Before you buy that denshi jisho…

Whether this is your first encounter with Japan and the Japanese language or if you studied abroad in Nagoya for a year and majored in Japan Studies, you will come across a word (or an obscure fish kanji) that totally throws you off. If you are with a student or teacher, they may whip out the denshi jisho (electronic dictionary), inspiring your immediate envy. All of them seem to give decent translations, and the ones you really want to raid Yamada Denki for have little screens where you can take a shot at that baffling kanji with a stylus.

Denshi jisho are great tools, but they are infamously expensive. The kind with a kanji-writing screen can put you back 20,000-30,000 new, depending on the brand, and 12,000 used. That’s a lot of yen to invest, especially in something that does only one thing. Before you commit to  the denshi jisho, let’s explore some alternatives that utilize technology you might already own.

There’s an App for That

If you own an iPod Touch or iPhone, then you have many, many choices. Through the  iTunes store, you can find all manner of dictionary apps for a fraction of the price of a denshi jisho. (Note: my experience is with the American store, but I am sure that most English-Japanese products can be purchased through Canadian, South African, Australian, or New Zealandian iTunes stores.) has reviews and screenshots of the apps if you want more info. Some of the top picks include:

  1. Kotoba! This is an astounding free (yes, FREE) app that allows you to search for words, individual kanji, and even example sentences. The word and kanji database comes from Jim Breem’s wwwjidic project, but unlike the Jim Breem site, Kotoba!’s interface is seamless. You can create lists of words or kanji that you have looked up to study later, and can view lists of kanji organized by JLPT level and by the order they are learned in Japanese schools. Best of all, everything but the example sentences can be accessed offline—no wifi, no problem. While Kotoba! doesn’t have touch-sensitive kanji-writing input, you can change the settings in your iPod/iPhone to allow Chinese character input.. Stroke order is different, but with a few tries you can generally get the DL on what fish is in your school bento today.
  2. Japanese. Either $8 or $20. The selling point of this app is that it has a kanji drawing input. Like Kotoba, it uses edict databases, but stores content offline so that you can do your searching with or without a connection. It has all the features of Kotoba! plus some enhanced JLPT prep material and quizzing features.
  3. Wisdom E-J. $21. This is the exact same content as is on the denshi jisho, just reformatted for the iPod Touch/ iPhone. If you want the reassurance that you are getting the same word your students and teachers are or want tons and tons of example sentences, this will be your best friend. I haven’t used it personally, so I don’t know if you can use the touch screen to draw kanji. I assume that the Chinese character input trick in the machine settings might work here as well.

Fun and Games

If you have a Nintendo DS, there is a famous denshi jisho alternative waiting for you. Kanji Sonomama is expensive in the US, but can be purchased used from or from Book Off and other game resellers. Kani Sonomama uses the DS touch screen to allow you to write and look up kanji. It is made for a Japanese-speaking audience, however, so be ready to spend a little time getting to know the navigation system. Non-obscure words have English translations, and obscure words have hiragana readings. This tool is perfect for reading forms or looking up kanji at the grocery store; however, the English-Japanese interface is tricky enough to make it impractical for conversations or teaching, as it gives only kanji for any English word you look up.

Phone a Friend

Your keitai, even if it was a freebie, has more features than you would care to believe. Almost every keitai has a built-in dictionary. The English to Japanese (英和) interface sometimes has the same problem as Kanji Sonomama (giving you kanji you may not know how to read) but the Japanese to English (和英) is generally good. It will take some time to get used to using the keitai dictionary interface, but hey, it comes with your phone. Use your own judgment as to whether or not it is appropriate to use your keitai as a dictionary in school.

 A feature worth looking for is kanji grabber. In more feature-rich phones, this will be under the camera menu. Basically, your phone uses the camera and built in dictionary to scan kanji you hold the phone up to. It then copy-pastes it into the Japanese-English dictionary and allows you to search. This feature is great for everyday words and phrases, but I’ve found that the English database doesn’t extend to fish at the restaurant or grocery store.

Ultimately, you know your own technology preferences. If that single-function denshi jisho represents a significant investment in learning Japanese and would serve as a motivator, then awesome. But for those who want the function and not the product, I hope that this has provided some other options.

If you’ve had a great experience with an alternative not listed here or have found that these alternatives pale in comparison with your denshi jisho, please enlighten us!

Posted by Lauren, who wants to be tech savvy one day.

Korinbo Uniqlo to Open

A new Uniqlo location will open on the 3rd floor of Korinbo 109 on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010.

For the uninitiated, Uniqlo is similar to a Gap or an Old Navy–a store of affordable basics for men, women, and children and basic career wear for adults. Favorite items among the JETs include the fleece pajamas, heat-tech undershirts, non-frilly bras, button-down shirts for work, patterned tights/leggings, and wool sweaters. (Winter is coming, after all!)

My favorite thing about Uniqlo is the free hemming services on purchases over 1990 yen (300 yen charge for purchases under 1990 yen). Despite being the average height for an American woman (5’4″ or 163 cm), I have trouble finding jeans that fit lengthwise in the States. At Uniqlo, just roll your jeans or slacks to your preferred length and ask for 補正 (hosei; correction, or, in this case, alteration) or すそ上げ (suso age, raising the hem/cuff) when you’re in the dressing room. The clerk will pin the hem for you. When you purchase the pants, the front register will send them back to be hemmed and give you a receipt to make sure you get the right pants. The process usually takes about 15 minutes. Brilliant!

Uniqlo also accepts used Uniqlo-brand clothes to be given to charities abroad.

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Recycle Your Used Clothes at Uniqlo

Leaving Japan? Moving to a new city? Just have too many clothes?

Recycle your Uniqlo clothes at Uniqlo! Gently used clothes will be donated to charity; clothes that can no longer be worn will be recycled into fabric.

Clothing must be Uniqlo brand.
Clothing must not be stained or soiled. Wash before donating.
Clothing must be brought to a Uniqlo store; it cannot be posted by mail.

For more information on the process and the initiative, see the English website or the Japanese website.

To find the closest Uniqlo to you, click here. (Japanese only)
(In Ishikawa, there are 2 stores in Kanazawa, one in Nonoichi, one in Komatsu, and one in Nanao.)
Thanks to Dipika for the tip-off!

Leah Zoller is a first-year CIR in Anamizu and the editor of this blog. She has 4.5 words for you: free on-site hemming services.

Kutaniyaki Porcelain Festival

Area Leader, Andrew Stewart-Wynne sent out this invitation to all the JETs in Ishikawa! Please contact him if you’d like to join the group he is organizing in Nomi, near his home, on May 3rd (during Golden Week).
An event local to my neck of the woods is approaching and I wanted to extend a warm welcome to anyone who may be interested in visiting it. It is the Kutaniyaki Porcelain Festival running from the 3rd to 5th of May (Yes! Mon – Wed during Golden Week!). This invitation is open to all JETs near and far, but particularly to those in the south bloc (or Nomi/Hakusan/Kaga) because it is in your local! Support local – yay!

Kutani Chawan Matsuri

Bargains! Oooh, the bargains!

A festival which began in the Meiji Period, it is one of the big events in Nomi.  Porcelain and pottery makers gather from afar, and bargains are a plenty for those keen to get their hands on some fine earthenware! There is something available for everyones budget ranging from 100 yen to 1 million yen. A variety of stage events run throughout the day (including my school’s school band performance!) and a variety of food stalls and other tents attract folk from near and far. I realise it is smack bang in the middle of GW, but if you are not travelling the countryside and either are a big porcelain fan or would just like to check it out feel free to join us!
Date : Monday 3rd May
Time : 11:00 ~ until you’ve had enough!
Where to meet: Terai Train Station
Cost : Entry is free! You just need bus/train fare and spending money.
Anyone interested in coming along please contact me Andrew, at stewart underscore wynne at yahoo dot co dot jp,  or if you’d like more info for another day. Below are a few links:
Festival Info (English)
Festival Info (Japanese only)
Festival Info (Japanese only)
Maps/Access (Japanese only)

Bilingual Manga: ダーリンは外国人 in English (My Darling is a Foreigner)

The premiere of the film  My Darling is a Foreigner (『ダーリンは外国人 』 daarin wa gaikokujin)) was last weekend (10-11 April); the film is currently playing at Forus in Kanazawa and other local theaters.


I haven’t seen the film yet, but I absolutely adore the original manga by Oguri Saori (小栗佐多里). I read the first volume in Japanese at Middlebury Summer Japanese School and was instantly hooked. I really wanted to share it with my spouse, who doesn’t speak or read Japanese, but even though Oguri’s American husband Tony Lazlo (the titular “darling”) had translated it into English, the bilingual version had been out of print for years.

Thanks to the popularity of the film, however, the bilingual version is back in print, at least in Japan. The title is ダーリンは外国人 in English. I bought a copy at Beans on the Kenchou Road (Route 60), but it’s also available on, and, I imagine, other large booksellers promoting the film. (Look for it near the My Darling is a Foreigner film/manga displays on the first floor of Beans.)

Lazlo’s translation isn’t always literal, but it does capture the feel of Oguri’s original language. The manga, which also has three additional volumes in Japanese, is episodic, with some episodes dealing with Tony and Saori’s cultural differences, like Saori’s desire to have an American pet name like “honey,” and some dealing with their personalities, like Tony’s passion for language study. (「グラスの心」,or “Heart of Glass” is one of my favorite chapters in the first volume, but no spoilers!)

Whether you’re just starting to learn Japanese, interested in translation theory, or want an enjoyable read in either language, ダーリンは外国人 My Darling is a Foreigner is a great way to practice your Japanese and learn about Japanese culture.

Leah Zoller is a first-year CIR in Anamizu, and her darling is also a “foreigner” from the mythical land of Gaikoku.

Kanazawa Forus gets LUSH

by guest writer Emily Hutchinson, ALT, Kanazawa

Let’s face it, living and working abroad can be stressful at times. I think we’ve all had those days where we just want to come home to a warm bath and crash early. It is for this reason that I was so excited to hear that a new LUSH store was opening right here in Kanazawa.

Founded in the U.K., Lush is a company famous for its fresh, handmade, organic bath and body products. They are committed to quality and put a friendly face on their products – literally. If you turn over a bottle or tub of their products, you will see a sticker with a picture of the person who manufactured and the date it was made.

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Lupicia Tea

There is a tea shop called Lupicia that recently opened in the basement of Forus.  It is a great, small shop that specializes in nearly every kind of tea imaginable and offers them up at reasonable prices.  For those of you living in or around Kanazawa, it is definitely worth stopping by, especially since it is conveniently located in Forus.  At the store they have several dozen teas available to see and sniff to help you decide which ones are right for you.  Prices vary from 500yen-3000yen for a 50g tin (10% discount for a bag).  Also, for those of us who can’t regularly make it to Kanazawa, Lupicia has a website where you can view their catalog and print out an order form to have tea delivered.


The Foreign Buyers’ Club

A few weeks ago, I was asked what I liked to eat for breakfast. I replied that I often eat oatmeal and got blank stares from all the Japanese people in the room. Oatmeal, or hot cereal, isn’t popular in Japan, and, in my town, you can only buy “baking oatmeal.” My treasured bag of oatmeal came from the FBC, or the Foreign Buyers’ Club.

Oats from the FBC

Oats from the FBC

The Foreign Buyers’ Club is a dual-part website where you can buy goods from home.

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