Most dictionaries sit on the shelf, gathering dust until that point in a Scrabble game when someone's use of the word "gnu" is challenged. Similarly, when learning Japanese your dictionary is a vital part of your study, but as a reference tool - no one spends a happy few hours reading the dictionary except infuriating autodidacts who just make us feel inadequate. Dictionaries are like fibre - necessary, but not often consumed on their own. Why? Well dictionaries are boring. They have a set order, few if any pictures and they are written in school marmish seriousness.
But not the Kotoba Tsukaikata Ejiten ことばつかいかた絵じてん (Words in Use Picture Dictionary - my translation) by Sanseido - this guy is FUN. The first hint is the colorful cover - any book with a gorilla playing baseball and a pig eating ice cream gets my attention. Inside, with the exception of the Contents, Index and Kana Writing Guide the book is ALL pictures. Yes, it is a children's dictionary but that's what makes it perfect for people studying Japanese as a foreign language. Rather than explaining concepts the dictionary illustrates them. For example, the first chapter deals with all the activities associated with getting up and getting ready in the morning. Washing, getting dressed etc are all shown as pictures with kana describing the action:
The dictionary is broken down into 4 broad chapters:
One - Basic verbs dealing with everything from cooking, eating, washing clothes, doing chores, gardening, setting the table, going shopping, visiting the dentist etc etc
Two - more abstract verbs, verbs dealing with more difficult concepts (しかれる getting told off) and less domestic activities (しんぶんに でる appearing in the newspaper).
Three - adjectives and onomatopeia. It is so much easier to associate にょるにょる with the slithering of a snake when you have the snake in front of you.
Four - more adjectives - focusing on antonyms.
If it sounds like I am gushing in my praise of this book it is because I am - I love it. Having it is like having a Japanese native speaker in your possession - whenever you think to yourself "How do you say X in Japanese?" you can just look it up and see the answer in context. Although perfect for beginners, intermediate learners will find it useful to patch up holes in their verbal arsenal too. Match it with the Complete Japanese Verb Guide and you will be a master of verbs.
Good points: Easy to understand, thousands of pictures, practical, no romaji.
Bad points: Weighs a tonne.
ことばつかいかた絵じてん. Edited by 金田一春彦. Published by Sanseido. ISBN4-385-15031-1.