The story behind Eijiro: the most popular Japanese/English dictionary on the net

1872dictionaryBack in the day, when Firefox didn’t have yakushi-mouse (a translation function built in to the cursor) and Babelfish referred to something in a Douglas Adams novel, not a search function on Altavista, translators had very little choice for efficient computer based dictionaries. I was an active translator back in the 90s and swore by my trusty Wordtank until I came across Eijiro. Back then, Eijiro came on a CD-ROM and you could get a copy by sending off 200 yen or thereabouts (the cost of postage and the CD-ROM – yes CDs were expensive back then) to a group of mysterious freelance translators.
The reason why Eijiro is so good is because it was made by translators for translators. It’s founding father was a guy called Hideki Michibata (道端秀樹) who merely wanted to keep track of his English vocab. michibataAfter he started sharing it with his friends and encouraging them to add their input, it grew into what he now calls an EDP (Electronic Dictionary Project – Those Japanese lurve their acronyms!). It’s a little like a wiki in that users are allowed (and actively encouraged) to update and improve the dictionary making it a constantly growing source of information.This also explains why the cost was next to nothing. Most words come up with multiple hits and real actual examples of the context which other translators have either used or found that word used in the past.

The name “Eijiro” (英辞郎) itself is a play on a common Japanese boys name using the characters from “English” and “Dictionary” – I guess you could say it loosely translates to “Son of an English Dictionary”.

CD-ROMWhile people on dial-up can still order the CD-ROM version of Eijiro, the most popular version is the online version found on the Alc website. Alc, the company, has actually done quite well for themselves. I would be very interested to hear what Michibata was paid (if anything) for the right to adapt Eijiro for the web. Without doubt Alc must be getting a lot of page views. Google “pageranks” their site a 6/10 (although they might be a little biased as they do have a tie-up with Alc to automatically direct J-E and E-J translation requests to Alc from their Japanese language search site). As a long term user of Eijiro, in some ways it is sad to see how user awareness (compare on Google trends) has slowly migrated away from Eijiro. These days, most users probably don’t even realize that their Alc powered dictionary is (or was?) named Eijiro. Interestingly the Trademark for “英辞郎” (Eijiro) is registered in the name of Michibata’s wife, Sachiko. If that doesn’t smell of tax planning then I don’t know what does.

ALC MarkIt’s a little known fact that ALC is actually a listed company. With a market capitalization of over 6 billion yen and about 10 billion yen in sales expected this year, they are clearly starting to monetize this tie-up with Eijiro. Any keen readers who want to find more about the company can check out their IR site here.

With over 1.5 million words and still growing, Eijiro is definitely my online dictionary of choice.If you haven’t used it yet, definitely give it a burl

19 thoughts on “The story behind Eijiro: the most popular Japanese/English dictionary on the net”

  1. I have ALC open all day at work.  It is the only dictionary that gives good examples of usage. But, I must say, that it is only for intermediate or above learners of Japanese, because none of the kanji have furigana, or romaji readings, so that you have to have a good grasp of Japanese before it is useful.

    Do you know of any dictionaries that will tell me the reading of Kanji words that I don’t know? That’s what I really need. Thanks!

  2. Page rank has little to do with the amount of traffic generated. Google’s internal Page Rank is a floating point number that is constantly updating, however the one we get to see is a summarised version that only gets updated every couple of months, so it’s out of date and only really shows a general indication of the strength of your backlinks:

    you can read more about it here: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/more-info-on-pagerank/ (matt cutts is an engineer at Google)

    It’s very easy to get a high PR (and you’re able to fake it too) and have little traffic.

    Alexa gives a general indication of how much traffic is generated as it tracks it through their Alexa toolbar, however this is also not that accurate as it only gets its data from those who have their toolbar installed

  3. Yakushi-mouse on fire fox! Does that function exist on the mac version for firefox – I’ve never seen it?

  4. JohnB

    You can get the kanji reading on ALC, although its a bit complicated. Say you come accross the kanji for kigyo but you don’t know how to read it. Paste it into ALC and it will tell you that the English meaning is company, or whatever. Paste the word company back into ALC to get the Japanese meaning (ie use ALC as an eng-japanese dictionary) and it will give you the Japanese word with the kana reading in brackets. At least it does ninety pecent of the time.

    ALC is a Godsend for translators but after I discovered it I — and I imagine lots of other translators — are in the strange position of knowing the meaning of kanji but don’t know the read it because we simply paste it straight into ALC without the need to know the kana reading.

    A lot of Japanese translators use ALC without knowing that the English is often odd or even wrong, because it was written by Japanese — some of whom are excellent translators and some not so. ALC is great as a thesaurus — you know the meaning but you can’t think of the perfect English word. ALC gives us a good list to choose from.

  5. Thanks Tim! I didn’t know ALC could get kanji readings like that.
    From the latest poll, I also found that Monbusho.org’s FOKS dictionary does this job well too.
    Just go to:
    http://www.monbusho.org/foks.cgi
    And copy&paste in the hardest Japanese word that you know (in Kanji of course), and it will give you the reading, and a simple translation. Using ALC for usage, and Monbusho FOKS for single kanji readings looks to be my perfect combination.

    By the way, Red, what is “Yakushi Mouse”? I have never heard of such a thing.

  6. it looks like it might be a windows app that does somthing like rikaichan does for firefox – at least thats what I gleaned from google.

  7. Alc is marvellous, not many words I cant find in there, I have it open all day as well. They must get squillions of hits in a day..

  8. I also use it a great deal, but do occasionally get frustrated at the inaccessibility of compound word. You either can’t find them or end up trawling through endless pages.

  9. I sometimes use popjisyo.com because of it’s mouse-over ‘hover’ feature. In fact you can enter a URL of a Japanese webpage and popjisyo will load that page into its system. At first glance you think nothing has changed but when you hover over a kanji compound or other words it gives you the English definition in a nice little pop up window. I suggest trying this out because everything can be done from one window and you don’t have to keep going back and forth to your alc window.

  10. Thanks for the popjisyo.com link Colin. That is very cool. It is quite Yakushimouse except you don’t have to download anything. For those of you who don’t know, Yakushimouse is a plugin for firefox that basically gives you the same functionality. When you drag your mouse over a word a small window pops up with the translation of the word. Pros vs. popjisyo is that the box is smaller and so less of a jama to you but the Cons are that the explanation is less detailed than popjisyo – I like it how popjisyo acts as a 漢和辞典 too – that also solves JohnB’s problem, too. Not having to download is nice. too. Although, someone has got to tell the guys at popjisyo that the word mouse does not refer to an animal (this is the 例文 on the top page too!!)

  11. Similar to Rikai and Popjisyo is Wordchamp’s web reader: http://www.wordchamp.com/lingua2/Reader.do

    It has the rather curious feature of being able to listen to a native speaker say many of the words in its dictionary. With Japanese pronunciation being pretty regular that might not seem particularly helpful, but you can add words to a study list and then have them automatically play back to you later for listening practice.

  12. I just noticed that I have an option on my google toolbar (for firefox) which is called “wordtranslator”. If you switch it on it does exactly what yakushimouse does. Unfortunately it only seems to do E–>J so far.

    Larry and Sergey, can’t you get us a J–>E version too?

  13. So does alc let you provide updates/additions to the dictionary like the original? I’ve occasionally noticed that it is missing some usages and it’d be nice to have a way to contribute.

  14. For the “yakushii mouse” feature, you should get the firefox addon called pera pera-kun, it works on mac/windows.

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