By Helen Baroni and David Bialock


I.  Kokugo dictionaries
II.  Kogo jiten
III.  Kanwa jiten
IV.  Gairaigo and current words
V.  Proverb dictionaries
VI.  Grammar handbooks


Nihongo kokugo daijiten. 2nd ed. Shôgakukan, 2000-03. 13 vols, 1 supp. vol.
Call no.: REF PL675 .N462 2000
First ed (1972-76):  M/S: VII-11; IHJ: 1359; Fukuda: D38
Web site: http://www.nikkoku.net/introduction/index.html

This is the second edition of the standard all-purpose, multi-volume dictionary of the Japanese language, known by its publisher as "Nikkoku 日国". The first edition of 1972-76 included some 450,000 entries in 20 volumes, while the second edition reduced the number of volumes to 13 (by making each volume much bigger) and added 50,000 entries. This dictionary gives the longest and greatest number of word entries. Its definitions are elaborate and often encylopedic, including examples of historical usage. Beware, however, these examples do not necessarily include the earliest known usages, as in the OED. The first edition required the use of a slim supplementary pamphlet to track down the date and author of the historical works cited, but the dates have now been incorporated into the actual entries in the second edition, a major convenience (although for further detail, you must still do to the index in the supplementary volume). The supplementary volume includes an index of  kanji, dialect words, and historical citations.

The Shôgakukan "Super Nipponica" encyclopedia, Professional edition, on DVD (¥40,900 list, few discounts) includes this dictionary, but it does not appear as complete as the original, claiming only half as many entries (250,000), and apparently not including the historical citations. 

OVERALL EVALUATION: Financial and space limitations make this dictionary a library rather than desktop reference, but it is essential for learning the full range of a word's meanings. But if you really want your own copy, you can pick up the first edition pretty cheaply, about ¥12,000 to ¥20,000 for all 20 volumes. The current edition, even used, goes for over ¥150,000 (list ¥220,500). 

rev fall 1005 HDS2

Gensen = Kokugo daijiten. Shogakkan, 1982. ¥5,800
Call no.: REF PL675 .K5954 1982
M/S: mention p. 84; IHJ: 1360

This is a single-volume abridgement of the above. Full references to works cited within entries are given in the back. It features appendices of difficult kanji, tables of Western and Japanese history, etc.

OVERALL EVALUATION: The closest desktop substitute for the 20- volume set.

Kôjien. Iwanami Shoten, 1983. ¥6,500
Call no.: REF PL675 .S5
M/S: mention p. 84; IHJ: 1361; Fukuda: D39

This is an old standard that gives extensive definitions, etymologies (as always take care with these), and varient usages for words, places, historical and literary figures, and furigana for difficult or old terms.

OVERALL EVALUATION: Either this or the following should be regarded as an essential purchase for a basic desktop kokugo dictionary.

Daijirin. Sanseido, 1988. ¥6,300
Call no.: REF PL675 .D34 1988
M/S: mention p. 84; IHJ: 1362

This is the most up-to-date and attractive of the large single-volume kokugo jiten. In this sense, it may overlap or even supercede Kojien in neologism and gairaigo. It also features illustrations and historical references, charts, and explanations of historic or complicated terms. It is visually easier to use, with gojuon headings clearly boxed off, and uses larger headings for more significant entries.

OVERALL EVALUATION: Redundant if you own Kôjien, but now a viable competitor, more up-to-date and user friendly.


Kadokawa kogo daijiten. Kadokawa shoten, 1982-. 5 vols when complete. Call no.: REF PL682 .K32 1982 (2 vols only)
M/S: VII-12; IHJ: 1371

When completed (presumably in the next couple of years), this will be the largest single kogo dictionary. It is an encyclopaedic dictionary of words and proper nouns which provides historical information on terms and their usage. It includes fictional characters, and seems to be geared toward literary fields.

OVERALL EVALUATION: A basic recourse for words not found in your desk-top kogo dictionary, and for encyclopedic information in the field of premodern literature.

Iwanami kogo jiten. Iwanami shoten, 1974. ¥2,500
Call no.: REF PL675 .O6
M/S: VII-13; IHJ: 1370; Fukuda: D61

Available in both compact and larger-type sizes, this is a standard desk reference for kogo. Verbs are entered in ren'yokei form rather than the more common shushikei form. The definitions and etymologies are sometimes unreliable. See reviews: Roy Andrew Miller, JJS 2:1 (Autumn 1975); Marian Ury, MN 31:4 (Winter 1976).

OVERALL EVALUATION: The accepted standard for desk reference.

Kogo daijiten. Shôgakkan, 1983.
Call no.: REF PL682 .K78
IHJ: 1369

This is the largest single-volume kogo jiten, apparently compiled from the 20-volume Nihon kokugo daijiten. It gives information on research on works cited. Not helpful for Edo period.

Jidaibetsu kokugo daijiten. Sanseidô, 1982-. 3 vols to date Call no.: REF PL682 .J52 1967 and REF PL682 .J53 1985
M/S: mention p. 87

This dictionary is a monumental undertaking to compile a truly historical dictionary of the Japanese language. At the rate it has been going, it will take many more years to complete. Volume 1 (Jôdai hen), covering Ancient Japanese, appeared in 1982. The first two volumes of the Muromachi era, covering only "a" through "ko," appeared in 1985 and 1989. It thus remains of very limited use for those studying anything after the Nara period. OVERALL EVALUATION: A superb resource if ever completed.


Morohashi Tetsuji, Dai kanwa jiten. Taishukan, 13 vols. Call no.:REF PL681 .C5 M861 1984
M/S: VII-1; IHJ: 1365

This is the definitive dictionary of the Chinese language and one of the great dictionaries of the world. There is currently available a reduced-size edition; pirate editions from Taiwan are also in circulation in reduced-size format. Vol. 13 is a character index, and there is a vocabulary index volume (Dai kanwa jiten goi sakuin) forthcoming this year. This remains the standard, but is too costly and large for home use for most.

Kô kanwa jiten. Taishukan 1981-2, 4 vols. ¥70,000
Call no.: [not in Starr library]
M/S: VII-3; IHJ: 1366

This abridgment of Morohashi has 20,000 characters and 120,000 words (versus 45,000/527,000 in the original). Supposed to be easier to use, and may be affordable enough for home reference.

Kadokawa kanwa chûjiten. Kadokawa shoten, 1959. ¥3,000
Call no.: REF PL681 .C5 K3 1967

Although superceded in some ways by Shinjigen (see following entry), this dictionary includes many Japanese compounds not included there. More oriented to Japanese than Chinese.

Shinjigen. Kadokawa shoten, 1968. ¥2,100
Call no.: REF PL675 .K35 1984

This dictionary focuses primarily on Chinese rather than Japanese compounds. It includes more characters than the above, but has left out compounds regarded as self-evident. Provides Mandarin pronunciation in Roman script for each character. Although there are many kanwa jiten in this price/size range, this one seems to be the accepted standard.


Kadokawa gairaigo jiten. Kadokawa shoten, 1977 (2nd edition). Call no.: REF PL684 .A72 1977
M/S: VII-18

This standard loanword dictionary contains more than 27,000 words, chosen from a variety of sources. For each word, entries provide: language of origin, the word written in its original language, pronunciation, meaning, variant usages, antonyms (when relevant), and etymology. It also provides citations to newspaper and magazine articles which contain early uses of the word in question. An extremely useful dictionary with very informative entries.

Nihongo ni natta gaikokugo jiten. Shûeisha, 1983.
Call no.: REF PL864 .N54 1983
IHJ: 1375

A comprehensive dictionary of loanwords including 2,000 geographical and personal names and an index of 2,500 abbreviations. Biographical entries provide dates and significant accomplishments. There are no etymologies.

Zukai gairaigo jiten. Kadokawa shoten, 1979
Call no.: PL684.Y65

Organized by subject (home life, transportation, hobbies, sports, science, art) with an extensive index. Easy to use with helpful etymologies. Includes extensive illustrations. Interesting for modern cultural history.

Gendai yôgo no kiso chishiki. Jiyû Kokuminsha, 1948-. Annual.
Call no.: PL684.G38 1983 (813.09 J56 for pre-1982 editions)
M/S: VII-15; IHJ: 1363

The oldest annual of new and current terms in Japanese, useful for finding recent terms and great fun for browsing. Arranged topically, but with a complete index of terms at the beginning. Although there is considerable overlap from one year to the next. terms are eventually dropped when no longer current. There is no cumulative index.

Imidasu. Shûeisha, 1987-. Annual.
Call no.: REF PL684 .I44
IHJ: 1364

A new rival to the previous entry, with which it is competing hotly.

Asahi kii waado. Asahi Shinbunsha, 1983-. Annual.
Call no.: PL685.A73

Gives a two-page expression on "key words," catch phrases that were in the news in the previous year. There is some overlap from year to year. Not a gairaigo dictionary, although many of the terms are in fact gairaigo, but rather a directory to current neologisms.

Ateji gairaigo jiten. Kashiwa shobô, 1979.
Call no.: REF PL684 .A84 1979

This is a useful dictionary, especially for anyone using Bakumatsu-Meiji texts. It contains foreign words and phrases that have been transliterated into kanji; they are organized by stroke count, with readings given in katakana (there is also a gojûon index of readings at the back). Place names and personal names (e.g. Adam Smith) are included, and the language of origin is given for each word.

Ingo jiten. Umegaki Minoru, ed. Tôkyôdô, 1956.
Call no.: REF PL695 .U4

This is not so much a dictionary of words that are current as it is one of words that were; it includes slang, jargon and dialect words in common use from the Nara period until "gendai." Entries give basic definitions, a code for the group using the word (farmers, merchants, thieves, wives/courtesans, samurai, and so on), and a code for the periods in which it was used. Words can be looked up by reading, by topic (sex, people, equipment/tools, money, prisons, and so on), and by group. The appendices include an essay on ingo studies and a bibliography. This is perhaps not the place to search for definitive definitions, but it is a useful resource when looking up unusual words or investigating suspected "double entendres."


Koji zokushin kotozawa daijiten. Shôgakkan, 1982.
Call no.: REF PN6519 .J3 K565
M/S: VII-25; IHJ: 1373

The most comprehensive dictionary of its type, and now the accepted standard. Not limited to proverbs. Includes source texts, meanings, and some notes on usage. Entries are arranged in gojûon order by Japanese (kundoku) reading of the expression. Index is by kun'yomi of significant characters (keywords), and is not limited to the first character in the expression.

Seigorin: koji to kotowaza kan'yoku. Obunsha, 1992.
Call no.: PN6519 .J3 S45
M/S: VII-26

Similar to the Koji zokushin kotowaza daijiten, but inferior for research in that it includes source texts only for major entries, giving only references for many others. Includes notes on usage and kun'yomi index of significant characters (keywords).

Koji seigo meigen daijiten. Taishûukan shoten, 1988.
Call no.: REF PN6519 .J3 K27
M/S: mentioned p. 92

Focuses on fables and phrases deriving from them, and thus tends towards explanation of expressions rather than lengthy quotations from source texts, making this the dictionary that demands the least knowledge of kanbun. Unfortunately, the explanations are often obvious and do not always reveal enough about the source of the expression to be useful for research.

Koji seigo kotowaza jiten. Yûzankaku, 1973
Call no.: 813.05 Is3

Many entries here are longer than those of the Koji zokushin kotowaza daijiten, but fewer expressions are covered. Includes source texts in both Chinese and kundoku versions.

Chûgoku koji seigo jiten. Kadokawa shoten, 1979.
Call no.: 823.05 K15 (in Annex)

Provides Japanese reading, meanings, explanations, original context, variants and related sayings, and references for Chinese proverbs used in Japanese contexts. Focuses on the original Chinese meaning where possible, but explains Japanese usage as well. Index in back in gojuon order without readings. Though intended as a compact reference for expressions likely to be encountered in daily life, contains a wide variety of entries and includes some source texts.

Chûgoku koji seigo daijiten. Tôkyôdô, 1992.
Call no.: REF PN6519 .J3 S45

Larger dictionary aimed at daily-use expressions. Although entries are arranged in gojûon order by Japanese reading of the expression, the index is arranged by stroke count of the first character in Chinese order, making it possible to look up expressions for which you do not know the kundoku reading.


Bungo Manual: Selected Reference Materials for Students of Classical Japanese. Helen Craig McCullough. Cornell University Press, 1988.
Call no.: DS501 .C62 no.48

McCullough's work is one of the most useful guides available to help English speakers read classical Japanese. The first section is particularly helpful, as it contains sections devoted to the suffixes attached to each verb category, with useful explanations and examples. Explanatory sections at the end of the book are clarifying and informative. The middle section of this volume is useful for students at all levels: it is a dictionary, in alphabetical order, of "important particles and miscellaneous parts of speech." While the book is not comprehensive (and specifically states that it makes no claim to be), those entries that are included are exhaustive and precise. They generally list a number of definitions, ranging from fine nuances to major distinctions, with examples from literature to explain each one. The focus is on Heian and pre-Heian literature, but notes occasionally mention post-Heian changes in meaning. The back section is also extremely useful, with its quick reference tables of verb suffixes and conjugations, and its invaluable list of honorific, humilific, and polite verb endings. See Marian Ury's review in JATJ, vol. 23, no.1 (April 1989), which includes an index to the first two sections.

Classical Japanese Grammar Illustrated with Texts. Tadashi Ikeda. Toho Gakkai (Institute of Eastern Culture), 1975.
Call no.: PL531 .I4

A helpful and well-organized textbook, with many examples. Also very useful as a reference, this is the most comprehensive grammar available in English.

Nihon bunpô daijiten. Matsumura Akira, ed. Meiji Shoin, 1971
Call no.: REF PL 533.M29 1971

This is a useful dictionary for both modern and premodern grammar. It provides very exact information on particles, suffixes, and other grammatical entities. For classical verb suffixes, the dictionary provides several examples of usage, in each conjugation, from canonical classical texts; then, separately, the suffix is defined, and examples are again provided for each minute nuance in definition. Also, changes in use and meaning over time are carefully delineated, along with kanbun equivalents. Modern and premodern are not mixed together; even in cases where a premodern particle or suffix has survived to the present day, a separate entry is made for it.

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