If you’re studying Japanese and you’re at the point where you’re reading text from other sources other than the How to Read Japanese book, there’s one book that has really helped me a lot: a kanji dictionary.
You’ve probably invested in an English-Japanese dictionary but why invest on a kanji dictionary specifically? Because with a kanji dictionary, you’re more likely to find the kanji that make up a part of a word and get the compound and meaning of that word which more likely than not, you won’t find in your English-Japanese dictionary.
There have been many times when I’m slogging through a manga trying to find the meaning to a word based on the furigana atop the kanji. Many a times as well, I couldn’t find the meaning or the spelling is a bit off from the actual used form in the manga to the dictionary form. With a kanji dictionary, I tended to eliminate that problem.
With that said, there are times when manga or literature in general uses slang or an older way (think old English with thee, thy, etc.) of saying a word so a kanji dictionary helps but you may have to make a decision about the “correct” interpretation.
Anyways, for those interested, I use the The Kodansha Learners Dictionary. It’s a thick book with over a 1000 pages, 2,230 entry characters, including all the kanji in the Joyo and Jinmei Kanji lists, 41,000 senses for 31,300 words and word elements show how each character contributes to the meanings of compounds, 1,200 homophones with core meanings explain differences between closely related characters, 386 variant forms used in prewar literature and in names, 1,945 stroke order diagrams show you how to write each kanji stroke by stroke; 7,200 character readings, including name readings, and over 2,000 cross-references and five appendixes to give instant access to a mass of useful reference data.
Yeah. It has a lot.
If the description went over your head, here’s a breakdown of the things I love about this dictionary. First off, you can find kanji in multiple ways but for myself, the two best methods are via the stroke and by finding the ________ in one of the appendices in the back and finding the kanji from there. Once you find the kanji, you’ll see the kanji, stroke order, multiple meanings, the kanji used in a sentence and similar kanji’s. Best of all, there’s a long intro at the beginning of the book that explains many things about kanji, using the book, and other useful information.
If you’re interested in picking up a copy, you can find used versions for cheap or if you’re willing to wait, you can buy the latest revised and expanded version coming this May 2013 for about $30USD. To take a look inside the book, head on over to Amazon and hit the image the says “Click to Look Inside!”