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The Modern Reader's Japanese-English Character Dictionary (2nd Revised Edition)
Japanese title最新漢英辞典
Author Andrew N. Nelson
Publisher Tuttle
CategoryKanji to English
ISBN0804804087 (boxed hardcover) [COPAC, Webcatplus, Wikipedia]

Review of The Modern Reader's Japanese-English Character Dictionary (2nd Revised Edition) by Wolfgang Cronrath

Nelson covers about 4500 main characters and more than 1000 variants including pre-war versions and a few handwritten abbreviations.

Nelson uses a lookup system based on the classical radicals with slight modifications. The main modifications is the invention of the "radical priority system" which gives clear rules under which radical a kanji is classified if there is more than one possibility whereas the classical system uses the meaning giving part of a kanji. Radical numbers and other information printed on the edge of the pages increase the lookup speed. Especially the radical priority system saves the reader from multiple lookup attempts. Fortunately, kanji where Nelson changed the radical are also listed under the old radical with a cross reference to the new one. Cross references are also given for common variants and wrong stroke counts.

Nelson contains about 10000 readings for the kanji. However, it doesn't distinguish between approved and obsolete ones. It also doesn't indicate clearly which on-reading can be used as an independent word and which can't. Nelson gives about every possible English translation for a reading, which might be good for translators but is definitely confusing for learners.

Nelson lists about 70000 compound words. The author says in the foreword that he included many religion-related words. However, it is questionable whether these are used more commonly than many technical terms which are not included.

Useful appendices are given for the kana including pre-war usage, historical information, geographical names, weights and measures and kanji simplified by the Japanese. The list of Toyo-kanji is completely outdated.

I found it very unlikely that any kanji which you will see printed somewhere is not in this dictionary. Besides that, I used to learn new kanji by looking up their radicals and sound giving parts as well and found at least a few sound parts in Nelson too. After mastering about 70 of the most important radicals, the kanji lookup is fast and convenient in most of the cases though I think the characters which are now under radical 1 - 4 are more difficult to find. The information given for each kanji is too confusing for leaners and is lacking some essential information. Though Nelson focuses on religious vocabulary, the learner will find almost any word at least up to an intermediate level.

I find Nelson suitable for beginners and quite useful for advanced students. However, especially for beginners, by author@Jack Halpern@ is definitely a much better choice.

☆ See all reviews by Wolfgang Cronrath.

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