Japanese. Many Japanese dictionaries online are either romanji (Japanese transliterated into a roman script) only, which can be quite useless for Japanese to English searches due to the high amount of Japanese homonyms. Others assume you’re an advanced student of the language, or even a native speaker, and thus gloss over information assumed already known. Even actually inputting Japanese can be a great pain, since many users don’t have Japanese fonts installed on their system by default.
Denshi Jisho is an improvement over many dictionaries on these issues. A great deal of thought has been put into Denshi Jisho, and that handiwork has made it a wonderful resource for any student of Japanese. The site not provides excellent English to Japanese searches, which turn up word meanings complete with slang and synonyms. It also provides the most user-friendly Japanese to English searches available on the web, as well as some truly outstanding kanji tools. The entire search system works re markedly well and as a result, makes finding the right word to say a lot easier.
First, for those looking for a word in Japanese, the English to Japanese searches are outstanding. Entering a word in English will turn up it’s equivalent in Japanese, as well as synonyms, phrases containing that word, and slang. For example, a search for “dog” turns up 狗, the kanji for dog, as well as 狆 (Japanese pug; Pekenese) and 土用 (dog days; midsummer). On top of that, each entry can be checked for information on that Kanji, including reference numbers, meanings, words, and, for many words, sentences of that word in action. In the middle column between the kanji and the English translation are hiragana or katakana, which show the user how the word is pronounced. The one complaint I have about Denshi Jisho is that the kanji – hiragana/katakana – English is not obvious until a user has some familiarity with the language, which may leave beginning students a bit frustrated, which is a shame considering how good Denshi Jisho is and how much beginning students can benefit from having the kanji, hiragana/katakana, and English available at their finger tips.
The pronunciation guide is particularly important, due to how many kanji can have different readings. Clicking on a kanji with include all its readings, making finding kun and on readings extremely quick and easy. Each of these readings, in turn, is linked to a page showing words with similar pronunciations , words with the same root word, and more.
But it’s searching from Japanese to English that really makes Denshi Jisho shine. To enter in Japanese words, ordinarily one would have to turn on Japanese input, configure it for what script you wanted to put it, and then – and only then – begin writing. Denshi Jisho, on the other hand, allows you to write in roman script, and automatically transliterates that to hiragana or katakana for you, depending on case used: all lower-case for hiragana, and all upper-case for katakana. Typing in “tabema” automatically translates たべる (“to eat” in plain form); typing in “vitamin” in all caps automatically transliterates into ヴィタミン (meaning, unsurprisingly, vitamin). Not only that, but if one types in a verb form, say “tabemasen”), then the system is smart enough to give a page with a link to the plain form, where one can find the meaning.
The automatic transliteration makes Denshi Jisho an ideal dictionary for users who either don’t have computers that allow them to input Japanese, or simple haven’t yet learned how. But even if one can easily switch between Japanese and English inputs, this makes it even easier to perform quick searches for a word, so he or she does not have to change all his or her settings just to write one word, and then change them all back again. Denshi Jisho will save all users a lot of time for quick searches, and it is ideal for such a purpose.
Denshi Jisho also includes two helpful search systems for kanji: searching by readings or by radical. The reading search is ideal if one already knows the meaning of the kanji they are looking for, where as the radical search is more helpful for finding a kanji based on its appearance. In addition to just searching for meaning in the readings, one can also use the codes given in a variety of different publications for kanji or find kanji by stroke count (the amount of movements needed to write the character). These can help make a quick search even quicker, and helps to cut down on false positives in the entries returned.
Searching kanji by radical allows users to find a kanji based on it’s appearance, an incredibly helpful guide if one is reading a book in Japanese and spots an unfamiliar character; users simply choose the shapes that make up the kanji they wish to find. The radicals and their results are sorted by stroke order, with jouyou kanji (kanji taught in the Japanese school system) appearing darker coloured than less common kanji. When one finds the kanji they seek, they can simply click it to go to a page highlighting meanings, pronunciation, and more. Though often a bit slower than searching for meaning or by stroke order, searching kanji by radical is by far the easiest way to locate a kanji one is unfamiliar with, even if a student has little familiarity with Japanese.
Overall, Denshi Jisho is one of the best Japanese dictionaries on the web, with an interface for quick searches that simply can’t be beat. Every Japanese student should have this page bookmarked. It is especially recommended for users who visit Japanese websites often, especially considering that Denshi Jisho provides a free bookmarklet that allows you to highlight a word and then click the bookmarklet for a translation with no copying and pasting required. Denshi Jisho really goes a step beyond it’s source material (the WWWJDIC project) with its ease of use, and as a result just might be the best Japanese dictionary available on the web for fast searches.