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Japanese dictionaries have a history that began over 1300 years ago when Japanese Buddhist priests, who wanted to understand Chinese sutras, adapted Chinese character dictionaries. Present-day Japanese lexicographers are exploring computerized editing and electronic dictionaries. According to Keisuke Nakao:
It has often been said that dictionary publishing in Japan is active and prosperous, that Japanese people are well provided for with reference tools, and that lexicography here, in practice as well as in research, has produced a number of valuable reference books together with voluminous academic studies. (1998:35)
After introducing some Japanese “dictionary” words, this article will discuss early and modern Japanese dictionaries, demarcated at the 1603 CE lexicographical sea-change from Nippo Jisho, the first bilingual Japanese–Portuguese dictionary. “Early” here will refer to lexicography during the Heian, Kamakura, and Muromachi periods (794–1573); and “modern” to Japanese dictionaries from the Edo or Tokugawa era (1603–1867) through the present.