The Internet’s Best Japanese Translation Dictionary – An Interview with Honyaku Star!

honyaku star japanese translation dictionary

Today we’re talking to Mark of LocalizingJapan. Mark is the creator of the Japanese translation dictionary Honyaku Star.

“But,” you ask, “just what is a ‘translation dictionary’? What makes it different? And what makes Honyaku Star the best?”

Ahh, my friends you’re about to find out.

But first, I’d like to say, if you’re like me you might already have a dictionary of choice (is it sacrilegious to use anything other than Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC?) and you might be wondering, “Why would I need another dictionary?”

I was like you. I didn’t think I needed another dictionary, and then I met Honyaku Star. I promise you its worth your while. But don’t take my word for it, let’s here from the man himself and then look at a few search comparisons.

Without further ado, the interview:


JapanTree: What is the mission/vision of your site? What is it all about?

Mark: Honyaku Star is all about being the best translation dictionary on the Web. It’s fast, has millions of translations, and is easy to use. It is different from a traditional dictionary in that it doesn’t have things like parts of speech (is the word a noun or a verb) type of stuff. You search for English, and you get Japanese translations–you search for Japanese, and you get English translations. I’ve used dictionaries that provide all of that extra information and never found it useful. I know if a word is a noun or verb–I just want the translation. And, I want to see it used in context. That is very important. Getting as many example sentences with translations is equally important in order to see how the word or phrase is used. Which brings us to another point–you don’t just look up words in a dictionary; sometimes you want to look up phrases. So Honyaku Star allows for that as well.

It might make sense to think of things like Honyaku Star and ALC as more like translation search engines rather than dictionaries. However, they don’t search the Internet, so search engine isn’t the right way to describe it either. So Japanese/English translation dictionary is probably the best description.


(Aside: Mark’s note about example sentences brought me back to my first year of school in Tokyo and my first Japanese electronic dictionary. Those example sentences were the greatest thing on Earth. Natsukashii)

JapanTree: What makes Honyaku Star unique from other dictionaries and how can users get the most from your site?

Mark: No pagination. If you search for something with a lot of results, you will instantly get 1,000 results all on one page. I never liked how ALC and similar sites use pages and pages of pagination when there are a lot of results. I want to scroll through them and browse at my own pace and not wait.

To get the most from the site, I recommend using Rikaichan/Rikaikun in your browser if you are not a native Japanese speaker. Honyaku Star intentionally doesn’t provide pronunciations for translations to keep the site fast and interface clean. But with something like Rikaichan, you get that for free instantly. It’s how I work with it.

JapanTree: What do you like the best about running Honyaku Star?

Mark: I mainly built Honyaku Star for me. It’s the Japanese/English dictionary site I would want to use. But finding out that other people find it useful and enjoy using it motivates me even more to keep developing it.

JapanTree: What motivated you to start it?

Mark: I used ALC a lot for translation work, and found that it was slow, didn’t have translations for some things, and the site has so many advertisements and distractions it. ALC’s main purpose is to sell you books and services–not be the best Japanese/English dictionary. I wanted a faster, better ALC with a clean interface and couldn’t find one, so I built my own.

There are many niche subject matters aren’t in any formal dictionary, but users/fans of that subject area might have built up their own glossaries. For example, I personally added a lot of video game terminology into Honyaku Star because it is something I’ve tried looking up in many dictionaries and failed to find in the past. Maybe it is not useful to a general audience, but someone somewhere might be trying to look up the same thing, and just because it isn’t mainstream for a ‘professional’ dictionary doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having. Honyaku Star is the online dictionary for everyone. All terminology and translations are accepted and wanted as long as they are accurate.

JapanTree: What challenges did you face in starting your Honyaku Star project?

(by the way, I’ve been playing with it and it really is extensive. I searched for some difficult to find things like a word I couldn’t remember recently when doing some simultaneous translating. The word was “comfort zone.” The word wasn’t in Breen’s dict (I submitted it after) or Tagaini Jisho or my Aedict app.)

Mark: The main challenge was how to make it fast. Fortunately, there was a project called Senna, and now called Mroonga, that is an n-gram index for the MySQL database that is specifically made for indexing Japanese. Mroonga makes Honyaku Star fast. Then, the next challenge is making the translation dictionary the best one out there. I am constantly looking for new sources of data and updating it. Beyond traditional dictionaries, there are translation resources all over the place that provide terms and example sentences. For example, many open source projects have documentation that is translated into multiple languages. Individual translators might have built up a personally glossary of hard-to-translate terms over the years. Any source helps if it can add new content. You will not find these types of sources in a mainstream dictionary, but they are very useful, so Honyaku Star has them. And finally, time is always limited. There is always more work to do than time available to do it.

JapanTree: Where do you see the project going in the future?

Mark: The goal is to be the best advanced Japanese/English translation dictionary on the Web and have translations for everything.

JapanTree: How can others make contributions to the project?

Mark: Contribute translations. If you have personal glossaries or translation memory databases that you can share, everything helps. Even just an email with a word or phrase that you noticed isn’t in Honyaku Star.


And there you have it, Honyaku Star!

If you didn’t “get it” (understand the difference) and still don’t know why you need it… here’s my advice, go play with it now!

Then take a look again at the things Mark mentions – notice the beauty of no pagination, bask in the light of a thousand example sentences, and find those hard to find definitions/phrases.


Testing :

For my part, I did a little playing around and testing. Nothing substantial (not anything like a scientific study), but maybe interesting. I wanted to see quantity of entries for somewhat obscure terms and compare it to other dictionaries

Examples of great (and random 🙂 ) searches:


The Colbert Report

Why Colbert Report? I don’t know. Felt like it. Came up in Honyaku Star. WWWJDIC and ALC had nothing


How about musical terms? (Let’s try a slightly obscure musical instrument)

I searched for “mellophone” an instrument I played in high school marching band (my high school made all the saxophone players learn mellophone for markching band)

  • Mellophone
  • メロフォン

ALC and  WWWJDIC had nothing

linux kernel: 19 Terms and Phrases

  • Linux kernel
  • Linuxカーネル
  • In case there are serious bugs, Linux kernel version are numbered
  • 万が一本当に深刻なバグがあったときのために、Linux カーネルのバージョンのナンバリングには工夫がある。

ALC brought up no entries for Linux Kernel and searching kernel rendered a mass of other uses of kernel that I did not have patience to wade through.

Searching ALC for Linux brought up 34 entries. The same search on Honyaku Star? linux: 220 Terms and Phrases”


Hey! Why are you still here when the dictionary of your dreams is waiting for you?

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