The best Japanese dictionary App for iOS

nihongo japanese dictionary app srs

All the tools to help you study Japanese changed a lot over the past ten years (or let’s just say a decade because that sounds more dramatic). Nihongo is still the best Japanese dictionary app for me because of the constant development and improvement of the App.

All started with a basic English and Japanese dictionary, then came Kanji stroke orders, different supported languages to translate Japanese to, and finally the game changer: Google OCR to detect and translate Japanese text on pictures.

In the last decade, iOS went from its humble beginnings to Face recognition, and from an App library with Angry Birds as the highlight to one with countless decent offerings to help you study Japanese. From the Human Japanese Apps that want to be a digital alternative to Genki to JALUP, Genki’s own Apps, and countless dictionary Apps. I’m personally still using JALUP every morning.

I make some coffee, sit down in a comfy chair, and start to do my reviews. You know that I’m only recommending the stuff I really use and love and JALUP is one of those programs that I think don’t get the recognition it deserves. The price for the packs is off-putting. I get that. But having paid for two packs already I can assure you that it’s money well spent and has been a blessing in improving my Japanese.

My search for the perfect dictionary / SRS-App

I was just browsing the web for another Japanese dictionary App that would also work as an SRS and basically save me some time for creating my own cards with Anki. I’m currently playing あつまれ どうぶつの森 and am really enjoying it so far. There are just so many QOL features in there in comparison with its predecessor on the 3DS which makes it a lot more fun to play.

The big news is that the European/US edition of the game also contains a Japanese language option when you switch your console language to Japanese. Awesome, especially since you can just change back the language if you’re facing some problems in-game and the game will just revert to any language that you set for your console.

I wanted to make my own flashcards, ideally with screenshots/pictures of the game included. My dream dictionary App would allow me to just import a screenshot / take a picture, scan the text inside the dictionary App, and make a flashcard out of it with the screenshot attached. Unfortunately, that’s only possible when you’re putting in the work yourself and create your own Anki flashcards.

But I discovered a fast, well-made dictionary App with a built-in SRS, picture scanning feature, and the feature to save and attach a picture to any word inside the dictionary. For a few years now the best Japanese dictionary App for me is called Nihongo. It’s available for iOS only and made by Chris Vasselli. I always love it when I can directly get in touch with the people behind a program/app/website.

nihongo japanese dictionary app

Ok, so Genki is a common word. The Nihongo-Website is talking about a level-up system which basically is leveling up words the more you look them up / see them.

The best Japanese dictionary App for iOS

Tons of (computer) voiced example sentences. Excellent.

What makes Nihongo stand out

Each word has a sign attached that grades it to common/uncommon or rare. You can import the text from pictures (using Google’s OCR capabilities) and go through every word. There is even a feature to make flashcards out of every word you looked up. What I love is that you can even attach a picture to a word. Love that feature because it gives me the context I need. You can even store so-called “clippings” which is basically Japanese text you copied into the app and immediately each word and kanji gets clickable. This really makes it easy to look up unknown words or go through a text you’re struggling with.

Just scan a picture for its text, go through every word, and attach the picture you got that word from to its dictionary entry. It sounds a little complicated written down but it’s so easy and smooth to do when you’re looking up words from a picture, it’s just incredible. And fast.

What I’d love to see next: On my wishlist for the already pretty awesome Japanese dictionary App is the ability to include example sentences to the backside of the flashcards. That’s one of the many qualities of Nihongo (and learning Japanese from sentences is one of the best study methods I know). Displaying related words under your main search query.

nihongo japanese dictionary app srs

And of course, to make flashcards from pictures. Ideally with the ability to just display a picture you took (or just the text from the picture if you want to) and make a flashcard out of it using the OCR feature. That would call for iCloud implementation for your to make backups but really would be a marvelous feature. Just imagine playing つまれ どうぶつの森 and just importing the screenshots of dialogues you were having trouble with to make some badass flashcards. Easy and without the need to go through countless ANKI Add-ons.

best Japanese dictionary app ios google ocr

Here I attached a picture I took (Animal Crossing, what else) to a word I looked up. Really do love that feature.

The best Japanese dictionary App for iOS

Clippings and the Safari Extension

I talked about picture clippings briefly and my wish to just use them for flashcard creation. The Safari extension works with the same principle but applies it to the web browser. The video on Nihongo’s own website probably shows it best. I’m personally not reading any Japanese websites or blogs but maybe that will change with your recommendations?!

Nihongo is free to use in its plain version as a basic, super-fast, dictionary App. Without the extra bells and whistles like its flashcard function or OCR (picture scanning) capabilities. Check it out for yourself and make use of the 14-day trial version for the full Nihongo Pro experience to see for yourself what makes this app so special and stands out from the crowd of dictionary apps.

I have no problem with supporting developers and always happily pay for a good App but I’m slightly annoyed by the recent trend that seemingly every App is now running on a subscription-based model. Nihongo offers us a choice when we want to go pro. Personally, I’ll get a “lifetime subscription” after my trial ends because the OCR capabilities, tons of example sentences, etc. are perfect for my Japanese studies. And if OCR-flashcard capabilities with iCloud backup are in the future, even better,

Which dictionary App are you using at the moment? Do you have a clear favorite and are you using any SRS capabilities by dictionary Apps or sticking with Anki for that?

Comments 3
  1. Huh I’ve never heard of this app before, but it sounds super convenient and I especially love the feature that lets you attach photos to words, and that it even has the OCR built-in! That way I don’t even need to use Google’s own Translate app, switching between the two.

    I’ve been using “imiwa?” for around 10 years now, but I’m definitely gonna check out “Nihongo” and I’m very likely to make a switch, simply because of the above mentioned feature since it’s so useful.

    Speaking of apps where when you can “directly get in touch with the people behind”! I have a recommendation of a grammar-app that I would love to see you put in the spotlight :) “Bunpo” was created a few years ago by Yuki from Kyoto, whom I happened to get to know and become friends with on one of my trips there – staying at the same share house as him! The app has come a really far way since then (I met Yuki even before he started working on it) and can also teach French now ^^ Yuki’s a great guy and the app has always been really good for learning, probably thanks to him getting some help from one of his friends who’s a teacher. Do check it out if you have the time!

  2. Hi Jakob! It’s been a while, I hope you’re doing well :)

    Thank you for this article! I used to do with the dictionnary app “Japanese”, Google Translation for OCR and a bit of Anki, but this app is amazing! I think it’s just going to replace these 3 apps for me. You expressed it well in this article!

    It’s very good in French contrary to “Japanese” app. Its OCR is the same as Google Translation but the UX is so much better! You can go back to the picture and select another word. On the Google Translate official app you have to get back and take the photo again if you want to see another word in the same text.

    I’m not a big Anki user, I want to push it further in 2021, but I think the ease of use of this app to associate a word with a picture will be my way to go.

    Really stunned by this app. My only concern is, I now want one of the new Mac to have this app on my laptop lol.

    FYI I’m taking the JLPT N3 in two weeks. Mock tests tell me I should get it but it still feels difficult. Well I don’t really need the certification so I’m not really stressed.
    Forcing to reach this level by December finally pushed me to that intermediate level where navigating in japanese content doesn’t feel like a pain, but an exploration of many words and grammar choices.

    See you soon!

    1. Hey Baptiste, great to hear from you again!

      Great that you enjoy the Nihongo App as much as I do and congrats to taking JLPT N3 next month. That really is something. How long did it take you to prepare and which books were you using?
      I think tackling the JLPT will be my next goal as well. Love how you described your new Japanese perspective. Sounds awesome. Best of luck, you will rock N3! Let me know how things were going.

      And yes to the new Apple-lineup :) I just wish they would bring back a smaller laptop again. Still love my 12″MB, not really feeling the Air. Apple really made way for a new era here. With iOS Apps working on OSX as well.

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