Back 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. After 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”.
While 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.
It’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.