Japanese dictionaries have a history that began over 1300 years ago when Japanese Buddhist priests, who wanted to understand Chinese sutras, adapted Chinese character dictionaries. Present-day Japanese lexicographers are exploring computerized editing and electronic dictionaries. According to Keisuke Nakao:
After introducing some Japanese "dictionary" words, this article will discuss early and modern Japanese dictionaries, demarcated at the 1603 CE lexicographical sea-change from Nippo Jisho, the first bilingual Japanese-Portuguese dictionary. "Early" here will refer to lexicography during the Heian, Kamakura, and Muromachi periods (794-1573); and "modern" to Japanese dictionaries from the Edo or Tokugawa era (1603 - 1867) through the present.
First, it will be useful to introduce some key Japanese terms for dictionaries and collation (ordering of entry words) that the following discussion will be using.
The Wiktionary uses English dictionary to define a few synonyms including lexicon, wordbook, vocabulary, thesaurus, and translating dictionary. It also uses dictionary to translate six Japanese words.
The first three homophonous jiten compounds of ten (典 "reference work; dictionary; classic; canon; model") are Chinese loanwords. However, Chinese distinguishes their pronunciations, avoiding the potential ambiguities of Sino-Japanese jiten: cídiǎn 辞典 "word dictionary", zìdiǎn 字典 "character dictionary", or shìdiǎn 事典 "encyclopedia". The usual Japanese word for "encyclopedia" is hyakka jiten (百科事典 "100/many subject dictionary", see Japanese encyclopedias). The jiten, jisho, and jibiki terms for dictionaries of kanji "Chinese characters" share the element ji (字 "character; graph; letter; script; writing").
Lexicographical collation is straightforward for romanized languages, and most dictionaries enter words in alphabetical order. In contrast, the Japanese writing system, with kanji, hiragana, and katakana, creates complications for dictionary ordering. University of Arizona professor Don C. Bailey (1960:4) discusses how Japanese lexicography differentiates semantic, graphic, and phonetic collation methods, namely:
In general, jikeibiki organization is for a readers' dictionary, bunruitai for a writers' dictionary, and onbiki for both types.
The Japanese writing system originated with the introduction of Chinese characters around the 4th century CE, and early Japanese dictionaries developed from Chinese dictionaries circa the 7th century CE. These three Japanese collation systems were borrowed and adapted from Chinese character dictionaries.
The first, and oldest, Chinese system of collation by semantic field (for instance, "birds" or "fish") dates back to the ca. 3rd century BCE Erya. Only a few dictionaries like the Xiao Erya, Guangya, and Piya used semantic collation. This system is inefficient looking up a word unless the dictionary user already knows its meaning; imagine, for example, using Roget's Thesaurus without an alphabetical index. Bunruitai collation is obsolete among modern Japanese dictionaries, with the exception of thesauri.
The second system of dictionary collation by radicals (Chinese bushou, Japanese bushu, 部首 "section headers") originated with the 121 CE Shuowen Jiezi. Japanese dictionaries followed the Chinese example of reducing the number of radicals: original 540 (Shuowen Jiezi), adjusted 542 (Yupian), condensed 214 (Zihui, Kangxi Zidian), and abridged 189 (Xinhua Zidian). Japanese jikeibiki collation by radical and stroke ordering is standard for character dictionaries, and does not require a user to know the meaning or pronunciation beforehand.
The third Chinese system of ordering by pronunciation is evident in a rime dictionary, which collates the characters by tone and rime. The 601 CE Qieyun is the oldest extant Chinese dictionary collated by pronunciation, and was expanded in the Guangyun and Jiyun. The shortcoming of this unwieldy tone-rime method is that a user needs to know, or guess, the pronunciation of a character in order to look it up. The modern Chinese dictionary improvement is alphabetical collation by pinyin romanization. Japanese onbiki dictionaries historically changed from poetic iroha to practical gojūon ordering. Compare the former pangram poem (i-ro-ha-ni-ho-he-to, chi-ri-nu-ru-wo, … "Although flowers glow with color, They are quickly fallen, …) with the latter "fifty sounds" 10 consonants by 5 vowels grid (a-i-u-e-o, ka-ki-ku-ke-ko, …). m
The first Japanese dictionaries are no longer extant and only known by titles. For example, the Nihon Shoki (tr. Aston 1896:354) says Emperor Temmu was presented a dictionary in 682 CE, the Niina (新字, "New Characters") with 44 fascicles (kan 巻). The earliest dictionaries made in Japan were not for the Japanese language but rather dictionaries of Chinese characters written in Chinese and annotated in Japanese.
Japanese lexicography flowered during the Heian Period, when Chinese culture and Buddhism began to spread throughout Japan. During the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, despite advances in woodblock printing technology, there was a decline in lexicography that Bailey (1960:22) describes as "a tendency toward simplification and popularization".
The following review of the first major Japanese dictionaries is divided into the above lexicographical jikeibiki, bunruitai, and onbiki types.
Jikeibiki graphic collation began with the oldest extant Japanese dictionary: the circa 835 CE Tenrei Banshō Meigi, edited by the Heian monk and scholar Kūkai. It enters approximately 1,000 characters under 534 radicals, and each entry gives the seal script character, Chinese fanqie reading, and definition (usually copied from the Yupian), but does not give native kun'yomi Japanese readings.
The first dictionary containing Japanese readings of kanji was the circa 900 Shinsen Jikyō, which the editor Shōjū (昌住) compiled from the Yupian and Qieyun. It enters 21,300 characters, giving both Chinese and Sino-Japanese readings, and cites many early Japanese texts. Internal organization innovatively combines jikeibiki and bunruitai methods; a simplified system of 160 radicals is ordered semantically (e.g., 5-7 are Rain, Air, and Wind).
The circa 1100 Buddhist Ruiju Myōgishō dictionary lists over 32,000 characters and compounds under 120 radicals. The structure and definitions closely follow the Chinese Yupian and Qieyun. This Heian reference work gives both Sino-Japanese and Japanese readings for kanji, usually with Kanbun annotations in citations from Chinese classic texts.
The circa 1245 Jikyōshū collates Chinese characters primarily by the 542 Yupian radicals and secondarily by semantic headings adapted from the Iroha Jiruishō. This Kamakura dictionary, edited by Sugawara no Tamenaga (菅原為長), exists in 3, 7, and 20 fascicle editions that have convoluted textual histories.
The next jikeibiki collated dictionary of kanji was the circa 1489 Wagokuhen. This "Japanese Yupian" was based on the Chinese Yupian, actually the 1013 Daguang yihui Yupian (大廣益會玉篇, "Expanded and Enlarged Yupian"), which was current in Muromachi Japan. The Wagokuhen went through dozens of editions, which collate entries through various systems of (from 100 to 542) radicals, without any overt semantic subdivisions.
Two historical aspects of these logographically arranged Japanese jikeibiki dictionaries are reducing the number of radicals and semantically ordering them. The radical systems ranged from 542 (the Yupian), 534, 160, 120, down to 100. Both the Shinsen Jikyō and Jikyōshū refined logographic categorization with bunruitai-type arrangements. While Chinese dictionaries have occasional examples of semantically ordered radicals (for instance, Kangxi radicals 38 and 39 are Woman and Child), Japanese lexicography restructured radicals into more easily memorable sequences.
Japanese bunruitai semantic collation of dictionaries began with the 938 CE Wamyō Ruijushō, compiled by Minamoto no Shitagō (源順). This Heian dictionary adapts the ancient Chinese Erya dictionary's 19 semantic categories into 24 Japanese headings with subheadings. For instance, Heaven and Earth is subdivided into Stars and Constellations, Clouds and Rain, Wind and Snow, etc.The character entries give source citations, Chinese pronunciations, definitions, and Japanese readings in the ancient Man'yōgana character system.
The circa 1444 Kagakushū was an anonymous Muromachi era Japanese language dictionary or encyclopedia that defined some 3000 words into 18 semantic categories. It was designed for the literate public rather than for priests and literati, and was reissued many times.
Japanese onbiki phonetic collation began during the late Heian Period. The circa 1144 - 1165 CE Iroha Jiruishō was the first dictionary to group entries in the iroha order. Words are entered by 47 first kana syllables, each subdivided into 21 semantic groups.
The circa 1468 Setsuyōshū was a popular Muromachi dictionary collated in iroha order and subdivided into 12 (later 13) semantic categories. It defined current Japanese vocabulary rather than borrowed Sino-Japanese compounds, and went through many editions and reprints.
The 1484 Onkochishinsho was the first Japanese dictionary to collate words in modern gojūon rather than conventional iroha order. This Muromachi reference work enters about 13,000 words, first by pronunciation and then by 12 subject classifications.
All three of these onbiki dictionaries adapted the bunruitai method to collate primarily by first syllable and secondarily by semantic field. This is comparatively less efficient than modern Japanese dictionaries with single-sorting gojūon collation by first syllable, second syllable, etc.
The development of early Japanese lexicography from Chinese-Japanese dictionaries has cross-linguistic parallels, for instance, early English language lexicography developed from Latin-English dictionaries. Nonetheless, modern Japanese lexicography adapted to an unparalleled second foreign wave from Western language dictionaries and romanization.
During the Nanban trade Period (1543 - 1650 CE) when Japan was opened to Europeans, the Jesuit Mission Press published two groundbreaking dictionaries. The 1598 monolingual Rakuyōshū (落葉集, "Collection of Fallen Leaves") gave Sino-Japanese and native Japanese readings of characters, and introduced the small raised circle (handakuten 半濁点) to indicate the p sound (compare ha は and pa ぱ). The 1603 - 1604 bilingual Japanese-Portuguese Nippo Jisho or Vocabvlario da Lingoa de Iapam dictionary is still cited as an authority for early Japanese pronunciation. The year 1604 was at the beginning of the Edo Period and also, as Nakao (1998:37) points out, the date of the first monolingual English dictionary, the Table Alphabeticall.
During the Sakoku Period (1641 - 1853) when Japan was closed to foreigners, with the exception of the Dutch East India Company, Rangaku ("Dutch/Western learning") influenced Japanese lexicography through bilingual Japanese and Dutch dictionaries. Another notable publication was the 1712 Wakan Sansai Zue encyclopedia, which was based on the 1609 Chinese Sancai Tuhui.
Kokugo jiten/jisho (国語辞典/辞書 "national language dictionary") means "Japanese-Japanese dictionary, monolingual Japanese dictionary". This "national language" term kokugo, which Chinese borrowed as guoyu, usually refers to the Japanese language as taught in Japanese schools. Nihongo jisho (日本語辞書 "Japanese language dictionary") is a neologism that contrasts Japanese with other world languages. There are hundreds of kokugo dictionaries in print, ranging from huge multivolume tomes to paperback abridgments. According to Japanese translator Tom Gally (1999:n.p.), "While all have shortcomings, the best kokugo dictionaries are probably among the best reference works in existence in any language."
The Edo Kokugaku scholar Tanigawa Kotosuga (谷川士清, 1709 - 1776) began compilation of the first full-scale Japanese language dictionary, the Wakun no Shiori or Wakunkan (和訓栞 "Guidebook to Japanese Pronunciations"). This influential 9-volume dictionary of classical Japanese words was posthumously completed and finally published in 1887.
The first truly modern Japanese language dictionary was edited by the grammarian and English translator Ōtsuki Fumihiko, who used Webster's Dictionary as the model for his pioneering Genkai (言海 "Sea of Words, 1889 - 1891)". His revised 5-volume Daigenkai (大言海 "Great/Comprehensive Sea of Words", Fuzanbō, 1932 - 1937) dictionary continues to be cited for its definitions and etymologies.
The Daijiten (大辭典 "Great/Comprehensive Dictionary", Heibonsha 1934-36), edited by Shimonaka Yasaburō (下中彌三郎), is the largest kokugo dictionary ever published. The original 26-volume edition, which is still available in condensed versions, entered over 700,000 headwords, listed by pronunciation, and covered a wide variety of Japanese vocabulary.
The Nihon Kokugo Daijiten (Shogakukan, 1972, 1976) is the modern equivalent of the Daigenkai and Daijiten. This multivolume historical dictionary enters about 500,000 headwords, and is currently the most complete reference work for the Japanese language.
The bestselling kokugo titles are practical 1-volume dictionaries rather than encyclopedic works like the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten. For present purposes, they are divided between large-size dictionaries that enter 100,000-200,000 headwords on 2000-3000 pages and medium-size ones with 60,000-100,000 on 1300 - 1500 pages. The following discussion will introduce the major kokugo dictionaries, excepting the numerous smallest editions.
Larger single-volume Japanese language dictionaries are a highly profitable and competitive market for Japanese publishing houses.
The hefty scale of these larger dictionaries provides comprehensive coverage of Japanese words, but also renders them cumbersome and unwieldy.
Medium single-volume dictionaries have comparative advantages in portability, usability, and price.
Some Japanese publishers sell both a larger dictionary with more archaisms and classical citations as well as a smaller condensation with more modern examples, for instance, Shōgakukan's Daijisen and Gendai Kokugo Reikai Jiten.
Kan-Wa jiten (漢和辞典 "Kan[''ji''] Chinese [character] Japanese dictionary") means "Japanese dictionary of kanji (Chinese characters)". This unique type of monolingual dictionary enters Japanese borrowings of kanji and multi-character compounds (jukugo 熟語), but is not a bilingual Chinese-Japanese dictionary. A Kan-Wa dictionary headword (oyaji 親字 "parent character") entry typically gives variant graphic forms, graphic etymology, readings, meanings, compounds, and idioms. Indexes usually include both radical-stroke and pronunciation (on and kun readings), and sometimes other character indexing systems like the four corner method.
The history of Kan-Wa dictionaries began with early Japanese references such as the Tenrei Banshō Meigi and Ruiju Myōgishō (above). In 1716, the Edo author of Yomihon, Tsuga Teishō (都賀庭鐘, 1718 - 1794) published the Kōki Jiten (康熙字典), a Japanese version of the Kangxi Dictionary, which standardized the Kan-Wa jiten system of 214 Kangxi radicals. The first dictionary titled with Kan-Wa was the Kan-Wa Daijiten (漢和大字典 "Great Kanji-Japanese Character Dictionary", Sanseidō, 1903), edited by Shigeno Yasutsugu (重野安繹, 1827 - 1910), founder of the Shigaku zasshi. The Daijiten (大字典 "Great Character Dictionary", Kodansha, 1917), edited by Eida Takei 栄田猛猪, went through numerous reprints.
The best available Kan-Wa dictionary is unquestionably Morohashi Tetsuji's 13-volume Dai Kan-Wa jiten ("Great/Comprehensive Kanji-Japanese Dictionary", Taishūkan, 1956-60), which contains over 50,000 characters and 530,000 compounds. It was condensed into the 4-volume Kō Kan-Wa Jiten (広漢和辞典 "Broad Kanji-Japanese Dictionary", Taishūkan, 1982), edited by Morohashi, Kamada Tadashi (鎌田正), and Yoneyama Toratarō (米山寅太郎), which enters 20,000 characters and 120,000 compounds.
The following major Kan-Wa dictionaries are presented in the chronological order of their first editions. Note that the numbers of character headwords include variants.
Kan-Ei jiten (漢英辞典 "Kanji-English dictionary") refers to a character dictionary designed for English-speaking students of Japanese. The prototype was hastily compiled during wartime; the Beginner's Dictionary of Chinese-Japanese Characters (Harvard University Press, 1942, Dover reprint, 1977), edited by Arthur Rose-Innes, enters about 5000 kanji. There are currently four major Kan-Ei dictionaries.
It is noteworthy that all four of these Ei-Wa dictionaries attempted to improve upon the traditional radical system, which can be problematical for users, but none of their improvements has been widely accepted.
Since Japanese bilingual dictionaries, which are available for most major world languages, are too numerous to be discussed here, the two cases in point are Ei-Wa jiten (英和辞典) "English-Japanese dictionaries" and Wa-Ei jiten (和英辞典) "Japanese-English dictionaries".
First, the history of English-Japanese dictionaries began at the end of the Edo period. The English missionary Walter H. Medhurst, who never traveled to Japan, compiled the first bilingual wordbook An English and Japanese, and Japanese and English Vocabulary (Batavia, 1830). The Dutch translator Hori Tatsunosuke (堀 達之助), who interpreted for Commodore Perry, compiled the first true English-Japanese dictionary: A Pocket Dictionary of the English and Japanese Language (英和対訳袖珍辞書, Yosho-Shirabedokoro, 1862). It was based upon English-Dutch and Dutch-Japanese bilingual dictionaries, and contained about 35,000 headwords.
English-Japanese dictionary publishing flourished during the Taishō period. Kanda Naibu (神田乃武) used the Century Dictionary as the basis for his Mohan [Model] English-Japanese Dictionary (模範英和大辞典, Sanseidō, 1911). Saito's Idiomological [sic] English-Japanese Dictionary (熟語本位英和中辞典, Ōbunsha, 1915) was edited by Saito Hidesaburou (斎藤秀三郎). Inoue Jūkichi (井上十吉), a graduate of London University, edited Inouye's English-Japanese Dictionary (井上和英大辞典, Shiseidō, 1921). Kenkyusha's New English-Japanese Dictionary on Bilingual Principles (研究社新英和大辞典, 1927) was edited by Okakura Yoshisaburo (岡倉由三郎).
In the present day, four major English-Japanese dictionaries are available.
Second, the history of Japanese-English dictionaries began during the Meiji Restoration at the end of the Edo period. The American missionary James Curtis Hepburn edited A Japanese and English Dictionary with an English and Japanese Index (和英語林集成, Shanghai, American Presbyterian Press, 1867), with 20,722 Japanese-English and 10,030 English-Japanese words, on 702 pages. Although designed to be used by missionaries in Japan, this first Japanese-English dictionary was so popular among the Japanese that nine editions were published by 1910.
An Unabridged Japanese-English Dictionary, with copious illustrations (和英大辞典, Sanseido, 1896), edited by Frank Brinkley, Nanjō Bunyū (南条文雄) and Iwasaki Gyōshin (岩崎行親), adapted and expanded Hepburn's dictionary into 1687 pages. It was primarily intended for English-speaking learners of Japanese. Inoue Jukichi also edited Inouye's Japanese-English Dictionary (井上英和大辞典, Sanseido, 1909), which was the first dictionary intended for Japanese learners of English. Takenobu Yoshitarō (武信由太郎) edited the authoritative Takenobu's Japanese-English Dictionary (武信和英大辞典, Kenkyusha, 1918), which had more coverage and better usage examples than any contemporary dictionaries. It was subsequently revised as Kenkyūsha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (2nd ed. 1931) in order to compete with A Standard Japanese-English Dictionary (スタンダード和英大辭典, Taishukwan, 1924), edited by Takehara Tsuneta (竹原常太), with 57,000 headwords and 300,000 examples; and Saitō's Japanese-English Dictionary (和英大辭典, Nichi-Eisha, 1928), also edited by Saito Hidesaburo, with 50,000 headwords and 120,000 examples. Kenkyusha's mainstay dictionary is now in its fifth edition, with little contest.
Senmon jiten (専門辞典 "specialized dictionary") clearly means "specialized dictionary" and senmon-go jiten (専門語辞典 "specialized word dictionary") means "jargon dictionary; technical dictionary". Since specialized Japanese dictionaries are too diverse and numerous to be covered here, four exemplary types are reviewed: dictionaries of old words, current words, loanwords, and thesauri. (See the bibliographies listed under "External links" below for more complete listings of specialized dictionaries.)
Kogo jiten (古語辞典 "old word dictionary") means "dictionary of Classical Japanese." Pre-modern or Classical Japanese can vary considerably from the modern language, and kogo dictionaries are essential for anyone reading historical texts.
Ryūkōgo jiten (流行語辞典 "current/fashionable word dictionary") is a specialized wordbook of catch-phrases and buzzwords. Japan, like most other countries, continually creates new and ephemeral terms. Three publishers put out annual paperback dictionaries that cover the latest native coinages and foreign borrowings.
Gairaigo jiten (外来語辞典 "outside words dictionary") means "loanword dictionary". Beginning with Chinese borrowings, the Japanese language has imported many foreign loanwords and abbreviations. Here are some of the best gairaigo dictionaries.
Ruigo jiten (類語辞典 "categorized word dictionary") means "thesaurus," synonymous with Japanese ruigigo jiten (類義語辞典 "categorized meaning word dictionary") and the English loanword shisōrasu (シソーラス).
Denshi jisho (電子辞書 "electronic dictionary") refers either generally to "dictionary software" (on CD-ROM, hard drive, onrain jisho オンライン辞書 "online dictionary", etc.) or specifically to "a dedicated PDA-type dictionary" also known as a denshi jiten (電子辞典,).
The specific meaning of handheld "electronic Japanese dictionary" became popular in the early 1980s. Modern stand-alone dictionaries resemble a PDA or small clamshell computer. Different manufacturers and models offer various user features, Japanese input methods, and multiple-volume capacities for switching between dictionaries of Modern Japanese, Classical Japanese, Kanji, English, medical terminology, etc.
The general denshi jisho meaning of "dictionary database software" has evolved from early floppies that Japanese users copied onto their local computers to contemporary server-based dictionaries accessible by users with cell phones. Japanese dictionary software is available in either freeware or commercial versions, both of which are found online.
Many online dictionaries of Japanese are based upon Jim Breen’s voluntary EDICT (Japanese-English Dictionary) Project, which consists of the 130,000 entry-strong core EDICT file (under Creative Commons license) and associated files such as KANJIDIC for kanji. Eijirō, another major online database, is targeted primarily at native Japanese speakers, and as such lacks some of the features to make it more accessible to non-native speakers. Here are some major non-commercial online reference sites.
Second, many other online and Web dictionaries use commercial software from Japanese print dictionary publishers. Sanseido, for example, sells printed and CD-ROM dictionary versions, leases dictionary software to commercial Websites (especially search engines), and sells subscriptions to their Web Dictionary. Here are some dictionary websites that are popular in Japan.
From these high-tech online reference works, the path of Japanese lexicography extends back to early Chinese character dictionaries compiled by Heian Buddhist priests.