Whether you are just starting out with learning Japanese or at a more advanced level, having a good dictionary available is vital. In this article, I will break down my favourite Japanese-English dictionaries for various purposes. Bear in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list nor is it intended as one. It simply represents my own personal experiences with studying Japanese and using it at work as a Japanese to English translator.
Best Paper Japanese Dictionary
In my humble opinion, this is the best general Japanese-English dictionary for Japanese learners, from beginner to intermediate level. You can use it with just knowledge of kana, and it will take you a long way. More advanced learners will want something more substantial (see below), but the Kodansha dictionary is a good start.
Best Mobile Japanese Dictionary Apps
Rohan: “I have been using the Wisdom Japanese-English Dictionary app for years now. It has a ton of entries, clear definitions and great example sentences. In particular, the examples come in handy for learning new terms and helping them stick. It will cost you a little bit of upfront investment, but I really rate this dictionary for study purposes. Read our full review of the Wisdom Dictionary”
Mike: “I used to use the Wisdom 2 dictionary because it had the best example sentences of the Japanese dictionaries on Android. But now I mostly use Takoboto, which has lots of great features like supporting multiple favorite lists, as well as exporting directly to Anki. The Anki export feature alone saves me hours of work.
Best Online Dictionaries
Online dictionaries have the advantage of being both free and instant. In this category, I’ll admit that there’s no clear winner in my mind. The following are all dictionaries that I use on a regular basis for my translation work:
When I’m working at the PC, my first point of reference is now Linguee’s Japanese-English dictionary. It has an incredible number of example sentences (sourced from actual bilingual texts) for any given term that provide a deeper context than your average dictionary. The only caveat is that not all of the translations are 100% reliable so you need to have some grounding and experience in the language to suss out any possible duds.
ALC is a well-known publisher of language-related materials in Japan. They also provide a great online dictionary with a lot of example sentences. This used to be my main tool until Linguee came along.
Kotobank is another useful dictionary. I generally use it for quick lookup and for Japanese-Japanese definitions when I want to know a more exact meaning of a term. It is formerly known as the Yahoo Japanese-English Dictionary.
This one is good for the basics, but doesn’t have example sentences (which are super helpful for learning).
Best Japanese dictionary browser plugin
Last but not least (!) is the
Perapera Japanese Popup Dictionary provided by yours truly.
2019 Update: Sorry, we had to stop continuing support for our Japanese dictionary browser plugin because of time commitments and lack of donations. We hope to someday bring it back to life!
So there you have it. I encourage you to check out the dictionaries that I mentioned here and see which one best fits your situation. If you are still a beginner, one solid dictionary such as Kodansha should be sufficient for starting out. You can always diversify your collection at a later stage.
What are your favourite Japanese lookup resources? Am I missing anything here? Let me know in the comments below! Also check out our list of Japanese textbook recommendations.
Rohan has spent years studying Japanese, Chinese and Korean, and currently lives in Japan. He created the perapera pop-up dictionary plugins to help other learners of Chinese and Japanese.