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Principal Features of





The learner of Japanese must not only learn the complex shapes and many readings of numerous characters, but must also understand their meanings in the formation of compound words. Failure to do so would result in enormous inefficiency, since one would face the laborious task of memorizing countless words as unrelated units.

The most important feature of this dictionary is the in-depth manner in which it treats meaning. Past works have largely limited their treatment to character forms, readings, and compound words. This dictionary includes many unique features that enable the learner to gain a full, systematic understanding of the meanings and functions of each character. The most important of these are listed below.

NOTE: Ideally you should use a Japanese-capable browser, but even without one most explanations should make sense.


2.1 Character Meaning
2.2 Core Meaning
2.3 Character Meanings
2.4 Compounds and Examples
2.5 Compound Formation
2.6 Advanced Features


General Features

Advanced Features

  1. Core meanings given by concise English keywords.

  2. Clear, complete, and accurate character meanings.

  3. Interrelatedness of meaning.

  4. Senses ordered in a logical manner.

  5. Importance of character senses.

  6. Explanatory glosses.

  7. English equivalents.

  8. Supplementary glosses and notes.

  9. Cross-References in equivalent.

  10. Numerous compounds and examples.

  11. Compounds with entry character in all positions.

  12. Compounds and examples ordered by sense.

  13. Compound formation and etymology.

  1. Functions of characters as words or word elements.

  2. System of labels.

  3. Articles discriminate between kanji synonyms.

  4. Usage notes discriminate between homophones.

  5. Detailed information on radicals.

  6. Character etymology.


2.1 Character Meaning

The meaning associated with a single character may be quite complex, for the following reasons:
  1. A character may have meanings on as many as four distinct but interrelated levels: i.e., as an on word element, as an on free word, as a kun word element, and as a kun free word.
  2. The levels may interact in a complex way, from partial or absolute equivalence to total nonequivalence.
  3. On each level a character may have several, sometimes numerous, meanings.
  4. On each level a character may have a variety of grammatical and other functions.

Since a character may thus have a large number of meanings that interact in a complex way and, furthermore, since the range of meaning represented by a single character may branch out into apparently unrelated directions, it would be burdensome to memorize the many meanings and usages of each character without understanding their interrelationships. This is not unlike trying to learn the English vocabulary without knowing the meanings of such prefixes as un- in unmarried and semi- in semiannual.

In this dictionary, we have made every effort to present meanings in a manner that helps the learner understand these relations. The core meaning, a concise English keyword that defines the most dominant meaning of each character, is followed by clear, complete, and accurate character meanings arranged in an order and format that show how compound words are formed from their constituents. The character meanings consist of sense division numbers, various labels and glosses, the English equivalent, and cross-references, and are followed by numerous compounds and examples that illustrate each sense.

When necessary, these are supplemented by compound formation articles that show how compound words are formed from their constituent parts. The precisely-worded equivalents and the system of labels show how each character functions as a combining form, a prefix, a suffix, an abbreviation, a counter, etc.

The meanings of free words (independent on and kun words) are distinguished from those of word elements by treating them in separate sections. The COMPOUNDS section treats on word elements, while the INDEPENDENT section treats independent on words. The KUN section treats both independent kun words and kun word elements, and includes various labels and typographical devices to distinguish these categories. Thanks to this arrangement, the meanings and functions of a character on each of the four levels can be easily distinguished from each other.

These features, which enable the user to gain a systematic, in-depth understanding of character meanings, are described in detail below.


2.2 Core Meaning

2.2.1 Concise English Keyword

A unique highlight of this dictionary is the presentation of a core meaning or meanings. This is a concise English keyword that provides a clear grasp of the central or most fundamental concept linking the principal senses of a character into one conceptual unit. This is the first character dictionary in any language to present such a feature, which has been praised by scholars and educators as a powerful learning aid.

Consider the following four ideas:

  1. fix
  2. detain
  3. reserve
  4. pay attention to

On the surface, they appear to have little in common with each other; in fact, they represent four senses associated with one of the core meanings of 留, as shown below:

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留 Core Meaning: ・KEEP ・ cause to remain in a given place or condition: ・ KEEP in place, KEEP from moving, KEEP in position ・ KEEP in custody, detain ・ KEEP for future use, leave behind ・ KEEP in mind, pay attention to. By grasping that the central concept, or core meaning, represented by 留 is KEEP it is immediately clear that such seemingly unrelated ideas as "pay attention to" and "detain" are merely variants of a single basic concept. Seen from this point of view, that is, as an expansion from a core or central concept, the four ideas are integrated into a single conceptual unit.

The core meaning is useful to the learner in five ways:

  1. It serves as a concise English keyword that conveys the character's most fundamental or most important meaning.
  2. It shows how the principal meanings of a character are linked to each other as well as to a single central concept; that is, it serves as the central pivot that links the various meanings into an integrated conceptual unit. The core meaning provides a visual reinforcement of the basic notion that links or relates the various senses to one another.
  3. It provides the user with an instant grasp of the meaning and function of the character as a word-building element. This is because (a) the core meaning usually represents the sense that is used most frequently in the formation of compounds, and (b) the part of speech of the core meaning often reflects the grammatical function of the character as a word element.
  4. It is easy to memorize. Since the core meaning conveys the essence of the character in one concise thought, it leaves a lasting impression upon the mind.
  5. It enables the user to grasp the fine differences and similarities between kanji synonyms. Let us consider how this helps the user understand the meanings of 破:

Table under construction.

破 Core Meaning: ・<BREAK> ・・ [original meaning] {BREAK,} smash ・ {BREAK} through, penetrate ・ {BREAK} out (of jail), escape ・ {BREAK} the enemy, defeat ・・ (act contrary to) {BREAK} (as a promise), breach, violate ・ {BREAK} with (the moral conventions), be exceptional ・ {BREAK} down, go to pieces, go broke It is obvious at a glance that the core meaning {BREAK} conveys the essential meaning of 破 in one concise, easy-to-remember keyword. Without it, it would be most difficult to perceive such widely differing notions as "penetrate" and "escape" as variants of the same central concept. The repeated use of {BREAK} in distinct, but interrelated, senses reveals both the differences and similarities between the various senses, and makes it easy to perceive them as an integrated unit.

Furthermore, comparing the core meaning of 破 with those of the other members of the synonym group listed in the {SYNONYMS} section, such as 壊 {BREAK DOWN,} 折 {BREAK OFF,} 裂 {SPLIT,} 砕 {CRUSH UP,} and 崩 {CRUMBLE,} clearly reveals both the differences and similarities between these characters, and helps the learner understand their different shades of meaning. In addition, for the convenience of the learner and the developer of teaching materials, an appendix lists the core meanings in order of frequency of occurrence.

In conclusion, the core meaning is a powerful learning tool. It may be perceived as a highly-concentrated thought package that leaves a lasting impression on the mind. It promotes a quicker and fuller understanding of the meaning of each character, and makes the principal senses of the character easier to memorize by linking them to one fundamental concept. The core meaning appeals to the learner's powers of association without resorting to monotonous rote memorization. Consequently, it should prove to be of enormous value to the student of Japanese.

2.2.2 Theoretical Considerations

Because of the very important role that the core meaning plays as a feature of this dictionary, it may be of interest to the user to know some of the underlying theoretical principles.

2.3 Character Meanings

2.3.1 Interrelatedness of Meaning

One of the principal objectives of this dictionary is to provide the user with a clear understanding of the meanings and functions of each character. The manner in which the character meanings are presented greatly contributes to this end by showing the interrelatedness of meaning between individual character senses. Four features are designed to achieve this aim:

  1. The repeated appearance of a core meaning in the English equivalent shows how the various senses of the character resemble and differ from each other by providing a visual link between them.
  2. The overall organization and ordering of senses in a manner that shows their interrelatedness. See §2.3.2 Order of Senses for details.
  3. The subdivision of meanings by a system of sense division numbers, letters, and semicolons establishes a logical hierarchy between them.
  4. The explanatory glosses, which show how the various senses differ from one another.

These devices show both the differences and similarities between the senses; they help integrate the senses so that the user can learn them as a structured unit, rather than as an arbitrary list.

2.3.2 Order of Senses

Traditionally, Chinese character dictionaries present character senses historically. Meanings appear in chronological order, beginning with the original meaning of the character. Although this approach may be of great value to the scholar, it is not necessarily the most useful one to the learner. The historical approach has two major drawbacks: (1) it does not normally reflect contemporary usage, since archaic and old senses often appear first, and (2) the order of presentation does not promote an understanding of how the meanings are interrelated.

An alternative method of ordering senses is the statistical approach. An inherent difficulty with this approach is the lack of data on the frequency of occurrence of specific senses. Even if such data were available, this would not be a useful system because it is based solely upon frequency of occurrence and ignores the semantic relationships between individual senses. This dictionary makes a significant departure from traditional character dictionary lexicography by presenting meanings in a manner sometimes referred to as the psychologistic approach; that is, the meanings are presented in a cogent order that clearly shows their interrelatedness. An English keyword (usually a core meaning) representing a dominant sense of the character serves as the basis of organization, and the various senses are grouped in clusters in a manner that allows them to be conceived as a logically-structured, psychologically integrated unit. In the example below, the various senses of 取る cluster around the core meaning {TAKE,} which is the central concept that links them together: ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ・

Table under construction.

取る Core Meaning: ・<TAKE> ・ ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ・ Arbitrary List ・ Expansion from Core Meaning ・ ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ・ ・ ・ ・ seize ・・ {TAKE,} take hold of ・ ・ remove, delete ・・ {TAKE} off, take away ・ ・ kill ・・ {TAKE} a life ・ ・ eat, have ・・ {TAKE} a meal, have, eat ・ ・ subscribe to, buy・・ {TAKE} (in) a newspaper, magazine, etc.・ ・ harvest, reap ・・ {TAKE} in crops ・ ・ charge ・・ {TAKE} money for ・ ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

Although 取る has several distinct senses, they are presented in a manner that clearly shows their differences and similarities. This manner of presentation greatly facilitates understanding and reduces the burden of memorization. On the other hand, if the senses were arranged as shown in the left column, they would appear to be an arbitrary list of unrelated items, rather than as a structured unit.

2.3.3 Importance of Character Senses

Most existing character dictionaries are based on classical Chinese sources, and thus often list rare and archaic meanings. Since they do not normally include labels or other devices to distinguish these categories, the user has no way of knowing whether a meaning is common, rare, archaic, or obsolete. This could be a serious obstacle to the learner, especially the beginner, who may waste time and effort in learning advanced meanings.

A useful feature of this dictionary is the indication of the degree of importance of each character sense. Although meanings are given up to the advanced level and beyond, various typographical differences and temporal labels indicate the degree of importance for different types of users.

The devices used for indicating degree of importance establish a hierarchy of relative importance between the individual senses of a specific character; they do not aim to be an absolute measure of the importance, or of the frequency of occurrence, of a character sense in relation to other characters. The degree of importance is divided into four levels, listed below in descending order of importance. ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ・Level 1Core Meaning ・ ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ・ ・The most important sense, which is essential for the beginner, ・ ・ ・provides a basic understanding of the character ・ ・ ・(see §2.2 Core Meaning). ・ ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ・Level 2Boldface Equivalent ・ ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ・ ・Signifies that the importance or frequency of occurrence of a ・ ・ ・character sense as an on word element is sufficiently ・ ・ ・high to merit study by the learner at the beginner to intermediate ・ ・ ・levels. These are the most useful character meanings to the ・ ・ ・learner, the ones that are essential for a practical course of ・ ・ ・self-study or a classroom program. ・ ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ・Level 3 Lightface Equivalent ・ ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ・ ・Signifies that a character sense as an on word element is ・ ・ ・sufficiently important to merit study by the learner at the ・ ・ ・intermediate to advanced levels or by the scholar. Although ・ ・ ・these meanings are not so frequent, they are current in ・ ・ ・contemporary Japanese and should be learned by the student ・ ・ ・interested in acquiring standard proficiency in the language. ・ ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ・Level 4 Temporal Labels ・ ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ ・ ・Less important senses, such as rare, archaic, and obsolete ・ ・ ・ones, are indicated by the temporal labels. These are of ・ ・ ・primary interest to advanced students and scholars. ・ ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・ The indication of degree of importance allows the user to easily distinguish between basic, advanced, rare, and archaic meanings. For the beginner, this establishes a hierarchy of importance for learning the senses of most frequent occurrence. For the advanced student and scholar, it isolates the more unusual senses that may be useful in reading classical literature or conducting research. This manner of presentation enables both the beginner and the advanced student to use the dictionary with equal ease, and helps the compiler of teaching materials to prepare graded lessons. This dictionary thus serves both as practical learning tool and as a useful teaching aid.

2.3.4 Explanatory Gloss

In order to improve the user's understanding of character meanings, the English equivalents are often accompanied by explanatory glosses. These are of two kinds: (1) the subject guide phrase and (2) the explanation or definition. The subject guide phrase is a brief parenthetical phrase that restricts the range of application of the equivalent to a specific domain, such as the typical or only subject of an intransitive verb. The explanation is a description, rather than a translation, of the meaning or grammatical function. The definition resembles a full lexicographic definition in a monolingual dictionary. The primary function of these glosses is to restrict, explain, define, supplement, or clarify the meaning conveyed by the equivalent. Their secondary function is to eliminate any ambiguity that might arise from equivalents that have more than one sense in English. This is especially effective in character entries in which the core meaning is repeatedly used as the first word of the equivalent in different senses in order to show how the individual character senses interrelate: 引 181: ・・ [original meaning] (pull toward one) --------explanatory gloss draw, pull, haul, tug ------------------------------equivalent ・ (extend in length) draw out, stretch : ・・ (cause to move, as by leading) draw (toward), draw in, call in ・ draw a person to act: entice, induce, seduce : In the example, the word draw is used in different senses, while the glosses in parentheses pinpoint its precise meaning as an equivalent of 引. Thus, while the repeated use of the core meaning shows the similarity between the senses, the explanatory glosses show the differences between them. See {GUIDE} §20.6 Explanatory Gloss for format details.

2.3.5 The Equivalent

Equivalent refers to synonymous or nearly synonymous words or phrases that are an English translation of the meaning of a Japanese word or word element (see example in §2.3.4 above). The equivalent, which is the most important part of the character meaning, is presented in a manner that enables the learner to get a full understanding of each character's meaning and function. A system of sense division numbers, semicolons, and commas is used to present the equivalent in a logical and organized manner.

The equivalent shows how the character meanings are related to each other through a core meaning or keyword, as well as how the meanings are related to the meanings of other characters belonging to the same synonym group. See §2.2 Core Meaning and §5.1 Discriminating Synonyms for details. It may include various parenthetical adjuncts, as in "follow (a person's instructions)," that indicate a typical object of a transitive verb, or in other ways help clarify or supplement the meaning. See also {GUIDE} §20.7 The Equivalent.

2.3.6 Supplementary Information

The supplementary gloss supplements the equivalent by restricting its level of formality or social context, by describing its grammatical function, or by occasionally providing encyclopedic information such as dates, places, and so on: 唄 400: ・ [usu. 歌う ] recite, sing -- used esp. in reference to traditional Japanese songs Furthermore, supplementary notes provide additional information on usage, orthography, character readings, etc. See {GUIDE} §20.8 Supplementary Gloss and {GUIDE} §19.2.2 Supplementary Note for details.

2.3.7 Cross-References

An equivalent or supplementary gloss is sometimes followed by various cross-references, which direct the user to other locations in the dictionary for further useful information.

2.4 Compounds and Examples

2.4.1 Numerous Compounds and Examples

Compound or compound word refers to a combination of two or more words or word elements having their own lexical meaning that together function as a single word. Example is a word other than a compound, or a phrase or sentence, which usually illustrates the use of a free word. A compound or example consists of a Japanese word or phrase, a romanized transcription, and an English equivalent: Compound: 金庫破り safecracking; safecracker Example: 戸を破る break a door The ability of characters to be combined with each other to form countless compound words is one of their most important functions. Numerous compounds and examples normally illustrate each character sense. Their aim is twofold: (1) to provide high-frequency, maximally useful examples for understanding the meanings and functions of each character as a component of compound words, and (2) to enable the reader to look up unknown compounds. Unlike other character dictionaries, the compounds are not restricted to those in which the entry character occurs in the initial position, but include also those in which it appears in the medial or final positions. For example, the entry character 吹 in the example in §2.4.2 below appears in the initial position in 吹奏 but in the final position in 鼓吹 This arrangement helps illustrate the word-building function of the entry character in a wide variety of contexts.

2.4.2 Order of Compounds

Traditionally, character dictionaries arrange the compounds within a character entry by stroke order or by reading. Such systems are geared to help the user locate a compound quickly. The ordering in this dictionary is more complex, since the primary emphasis is on helping the learner understand character meanings. The compounds and examples are grouped together under the meanings which they illustrate. The compounds and examples in main entries are subdivided into groups according to the following criteria: by section, by subentry, by sense, by position of entry character, and by type. This arrangement is fully explained in {GUIDE} §21.3 Order of Compounds, but it is not necessary for the general user to know all the details. The important point is that the compounds and examples illustrating a particular sense (main sense or subsense) are all listed together under the same main sense:

吹 231: ・・ blow on, play on a wind instrument ・ [original meaning] blow, breathe out 吹奏 playing wind instruments ・・-----鼓吹する inspire, inculcate, advocate ・・-----吹鳴する blow (a whistle) ・ brag, boast, exaggerate; make public 吹聴する make public, announce This format has two important advantages: (1) it enables the user to know the specific sense in which the entry character is used within each compound, that is, its meaning and function as a word element, and (2) it makes it easy to infer the meanings of other compounds formed along a similar pattern but not found in the dictionary. When this arrangement does not make it sufficiently clear how a specific compound is formed, the formation or etymology of that compound is explained separately.


2.5 Compound Formation


The formation of a compound word is normally self-evident from the manner in which the compounds are grouped by meaning. When this is not obvious, that is, when the relationship between the components is not clear, it is shown in one of three ways:

1. A COMPOUND FORMATION article describes the etymology (origin or development) of the compound and/or explains how its constituent characters contribute to the meaning of the whole: 以 41: |COMPOUND FORMATION|&127&127 以心伝心 以心伝心 'silent [tacit] understanding, empathy', is to convey (伝) one's thoughts or feelings (心) by means of (以 ・) thoughts (not words). Understanding the role of each component also provides interesting sidelights on the historical circumstances that gave rise to the concept represented by the word. The entry for each constituent character includes (when relevant) a cross- reference note pointing to the entry where the compound formation article appears.

2. A parenthetical phrase enclosed in double quotation marks sometimes provides a literal, character-by-character translation of the meaning of each component: 眠 1147: 冬眠 hibernation ("winter sleep")

3. The original meaning of a compound word is sometimes given by an etymological label: 披 305: 披露する announce, introduce; [original meaning, now archaic] open one's heart


2.6 Advanced Features

A number of features are particularly useful to the advanced student or scholar wishing to gain a deeper understanding of each character:
  1. The indication of function for each character meaning, which helps the user learn new words more effectively.
  2. A system of labels provides practical guidance on the style and usage associated with each sense.
  3. Understanding is enhanced by synonym articles that show the precise distinctions between kanji synonyms (such as CONJECTURE and GUESS).
  4. To help the student understand the differences between closely related words, usage notes show the precise distinctions between homophones, or words that are pronounced alike but written differently.
  5. To help the learner gain a deeper understanding of character meaning, the dictionary gives the etymology of characters and compound words.