Review: Kodansha Kanji Dictionary
Saturday, May 15th, 2010
Although my life is dominated by the very latest electronics and my general distain for all things paper-based is infamous; Jack Halpern’s Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary stands out as my must-have kanji learning tool.
Halpern, a serial author, polyglot and 30 year resident of Japan, devised the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary, which is based on his own world-renowned New Japanese-English Character Dictionary, in response to the need for “an easy-to-use kanji dictionary small enough to be easily carried around yet detailed enough to satisfy the practical needs of serious beginners and intermediate learners.”
The result of his work was a totally new kanji dictionary system that enabled students to “quickly locate the meanings, readings, and compound words for about 98% of the most frequently used kanji.”
A large part of its ease of use stems from the use of Halpern’s pioneering SKIP (System of Kanji Indexing by Patterns).
SKIP works by organising kanji based on pattern rather than radical.
The kanji are divided into sections and grouped into four main categories: Left-Right (1), Up-Down (2), Enclosure (3), and Solid (4). A user then counts the number of strokes in each segment, and uses them to determine the kanji’s SKIP number.
Outside of the obvious benefits of SKIP, my favourite feature is the listing of a core meaning for each kanji. Quite often one kanji can have several different meanings, which can be very confusing for beginners of Japanese.
For example 辞, which is listed in Japanese dictionaries as having the meanings – resign, word, term and expression.
Halpern narrows down the options by highlighting its primary meanings in red below the main kanji listing.
One of my favourite ways to learn new kanji is to view them in the context of a compound. Kanji compounds are where two or more kanji join together to form another word.
The resultant word can either be an obvious union of the two meanings or something different altogether.
Halpern lists over 30,000 compounds throughout the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary, which are invaluable in cementing the primary meaning of the kanji plus pushing your knowledge forward by introducing new words based on the kanji.
As noted previously, Kanji are ordered according to their SKIP numbers, which allows any level of student to look up characters with ease.
- The Pattern Index allows characters to be quickly located from their SKIP numbers
- The SCAN Method is a powerful shortcut for locating some characters almost instantly
- The On-Kun Index lists the characters alphabetically by both their on and kun readings
- The Radical Index lists the characters by their traditional radicals
- The Direct Method for locating characters without using any index
What You Get
- 2,230 entry characters, including all the kanji in the Joyo and Jinmei Kanji lists
- 41,000 senses for 31,300 words and word elements show how each character contributes to the meanings of compounds
- 1,200 homophones with core meanings explain differences between closely related characters
- 386 variant forms used in prewar literature and in names
- 1,945 stroke order diagrams show you how to write each kanji stroke by stroke
- 7,200 character readings, including name readings
- Over 2,000 cross-references and five appendixes give instant access to a mass of useful reference data
It Just Feels Good
While aesthetics aren’t usually at the top of the list when it comes to shopping for a dictionary – that’s exactly what is special about the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary.
Everything just feels good; from the clean layout to the beautiful type-setting and the wafer-thin paper. This is a dictionary that will make searching for kanji a visceral experience.
I love this dictionary. I love the way it looks, feels and how it helps take away some of the pain along the path to memorising 2000+ kanji.
It is a dictionary that no beginner or intermediate Japanese student should be without. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary is available from all good book stores.
NB – Please note that this is not an advertisement. I only recommend products that I have bought and used myself.