How to use a Japanese-Japanese Monolingual Dictionary on your Own

You’ve been studying for months. You’re starting to feel more comfortable with your Japanese, gaining confidence with your ever growing abilities. But you are approaching that dangerous bridge you knew was near, hoping to push it off as long as possible. You can try to avoid it, taking as many out of the way paths as you can find, but if you want to level up properly, you only have one clear direction.

How To Use A Japanese Monolingual Dictionary

Switching from the Japanese-English to Japanese-Japanese dictionary is a major turning point in your studies. The concept is easy. Turning concept into reality is quite different.

The beginning adjustment will be rough and stormy. But overcome it, and you will fall in love with your J-J dictionary. Your relationship will grow in such depth that you will look on with disgust at that ugly, debilitating J-E dictionary. What were you ever thinking showing it any kind of affection.

With Jalup Intermediate to Expert, you don’t have to worry at all about navigating through a Japanese monolingual dictionary. But once you are off on your own, things aren’t so easy. With this guide you will get through this. You will move forward and conquer.

How do you actually use this beast?

The entire monster is in Japanese. Your J-E experience that kept you one foot in Japanese and one foot in comfort is gone. You’re all alone and you need to know how to physically look up words, understand sample sentences, and navigate yourself through some complex mazes.

And thus it begins.

If you haven’t already, open up the Goo Dictionary (a popular online Japanese dictionary. Be forewarned: there is a lot of noise on this site to greet you, including extraneous buttons and features, advertisements, and gadgets. Since most of this is unnecessary to you as of right now, I’m going to cut and paste my way right to the central artery of this site.

*Update (6/16/2014): The original online dictionary I used in this post (Yahoo dictionary) was replaced with (they now link directly to that). is a fine dictionary. However, I prefer using the goo dictionary, which is a clone of the original Yahoo one. This guide will be most helpful if you use Goo. The screenshots were taken from the old Yahoo dictionary but are still relevant.

The top of the site should look like this (English added by me for ease of use):

Click on the 国語 (J-J) radio button, enter your word in the search bar, then click on the 辞書検索 (Search) button. You’ve entered your first J-J word. Simple. You got this.

This guide will be written using example word searches. Different searches allow me to teach different features and difficulties of the actual dictionary. Depending on the word search, the results vary widely. To ease this, I will try to keep searches to words you probably know. But fear not, by the end of this guide, you will be ready.

I.  楽しい

1. The title word you look up is in bold. The definition is spelled out in hiragana first, followed by the kanji form (the one you will use) in thick brackets【】.

2. Make a mental note of the ・ that is used to separate the word.

3. For now, ignore what appears before the numbers. This part sometimes includes information like word origin, type of word, verb form, how the word changes, etc. This can get confusing and I don’t believe this info is currently beneficial.

4. Definitions are numbered in order of use frequency (1 being the most common).

5. The actual definition comes after the number.

6. Sample sentences, if they are provided, appear between brackets「 」. Do not confuse with the [ ] brackets that are used in step 3 which provides the extraneous information.

7. The word itself that you looked up does not appear in the sample sentences. Instead you see a line ー , which is where the word should be inserted by you.

8.  You insert the word into the ー based on the placement of the dot. This is a task in mimicking. You put the characters before the dot in the the title word in the same place before the dot in the sample sentence. For example you would place the  たのし part of たのし・い in the first sample sentence たのし・く過ごす, which when you add kanji, will actually become 楽し・く.

This dictionary setup is due to sample words changing forms due to grammar.  This sounds confusing.  It really isn’t.  It just takes a little practice and soon will not require any thought.  I never actually noticed the dots until I started writing this paragraph.

Your 3 sample sentences inserted into the ー and all dotted up accordingly should look like:

Ex. 1: 毎日を楽しく過ごす
Ex. 2:  テンポのよい楽しい曲
Ex. 3: 楽しいピクニック

You only need to choose one to put in Anki for each definition. Most definitions only have one. You get a bonus of three here. Pick the one that you know the most of and will require the least use of the branching process.

9. Beware of definitions 2 and 3 which are old, literary definitions that are not in common use. Unless you want to be a classic literature scholar, you do not want to add these to Anki. How do you know these definitions are literary? The sample sentences will appear in a different color. The name of the literary work appears after the definition in < > brackets. When you get advanced enough, they will just sound strange. And the easiest way to know is that you probably won’t understand them. Make sure to avoid.

All this for one definition?! It gets easier . . . Well kind of.

II. でぶ

1. Title definition in bold, no kanji, no guiding dots.

2. [ ] have the unnecessary info in the beginning.

3. There is only one definition, so there are no numbers, and it appears immediately after the [ ].

4. Since no guiding dots, you simply but でぶ in the ー place.

5. Parentheses ( ) sometimes mean that you can also use the ( ) word in place of the word that appears before it. Either one is acceptable.

So your sample sentence can be inputted into Anki as either.

でぶな人 or でぶの人

These are very short sentences.  However, sometimes short sentences are enough.

6. On the right side, you get a list of words that start with “でぶ”. This should satisfy your urge for looking up words that would come before/after it in a paper dictionary.

7. Everything in the blue box below the definitions is an advertisement. You know what to do.

III. 会う

1. Title definition in bold. Ignore what is in ( ) in the title definition. This time there are 4 kanji forms for the word 会う in【】brackets. The kanji forms are ordered by common usage, with the last one being the most rare. See step 4 to figure out which kanji form to use.

2. You will only concern yourself with definitions 1-3 since you should know that 4-6 are literary definitions.

3. Parenthesis ( ) directly after a definition number means that these are the kanji forms you can use in these definitions of the word. So for definition 1 (sub 1+2), you could use either 会う or 逢う. For definition 2, you could use either 逢う or 遭う. For definition 3 where there are no ( ), you should use the first kanji form (会う), which acts as the default.

IV.  テーブル

1. If the title word is originally a foreign word, you sometimes will see in【】the foreign word it came from. No, you haven’t entered the J-E dictionary. Just try to avert your eyes.

2. Notice how definitions 2 and 3 only have one word. These are not sentences. What I do in this instance is take the word combination, then input it into Yahoo Chiebukuro (Japanese version of Yahoo Answers), and pull out a sentence from there.

V.  買う

1. In definition 1, at the end of the line, you see ⇔売る. The ⇔ symbol means antonym. If you click on the opposite word of 買う which is 売る, it will take you directly to that word.

2. In definition 3, notice how in the sample sentence, right after the word 喧嘩 is parenthesis (けんか). Unlike the previous example, where ( ) meant you could use な or の in the sentence, here they are merely providing the reading of the word because it is difficult or confusing for Japanese people. You ignore the parenthesis for you sentence.  Your sentence in Anki for definition 2 would look like: 売られた喧嘩を買う.

3. After all the definitions, you occasionally get  [下接句] followed by a long list of linked words. These are colloquial expressions that use the title word which you are looking up. If this interests you, check some of them out. What’s great about these colloquial expressions is that they already are full sentences, so you can just input them the way they are into Anki.

VI.  行く

1. There is no definition provided after the extra [ ] information. The ⇒ symbol is telling you to click on the word ゆく which is a synonym of いく. The dictionary has decided to put all the definition information in the ゆく entry. This means that in all the sample sentences under ゆく you can input いく instead.

VII.  パソコン

1. When you put in a word that is an abbreviation of another word, you will often get the full word plus “の略”, meaning the abbreviation of X. Click on the full word to get the definition.


1. You look up the definition of 車 (car) and get a long definition of a plant. The way the dictionary is set up, sometimes you will get the first word that starts with the kanji. When this happens, just go to the related words on the right side, click on number 5, and you have the definition for 車 car. You could also just have inputted the definition in hiragana alone, which is something you can do for all definitions. But then you will have to deal with the issue when the word is a homonym, which is quite often the case.

However, getting the wrong word isn’t really a big deal. If you ended up with this entry, you’d discover it in a few seconds.  And you get the added bonus of coming across an ultra rare and crazy reading of 車.

IX.  銀行間取引

1. When you get to complex kanji compound words that have new, equivalent foreign loan words that are used often, the definition will usually give the new foreign loan word, and put the definition there. This uses the same ⇒ synonym symbol as with example 6. Let’s click on the word.

2. Since this is a foreign loan word, it gives you the source word where it came from.

3. One of my favorite new features of Goo dictionary is that on certain technical topics such as science, biology, politics, law, and business, etc., many words in the definition are hyperlinks. I believe this is done because in these areas, words in the definition may be confusing to an average Japanese person, and it allows them to learn the definition words easier.

4. At the very end of the definition, you get a → symbol and a final word, which is like saying “hey you might want to check out this related word.”

5. While you probably won’t be looking up technical words like this for a while, this kind of hyperlink comes up more often than you think.

X.  寝る

1. Very rarely you get a bunch of sample sentences with the title word already filled in.  That just saves you some time. But they didn’t put in the kanji, so make sure you do that for your Anki sentences.

2. While you wouldn’t even think of using the 2nd kanji alternative because there are no ( ) before a definition telling you to, don’t get tempted to learn the alternative kanji. For example here, I guarantee you that 99.9% of Japanese people have never even seen the second kanji they provide 寐る.

And you’re done!

For the most part. I’m sure you’ll come across things this guide hasn’t covered, but I’d say 95% of the time you’ll be fine. If you encounter something strange, definitely point it out in the comments section. Even if you’ve figured it out yourself, it will probably be helpful for other readers who may be struggling.

You are all ready to go.

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


How to use a Japanese-Japanese Monolingual Dictionary on your Own — 94 Comments

  1. This is awesome. This series of articles exactly what I’ve been needing to really push me through the beginning stages of J-J. Thanks man!

      • I really, really appreciate it. I’ve been using, which is probably great for a complete beginner, but for someone who is right at the cusp of the true Japanese growing pains / transition stage, really grasping the dictionary is a must and I have to admit, I am completely lost. The part I’m most excited about is where to find the sentences. I was mining for sentences (happily) until I read that they came from a project that involved lots of students providing input and that the accuracy is highly questionable. Now I won’t touch them, but I have no real clue on how to use a proper J-J dictionary so I’m stuck. I’m super excited to finish this series of articles and I’m totally going to donate some more money to your cause because this level of work and help shouldn’t go unrewarded. Thanks again!

        • I’ve just made the leap to J-J myself and was, and still am to some extent, using mainly to find readings. I wasn’t too keen on the example sentences, and the links on the example sentences can sometimes be a bit iffy if there’s a string of kana, so I always use instead. You just feed it a word and it’ll spew out a crap load of sentences from wide-ranging real sources (Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, newspapers, scientific papers, to name a few that I recognised).

          Often you can click a link that gives you the whole original source and if you double click a word it’ll open a new tab with search results for the word you just clicked. I’ve found tons of interesting sentences here, the only problem being that you can’t get kanji readings from this site. Also, every sentence is translated, which some people may not like.

  2. Yay! Thanks for this guide. I’ve been doing pretty well with J-J so far since the new year began. Every time the opportunity occurs to use it, I look in my bookmarks and think I’m heading for WWWJDIC, but then realize the bookmark is gone and head for the J-J dictionary. And I understand the definitions too, which gives me confidence.

    The next question comes with my Anki cards. I’m in the process of creating a new deck for kanji I’m gleaning from manga, and already have a deck for the Joyo kanji that are downloaded (which has over 4000 entries). Should I change those decks from J-E to J-J gradually? The deck I downloaded only has the basic definition for one kanji, rather than a vocabulary word in general, which makes changing it to J-J difficult. But the deck that I’m making with kanji from manga uses vocabulary words, and changing that to J-J may be easier. If I continue making the deck in J-E, I may have to search for English definitions, which would ruin my goal here. I think I know the answer, but am still wondering about the joyo kanji deck.

    • Good idea getting rid of the bookmark. Prevents that temptation. If you plan on using that Joyo kanji deck, I would probably make the changes somewhat gradually to prevent burnout in using that deck. Or I would just find another kanji deck that is J-J (but maybe there are none?). For the manga kanji, as you already figured out, it’s probably a good idea to do J-J as soon as possible. Good luck with all your Japanese goals in the New Year!

  3. Excellent series of posts! The prospect of going J-J was really scary to me, but after this (and your equally invaluable “Branching Process” article) I’m really much more confident that it should definitely be the next step I take in my Japanese studies.

    I first started learning the language some years ago, but was always on and off, so I made very little progress (I would say stuck between level 5~10). I finally made a definite commitment at the beginning of last year (2011) and started my double major (Portuguese and Japanese) at university. I discovered your site two months ago and can honestly say that your ideas and your guidance have done more for my learning in this short time than all the previous 10 months at college put together.

    It has made me believe that it’s feasible to reach a decent enough level so that I can take advantage of my university’s exchange programmes and try to spend a year in Japan in 2013. Thank you very much! (also donated to show my appreciation)

  4. Thanks for posting this :p Just about to make the “leap of faith” myself. This is exactly what I needed. Great site too!

  5. Im loving these posts man… Incredibly useful stuff. Noone has ever bothered showing me how a J-J dictionary is laid out in all my 4 years of college level Japanese. Keep it up!

  6. So, once you’ve made this transition to using J-J, will you simply never even look up the english definition of word again? Is it not beneficial to at least know what a word means in English at all, or is the point to avoid that completely? Is it within the rules to look up the word in a J-E dictionary to gain a better understanding of what it is in the first place, but with the idea that you will only put the J-J definition and sentence into Anki?

    • For the most part, you should never look up the English definition once you switch over. Even if you only put the J-J sentence/definition in Anki. It causes too much temptation, and doesn’t make you struggle to try to learn J-J since you can always check to see if you were right in English. There are however a few tiny advanced exceptions where I recommend English over the Japanese which I will cover in a post later this week.

      • So, I’m going to give it a shot and make the switch. I’m at about 1360 sentences roughly at the moment and I’m completely finished with your cleaned up Kanji deck. I’m trying it out right now with a sentence that contains the word 番組. When I put this into the dictionary, the definition and sentences all look fine, except for the very first word in the definition: 演芸. I don’t know what this word means at all. I could look it up on or I could rikaichan it, but that would be against the rules right? So what I’m wondering is, I’ve read a little about “branching” out with words that you don’t know, but if you’re never allowed to see a J-E definition, I would think that almost no amount of branching will make you know what that word means. At what point would 演芸 suddenly become a word that I would know and understand without using J-E at some small, teeny, tiny point?

        • You have three things working for you when you are doing J-J. First, you’ve done RTK which should have taught you the English keywords for 演 and 芸, which can give you a general idea of what it means. If you can’t recall what those English keywords were, you can always do a search back in your deck for it. Second, you can use pictures (google images) to help you out (which I’ve discussed in a previous post). And third the branching process really will work if you trust it and take the time to struggle through it in the beginning. Eventually the word definitions end up circling finally giving you a decent understanding.

  7. I never thought of switching to a J-J dictionary because it felt and sounded terrifying. Reading your article has turned that fear to excitement and I’ll be definitively using it now. Thank you!

  8. Thank you for your posts. They have convinced and helped me to finally make the switch to J-J. The branching process is really fun, although you can end with a lot of cards in Anki.

    However I sometimes end up at technical or biological terms like 眼球 or 筋肉, which have really long definitions with many other complicated words. To understand those, I would probably have to add about another 100 cards. On the hand they could be translated accurately with just 1 or 2 English words, so I am tempted to just use an English definition.

    So what is your approach with those words and what do you recommend doing?

    • I’m going to making a full post soon on this exact topic where there are 2 tiny exceptions where I think English is more beneficial than the J-J dictionary. Expect to see it in a about a week.

  9. I’ve done roughly 1300 or so J-E sentences thus far and thought it might be time for me to go J-J. Well, I went ahead and started this, and I managed to get through my first branch just fine. Thanks for writing this guide, I certainly would have had much more of an issue doing it without it.
    However, now when I’m in the review phase (I finished inserting them) I’m having a really difficult time knowing what the sentences or definitions mean. I’m not quite sure how to go about studying the cards now since I don’t really know the meaning, but looking at it again in a few minutes won’t help me know it any better either.
    Do you have any advice for this stage?

    • Do you mean that you understand the words/sentences/definitions putting them in, but then when you review them you don’t. I’m going to cover something similar to your question in a future post.

      • Yes, I get to the point to where I either understand all the words in the sentences/definitions or I have already entered a word that I wasn’t quite sure of the meaning of it. (I usually have an idea of what it means at that point though.)
        However when I review, I’m sort of lost on a large number of the cards.
        I’m really looking forward to your post addressing this issue.

  10. Thanks for the tip on how to figure out what Kanji to use!

    I’ve been at least partially (by now, fully) monolingual for nearly a year now, but I was never very sure which Kanji to fill in the blank with. Now I can do my lookups and make cards with confidence.

      • You’ve definitely got something great with this branching method. But i have a few problem.I finished the two genki books using j-e sentences, and now i am on An integrated approach to intermediate Japanese. I’ve started adding japanese only cards and then when i got to a word in the dialogue i started this branching process. I think i have gotten used to this. Using Sanseido for simple definitions and then yahoo for the example sentence. However i’ve come across 執る「とる」 in my branch and this is where the problem begins. There is no definition in sanseido, and in yahoo, it comes up with loads of definitions for all the different versions of とる. How do i find which definition is the correct one?
        also with the grammar in An integrate approch… how do I add it into the card in only japanese if the explanations are in english :/
        Thanks so much for all your help on this ‘quest’

        • You will on the rare occasion get a word like 執る, where if you look it up in the Yahoo dictionary, it doesn’t give the specific meaning where it should be used. For example, if you are looking up とる, you get specific uses for 取る/採る/捕る/撮る. However the only specific use that doesn’t appear is 執る.

          However, it does appear in certain set phrases below after the definitions. You specifically see phrases like:


          If your sample sentence was one of these specific phrases, I would just use the definition of the set phrase, which the dictionary gives for the above.

          If it was another use of 執る, which to be honest, I’m not aware of the exact subtleties, I would do a Google search on something along the lines of “執る 使い方.” For example, this site came up explaining the differences.

          The fact that Japanese people are asking about the different uses also means that they are often confused.

          • Brilliant advice!! So helpful! Thanks adshap!!
            The example sentence was 「会社で事務を執る」So i used 知恵袋 which helped me understand it.
            I’m might actually manage to get good at this branching thing thanks to you!

      • Also another problem word I got is 始末する。which was in this definition 処理:物事を始末すること. When i put 始末する i am unsure about which definition to take. Will the definition for 始末する be the same as 始末??
        Thanks again

        • Learn all the definitions while you are at it for 始末, creating a new card for each. This will give you a super grasp of the word and what situations to use it in.

            • I for the most part did this for all new cards. Usually words that have multiple definitions are commonly used words. So learning example sentences for all the different uses really gives you a firm grasp of the word.

  11. I’m a little confused – do you input only the example sentances into Anki or the actual definition as well? (and then the same for all the words you don’t understand in the definition?)

    • The example sentence goes in the expression (question) field, the actual definition goes in the Meaning field. If there are any other words you don’t understand in the example sentence, you can make those additional new cards (or just put them in the meaning field if it is only one other word). If there are words you don’t know in the definition, those become a new card for each new word.

  12. Do you think that it’s somehow counter productive to put all of the example sentences for a word together at the front of the card – instead of just one, or making separate cards for each?
    For example with the word 失敗 I have this on the front of the card with the word highlighted:
    Then the definition of 失敗 on the backside.. I feel like it gives it a little extra context than just one sentence for the word. Though I guess it has the downside of requiring more branching for the other sentences if you don’t understand them (or bonus?)..

    • I would say rather then put multiple sentence examples for the same definition on one card, create a few cards, with each front having a different sentence, but the definition being kept the same. I’ve done this for words that gave me particular trouble, and I wanted some extra sentences to reinforce.

      Not only is this is easier for branching, but also I think keeping the front side of the card with the sentences simple is important to keep doing Anki reviews swift and painlessly.

      • I see..
        One more thing!
        Part of the definition of 失敗 is “方法や目的を誤って良い結果が得られないこと”
        Say you don’t understand “誤って” in that definition – would you look it up in the “te” form as it is (since it has it’s own dictionary entry after all), or look it up in the “誤る” form and use that definition?

        • Or, perhaps a better example: a sentence containing the phrase “割ってしまった”, how do you know which verb to look up? 割く or 割る?

          • “how do you know which verb to look up? 割く or 割る?”
            Unless I’m very distracted, this isn’t really a problem, since they don’t actually have the same ~て form… The ~て form of 割く is 割いて…

            • Really?
              Cause when I hover over 割って with rikaichan it says:
              割く さく (<-te)
              割る わる (<-te)
              confusing :( How are you supposed to be able to tell what the correct one is?

            • I don’t really use rikaichan, and maybe I’m wrong about this, but:
              The ~て form for ~く verbs is usually done by ~いて、 with the single important exception of 行く, which is indeed 行って (or at least that’s the only one mentioned in Tae Kim’s guide).
              “How are you supposed to be able to tell what the correct one is?”
              From context, probably.

          • As grapegrape points out, once you get used to the verb forms, you will know from context. His explanation was perfect.

            As for Rikaichan, it isn’t always perfect, which is why when you rolled your mouse over 割って it gave you both. The only right answer is 割る. Rikaichan is great but remember it has its limitations.

  13. Hello,

    I am sitting on an 800 J-E sentence deck and I have recently got my hands on the well-made JALUP 1000 deck. I bought it for being a good example and material, although I do want to add my own sentences too.

    My question is this. I seem to remember that Adshap provided a list of Japanese sentences in a blog post that would help you start learning how to branch. The sentences/words are commonly used in most definitions and without knowing them, you would get lost. I can no longer find that suggest list of common definition words. Can anyone help me out?


    • I believe what you want is this:
      And as an heads up, as someone who was more or less precisely where you are a month or so ago, these words won’t prevent you from getting lost, they will just help :p.
      In fact, I really recommend this post:
      because it describes very well how it felt to me. Inputing your first J-J sentences is rather overwhelming, and scary, and you feel somewhat doubtful of how much good they are actually doing, but after a while of both inputing sentences and reviewing them you start to realize both that you can “stand your ground” somewhat, and how to “pick your fights”, and when you look back you definitely feel your comfort area has expanded. So my advice for when you start J-Jing is to just “stick with it”.
      On another note, something that I personally do feel is lacking from Adshap posts on this is a good source of sample sentences. He mentions that the Yahoo dict usually has sample sentences, but while this is true most of the time, those sentences also tend to be grammatically a bit too simple and homogeneous for my taste. My current recommendation when you want to avoid this (i.e., what I use right now) is to search Twitter for the word you want to learn, and then search the page till you find a sentence you can tackle. Scary at first, but there’s also something comforting in using “real” sentences. Just the other day, when learning ぬれる I stumbled upon the sentence “雨雨!!!洗濯物ぬれる!”, which just makes you smile.

  14. Thanks grapegrape. Those were the post I was looking for. Your advice is appreciated as well. Long before I found JALUP, I did about half of RTK, but fell off the wagon. Now I am desperately trying to finish it up and get on with the rest of it all. I am way past RTK zone in some ways, but I feel like if I can just past through this gate then I will really have a solid foot in the next zone.

    So cheers and best of luck.

    • “I did about half of RTK, but fell off the wagon. Now I am desperately trying to finish it up and get on with the rest of it all.”
      Best of luck. I personally bit the bullet and just did RTK first of all, and while I think I survived it fine and without major trauma I was certainly happy to “see the back of it”. And yeah, RTK really is a crucial “power-up” to have before heading to J-J land, because it gives you that extra and crucial way to try to guess the meanings of compounds: looking at the keywords of the composing kanji.
      Anyway, since you’re still doing some RTK, allow me to recomend:
      Being able to “phase out” Heisig’s keywords in favor of Japanese ones just makes everything much better as you learn more and more Japanese.

  15. Do you know what the symbols next to the different kanji used mean?
    For example:

    The ▽ and × marks?

    • They’ve actually always been a mystery to me. I searched online with no success, but I’ll see if I can find anyone who knows this.

    • As far as I know, ▽ is for a Kanji reading that isn’t in the Joyo-Kanji list, and × is for a Kanji that isn’t at all in the Joyo-Kanji list.
      Hence, they’re normally written in Kana alone.

    • Replying to an ancient comment, but I noticed that my physical J-J dictionary has a short explanation on these so I decided to transcribe it for future reference:

      漢字の左かたの▽は小学校で教わらない常用漢字、× は常用漢字でない漢字、▴は常用漢字表でその読みが認められていない漢字であることを示す印です。

      The examples it provides are 【▽甘い】and【×撥ね▴除ける】. Given that it is a dictionary intended for 小学生、the usage of these marks in my dictionary may differ slightly when compared to weblio or goo.

  16. What should I do when,

    1. Word has a definition which resembles a small Wikipedia article
    2. There are no example sentences to find
    3. The term is too abstract to be pictured


    • For example sentences, you can try Twitter, yahoo chiebukuro, or just a simple Google search, and see if anything simpler comes up.

      If it is that complex that none of the J-J branching techniques work, I’d hold off on the word and save it for later. You’ll eventually come back to it in another context.

      • The problem was that I met quite a few in my first real attempt at branching. I gave up that branch when it resulted in 92 words, and would probably hit 150 if I kept going. I have J-J cards for at least half of those common dictionary words though.

  17. Thank you so much. For the first couple of hours I toyed around with yahoo’s dictionary, I was feeling incredibly humbled and bummed out. Trying to start with こと, I kept bumping into words that I know I had learned before and yet have forgotten. I finally got sufficiently frustrated that I gave up on that tree and instead tried looking up a couple of more basic words I knew. The entry for the first one, 攻撃, was a little easier on the eyes, but I ultimately decided to skip this one too after being spooked by そうせい not converting to 総勢 from 「総勢を挙げて―する」. The next word I searched for was 橋, and it was from here that any doubt I had in the worth of all of this was swept away.


    Again lots of words whose English synonyms I’ve forgotten. But the difference here is that it’s easier to infer the meaning of these words from the kanji. But still, just for the fun of it, I looked up 水路 and right there at the top was
    1 水の流れるみち。

    And that was that. When I think of 水路, my mind brings up that definition…my mind thinks in Japanese to explain Japanese. That I can think of, this is the first Japanese word I’ve ever learned in terms of other Japanese words, and it feels amazing. The dictionary is still very very scary, but I understand now just how important it is. And for the first time, I feel like I’m thinking in Japanese(even if it is at the moment just one silly word). These little victories are worth the grind, I think. Again, thank you so much for this article and this entire site.

  18. Adshap, been using your method for a few months now, you’re one sharp cat. Thanks for all you’ve done.
    Quick general question; when switching from J-E to J-J, should I just add the J-J sentences into my J-E (+ Kanji) deck, or is it preferred to have a deck completely dedicated to J-J?

  19. ‘Get ready to be humbled . . .’ That’s one way of putting it. Fresh into my 中級 class at school here in Tokyo, 2200 kanji from Heisig and both Genki books completed, I was feeling rather pleased with myself…until I thought I would give J-J a go. In 4 hours I managed to add a grand total of…3 cards to Anki. My branches kept hitting complicated dead ends and going by the advice in the Branch Annihilator, (thanks btw),I just dropped the words. However…I managed to learn 3 new words without resorting to J-E. Not bad for my first day I guess. I’ll give it another go tomorrow and just keep picking on easy sentences until I can start fighting for real against tougher ones.

    • That isn’t bad at all for a first day. And it’s not like your 4 hours were wasted either. Since everything you are doing is in Japanese, even if you aren’t adding as many cards as you like in the beginning, you are still improving your Japanese, and you are learning what types of cards you can target with your current level.

  20. I remember going through those post in the very beginning and barely being able to understand what you was trying to say, now that I’m finally switch to J-J everything is so easy, I could be able to recognize all those points by myself and guide me thorough the dictionary since the first time, I guess I’m a “grow up boy” now rsrsrsrs

  21. I just wanted to add that if you enter “車 くるま” into the search box, you will only receive entries starting with 車 which includes the pronuciation くるま, so for instance 車窓 wouldn’t come up whereas 車争い and 車石 do.

    • Thank you for the excellent tip. I never realized that if you added the hiragana pronunciation after the kanji this type of function was available.

  22. Is it just me or do those radio buttons not exist anymore on the Yahoo dictionary? Also, it seems that Yahoo links everything to kotobank now? It’s not really a big deal as I can use Goo, but it doesn’t seem to mark the old literally definitions in a different color as Yahoo used to do.

    • You are right. And I noticed the change recently. It looks like they partnered with and got rid of their own. You can still use the Japanese only feature there as well, but I think Goo is a better option as it comes quite close to the original Yahoo Jp dic.

      Then again, I’ve never used Kotobank before, so maybe someone who has used them a lot can leave some feedback.

      • I noticed the change too! I use Kotobank regularly along with and sanseido. Now when I search for a word it links to Yahoo first and then clicking a definition takes me back to Kotobank.

        I never really used Yahoo and prefer the other three dictionaries.

        • Everyone says Weblio is really great for English translations. So it can be useful for translators who need an exact English word.

  23. There seems to be a couple of changes with the process now.

    1) You can’t select 国語 before searching, you have to filter by 国語辞典 after searching (or just look for that section in the results).

    2) The results page lists links to different dictionaries. For the 楽しい example above, the choices are デジタル大辞泉 or 大辞林 第三版. Choosing デジタル大辞泉 gets the result shown in this article.

    • Thanks for adding in those clarifications. It prevents my articles here from losing the value they once had!

    • It depends. I’ve found that the kanji with an x can range anywhere from somewhat uncommon to very rare.

      Your example of 煽る is closer to the somewhat uncommon end of the scale, but I’ve definitely seen it multiple times.

      A good way to check is to put it into google and see which one brings up more hits (with or without the kanji).

      If you want to be extra careful you can always put the kanji in and take it out later if you are finding that you never see it anywhere else and consequently is a pain to remember.

  24. I’ve been poking around, since you said it’s essentially a clone of this old Yahoo dictionary. I was curious to see how transitive/intransitive forms of a verb looked different in the dictionary…so I searched for 開ける and wound up with…this:

    My question is…what’s with the ア、イ、ウ、エ、オ、カ sub-headings underneath the numbers?

    • They indicate subdefinitions (by the way, I’d never actually seen a カ subheading).

      In your specific case, あける comes with 3 ways of writing it, all of which have related but distinct meanings:
      明ける: this denotes the end of some time period together with the beginning of the following;
      空ける: this means “opening a hole” in the sense of taking out a part of something that was initially full;
      開ける:ア: this means “opening something that is closed” (removing partitions also counts).

      The ア、イ、ウ、エ、オ、カ sub-headings for 明ける・空ける then go into specific instances of the somewhat abstract definitions above.

      By the way, my advice if you are just starting with this J-J stuff (by which I mean, what I ended up doing back then), is to not stress too much about subdefinitions for now.
      Frankly, when I was starting J-J I would be lucky if I ended up feeling I properly understood even a single one of them, but even a single one was usually enough to confirm I had the right overall idea about the sentence I was trying to understand, even when the subdefinition I managed to understand wasn’t the one that actually applied to my sentence.

    • Really? How can you wait so long? I’m at 900 or so J-E sentences and I’m chomping at the bit to get away from the boring textbook example sentences and into real, meaty native material stuff. Even though, you know, J-J is terrifying.

      • Im not using textbook example sentences. All of my sentences are from j-drama/ anime subtitle scripts, video games, song lyrics, magazines and manga. I just input a real native sentence and on the back put the english definition of the words I dont know. I’ve tried switching to J-J a few times but everything takes so freaking long and i cant stand it. I’d rather learn 100 native sentences a day than take a few hours making like 20 J-J cards that i can barely understand the definition of. Lol J-J is terrifying I agree

  25. What’s the best way to tell whether a verb is transitive or intransitive besides looking at the example sentences?

    • Besides a few exceptions (like 出す・出る), if you see an を it’s transitive, and a が, it’s intransitive.

      • I never bothered remembering or learning the ‘grammar name’ for a certain grammar point. I just read the sentence for what it is and try to deduce what it says based on the context.

        Like what adshap wrote “if you see an を it’s transitive, and a が, it’s intransitive”, it eventually will just seem to make sense within a sentence.

        を is usually associated with ‘doing something to something’ 私が電気をつけた。”I am the one that turned on the lights.”

        が is kinda like the subject is did the action 電気がついた。”The lights turned on.”

        Heh, it makes sense in my head, I’m terrible at explaining things :S

  26. I’ve been doing my first days of J-J recently, and I have felt that I can get a pretty good sense of what a word means using only one of the sentences in a definition. For instance with the word 連なる the definition is: たくさんのものが1列に並んで続く。切れずに続く。 I didn’t understand the first sentence very well but I got a sense of “not stopping and continuing” with the second sentence (切れずに続く。). I was wondering if it was really necessary for me to understand the first sentence in order to understand the word. I’ve had the same thought for a lot of the words I have come across and I would really appreciate some advice.

    • When there are two sentences in a J-J definition, the second sentence usually further explains it in a different way, expands on the definition, or in the case of Jalup Intermediate/Advanced sometimes an easier way of saying it.

      If you understand the second sentence, some of the first, you are good to go. Your feeling for the first sentence will catch up eventually.

      And if your understanding of the second part allows you to understand the sentence, that’s also a good sign.

      Even when you only have a general grasp of the definition/sentence, you sometimes are okay to move on.

      So for this sentence, your grasp seems fine.


      • Thank you very much!

        This makes me feel pretty confident in my J-J understanding abilities especially considering I have just begun. Also, thanks for the sentence.

  27. This article is amazing! I have just stepped into the J-J part of my Japanese journey. I have previously peeked a little at J-J dictionaries but was very overwhelmed by the massive amount of text all over the place. This article have given me the confidence to shut out those parts that I do not need at the moment and concentrate on what I need to understand a new word.

    The Goo dictionary has a new design, so I had to look around a little to figure things out. For others passing by this article here is what I have noticed:

    – Instead of choosing 国語辞書 as a radio button, simply use the 国語 tab at the top of the page.
    – Literary definitions are no longer marked with a different color, but the brackets 〈 〉are still there containing the reference. Look for those, to figure out which definitions can be safely skipped.
    – Searching tends to give you a list of results. For most of the examples in this article the first result is the one you want, so simply clicking the link for the first result will give the corresponding page to the examples in this article. For the 車 example you may notice that the くるま definition is a few results down.

    Thanks again for providing a simple how-to-use guide for a J-J dictionary! :)

    • I’m happy to see this older article is still helping people. Thanks for providing those updates to the Goo dictionary!

  28. So I’m 200 sentences into Jalup Intermediate and I’m loving the switch to J-J. I can’t imagine going back to English definitions anymore. But because of that I’m not really sure what I should do when I come across new words in TV shows and manga. On one hand I feel like I should just wait until I finish Jalup Expert before venturing off on my own, that way I’ll know alot more Vocab and the J-J definitions won’t be nearly as confusing. On the other hand I really want to start reading through my favourite series in Japanese, but I don’t want to have to stop and look up every word I don’t know in a J-E dictionary, since my limited vocabulary makes J-J branching on my own very difficult. What do you think? Should I just go ahead and give it a shot? Do I have enough vocabulary and grammar by this point to make any attempt worth my time?

    • Ok, this is coming from someone who’s 380 cards into J-J: Do it.

      The only way you get exposure to real Japanese definitions is by reading them. Use Google images a lot too. Don’t be afraid to give up on a word and add it later if the branches are just insane.

      Also, just to save on branches I add words to my J-J deck where I don’t know all the words in the definition, but I still understand the definition (thank you RTK).

      Also, is your friend, along with Sanseido gives very simple definitions and Goo is more fleshed out. They both have their downsides and upsides and when I don’t understand the definition on one site, I flip to the other. They work well in tandem.

      Best of luck in your studies. It’s awesome to be in j-j, even though it’s making my brain explode.

    • I think the most important thing is to try things out and find what you feel works well for you. It may be any combination of J-J dictionary, Google Images, guessing, skipping and even J-E if you are completely lost on the other things. What is important is that you are able to enjoy whatever you are doing because that is when you will want to do more of it. It may also change from day to day what you are most up for. Some days you may be in a mood for looking up nearly every unknown, other times you might just skip anything you don’t get – and lots of days probably somewhere in between.

      Everything goes as long as it is in Japanese and you enjoy it :) good luck!

  29. ”The beginning adjustment will be rough and stormy. But overcome it, and you will fall in love with your J-J dictionary. Your relationship will grow in such depth that you will look on with disgust at that ugly, debilitating J-E dictionary. ” <—lol ditto.

    When I experimented j-j last year, the first sentence I wanted to test: メイ泣かないよ、 偉い?
    I knew the word 偉い as 'amazing', so perhaps I might get the gist of the j-j definition. lol.
    There were lots and I understood vaguely one definitionそういうより, it was overwhelming. But I kept going. I picked sentences that are concise or have context eg. Boruto and Kage Bunshin Naruto hide and seek game and Sarada goes like バカが懲りないね。 <—from Naruto Gaiden. I didn't know the word 懲りる. Something like that.

    I think Adam posted something about the dictionary words like 物事、様子、など。You'll learn those words along the way if you keep doing the j-j and understand them intuitively.

    For those who are starting out with the 国語、 習うより慣れる and enjoy!

    • Thanks for sharing your J-J dictionary story. It’s fun to find out the personal way in which people start to connect with J-J meanings.

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