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Japanese Thesaurus, Synonym Dictionary, Homophone/Synonym Dictionary

Reviewed by Gary E. Harper

Because Japanese, like English, has a large number of synonyms, both a thesaurus and a dictionary of synonyms are very handy to have at hand while writing in Japanese. Also, due to kanji and the limited number of sounds in Japanese, there are a large number of homophones in Japanese - words pronounced the same, with similar (but not precisely the same) meanings and different kanji. While native speakers often disagree on the correct kanji to be used in a given context, as Mr. Jack Halpern notes on his web site, foreigners will almost certainly select a kanji that all Japanese will agree is inappropriate (Those scientifically inclined may note Murphy's Law at work here.)

The books reviewed here are in Japanese only. Obviously a certain amount of kanji expertise is required to use (or to require the use of) one of these books. But, for those who write frequently in Japanese, they can be most helpful.

by 柴田武, 山田進 
A new offering from 講談社, organized somewhat like Roget's Classic Thesaurus. Like other Japanese Thesaurii, each entry has a brief definition attached, which is extremely useful. A comprehensive index is also provided. With just under 1500 pages, this is the largest Japanese Thesaurus I have seen thus far, and may be the largest on the open market. Certainly useful for those who do a lot of writing in Japanese.

This book is organized like most English thesauri, divided into categories, sub- categories, sub-sub categories, etc., making it fairly easy to find your words. Also, each entry has a sample sentence and definition, an extremely useful feature. Title kanji/jukugo at the individual word level all have furigana, but the larger categories, shown in larger, bold print, are missing this most desirable feature. An excellent index in あいうえお order is provided. An interesting point - often you will find words which are not synonyms in English listed as synonyms here. I assume this is because we really don't know what the word means - that is, it means something other than what our translation tells us. In any case, I have found the book useful, and the price not too bad as dictionary prices go. Not essential for most people, but if you write a lot in Japanese, you might want to look this book over.

類義語使い分け辞典、田忠魁、泉原省二、金相順、 研究社出版
This is a synonym dictionary, rather than a thesaurus; that is, it defines the synonyms, down to and including the nuances, rather than giving a listing of words of similar meanings (not necessarily synonyms) as a thesaurus does. This book does not generally cover homophones. The main words are listed in あいうえお order and an exhaustive index of all synonyms is provided. An excellent index (あいうえお order) is included. There is really a wealth of linguistic information here. However, the book is a bit expensive, certainly not something the average student could afford when other things (like food and shelter) seem more important.

This little book, from one of the many excellent paperback publishers which seem to abound in Japan, provides definitions of homophones in the first half (titled「同音同訓漢字の使い 方」), and questionable synonym definitions in the second half(titled「 はっきりしない同 類用語の使い分け」) I have found the first half, with words in the usual あいうえお order, especially helpful for answering questions such as "Why did the author use 「悟る」instead of 「覚る」?" However, at times the definitions used seem to make no sense, that is, no differentiation is really apparent. I think this may be due to the lack of semantic congruence rather than any lack on the part of the author or the reader. But, I refer to this little tome several times a week, and, at less than \1000, it was certainly money well spent.