20 Words You Must Know To Use A Japanese-Only Dictionary

Once you have finally made your way into J-J definitions in Anki, you will have to make peace with your new J-J dictionary.  It will become absolutely essential to master the basic description words that make up most definitions in Japanese.  In English, examples of description words are  “the act of . . .”, “the situation of . . . “, “the condition of . . . “, “the state of . . .”, etc.


The sooner you learn these, the better.  Description words are a pain to learn because they use extremely similar description words to describe themselves.  Unfortunately,  to describe a description word you have to use a description word.  They also use very similar kanji, sometimes just switching the kanji order,  which in the beginning may make it very easy for you to mistake one for another.

Below are the top twenty description words that will be appearing in thousands of your anki cards to come.  They are very versatile and have many different uses depending on the situation.  I’ll provide both an English definition and a Japanese definition.  There are usually multiple Japanese definitions, but to not confuse you, I will only provide you with one of the main Japanese definitions.  You should definitely look up the others.  Also remember that English definitions of Japanese description words are very far from perfect due to their variety of uses.  So I highly recommend inputting these words into anki using J-J.

After the J-J and J-E definitions, I will also provide an example definition (underlined) of another unrelated word, and how this word is defined in the J-J dictionary with the description word.  You will notice that often in one definition, you find multiple description words.

20.  状況
J-E: Condition of . . . , Situation of . . .
J-J: 移り変わる物事の、その時々のありさま
苦戦: 手強い敵や不利な状況に苦しみつつ戦うこと

19.  状態
J-E:  State of . . . , Condition of . . .
J-J:  人や物事の、ある時点でのありさま

18.  様子
J-E: State of . . . , look of . . . , manner of . . .
J-J: 外から見てわかる物事のありさま。状況。状態
共通: それぞれに同じようにあてはまる様子

17.  形
J-E:  . . . shape, . . . form.
J-J:  まとまり整った状態をもって表にあらわれた、物事の姿。形態。
くしゃくしゃ: 髪のが、ひどく乱れている様子。

16. さま
J-E:  State of . . . , look of . . . , manner of . . . (very similar to both 様子 and 状態)
J-J:  物事や人のありさま。ようす。状態。
着々: 物事が予定や順序どおりにはかどるさま

15.  事態
J-E:  situation of; the state of affairs of . . .
J-J:  物事の状態、成り行き。
差し迫る: 処置すべき事態や期日が間近に迫る

14.  行動
J-E: Action, behavior.
J-J: あることを目的として、実際に何かをすること。行い
自滅: 自分の行動が原因となって、自分が滅びてしまうこと

13. 行為
J-E: Act of . . . , action of . . .
J-J:  ある意思をもってするおこない。
悪徳; 道徳に反する行為または精神。

12. 方法
J-E: Method of, manner of, way of, means of
J-J:  目標に達するための手段。目的を遂げるためのやり方。てだて。

11. 物事
J-E:  things
J-J:  物と事。もろもろの物や事柄。
矛盾; 2つの物事が、同時に成り立たない状態になること。

10.  事柄
J-E:  a matter, an affair; circumstances
J-J:  物事の内容・ようす。また、物事そのもの

9.  事情
J-E: circumtances, reason.
J-J: 物事がある状態に至るまでの理由や状態。

8.  事件
J-E: event, happening, affair, matter
J-J: 世間が話題にするような出来事。問題となる出来事

7. について
J-E: about. . . , of. . . , on (the subject of). . .
J-J: ある事柄に関して、その範囲をそれと限定する

6.  者 or もの (kanji used depending on context)
J-E: person
J-J: 人。多く、他の語句による修飾を受ける。

5.  場所
J-E: place, spot, scene, site, location, room, space
J-J: 何かが存在したり行われたりする所。ある広がりをもった土地

4.  所 or ところ (kanji used depending on the context)
J-E: place, spot, point, area, scene, room, space, position, part, time of
J-J: 空間的な場所。人や物が存在する場所

3.  時
J-E: case, a time, during that time, era, opportunity,  season
J-J: 過去から現在、現在から未来へと、一方的また連続的に流れていくと考えられているもの。物事の変化・運動によって認識される。時間

2.  もの or 物 (kanji used depending on the context)
J-E: an article, a thing, property, quality
J-J: 空間のある部分を占め、人間の感覚でとらえることのできる形をもつ対象
基礎: 物事が成立する際に基本となるもの

1.  こと or 事 (kanji used depending on context)
J-E: a thing, matter, incident, circumstance, situation, work, act of . . . (when connected with a verb).
J-J: 世の中に起こる、自然または人事の現象。事柄。出来事。
耐震: 地震に耐えられること

Think of #2 as the king, and #1 as the emperor of the J-J dictionary.  You absolutely must master these 2 words.

Your path from here on out should be smoother now that you have obtained a better understanding of your J-J dictionary.

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


20 Words You Must Know To Use A Japanese-Only Dictionary — 16 Comments

  1. This post helped change the way I study Japanese! I earned my Nihongo Nouryoku Shiken level N4 certification last winter, but I’ve been at an impasse for ways to get to the next level. Switching to J-J cards is the key. I always knew it would help, but I never imagined how much. Your posts helped me decide to make the switch. Thank you for the advice!

  2. 一ヶ月前に日本語日本語の辞書を始めて使いました。いいね。今ちょっと日本語英語の辞書を使っているけど、この方法はメッチャいい。

  3. I love you for this series, this is exactly what I needed, endless circular definitions and monogoto everywhere? So confusing. And my stubbornness to use no english did not help, anyway, thanks.

  4. Would you be able to make the same thing to chinese?

    • I’m not really the person to ask for advice on Chinese. If anyone else on this site knows the top 10 dictionary words to learn to make your Chinese-Chinese dictionary experience smoother, it would be helpful to list them here.

  5. アダン大先生へ
    すばらしいウェブですが、超 useful to everybody in the world.

    Thank you ぞう。

  6. There are two books that have an incredible amount of information and everyone should read them both after they get comfortable with the beginning stage:

    Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You – Jay Ruben
    13 Secrets for Speaking Fluent Japanese – Guiles Murray

    They both provide excellent strategies for increasing your speaking ability and increasing the speed at which you can understand Japanese. Although both are written mostly in English, and Jay Ruben’s book is sadly all in romaji, the information they contain is absolutely invaluable.

  7. Another thing that may help making the switch to J-J is to learn to write your own definitions. It may seem scary at first because, but you will not only be able get rid of English, but you will learn how to improvise when writing or speaking in Japanese.

    I think this is an invaluable skill that everyone has to develop because we all know that we will never know all the words we need, not even in our native language.

    And for those fearing introducing mistakes on Anki, just use lang-8.com to make sure that your definition is ok.

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