Online Kanji Dictionaries
Jim Breen’s Japanese Page. This online dictionary supplies comprehensive information about characters, words, and much more, including oodles of sample sentences. In fact, Joy o' Kanji includes significant material from Jim Breen's JMdict (EDICT, etc.) dictionary files and uses that material in accordance with the license provisions of the Electronic Dictionaries Research Group. See http://www.edrdg.org/jmdict/edict.html and http://www.edrdg.org.
Denshi Jisho. This online dictionary is extremely convenient when you need to look up characters and don't know their readings. For some fun ways to use this resource, see Radical Terms (Does the Radical Matter?).
Mihongo. I'm a big fan of this visual dictionary, which enthralls me so much that I blogged about it right after discovering its existence. Through photos and drawings of unusual items, the dictionary offers an extremely helpful way of grasping terms specific to Japan, particularly those from the traditional culture.
Wiktionary. Written entirely in Japanese, this online dictionary indicates Joyo and non-Joyo yomi. It also classifies the on-yomi in terms of the era in which they originated in China.
Printed Kanji Dictionaries
Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary: Revised and Expanded, ed. by (Kodansha International, 2013). This portable dictionary indicates the meanings of each Joyo kanji when they appear in particular words.
The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary by , completely revised by John H. Haig (Tuttle, 1997). Some regarded the Old Nelson as the ultimate kanji dictionary. For information on radicals (including their nicknames), I find Nelson to be quite handy.
The Kanji Dictionary by (Tuttle, 1996). An encyclopedic tome listing fascinating compounds for each character (including obsolete ones, which is where much of the fun is to be had). This book made me fall in love with kanji!
Kanjigen (漢字源, かんじげん), 5th edition (Gakken, 2011), is written entirely in Japanese and has useful information about name kanji, etymology, variant forms, and more. Warning: you may need a magnifying glass to make out the tiny, cramped characters!
JapanesePod101.com—Learn Japanese with Free Daily Podcasts. This extremely popular site offers free podcasts for beginners and proficient speakers alike. Subscribers gain a much fuller understanding by having access to the PDFs, grammar tools, and much more.
Japanese VideoCast. Japanese Word of the Day App—Learn a New Word Every Day!
Chinese Etymology by Richard Sears. This easy-to-use site shows how each character looked several millennia ago.
Kanji Clinic, which was by the late Mary Sisk Noguchi. These Japan Times columns about kanji had a wide following. The site also features a long list of useful kanji resources.
Learn Japanese: Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese. This site, which has a large following, teaches the fundamentals of Japanese grammar through dialogues and other examples, featuring both formal and casual Japanese. You can also buy Tae Kim's grammar guide and an app (featured below in the app section).
Reajer by Dan Bornstein. Reading Japanese literature can be quite daunting, but Reajer makes texts accessible and fun. In each PDF you purchase, you'll find a short selection from Japanese literature, a parallel English translation, and supplemental notes. You can also pay for coaching to answer any questions that arise. Read Soseki Natsume, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Osamu Dazai, and others as they were meant to be read—in the original Japanese!
Apps for Your iPhone or iPad
1. Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary: Revised and Expanded, ed. by Jack Halpern, is now available as an app for your iPhone or iPad! I find the look-up methods quite easy to use, even though I'm usually all thumbs when it comes to using my phone. I've blogged about how this app saved me in Taiwan. Here's a sample entry:
2. Oliver Rose has developed several apps for kanji games. Cleverly designed, they're helpful and challenging, and they make for addictive playing. They're a terrific way to test your knowledge of on-yomi, in particular. You can also play them on this site, but if you'd like to have them on your phone (where you can store your game scores and try more challenging material), you can download them.
In Kanji Connect, you need to find the five words hidden in each grid, working from cues at the bottom. The grid can be in kanji with hiragana cues or vice versa. When it's full of kanji, the grid looks like this:
The Kanji Connect mobile app has a free version, an abridged version (JLPT N5, 125 kanji), and a full version (JLPT N5–N2, 1000+ kanji).
The Lex Word Game app is free. Rose describes it as a cross between Boggle, a crossword puzzle, and mah-jongg. He has loaded it with different kinds of data and provides different sorts of challenges. Don't miss the game that challenges you to locate four-character compounds! Here's how that one looks:
3. Translate Japanese or Mandarin to English with your phone using Waygo Translator:
4. Kanji Sensei for iPhone plays like a flashcard game and has a built-in dictionary.
5. One friend swears by a flashcard app called Sticky Study, and I could see how the app filled him with an almost manic diligence about studying kanji every day for months on end.
6. I've heard good things about Skritter, which is for both Chinese and Japanese. You learn by drawing the characters (the app coaches you with stroke order) and using the flashcards that they've already created for you, supporting 181 textbooks at last count.
7. Another app named KanjiBox is touted as an engaging but "mean" drill instructor, setting you up to fail with look-alikes and recording all your answers!
8. An app called Learn Japanese with Tako teaches you the readings and meanings of more than 100 of the most basic kanji, those corresponding to the N5 level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).
9. AnkiMobile Flashcards, a mobile companion to Anki, is an intelligent flashcard program that even allows you to add images and audio clips to flashcards.
10. Learning Japanese is an app with which you learn all Japanese scripts, grammar, and even special Japanese expressions and other advanced topics.One happy user calls it an excellent on-the-go version of Tae Kim's website and a great resource for fluency.
11. Imiwa? is a dictionary based on Jim Breen's JMdict files and offers a variety of look-up methods. A Japanese keyboard enables you to produce kana or kanji in order to locate a word in the dictionary. You can also search by radical or SKIP number (the codes associated with Jack Halpern's dictionaries). Alternatively, you could draw a character on the screen and find the kanji (if the system recognizes the shape you've drawn!). And iSpeech technology enables you to synthesize voices, though I'm not sure to what end.
Textbooks and Reference Books About Kanji
A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters by (Tuttle, 1998). An in-depth look at the etymology of Joyo characters, exploring how the meanings and shapes of kanji have changed over time.
Basic Kanji Book, Vols. 1 and 2, by and others (Bonjinsha, 1989). These orderly, well-thought-out books filled me with a sense of clarity and confidence about 500 kanji. If you're making a first foray into the world of kanji, I strongly recommend these textbooks. The sequel, Intermediate Kanji Book, is as confusing as the most labyrinthine bureaucracy imaginable. Avoid it.
The Study of Kanji by (Hokuseido, 1971). Pye focuses on what I've called on-echoes and maps out the series of characters in which one finds such echoes. Unfortunately, this out-of-print book is hard to find.
Kanji Pict-o-Graphix: Over 1,000 Japanese Kanji and Kana Mnemonics by (Stone Bridge Press, 1992). When I reviewed this book for Kanji Clinic, I explained that, for me, Rowley's visual mnemonics are secondary to his fascinating component analysis.
Building Word Power in Japanese: Using Prefixes and Suffixes by (Kodansha, 1990). Extremely useful guide to the specific meanings characters can have when serving as prefixes or suffixes in compounds.
Printed Guides to Japanese Grammar
Japanese Verbs at a Glance by Naoko Chino (Kodansha, 1996). Clear, logical, and helpful with great sample sentences. One particularly useful chapter explains how to create verb compounds to indicate the start of action, a half-completed action, the end of action, and so on.
A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui (Japan Times, 1986 and 1989) and A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar by the same authors (Japan Times, 1995). Satisfyingly comprehensive and clear, particularly because of the great sample sentences. Indispensable resource.
Step Zero: A Walkthrough of Japanese by Dan Bornstein. This free and friendly guide explains the fundamentals of how the language works as a complete system.
Eve Kushner's Other Writing About Kanji
Crazy for Kanji: A Student's Guide to the Wonderful World of Japanese Characters by Eve Kushner (Stone Bridge Press, 2009). This book provides a map to the infinitely complex system of kanji, always approaching the topic with passion and a playful touch. Packed with information, the book covers the history of how kanji traveled to Japan and acquired two readings; the building blocks of kanji (components, radicals, phonetic elements); tips on distinguishing look-alike characters; the way kanji reflect everyday life in Japan, both past and present; typed versus handwritten kanji; tips for studying kanji; the use of these characters in Japan, China, and Korea; and much more. There are also games and handy reference charts, as well as dozens of photos of kanji in action. You'll find much more about the book here. And you can buy signed copies on Kanji Kaimono, requesting any inscription you like.
“The Way of Kanji,” Eve’s essay in the April 2007 East Bay Monthly about kanji as her path to serenity.