Today’s Japanese learner is but a click or tap away from a dizzying array of digital Japanese dictionaries. But which should you choose? The plethora of options available can lead to what author Barry Schwartz calls the “paradox of choice“. To help you avoid the anxiety, paralysis by analysis, and decision fatigue associated with so many choices, I have waded through dozens of Japanese dicitionary sites and apps for you and selected just the essential few that I think are best suited to mastering the Japanese language. Here now are the top eight Japanese dictionaries available online and on iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows.
The Best Online Japanese Dictionaries
There is a lot to like about Tangorin (単語林ｵﾝﾗｲﾝ和英辞書), a free online dictionary offering:
- A clean, modern interface.
- An extensive database that includes both frequently used terms (marked with the “Common” tag) and
- The ability to use multiple inputs, including English, Japanese, roumaji, kana, kanji, etc.
- The ability to create your own custom vocabulary lists, which can be shared, printed, or exported to apps like Anki SRS.
- The ability to view the “plain” and “polite” conjugations of verbs and adjectives in different tenses, voices, etc.
- The ability to see stroke order diagrams for kanji.
- The ability to customize your display options to display or hide kana readings, furigana, highlighting, example sentences, and English translation in example sentences.
ALC’s Eijirou on the Web
Eijirou (英辞郎・えいじろう) is an online dictionary provided by ALC (アルク), a popular English language education website in Japan. This was the dictionary of choice used by my fellow translators when I worked for the Japanese government as it includes lots of phrases, collocations, and technical terms not found in other dictionaries. If you can’t find a word using the other dictionaries listed on this page, chances are that you will find it using 英辞郎 on the WEB.
The Best Japanese Dictionary Apps for iOS
If you have the funds, I highly recommend Midori. Some may gawk at the $9.99 USD price tag, but I assure you, it’s worth every single penny. The app is elegant, powerful, and easy to use, and includes a number of excellent features I love:
- The option to enter searches using Midori’s Japanese handwriting recognition system.
- The ability to quickly change the search type to 1) Japanese-English/English-Japanese, 2) Japanese proper names, or 3) example sentences.
- Kanji breakdowns for compound words, with the meanings and readings of each individual kanji shown.
- Conjugations charts for verbs and adjectives.
- The ability to quickly save a given dictionary entry to multiple bookmark categories. For example, you may want to save the word shinobi komu (忍び込む・しのびこむ, “to creep in”) in both your “Verbs” and “Ninja” folders.
- The ability to use the app offline.
Based on Jim Breen’s JMdict, Imiwa? is the best free Japanese dictionary apps available on iOS. It offers lots of powerful features including:
- 170,000 entries in Japanese and English, with some translations also available in German, French, and Russian.
- 13,000+ kanji entries, with multiple lookup options.
- Example sentences provided by Tatoeba.org.
- Verb and adjective conjugations.
- Sentence analyzer.
- Offline use.
The Best Japanese Dictionary Apps for Android
There are many free Japanese dictionaries to choose from in the Google Play Store, but gSho is my favorite thanks to its clean, intuitive interface and the following features:
- Search as you type (popular compounds and collocations will be automatically shown so you don’t have to type as much).
- Built in IME allows you to switch quickly between English and kana without having to change the device keyboard.
- Ability to search within number of online dictionaries, including Tangorin, ALC, Yahoo Dic, etc.
- Kana tables to help you learn hiragana and katakana.
- Kanji details, stroke order diagrams, and radical search.
- Example sentences.
- Custom tagging.
- Offline access.
Aedict3 Japanese Dictionary
Though free apps like gSho will provide you with most of the features you need, Aedict3 is well worth the $7.17 price tag for serious learners. It includes a number of kick-ass features, including:
- Multiple ways to look up kanji, including hand drawing, radical search, and SKIP codes.
- Search using roumaji, kana, kanji, English, German, French, Russian, Dutch, Portugalese, Spanish, Hungarian, Slovene, and Swedish.
- Search using any form of verbs or adjectives (they are automatically deinflected to their dictionary form).
- Search using a mix of kana and kanji.
- Automatic vowel prolonging (e.g. if you type in しゅかん it will also show results for しゅうかん).
- Pitch accents are shown to help you differentiate homonyms.
- Option to display readings in either kana or roumaji.
- SRS flashcards.
- Quizzes for the JLPT.
- Stroke order diagrams.
- Examples sentences from Kotowaza.org.
- Custom tags and colors you can add to any dictionary entry.
- Offline access.
The Best Japanese Dictionary Apps for Mac & Windows
Built-in macOS Dictionary
Many Mac users don’t realize that they already have access to excellent foreign language dictionaries right out of the box. You just have to enable them in settings:
- Open the “Dictionary” (辞書) app. It’s in your Apps folder.
- Click “Dictionary” (辞書) in the menu and then “Preferences…” (環境設定).
- Check the box next to “ウィズダム英和辞典 / ウィズダム和英辞典 (Japanese-English)”.
Though intended for native speakers of Japanese, the Japanese-English dictionary includes a great deal of detail not usually included in English-Japanese dictionaries that Japanese learners can benefit from.
You can then search for terms within the dictionary or use the following two ways to look up Japanese words you encounter in any native MacOS apps (e.g. Safari, Mail, Messages, etc.):
- Highlight a word and type: ⌘+Control+D.
- Highlight a word and tap with three fingers on the Trackpad (Note that this option must be enabled first in Settings. Click on “Trackpad” then check the box next to “Loop up & data detectors”.)
Though the design is a bit dated, Tagaini Jisho (free for both Mac and Windows) has a number of useful features:
- Powerful search filters for vocabulary, kanji, parts-of-speech, JLPT level, etc.
- Kanji stroke order animations.
- Custom tags and notes for entries.
- Print-friendly templates for foldable pocket booklets perfect for offline study.