Digital versions of dictionaries can be pretty expensive, which makes it difficult to decide which ones to purchase. To help out, I’ve ranked them, provided links to their product blurbs, written a little bit about my experiences with them, and taken some screenshots of sample searches. Nowadays, many of these are available on mobile devices, but what’s nice about having them on your computer is that you can search them all at once.
Some Are Better Than Others
Electronic dictionaries are great. Just one search with a program like DDWIN can quickly find a term in definitions or sample sentences from multiple dictionaries. There is a price to pay, though. A CD can cost over 100 dollars, and frankly, I’ve found some of the lower priced resources to be much better than their more expensive competitors. If you’ve looked at Japanese language dictionaries before, then you’ll probably recognize the EPWING name, because they make just about all of them. Unfortunately, companies rarely give you more than a few general marketing sentences on the box. It’s hard with just that to make an informed decision and spend your money wisely. I made this page to help out a little.
Please bear in mind that these comments are limited to the dictionaries that I actually own or have access to, and the rankings reflect my own research interests and work experience. I am interested in premodern Japanese history and I usually translate business or legal materials from Japanese to English. In other words, when I finally get around to ordering the 『旺文社 全訳古語辞典第三版』, I wouldn’t be surprised if I put it close to the top of the Japanese→Japanese Dictionary category.
Japanese→Japanese and Kanji→Japanese Dictionaries 国語・漢和辞書
- 広辞苑: I find this pretty useful to have, especially when I cannot find a term in English←→Japanese dictionaries. Naturally, since the electronic dictionary searches for every occurence of the word, a search for 生産 turned up a lot of results. As far as I know, this dictionary is not available online. Its competitors are available for free through Yahoo! (the J←→J dictionary). If you are strapped for cash and have easy access to the Internet, I suggest holding off on this purchase.
- 漢字源: This is a great dictionary, especially since there is a dearth of good character dictionaries on the Internet. When you are reading older texts with characters that are not included in the Jōyō Kanji List 常用漢字一覧表, this dictionary really comes in handy. Apparently, you can use it with DDWIN, but I have not been able to figure out how yet. I wish I could, because the biggest drawback to the dictionary is the awful software that comes with it. This is a screenshot of a search for the 生 of 生産. The 生 appears when you click on the tiny green 図, and you can use the magnifying glass to zoom in on a couple of characters at a time from the text. I cannot imagine what was going through their heads when the programmers decided to make the text so tiny. You’ll really notice it if you are using a small notebook. If you buy Jamming to search through your CD-ROMs, then you can make the text any size you want, and you won’t have to suffer like this.
- 字通 : I’ve got the hardcopy version of this dictionary, which I find infinitely more pleasant to read, but it is nice to be able to use this dictionary when I’m away from home. Because the library subscribes to 知識探索サイト ジャパンナレッジ, I can access this through that database, so I haven’t bought the CD-ROM version, yet. This is a screenshot from the search for the 産 of 生産. The dictionary would probably be most useful for academics or kanji aficionados.
English←→Japanese Dictionaries 英和・和英辞書
- 研究社 新編英和活用大辞典: Even though it is classified by EPWING as a “specialized” dictionary, I generally find search results from the ビジネス技術 実用英語大辞典 more useful than this dictionary’s results. Another weak point is that you can only get to the results for Japanese word searches after you click the appropriate English word, but that might just be a problem with DDWIN.
- 三省堂 新グローバル&ニューセンチュリー英和・和英辞典: This is a good, solid dictionary, but the search results from it are so much more limited than those for the 新編英和活用大辞典. However, if you are learning English as a second language, you might enjoy the pronunciation feature for English words.
- リ－ダ－ズ＋プラス Ｖ２: This usually has some helpful definitions or phrases, and I’ve always liked the paper version of it. I did the same search for 生産, but as you can see in the screenshot, there are a lot of garbled characters 文字化け. Apparently there are downloads to solve this problem, but I have not been able to successfully install them. Maybe the newer versions of this work better.
- 研究社 新英和・和英中辞典: This would probably go closer to the top of the list if I was just starting out with Japanese, but for translation work, it isn’t so useful. A search for 生産 yielded a few results. Like the 新グローバル&ニューセンチュリー dictionary, it has pronunciations for English second language learners.
Specialized Dictionaries 専門辞書
- ビジネス技術 実用英語大辞典 英和・和英/用例・文例: When I translate or write in Japanese, this is the dictionary I use the most. In addition to definitions for words, it provides a lot of great sample prases and sentences. Searching for the term 生産, for example, brings up (dictionary results and example sentences) from the 用例・文例 file that also comes with the disc.
- 岩波 日本史辞典: I love reading this dictionary, and it is a handy reference tool to have. I searched for 生産, which turned up hundreds of entries, and then I scrolled down to this little gem of information on 生産管理闘争. Skip this dictionary, though, if you aren’t interested in history.
- インタープレス版 130万語大辞典: This often has definitions for words I cannot find elsewhere, and if you are working with technical documents, I highly recommend it. However, it is extremely expensive–if my list was arranged by price, then this would definitely hold the top spot. It also has a curious lack of sample sentences and alternative translations for terms. Searching for 生産 turned up hundreds of results.
- EB科学技術45万語対訳辞典 英和/和英 : EPWING calls this a general dictionary, but I disagree, so I’ve put it here. It would probably be higher on my list if I was doing more translation or study of science-related topics. A search for 生産 did turn up a lot of nice search results.
- コンピュータ用語辞典 英和・和英/用例・文例: I’ve found this useful in the past for computer-related translations, and the search for 生産 gives you some nice terminology and explanations. Like the ビジネス技術 実用英語大辞典, it also comes with a 用例・文例 file you can search through for sample sentences.
- ステッドマン医学大辞典: I’m sure this would be great for translating medical terminology, but I haven’t been able to use it much yet. I cannot get it to work in DDWIN, but I think the people using Jamming should have no problem accessing it. Here is a collage showing a search for the 産 in 生産 and one for 生産.
- CD-ROM 英文ビジネス契約書大辞典 A Dictionary for Standard International Business Contracts: Since I’ve come back to graduate school, I haven’t used this one so much, so it has drifted down to the bottom of the list. It really is a must-have for anyone translating contracts, even if the format it comes in doesn’t justify the high cost. It’s basically a collection of html files with a poor interface for searching through them. This is a screen shot of the neverending search for 産業. Once you get the dictionary, you might want to copy and paste all of the content into a text file and search through it more effectively that way.
- 知識探索サイト ジャパンナレッジ: This isn’t a CD-ROM, but it functions in a similar way because you can search a lot of databases at once. Unfortunately, you have to be connected to the Internet to use it, there is a monthly fee, and it can be annoying because you have to click on each search result to see the content. The databases include 日本大百科全書（ニッポニカ）, デジタル大辞泉, 数え方の辞典, 情報・知識 imidas, 現代用語の基礎知識, 亀井肇の新語探検, JK Who’s Who, 日本人名大辞典, 会社四季報, 科学技術略語大辞典, プログレッシブ和英中辞典, ランダムハウス英和大辞典, プログレッシブ英和中辞典, 最新英語情報辞典, Encyclopedia of Japan, COBUILD英英辞典, CAMBRIDGE英英辞典, 田中宇：ワールド・クロニクル, 山根一眞：ＩＴ書斎術百科, 三留理男の眼, 週刊エコノミスト, ＮＮＡ：アジア＆ＥＵ国際情報.
This is a screenshot from the search for 生産, and the first search result from the デジタル大辞泉 entry. Interestingly, for me at least, it had a sample sentence from the 源平盛衰記. However, since you’ve already visited my quick links page, you’ve probably noticed that you could have found the same デジタル大辞泉 entry for free through Yahoo! (the J←→J dictionary). Before rushing out to get a subscription to ジャパンナレッジ, make sure the databases you want aren’t already available for free from some other service. Some of them that I find useful, and which only seem to be available through ジャパンナレッジ, include the 日本人名大辞典, the English and Japanese versions of the Encyclopedia of Japan, and 字通.