My Translation Desktop

Monday night in Kanda, May 2018. Apropos of nothing other than that I, too, am a hardworking person.

I only vaguely remember my first electronic dictionary. I know I had a very small one I bought in Akihabara in 2003 that deftly jumped around between kanji and compounds. But I left it in a classroom when I got back to the states and someone took it. I’d written my name on it, I think, but it smeared a little.

I bought a new one on Amazon Japan first thing when I moved into my JET apartment, but it was bigger and bulkier and didn’t do the same tasks, despite being the same brand. Should’ve stuck with old reliable.

This was 2005, and I didn’t end up using the dictionary all that much. I switched over to the Nintendo DS kanji dictionary, which made it a breeze to draw out kanji I didn’t recognize. Since I got a smartphone in 2012, I haven’t even used that all that much.

Some of my reading I do either “skimming,” without looking up each word, and the rest (which I’m likely doing for JT articles or translation work), I’m right next to the computer and have the internet at my fingertips.

Part of the reason I can find these characters is Jim Breen. I was in the Japan Times late last month with a profile of him and a look at his WWWJDIC and underlying EDICT dictionary files: “At 180,000 entries, Jim Breen’s freeware Japanese dictionary is still growing.” has been my favorite EDICT-based resource. I know that WWWJDIC has the mult-radical method as well, and maybe I should give the website another chance, but I just find Jisho so easy to use and well designed.

It’s also not often that I have to look up characters. I’m working on a big translation project that I hope to share soon, and I’m reading the text through Kindle on my iPhone, which I’ve written about previously.

I do have major complaints with the dictionary feature. Unlike Jisho, you have to hit the exact word or else it won’t return any hits. Which basically means you can’t search for conjugated verbs or adjectives or you have to hope that the individual kanji has a separate meaning/reading that will then enable you to find it with other stuff.

And my most major complaint with the Kindle is the limit on your ability to copy and paste text. I mean, I get it. You don’t want people copying and pasting the entire text, but it was so damn easy to copy from the iPhone and then paste on my desktop through the MacOS/iOS integration. There must be a way to allow copying and pasting single phrases/words with no limit. We have software smart enough to do this.

So my basic translation desktop setup is this:

Kenkyushu Green Goddess (5th edition) app open on my iPhone (for deep dives into usages and meanings that aren’t easily summarized in a few words)

And the following browser tabs, in no particular order: (for basic word look up) (for usage and context clues) (to give a tired English brain some alternatives or inspiration) (for more diverse and at times reliable context and usage clues) (for Japanese definitions in order to more fully understand a word)

What am I missing? I feel like there must be an easier way to look up individual kanji. Any suggestions?

Cool App – 新和英大辞典

I’m in the Japan Times this week: “Investing big but wisely in Japanese study aids can reap dividends.”

The article was inspired by my recent purchase of the 新和英大辞典 (Shin Wa-Ei Daijiten, New Japanese-English Dictionary), which I can recommend highly.

If you have a Mac computer and the app on your iPhone, you should be able to copy and paste between the two devices, effectively making it a dedicated dictionary screen. A lot of freelancers I know prefer multiple screens so they can juggle a word processor and dictionaries or other applications. (I’ve found the copy-paste feature a bit finicky, but this has more to do with iOS than the dictionary app.)

I haven’t fully explored all the features year, but as you can see on the main screen, it keeps track of your recent searches and when you did them, which is neat:

The dictionary also allows you to easily swipe between entries, which simulates the paper dictionary…kind of cool, but you can only see one entry at a time.

It would be interesting if they allowed you to see three or four forward or backward and then select from there. But that’s not a super useful feature.

The information section has the foreword of the dictionary and detailed information about all the entries:

There are a couple other ways to browse:

As you can see above, you can browse by the Japanese syllabary, by field of study, and by the Chinese pronunciation of the kanji:

There’s also a set of random lists that could come in handy, such as a couple of 年表 that have year-based calendar information for Japan and world history, currency for different countries, and even etiquette/form guides for letters and emails, including how to execute different 顔文字, which they call スマイリー (“smiley”):

All-in-all, it’s a nice little dictionary app, and it’s on sale for basically half off until the end of March. Worth picking up if you’re in need of a reliable dictionary.


I shared my most recent Japan Times article on the Facebook group Translators (Japanese<->English) because someone had mentioned the Green Goddess a month or so ago, and strangely enough Jim Breen himself responded! I’m fairly chuffed about this comment:


So now when you look up 面白い there’s a third listing that includes the definition “pleasant; enjoyable; agreeable; fun.” I can’t seem to find an archived version, so I’m not sure exactly how much it’s changed. Can’t seem to find a way to link a specific definition either, so here’s the JDIC top page.

So, yeah, that was cool.

Green Goddess


I’m in The Japan Times today with an article about the wonderful Green Goddess dictionary: “When translation gets tough, bow to the ‘Green Goddess’

If you have the cash, I think it would probably be best to buy a digital version or the 2003 5th Edition, but if you’re a poboy like I was back in 2005 when I picked up my copy, then the 1974 4th Edition is available used on Amazon Japan for extremely reasonable prices.

When I wrote the article, the GG was going for 243 yen plus shipping. As I write this post, there are copies available for 1 yen (with 257 yen for shipping). At that price, it’s worth picking up one just to be a completionist. (Sadly the cheapest one that will ship to the U.S. is quite pricey at over 9,000 yen, so don’t ask me how to get it abroad. Shipping is generally very fast in Japan, so perhaps you could have it shipped to a hotel the next time you visit Japan.)

I mention a couple of times the GG helped me out with a recent translation contest in the article, but just for fun I’ll pick an appropriate entry and compare it with the WWWJDIC and Eijirō offerings.

After a couple of missed starts, I found an entry that I think shows the strengths of the GG: 情け.


It starts by listing the meanings of the word and provides Japanese definitions of those meanings to reinforce the different possibilities.

It then goes on to list common usages divided up by grammatical usage. It feels very organized (obvs.) compared to the Eijirō version. And the definition is so sparse.

Yes, it’s hefty, but it’s very helpful. Highly recommended.

Chillin’ Out

After two straight weekends of awesome globetrotting madness, I finally had a weekend to myself and could make use of a couple of terms my host mom in Nishiaizu taught me:

骨を休め – literally “rest one’s bones,” take a physical rest

羽を伸ばす – literally “spread one’s wings,” a similar pattern but also includes a mental rest aspect, and another alternative is…

鬼の居ぬ間に洗濯をする – literally “do laundry while the oni is away,” where oni = unpleasant boss-like person/situation that oppresses you

Get the scoop on these and other idioms at this awesome ことわざ dictionary.

Cool Dictionary – Yahoo 辞書

My least favorite part about reading Japanese dictionaries is all the madness: tiny fonts, jam-packed pages, single kanji that float around and explain things (e.g. what part of speech a word is, what particles are attached to the end). And to be perfectly honest, I’m a lazy man who doesn’t appreciate the whole having to physically pick up a book and actually find the word thing.

Enter Yahoo 辞書. This is a little trick that I picked up at work. Many of the Japanese people in the translation department (who basically play the mirror image of my role, i.e. E-J) use this, and occasionally they’ve sent me links from entries when I ask a question about a Japanese word.

Lots of great things about the dictionary. First of all, it’s digital, which means I only need to move my ten digits. Second, it has a clean layout with simple, easy to read definitions. If you’ve wanted to start using Japanese dictionaries but have been worried that you won’t understand the definitions, this is a great dictionary to start with.

Take for example the word 彷徨う. Plug it into the dictionary and you’ll see immediately that the reading is さまよう. Alternate kanji are さ迷う (which already provides a partial definition). There is a bit of the madness ([動ワ五(ハ四)]), of which I only recognize the 動 as a verb marker and 五 as a 五段動詞 (although I can’t recall the specifics of what that means), but it soon gives way to the clean cut definitions presented in an easy-to-read layout: 1 – 迷って歩きまわる, 2 – あちこち動く, 3 – 判断に迷う. I love it.

They occasionally provide examples of usage from great works of literature such as, in this case, The Tale of Genji…not that I understand them, but still a cool feature. You can also click on the tabs to access the thesaurus (類語) or J-E (和英) dictionaries for the word. Great dictionary. Just need to train myself to use it more often.

(Don’t forget to check out this past entry about how to read from context and use Japanese dictionaries.)

Green Goddess For Cheap (Update)

Anyone who’s looking for a good dictionary should check out Amazon Japan. There are super cheap copies of old editions of Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary, aka the Green Goddess. It’s famous for loads of usage examples. The old edition is also good for beginners since entries are listed in alphabetical order. It’s a steal at 786 yen.

I would be remiss if I didn’t provide this link (via Wikipedia) to Tom Gally’s writings. He worked on the fifth edition of the dictionary. You can read specifically about the dictionary here, here, here and here.

Cool Resource – 英辞郎

I’m sure many if not most of you are familiar with SpaceALC, a great online dictionary. But did you know that it’s just an online version of the popular 英辞郎 (えいじろう) software? Eijirō is less of a dictionary and more of a database of different contextual examples. This can be both good and bad. No, it’s not going to provide you with a list of meanings, but example sentences can be even more valuable than a definition, especially if you are trying to write in Japanese. Plus it covers a broad range of material, much of which (slang, for example) isn’t covered in dictionaries.

The fourth edition of Eijirō was released in September of this year, and as far as I know it is the first version to support Mac OS.

It’s only 2500 yen, and you should be able to find it at a bookstore or a computer store.

After a quick installation, it loads up in a tiny little screen.



The color scheme and layout will be familiar if you’ve used the online version.

This is a great piece of software, and I highly recommend picking it up. It’s faster than the online version, of course, and you can access it offline. It also boasts 1,660,000 entries, which I believe is more than the online version.

How to Find Stuff 2


Anyone recognize the image? If you were thinking Wikipedia, you are correct. While online dictionaries such as ALC are handy, as are electronic dictionaries and even paper dictionaries, Wikipedia is more precise. Find what you want in English and then pray that it has an equivalent entry in Japanese. Not only do you get the word itself, you get a whole page full of Japanese explaining the history of the thing and, if that thing happens to be athlete’s foot, how to get rid of the thing. That adds up to a lot of practice reading and a huge bump in your vocabulary. Reading one medium-to-long Wikipedia entry per day would be a really effective study strategy.

Apparently athlete’s foot is 足白癬 (あしはくせん) in Japanese, although for some reason that won’t 変換 properly. That might be because the vernacular is 水虫 (みずむし) – water bug. Damn that rainy season and this never-ending summer. I’ll be making a trip to Matsumoto Kiyoshi today.