Someone commission a Randy Newman/Lyle Lovett number

Today is the Koujien's fiftieth birthday!

A direct descendent of the 1935 Jien (『辞苑』, "Garden/Meadow of Words/Language"), the first Koujien (『広辞苑』, "Expanded 辞苑") was published in 1955. They've kept up a steady schedule of about one new edition every decade, and we're currently on the 5th (and due for an update!) Wikipedia also lists several intriguing-sounding books about the Koujien.

There's some mildly interesting stuff (in Japanese) at the official site, including a page about the unsung heroes of the Koujien, such as...

The Tsuji College of the Culinary Arts

The Koujien has 230,000 entries. This includes many "encyclopedia-style" entries, which we have written and double-checked for us by foremost experts in the appropriate field. For the fifth edition, the Tsuji College of the Culinary Arts kindly agreed to edit the "food and drink" entries for us. "It really brought home to me again how wide-ranging the entries and definitions are. There were terms like nobusama and tachibanayaki that you just don't hear these days -- we had to check them in old reference books, and there were a lot of originally foreign foods that are prepared differently or use different ingredients in their home countries -- we really had to work our brains to make our explanations simple and clear." This dedicated editorial attitude makes the Koujien the reliable reference work that it has become.

According to the Koujien (of course):

  • nobusama (野衾) is "tenderised 'little bird' and sea bream, briefly boiled and then simmered with lightly sliced/peeled abalone shaped into something like a bag" (yes, it's all simple and clear to me now -- maybe it's just because I don't understand how any amount of peeling or slicing could shape an abalone into a bag) -- or, alternately, "a kind of flying squirrel";
  • tachibanayaki (橘焼) is "Ground fish meat made into small balls and dyed yellow with jasmine, simmered with miso sauce, and stuck on a trifoliate orange branch".


Popularity factor: 5


So can you give us non-Japanophones some idea of the niche this occupies in the lexicographosphere? Is it like the OED (comprehensive to the point of insanity, lots of citations) or M-W Unabridged (comprehensive but omitting excessively archaic terms, no citations)? Is it the universally acknowledged Big Dictionary of Japanese, or are there worthy competitors? Feed my dictionary obsession!


I _believe_ it is the most famous and popular J-J dictionary in Japan. I can't recall ever not finding a word I wanted in there, with the exception of neologisms too recent or short-lived to get in, etc., and certain obscure classical Japanese words (not many of them, even though.) I find most of its entries informative enough, but not fascinating.

It's definitely aimed at the general reader rather than the specialist -- it doesn't have much etymology (and apparently it sometimes gets it wrong!) and I think example sentences are more common than citations. So in summary, it's probably closer to the M-W, I guess.

The weirdest thing about it, in my opinion, is that most of the citations seem to be from the 1000-year-old classics, like the Manyoushuu, Genji, Ise Monogatari, etc. This makes a lot of them rather cryptic, from the viewpoint of a modern Japanese speaker. I would have expected more citations from other eras, especially, say, the Meiji period, when people were coining words like crazy and documenting the process pretty well in their magazines and manifestoes.


most of the citations seem to be from the 1000-year-old classics

That is odd. I wonder what the thought process was? More modern citations would be... undignified?


Perhaps they've just made a conscious decision to go with the first recorded usage. I would like to see them throw in some citations from modern writers, too, if only to show evolution (and since "modern" extends back to giants like Soseki, Akutagawa, etc., surely dignity wouldn't be a problem..)


Under the "several intriguing-sounding books", steer clear of the Tanizawa & Watabe "Lies of the Kojien": jingoistic crap, pure and simple.

I saw it advertised in the paper (sounded interesting) and they just happened to have it at the uni bookstore, so I snapped it up.

Another case where tachiyomi would have saved me some money

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