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EDIT: This app has now been updated. For a review of the incredible new version check out the review by Diego

Japanese: The Japanese – English Dictionary
2300 yen / £11.99

Rating: ☆☆☆

Being a student of Japanese, and being a foreigner in Japan, one of the first iPhone apps I looked for was a decent dictionary. Having been disappointed with the limited vocabulary of a dictionary I’d bought for my old DS Lite, I was keen to find one that used Jim Breen’s EDICT as its main database, and (if possible) supplemented by additional dictionaries aimed at those looking to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

‘Japanese’ [app web site – includes demo video] [iTunes], an app developed by codefromtokyo (a one-man-show?) matched these criteria. It contains 127,829 words from the comprehensive JMDICT and KANJIDICT2 databases, as well as a dictionary of the kanji that appear in the JLPT (divided into the four current JLPT levels).

Additionally – and this is pretty sexy – it contains mini-movies showing the stroke order of all kanji taken from the Shodo Project.

Word groupings

As well as appearing in the main dictionary, entries are grouped into various categories to enable easy search / use. These are:

Hiragana & Katakana; Kanji (listed by radical / stroke count / school year / kokuji [native Japanese kanji]); classification (e.g. agriculture, anthropology, architecture, art…); counters; expressions (“I love you” “nice to meet you”…); proverbs; vocabulary lists.

The vocabulary lists are particularly useful as they allow you to build up your own personal word lists for quick reference and review.

Search

Whilst the various categories as listed above may have their uses, I think that they are ultimately of limited functionality when it comes to finding what you’re looking for – they’re more likely to be of use when using your iPhone as review / study tool (although you’d be far better off with iAnki for that).

Searchability is the key to a dictionary’s usability – ‘Japanese’ gives us several options.

1) Browse the catagories as listed above
2) Input your word in Japanese using the regular keyboard. You can use romaji or hiranaga / katakana for this.
3) Use the iPhone’s Chinese handwriting keyboard.

The handwriting recognition function is possibly the most useful thing about this dictionary. It’s figuring out kanji readings that often proves to be the biggest stumbling block for me when I’m out and about in Japan – despite having ‘learnt’ the majority of the basic 2000 when at university, I’ve since found a lot have fallen down the back of the bookshelf in my mind.

Where the app falls down

Whilst it’s a good, solid dictionary app, there’s still several areas where it falls down.

  • History function. The most useful thing about my dedicated Sharp electronic dictionary is its history function, whereby when I return home I can see a list of words I’ve looked up recently and transfer them to my flash cards / Anki.
  • Dedicated support for Japanese handwriting recognition. Ok, so it’s Apple that needs to act on this one, thus perhaps it’s unfair to include this as a point against the app. Currently, handwriting recognition relies on using the Chinese keyboard (thus throwing up a lot of non-Japanese kanji during the search procress). Let’s hope we see this introduced with the next major iPhone update.
  • The price. At 2300 yen / £11.99 dictionary is flying in the face of typical App store pricing, and good reason to not buy the App. Whilst it is cheaper than its nearest competitor (Longmans) it is still way too expensive for what it is. I’d like to see it down in the 300 – 500yen range.

Overall rating: ☆☆☆

‘Japanese’ is a good solid dictionary app with a nice clean iPhonesque user interface. It’s super-fast when searching for words, and has never caused my iPhone to crash (always a bonus!).

Were it not for it being overpriced it would be getting 4 stars – and the final star will be earned when the History function is introduced!

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