This page contains information on how to use Mihongo. Click on a question to jump down to the answer.

How is the dictionary arranged?

How do I navigate the website and look up words?

What do the entries contain?

What is the standard kana order and how to memorize it?

How is the dictionary arranged?

Both the pages and the entries inside them are arranged according to the standard order of kana letters by rows and individual characters (see below if you don’t know the order). Only hiragana is used here to represent the pronunciation of the entries, although katakana may follow if it’s the standard way to write the word. The kana を and ん do not appear in the chart, as there are no normal words that begin with these sounds.

The visual materials always follow the text of the entry to which they belong – the entry comes first, and the pictures are right below it. Anything above the text belongs to the preceding entry.

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How do I look up words?

Searching can be done in the following ways:

(1) Finding the word by its kana spelling, through the chart on the main page or the kana navigation tree on the side menu. Click the first hiragana letter of the word you’re looking up, reach the letter’s page, and then find the word on that page – either by scrolling down to its normal place according to the kana order, or by using the “find” function of your browser.

(2) Through the search box found on the navigation bar. Here you can use either hiragana, kanji or romaji, which means you can find words for which you don’t know the reading, by copy-pasting a word from another program. You can also enter English words to find entries by their general description.

Some further usage notes:

  • The search box shows search results as links to the corresponding kana page(s) containing the word, and therefore the important thing to look for when viewing the search results is the kana letter title, not the words that are listed under it (these will always be the first words of the page.)
    Example: searching さぎ will give you a link to the 《さ》 page followed by a summary of the text it contains. Click on the page title (the 《さ》, in this case) to access it, and once you’re there, go to the entry.
  • Katakana should not be used to search for pronunciations, as the search box will not show you results entered this way unless the entry itself contains katakana.
  • Romanizations should be entered according to the standard system, i.e. Hepburn – but without macrons (the superscript lines used to represent long vowels). I have used capital letters to show long vowels in the entries instead. Simply type the romanization in lower case, without spaces.
    Example: to search the word 五重塔 by romanization, enter it as “gojunoto”.
  • These two search methods (direct browsing of the kana pages, and using the search box) should be able to locate anything that appears on the website.While they’re basic (they won’t take you directly to the word, only to its page), they are pretty accurate.
  • If you can’t find a word, try using another spelling variant or entering the kana reading into the search box. If you still get no results, it probably means the word hasn’t been included in the dictionary yet. You can suggest it for inclusion, and if I can find/make suitable materials for it, chances are it will appear here sooner or later.
  • Another possible way of using the dictionary is for studying new vocabulary — by browsing the pages, finding pictures that interest you and learning the entry associated with them. This way of use is suitable for those who want to learn more about Japanese culture in general, without having any particular word to look up.

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What do the entries contain?

Each entry is made of the following components:

(1) Headword – the Hiragana pronunciation of the entry. When alternative words that have the same meaning are given, they appear in parentheses.

(2) Kanji, including common variants where applicable. Kanji for alternative words are given in parentheses.

(3) Romanization according to the Hepburn system (the only change being the use of capital letters instead of macrons for long vowels). Romanization for alternative words is given in parentheses.

(4) A short description of the item in English.

(5) Abbreviation(s) in square brackets, identifying the type of visual material and its source.

(6) Visual material – picture and/or illustration. The visual materials follow the entries to which they belong – they are always shown below the corresponding entry.

The reason that romanization has been included is to make the dictionary at least somewhat useful to people who have no knowledge of Japanese. This way, someone who has come across a word in an English text can find it too.

Macrons do not appear in the romanization because keeping them in the entries makes it necessary to type them into the search field as well, or else no results can be found. Instead, long vowels are indicated by capital letters (example: かとうまど is rendered as katOmado.)

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What is the standard kana order and how to memorize it?

First, take a look at the complete order (read from left to right, the upper line first):

あ い う え お   か き く け こ   さ し す せ そ   た ち つ て と   な に ぬ ね の   は ひ ふ へ ほ   ま み む め も   や ゆ よ   ら り る れ ろ   わ を   ん

And now for the explanation. Kana letters are arranged by groups of sounds that begin with the same consonant. These groups are called “rows” (行 [ぎょう]). Since kana represent whole syllables and not standalone consonants or vowels (with the exception of the vowel row), nothing in the actual form of kana letters that belong to the same group shows their common consonant; but this is still the underlying principle of arranging them together.

The rows are named by their first letter, i.e. by the a-vowel kana. For example, い and お are both considered part of the あ-row (あ行 [あぎょう] in Japanese), because あ begins the row of independent vowels; ぬ and ね belong to the な-row, etc.

Nearly all the rows have five letters in them, always by the same order of the vowels that are combined with the common consonant: a, i, u, e, o. The only exceptions to this are the や-row, which in the modern language has only three vowels (や, ゆ, よ), and the わ-row, that has only two (わ, を). The ん sound does not belong to any row, and is placed at the end of the chart on its own.

The ordering of words according to their pronunciation is based on both the order of rows relative to each other and the order of the vowels within them. For example, か will appear before け in a dictionary, a book’s index, or a name list (even if the words are actually written in kanji), due to the principle that the vowel [a] precedes the vowel [e].

Another example: け will appear before ち, because anything from the か-row precedes anything belonging to a row that comes after it.

The same principle is true when further arranging words that begin with the same kana letter: for example, かかる will come before かける, because か precedes け.

Memorizing the kana order will help you a lot in your study, especially when you start using native Japanese dictionaries and resources. The way I did it was to learn by heart a string of three “words” made from the first kana of each row: akasata nahama yarawan. Since the vowel order inside the rows is fixed, if you can remember this string, you’ll be able to recall the entire order anytime – extrapolating from the first letter of each row to the others.

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