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January-February, 2004

A gold mine of info on electronic dictionaries

When I decided to buy an electronic dictionary, or denshi jisho in Japanese, back in the beginning of 2000, I searched American stores but didn't find a single dictionary. I then searched the Internet, but the problem was that I could not try the dictionaries before buying. At that time there was zero info on the web written in English on the subject. During a business trip I went to Akihabara, Tokyo and tried over 20 electronic dictionaries from 6 different manufacturers searching for the one that met my needs.

My non-commercial electronic dictionary page is designed to help people without the opportunity to try the latest dictionaries first hand to find the dictionary that meets their needs! It covers types of electronic dictionaries and the features needed for foreigners to use them effectively. There are lots of screen shots and examples to help the potential buyer understand what to expect from their new purchase.


Kofu, Japan
When should I start learning kanji?

Ohayou :) My name is Bart Zegers. I'm from Holland and I'm 19 years old. Through anime and manga I've gotten interested in the Japanese culture and language and decided to learn the Japanese language. I've always been good in languages, I could speak English fluently when I was 12, I sometimes even corrected my teacher :)

I decided to look for websites on the internet and found some decent ones. At first I only wanted to be able to read and be able to understand people speaking Japanese, but soon I wanted to be able to write and speak as well. However, I found some contradictions on the sites I used as to how to build up Japanese learning skills. Some sites encourage you to fully understand lots of words and grammar before learning to write kanji, while others urge you to begin learning kanji from the beginning.

For now I've been doing all things mixed and then came across your site.I'm hoping you can help me on this. I've been at it for almost 2 months now. I've mastered Hiragana and Katakana quite easily, and learned the first 80 kanji required for JLPT level 4. However, I have a very (very) limited vocabulary and have only done a few lessons on grammar. I then read about the book by J. Heisig and am now pondering if I should buy it, because I don't know if I should first have a decent vocabulary
and understanding of grammar, or that it won't hurt learning kanji at the same time (or as I've been doing lately: no grammar and only kanji). Please share your opinion, it would mean a great deal to me.

Bart Zegers
Rotterdam, Holland

Mary's response

Dear Bart,

There should be no problem with your learning grammar/vocabulary and kanji at the same time, assuming you have enough time to tackle both. The thing I would advise against is trying to learn vocabulary and kanji in tandem, because if you do that you will likely not be learning kanji in the most systematic, efficient way. (I assume your goal is to master all the 1,945 general-use kanji).

For example, in early grammar/vocabulary lessons you are likely to encounter everyday words like X֋ (post office), ׋ (study), and Ƒ (family).The shapes of kanji like these are visually complex. Before trying to learn them I recommend getting a handle on the components that comprise them, taking a step-by-step approach. For this purpose, I would obtain learning materials that are devoted only to kanji.

Learn the grammar/vocabulary which will enable you to begin speaking Japanese. And learn kanji, too, particularly if you enjoy it. But don't try to learn all the kanji for the words you are learning to produce verbally. Look at the two tasks as separate endeavors for the time being. Once you have learned the components for kanji and master more and more of them, you will start to see overlap in your efforts with the spoken and written languages. Gradually the two should come together and your kanji knowledge will enable you to learn vocabulary more efficiently as you become able to read regularly in the language.

It sounds as though you are very motivated to learn Japanese, and I imagine you will make fast progress. Best of luck!
Calling all Kanji Kentei takers...

Thank you for such an interesting and informative website.I studied Japanese and French at university and have now been in Japan for 6 years. I tried level two of the 'Kanji Kentei"(or "Kanken," the Kanji Proficiency Test) the other week and am studying for (pre-Level 1) now. I was very interested to hear of the two Dutch diplomats in Tokyo who passed this test and was wondering if there is a web site where foreigners (or Japanese for that matter) can exchange information. I have never heard of anything like this before and would be very happy if you could let me know.

Again, thank you for website.

Neil McGinty


Note: How about it, Kentei enthusiasts? Contact Neil if you want to talk. For more on the Kentei, go here.
He has found methods that work better than Heisig

I must say that I agree with the readers who describe the pointlessness of Heisig's gRemembering the Kanjih series. As I was preparing to write a review of gReading Japaneseh I took what I thought would be a brief dip into Heisig. Over about three months and two-and-a-half Moleskine notebooks I would pass my commute in an out of Manhattan by diving happily into Heisig and filling up page after page of notes and stories about the kanji. It was an enjoyable way of passing time and it felt great to be making progress until I realized that while I had hundreds of nifty little stories I had made zero progress toward literacy. Heisigfs habit of saying gthis character or radical means X, but for our purposes let's say it means Y only tended to confuse me about the 400 or so kanji I already had a decent handle on.

I'm glad that there are people who benefit from gRemembering the Kanji,h but I have to say, it's not for everyone. And I humbly submit that perhaps your personal example points more toward the benefits of immersion in gthe deluge of printed information which confronts [you] in daily life both at home and at workhand, perhaps even more importantly, forcing yourself to actually read ga wide variety of junior high to adult level material on topics which interestedh you. Post-Heisig I find I'm a bit better at doping out new or unfamiliar [read: ones Ifve forgotten] characters, but those techniques bring me nowhere near knowing what the word is I'm trying to decipher because his technique is not grounded in the language.

A two week-struggle with one article in gAsahi Shinbum,h on the other hand, left me with new vocabulary, new kanji in the old bean, and a little general knowledge about Japan.

It may be the failings of my size gSh 44 year old brain, but it is the associations of context, repetition, Sensei writing on the blackboard, and reading the menu at my favorite sushi-ya that tie meanings of actual words and sounds to kanji (and language learning in general) for me.

J. McNally
Another fun animal kanji

You wrote a cute column about animal kanji. I came across it during a search for the kanji for "monkey." I am sending this mail to add one more tidbit of fun to the characters. Karasu (crow) G is easily remembered as "Bird without a brain," the brain being the missing stroke in the "head"! Oddly, the crow is a very smart bird.

I lived in Tsukuba city (Ibaraki-ken) for several years. I travel to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China and Hong Kong where my initial study of Kanji in Japan pays off. Although I speak Japanese when I get the opportunity, my reading and writing skills are not where I'd like them to be.

I do find it interesting to see how the Kanji have evolved over time with geographic isolation. South Korea and Taiwan use some of the more traditional forms whereas Japan has simplified them somewhat and China has also simplified the characters a lot. While I was in Japan, just knowing a few Kanji that I could write in multiple "languages" (different countries' forms) impressed people beyond my actual abilities.

Your articles bring back some pleasant times I had while living in Japan where I learned early on to be able to laugh at my own mistakes due to incomplete mastery of the language. Imagine going to the dentist for a "hamushi" instead of a "mushiba@", for instance. I knew the combination but missed the order.

Scott Rider
Beaverton, Oregon
Learning kanji with the Palm Pilot

I always enjoy reading your column in the Japan Times and find it very informational.

I just bought a Sony Clie, which runs on Palm Pilot software (Japanese version), and I'm looking for a good Kanji jisho application to install. I want the same kind of functions as the Canon Wordtank, where you can look up Kanji by radical stroke number and then check jukugo.

Are you familiar with anything like that?

An avid reader,
Sherry Greenfield


If you're interested in studying Japanese with a pda you may want to check
Personally I use a linux-based device (Sharp Zaurus) and all the software presented on this page are special linux versions. It's possible, however, that some of this stuff *might* also work with your palm os.

Arne Schmidt
Fulda, Germany

Firstly, thank you for Kanji Clinic -- it's been enormously helpful to me in suggesting different approaches to studying kanji. You asked, on behalf of a reader, for suggestions as to good kanji learning software for the Palm Pilot.

I bought a Palm Pilot a few months ago and settled on a couple of applications:

KingKanji (a shareware flashcard program)

Dokusha (a free dictionary program)

I've described the decision making process here:


LexiKAN, which I use as my basic kanji study program, has an export feature which allows you to export LexiKAN flashcard lists to KingKanji -- it's really convenient to be able to study the same kanji and compound words on my home PC and on the Palm Pilot, when I'm out and about.

Hope this helps, and thanks again.

Jonathon Delacour
Sydney, Australia
Repeated writing works for him

I just wanted to say that I really enjoy your site, it's very well-written and enjoyable.

One thing... you and your other readers seem to really like the kanji dissection method, which just seems to complicate things more for me. I favor the "old-fashioned" way: writing the kanji a lot of times (about 15-20) gets it in my memory. Throughout the day I keep writing that kanji (on paper, in the air, etc.) to make sure I really remember it. I have a quota of a minimum of 5 kanji a week (I've done this in 1 day though! I did 2 today... :)) I acquire kanji quite effortlessly, it's very, very easy for me...

I started out last year by learning hangeul (Korean alphabet) in March 2003, then decided I wanted to try kanji. Before thatI had to do hiragana & katakana (which I actually find harder to remember and read!! I can read kanji fast but sort of stumble through han/hira/kata) I "officially" started kanji in about May 2003. So far I have 175-200 kanji. I really would like to finish 1945 by the time I'm 20 (I'm 16 right now...) I think I need to do a lot more work to finish that though :(

Atlanta, Georgia
Another big, fat source of popular Japanese words

Good column as always, but I was a little suprised you didn't mention mb (Chiezo) from V (Asahi Shinbun). Not that it matters, as including all the sources is not essential to the main point of the column, but stores here, at least, are always filled with the "Big 3" as I call them.

For years I bought all three, and they collected dust mostly until the next year. This year I decided to buy one (Imadis) and kept the other two from last year; next year I will buy another, and so on, so that I will still have all three (they do differ somewhat in content), but of differing years.

Also, L[[h (Asahi Keyword), a much smaller publication, has a lot of new n (jukugo, kanji compounds), all news related.

The ambitious student of Japanese will, of course, read each of these publications cover to cover. Let me know if you find such a person, please.

Gary Harper
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