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Book review

About kanji dictionaries

Kodansha's furigana Japanese dictionary

Memories of Silk and Straw

The last Shogun

I also recommend the following books to people planning to travel in Japan:

Kanji dictionaries

For those who do not yet know the whole Joyo list, Kanji dictionaries can be very useful when they have to decipher a text!

The July issue featured a dictionary that let you find the Kanji you need from its English meaning, this month's dictionaries let you find the meaning of the Kanjis you meet.

How to index Kanjis?

Unlike alphabets that have a very limited set of characters and for which it is easy to define an order [or even many orders as for the Hiragana that can be sorted either by the iroha order (following Kodo's poem) or by «consonant order» (a, i, u, e, o,...)], there are too many kanjis to define a fixed easy to remember order. So different dictionaries may used different indexing method.

Some Japanese dictionaries order the kanjis by their pronunciation, using the consonant order, but this requires that one already knows the pronunciation of the kanji and is useless for foreigners learning Japanese.

Another widespread indexing method relies on the kanji radicals. There are 214 radicals in the Japanese language and they can be ordered by their number of strokes. Kanji can then be ordered by radicals and within a radical, by number of strokes.

For Japanese language learners, an other useful indexing method relies on the pattern of the kanji (do thekanji have 2 vertical or horizontal components? Does one part of the kanji enclose another....) This is know as the SKIP method.

When one knows the pronunciation of a Kanji, it is possible to search the kanji in the «On-kun» index which orders the kanjis by their pronunciation (and as a kanji can have different pronunciations, it may appear more than once in the index). Almost all dictionaries have this index.

As ordering is different from one dictionary to another each dictionary explains its ordering.

The Kodansha Kanji learner's dictionary

3900 Yen, 1008 pages

The use of the SKIP method by this dictionary makes the search of unkown Kanji very easy especially when the radical is hard to identify. A few numbers are associated with each Kanji like its Unicode value (very useful if you have to type Kanji with a non-japanese Keyboard), its radical (so that if you had not been able to identify the radical, you can see what it is and learn for the next time) and its Joyo list number. The most common words using this Kanji are then given. The compact size of this dictionary makes him an ideal companion when traveling around Japan.

This dictionary also gives you the stroke order of the kanji, making it easy to write it down.

The Kanji dictionary

8500Yen, 1748 pages

This dictionary is very complete and includes many place names and rares Kanjis. It i the only one in which I have been able to find both Kanjis used for Mount Tsukuba. The appendices of this dictionary provide many useful information such as Kanji used in geographic names or in family names, Kanji of famous Japaneses persons or companies. It also includes a section on chemical compound (useful when you have to decipher what is in the bottle you just found in your lab) and a section about the calendar signs. This is certainly the most complete of all the dictionaries I have seen.

How to decide which dictionary you need:

Before you want to buy a dictionary, you should try to answer the following question:

  • ''Am I able to recognize radicals easily?'' For some Kanjis radicals are easy to find, not for some others.

  • ''Do I prefer a complete dictionary with almost all Kanjis or a lighter dictionary easier to carry when I move?'' Carrying a 3kg dictionary is not always easy, but in a smaller dictionary you many not find the Kanji you encounter in Temples or Shrines (for example).

Kodansha's furigana Japanese dictionary

For the foreigners who are not familiar with Kanjis most of the dictionaries available here in Japan are of little use when they need to pronounce a word. On the other hand romanized dictionaries are not very useful when one wants to write a word (or to match a word with a Kanji). The Furigana dictionary published by Kodansha addresses this problem. This dictionary is written for the foreigners and uses furigana to help them pronouncing the Kanjis. Furigana are little hiragana letters printed above each Kanji to tell how to pronounce it. For most of the entries in this dictionary, a sentence gives an example of usage of this word. The dictionary also includes a special section dedicated to numerals and counters (useful to remember how to counts non familiar items). It also includes a list of Japanese cities and prefectures as well as verbs and adjectives conjugation. With its 30 000 entries this dictionary will certainly be very useful to all those who do not yet master all the Kanjis of the Joyo list!

Memories of Silk and Straw by Dr. Junichi Saga, published by Kodansha

Order this book from Amazon.
How people were living around Tsukuba one century ago? A doctor from Tsuchiura has recorded stories about the life of its patient when they were young. Things have changed a lot from the Meiji period until today. Each of these stories reminds us that people living here at the beginning of the XXth century were often very poor and eating white rice was a luxury that they could afford only on very specific occasions. From the life of a yakuza to that of a Geisha, from the skills of the fishermen to those of the Tofu maker, this books gives us glimpses on how life was here less than 50 years before the Science City.

This book is available at Tsukuba Library in the foreign books corner under reference 382.1S

The last Shogun by Ryotaro Shiba, published by Kodansha

This books relates the life of the last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who was born in the Mito branch of the Tokugawa family. It gives a good insight of the Japanese politics at that time where the shogun could decide to sentence to house arrest or even to death somebody as a conspirator without any real proofs. This real story also happens at a time where Japanese where hesitating between two leaders: the shogun, who had had the power for the past centuries or the emperor. This book also shows the difficulties of a man who believed that the power should return to the emperor and who was appointed as shogun with the expectations that he would restore the power of the Tokugawa family. If you are interested in the transition between the Edo and Meiji period this book will certainly interest you.

This book is available at Tsukuba Library in the foreign books corner under reference 913S


Last modified: Sat Nov 13 00:04:32 GMT 2004 Page made by Nicolas Delerue