How to Search a Kanji in Paper and Electronic Dictionaries

Author Anna Baffa Volpe for article 'How to Search a Kanji in Paper and Electronic Dictionaries'

Anna Baffa Volpe

11 min reading time

How do you search for a kanji? What methods exist to find a kanji in a paper and online dictionary? What can I do if I don't recognize and can't find a kanji?

Today we are dealing with an interesting and at the same time indispensable topic for those who study the Japanese and Chinese languages: the search for a kanji in a paper dictionary or through the electronic dictionaries that we find online.


How to search for a Kanji online

Any time you want to search a kanji online on a search engine, the keyword that is useful to learn is (けん)(さく):

(けん)(さく), "search" and the relative verb is (けん)(さく)する, "to search"

Let's first look at some words that characterize a kanji:

japanesekanji
Example of kanji
  • ()() the meaning
  • ()み are the readings: the (おん)()on yomi the pronunciation on of Chinese origin and the (くん)()kun yomi Japanese pronunciation of the term
  • (かた) also reads かたち and is the form, the image of the ideogram
  • (かく)(すう) is the number of strokes
  • ()(しゅ) the radical, the keyword of the kanji
  • ()(しゅ)(かく)(すう) the number of strokes of the radical
()(じゅん) is the order of strokes in the transcription of the kanji

Kanji Search Dictionaries

In Japanese we have two terms that are often used as synonyms for the word dictionary and they are:

()(てん) 'jiten' and ()(しょ) 'jisho'

Dictionary ()(てん) 'jiten'

()(てん) is a book that focuses on explaining the meaning and use of a particular word, kanji or language.

Common examples are foreign language dictionaries:

  • (えい)()()(てん) English-Japanese dictionary
  • (ちゅう)()()(てん) Chinese-Japanese dictionary
  • ()()()(てん) Italian-Japanese dictionary

()(てん) are also books that deal with specific topics such as:

  • (じん)(めい)()(てん) biographical dictionaries
  • ()(がく)()(てん) medical dictionaries
  • (ひゃっ)()()(てん) encyclopedic dictionaries, translated literally as dictionaries of hundred (百) subjects (科)
japanesedictionary
Japanese history dictionaries

Dictionary ()(しょ) 'jisho'

()(しょ) is used as a synonym for ()(てん), but in a broader sense it is not limited to books. ()(しょ) refers to general collections that organize and arrange the meanings and use of specific languages, kanji and words.

In our case, we need a dictionary for kanji, so it will be more useful to search for the term ()(てん).

japanesedictionary
Kanji dictionary for Japanese primary school.

Paper Dictionaries and Electronic Dictionaries

Today we can use:

  • (かみ)()(しょ) the paper dictionary from (かみ) paper, sheet
  • (でん)()()(しょ) the electronic dictionary or
  • オンライン ()(しょ) the online dictionary

Historical Dictionary of Kanji: Nelson

I used for the various steps of the search one of the dictionaries in my opinion most loved by those like us who have been dealing with the Japanese language for some time: The Modern Reader's Japanese-English Character Dictionary by Andrew N. Nelson. I used my personal dictionary, 1990 edition.

The Dictionary reports the various pronunciations of the kanji and the reading of (じゅく)() (jukugo) using Latin characters, the ローマ () (Rōmaji).

(じゅく)() idiom

These are the various combinations of kanji with each other to form new words, usually nouns.

  • The kanji () which indicates the reason, the principle joined to the kanji () which means course, branch of study, matter, forms the word ()() indicating the natural sciences

Kanji Research Methods

Here we are, let's start now with the various kanji research methods that interest us.

Search starting from the readings of the kanji

  • (かん)()()(かた)から(けん)(さく)

For example, we have the adjective:

(じょう)(ひん)

Searching by pronunciation assumes that we know one of the readings of the kanji. For example, we know that a kun pronunciation of the first kanji is うえ and it means above, top.

Let's open to the reading index and find the pronunciation ue.

japanesedictionary
Index of ON and kun pronunciations transcribed with the Latin characters Rōmaji

Going then to the page that shows the kanji nr 798, you will find:

japanesedictionary
Page with kanji 上, ue, found in the index of the pronunciations ON and kun

Here are all the pronunciations and the various meanings attributed to this kanji.

However, we must search for a word composed of 2 kanji, so proceeding after the description of the single kanji, we have the whole list of words, (じゅく)() of (うえ) and we find by scrolling:

japanesedictionary
We find in the list of words associated with 上, the term object of our search 上品

Here is the term we were looking for (じょう)(ひん):

  • (じょう)(ひん)さ means elegance, refinement, grace
  • It becomes adjective with the addition of the particle な: (じょう)(ひん)な, distinguished, elegant, noble
What happens if we don't know any of the kanji pronunciations?

We have other methods available to help identify the kanji.

Research of the kanji starting from the radical

  • (かん)()()(しゅ)()(すう)からの(けん)(さく)

The search is based on the number of strokes of the radical. Depending on the kanji, the radical is immediately recognized, because it has already been observed and researched for other ideograms; other times it takes a few more steps.

Let's start with the kanji:

The root of this kanji is (おんな), the element that indicates the female, the woman. His (かく)(すう) is 3 strokes, so we open the radical index of the dictionary.

japanesedictionary
Radical index, the radical 女 is highlighted which has three strokes

Next we go to the part of the radical 女, but we need to make an extra step in this case. The kanji we are looking for is articulated, as you can see in its right side there are other strokes.

japanesedictionary
The radical is excluded and the traits of the rest are counted of the kanji

Arriving at the part of the radical 女 we will have all the kanji containing this element combined with other strokes whose number starts from 1 in sequential order. We arrive at number 10 and thus we find the whole series of kanji with radical 女 and with 10 strokes that complete the kanji.

Here is our kanji 嫉 which means envy, jealousy, to be jealous.

japanesedictionary
Identified the number of strokes, excluding the radical, 10 in this case, we arrive at the list that contains the kanji we are looking for
Practice and observation lead us to identify the radical of the kanji in order to be able to search easily according to this criterion.
japanesedictionary
List of kanji radicals

Search by number of kanji strokes

  • (かん)()()(すう)から(けん)(さく)

Another method for our research is that of the total number of strokes (画) of the kanji.

Let's go back to the previous kanji 嫉 which we know now has 13 (かく) strokes. Now let's proceed online, through a search engine and we can click (かん)()(けん)(さく)()(すう)

japaneseonline
Searching for kanji through online dictionaries

We will have a screen with several online dictionaries and by clicking on one of these we will be directed directly to the search by number of strokes.

japaneseonline
Page with all kanji that have 13 strokes

In our case by clicking 13 画 we will have the whole long list of kanji that have 13 strokes. With patience and attention we find the kanji.

japanese
Scrolling through the list with the 13-stroke kanji we find 嫉 that we were looking for

Research of the kanji by manual transcription

  • (かん)()()()(けん)(さく)
If we have no idea of ​​the radical, the ON and kun readings, if we don't know how to proceed, the method ()()き is great!

Let's do the test with the kanji:

Transcribed manually in the appropriate window and also in an irregular and harmonic way.

japaneseonline
Manual transcription in the kanji window that we are going to search and clicking 検索 the various options that the system recognizes appear

The kanji has been recognized. Obviously it depends on the precision in the manual entry, but as you can see the system reports various other kanji and it may happen that ours appears in the list, just not as the first element.

japaneseonline
We have identified the search kanji 起

Here, by clicking on the kanji that the system has recognized, we enter the details with the pronunciations and description; the kanji object of the research is the verb ()きる, wake up, get up


These are some general guidelines for searching for kanji in print publications or for searching online. If you have any doubts or questions or if you want to share some of your ideas or methods particular, write us as well at our email address.

Thank you for your interest and for following our project!

また(つぎ)()()いに

See you next time!

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