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Reader Response
March-April, 2003

Advice on electronic dictionaries

There are a number of electronic dictionaries on today's market, at prices that vary from "Is that all?" to "Wow! Do you have a time payment plan?" Which is best? As usual, there is no good answer. You need to ask yourself "How much can I afford to spend?" and "What do I really need?" Correct answers to these questions will narrow your choices considerably.

A number of companies make very cheap (2,000 to 4,000 yen) single use dictionaries - some are for looking up kanji using •”Žρ (radicals) and stroke order, or pronounciation, and usually include personal and place names. I have a couple of these and they are very useful within their limitations, but they typically have no English! Because of this, for most of us, these dictionaries are, at best, supplements.

For 15,000 yen and up, you can get electronic dictionaries that have ‰p˜a (English-Japanese) and ˜a‰p (Japanese-English) dictionaries and several other books included. Things to remember:

-These dictionaries are made for the Japanese market, not for us.
-Nelson's (or any of the other kanji-English dictionaries) are not available (as of this writing, anyway.)
-You must check to see what features are available on a given model! Price is not necessarily indicative!

Assuming you need these features, the following discussion may be of some help:
1. The pronounciation of a given kanji
2. The pronounciation of a given nŒκ (compound word)
3. The meanings of the above
4. The meanings of terms written in kana
5. The meanings of Š΅—pŒκ (idioms)
6. Translations of English words or phrases into Japanese

Major manufacturers are:
Casio (seemingly pushing very hard in this market, judging from the number of displays)
Canon (maker of the famous WordTank)
Sony (makes a mini-cd reader and cd's for same)

Most of the above are well-known, reputable manufacturers. You may have preferences based on your personal experience, but I certainly don't recommend any particular company. Barring bad luck, any brand should prove satisfactory.

Where to buy: Electronic stores, sometimes the large computer stores, stationary stores, etc. I've also occasionally seen them in book stores. Also the net, but you can't play with a device on the net prior to purchase.

Important Features:
Most of the more expensive models, but not all, have a feature whereby the user can specify the various components of a given character (not necessarily the radicaljand usually also the number of strokes. This makes looking up a character much, MUCH easier and also allows the user to look up groups of kanji based on these parts, much as is shown in Kanji ABC. Each manufacturer has a different name for this feature. Most of the more expensive models (again, not all) have a "jump" feature, which allows the user to look up kanji pronounciation and meanings in kanji used in a definition, or in a sample sentence. A very handy feature! Many of the newer models require the user to enter the radical by name, not by number, and then an actual picture of the radical. Since the user can look up a given kanji using its component parts, this is not really important, but I personally prefer the pictorial representations.Most, if not all, include a "notebook" feature which allows the user to enter the problem words/kanji/phrases and then use the notebook as a set of flash cards. Ease of entry does vary with the manufacturer, so if this feature is important to you, it should be checked. Most, if not all, include a zoom feature, allowing those with less than perfect vision to see the characters correctly. Most are of a similar size, but some are far thicker than others. This may be important to some users.

Books included:
For me, the most important books are the ŠΏ˜aŽ«“T (Kanji-Japanese dictionary)and the ‰p˜a (English-Japanese) and ˜a‰p (Japanese-English) dictionaries. Most makers seem to use the "Genius" bilingual dictionaries, which are in many ways excellent, but seem to have occasional gaps. Sony's upper scale models use the "New College" bilingual dictionaries, which I have found somewhat better (others may not agree.) Most makers also seem to use Gakken's hŠΏŽšŒΉh(Kanji Etymologies) which is excellent, but the electronic version is quite short on compound words. Sony uses "Œ€‹†ŠΔC‚ΜŠΏŽšŽš“Th which has more compounds in the electronic version. BUT, the compounds are listed with the pronounciation first, then the characters, which is hard to read for those of us trying to find the actual characters. Those using ŠΏŽšŒΉ list the@characters first, which I find preferable.

The more expensive models also have the most books, some of which may be of little use, others nice to have but not essential. For example, the Sony DD-IC7000 includes a list of medicines and a listing of world foods, as well as English, German, French, Spanish and Italian Phrase books for travelers. Sony's DD-S-35 uses compact disks, unlike all the others. The device is thicker than the others, and comes with two disks. Other disks are only available at extra cost. Yet, I know at least one professional translator who would not be without hers. It might be worth checking out (but is probably considerably more expensive than the others.)

Of little use to the kanji student, but interesting (I thought), is the Sony DD-S1000 which includes a single CD containing the 26 volume “ϊ–{‘ε•S‰Θ‘S‘ (encyclopedia) and has a full color screen.

BOTTOM LINE: Determine your personal needs and spend some time looking at what is available - play with the samples, check them out. I never found a device which was perfect for me, but some are far better than others for MY purposes - YOUR purposes are probably different, so your selection may also be different. Good Luck!

Gary Harper

Here is a review of the Canon Wordtank.

"The law of the jungle,"and other adages

I'm a fan of a Japanese anime series "Rurouni Kenshin" and I would like to get the kanji characters for a quote I heard on the show. I think the Japanese pronunciation is "jakuni kyoushoku" which I believe means "survival of the fittest" or "the strong devours the weak". I've tried to use online Japanese-English dictionaries but I haven't been successful. Is there any translation site you could recommend (Where I'd get the exact kanji characters) or can you yourself provide them? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Dwayne Bobb
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Response from Mary Noguchi:

I'm glad to know anime enthusiasts are visiting the Kanji Clinic. The correct phrase is "jaku-niku-kyou-shoku" Žγ“χ‹­H (weak-meat-strong-eat). Literally, "The weak become meat for the strong." You can look up four-kanji compounds like these, called ŽlŽšnŒκ (yojijukugo) at Jim Breen's Online Kanji Dictionary, which is linked to this site at Links. Go to the "Look Up Words in the Dictionary" section of Prof. Breen's site.

Thank you for inspiring me to write a column on yojijukugo, which will appear in The Japan Times next month (May, 2003).
"Where can I get a list of approved irregular kanji readings?"

Dear Ms.Nouguchi,

I would like to express my thanx for helping me with my Kanji studies and for putting up my response on your website " Takushoku University student struggles with kanji" ( April-June 2000) I am pleased to tell you that i have passed the Level 1 of the JLPT in 2001.Thanks to your advice and Kanjiclinic.com I got valuable info about kanji learning resources and I could study accordingly and master necessary kanji for Level 1 of the JLPT in 3 months. I sincerely hope many JLPT
aspirants who have problems in kanji would benefit from your website.

To keep up my kanji studies, I am looking for useful books for self-study. I read in your article (LINK HERE)published in the Japan Times that the Ministry of Education and Science has issued a list of 100 approved irregular kanji readings. I have so have tried to acquied that list but have failed to do so.

Kindly tell me from where can I acquire that list.

Sethi Supriti

Response from Mary Noguchi:

It was a pleasure to hear from you again and to learn your news about passing Level 1. Congratulations!
To answer your question about irregular readings, you will find them in a book called

The Complete Guide to Everyday Kanji
by Yaeko S. Habien and Gerald B. Mathias
ISBN 0-87011-793-9

It has a wealth of information about kanji and is well worth the price for a serious kanji learner like you.
Young Canadian learns how to dissect characters

I've been studying Japanese for three years; I started when I was 13 and I'm almost 16 now. When I had mastered the kana, my teacher told me that I was going to take a really big step in learning Japanese: starting Kanji. She told me that if I were a student in Japan, I would already be required to know at least 1006 of them, so I'd better get started!

In the beginning, it was very easy to understand. "A horizontal line means 'one', two lines mean 'two', etc." But when I started the grade 3 kanji, they started slipping from my mind when they started to get a little more complex. For instance, a week or two ago, I couldn't remember the kanji for "nageru" (throw) “Š.

That's when I came to the Kanji Clinic; it taught me about component analysis instead of brute memorization. This led to my being able to discover not only the meaning of the Kanji (throw), but the idea behind it. For instance, “Š has two hands. The "te-hen", and the hand at the bottom right. Above the right hand, there is wind. So, naturally, two hands are necessary to throw something into the wind.

There are the occasional Kanji that don't make sense if put the components together, i.e., σ. (By the way, if someone can tell me that the left-hand side means, I'd be very grateful!) These are just the pesky little things that I just have to deal with.

All the best,
Toronto, Canada

Response from Mary Noguchi:

Thanks for your encouraging words about the Kanji Clinic and for your question. Congratulations on your success in kanji learning. You are fortunate to have gotten such an early start.

It sounds as though you are starting to see kanji as the sum of their parts. To answer your question, the left side of σ is the abbreviated form of a seldom-used character (the mirror image of •Π--"one side") meaning a plank of wood, and by association, a bed (made of planks in the old days). You will see it in other characters, too: Q (sleep), ‘s (robust), ‘‘ (villa), ‘• (apparel), « (soon/commander), and § (encourage).

Have fun with component analysis!
"Have kanji been simplified in Japan?"

Dear Mrs. Noguchi,

I too understand your love for languages, though to be fair, being of Chinese descent and coming from a Cantonese and Mandarin family, I have a bit of an upperhand when it comes to familiarity with the Chinese characters. In Japanese they are "kanji," in Cantonese we call it-- roughly phoeneticised-- "hawn ji" (there's a tone that I can't show you in the word).

Anyway, I thought I'd write to you on your extremely interesting articles. I've read many of your back ones, and your writing enthusiasm and skill have encouraged me even more to study Japanese and French when I head off to university next year.

I have heard that the Japanese government has simplified Kanji maybe 5 times in the past so many years. Based on my knowledge of traditional Chinese characters and how they have been simplified, on the whole most of the Japanese characters seem to be written in their original form and with no simplification. How is this?

Yours sincerely

Simon Liu
Edinburgh, Scotland

Response from Mary Noguchi:

Thanks for reading my columns, and best of luck studying Japanese and French at university. To answer your question about the simplification of kanji used in Japan:

After World War II, in an effort to raise the literacy rate in Japan, the Japanese government implemented reforms aimed at limiting the number of characters and simplifying their written forms. In 1946, a list of characters known as "Touyou Kanji" “–—pŠΏŽš was published by the Japanese government. This list limited the number of kanji to be used by the public to 1,850 characters. In 1948, the number of readings for many characters was reduced, and in 1949, the written forms of many characters were greatly simplified. In 1951, a supplementary list of 92 characters was approved for use in personal names, bringing the total to 1,942. Dissatisfaction among the Japanese public at the decrease in the number of characters approved for general use led to several more increases between 1973 and 1990. The current lists of approved characters stand as follows:

ν—pŠΏŽš (Jouyou Kanji, General-Use Kanji). 1,945 characters approved for use in the mass media, government and general publications, and education.
l–ΌŠΏŽš (Jinmei Kanji, Name Characters). 284 characters, (in addition to the General-Use Kanji, which can also be used in personal names), approved specifically for use in names.

Similar reforms were carried out in China, notably in the simplification of a great number of written forms, more than were simplified in Japan. As a result, many modern characters used in China are different from their corresponding Japanese forms. Some of the traditional forms no longer used on the mainland of China, however, still survive today in Taiwan; thus, the kanji used in Taiwan tends to more closely resemble the Japanese forms than those used on the mainland.
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