Yomiwa: A Must Have App for Japanese Learners

There is a wide variety of smartphone apps available to use as tools to help you along on your Japanese learning journey. One app you’re definitely going to want to have at your disposal is a dictionary app. There are a lot to choose from, and I have made good use of several. But if you’re looking for a Swiss-Army-Knife type app to support your learning, look no further than Yomiwa.

The most powerful Japanese-English smartphone dictionary app is Yomiwa. It is a feature rich, all-in-one solution with word translations, example sentences, information on individual kanji, furigana kanji readings for blocks of Japanese text, and optical character and handwritten kanji recognition.

In the sections below I will discuss the various features of Yomiwa. Most of them are great, but a few have limitations, which I will mention and provide alternatives for. I do think Yomiwa is great, and every Japanese learner should have it, but it’s not perfect and you’ll still want to use it alongside other apps. But now, let’s dive in.

Yomiwa Dictionary

The dictionary is Yomiwa’s flagship feature. According to Yomiwa, it can provide Japanese word details into more than 20 target languages, but I personally have only used the Japanese-English dictionary. One of my favorite parts of web/app-based Japanese-English dictionaries such as Yomiwa’s is that you can input a word in either English or Japanese and get an instant result.

If you input a word in English, you’ll usually be given a list of candidate Japanese words. And if you input a Japanese word, you’ll be given exact and partial matches of that word with their English translations. With Yomiwa, you don’t even need to type in the whole word before it will start giving you suggestions. Another cool thing is that you can key in Japanese words not just in hiragana, katakana, and kanji, but with romaji as well. The dictionary will still recognize it as a Japanese word.

Tapping on a word to see its details is where the magic happens:

  • You get the kanji and furigana
  • You can play a native Japanese voice pronouncing the word
  • In the Japanese-English dictionary depending on the word, Yomiwa provides translations from a couple different dictionaries (namely JMDict and Wordnet).
  • A breakdown of the kanji used in the word with details about each character is provided. Tapping an individual character is where the magic continues to happen. You will be given additional helpful information about that character.
  • You get a fair number of example sentences. The Japanese sentence in kanji with furigana, as well as the English translation is provided. And you can play a native Japanese voice reading the sentence.
  • There is a button to copy the word and its primary translations, which you can then paste somewhere else.
  • And there is the ability to add the word to one or more custom flashcard decks (lists) which you can make and review right within the Yomiwa app.
Yomiwa dictionary and kanji in action

Learning Kanji with Yomiwa

Yomiwa provides a solid amount of information about individual kanji characters. It provides the meaning, onyomi and kunyomi readings, stroke order diagram, JLPT level, grade, and frequency, plus a whole bunch of example words in which the character is used. A kanji’s frequency is determined by examining a corpus of kanji texts and determining how often each character appears relative to the others. The character of frequency 1 means it appears the most.

Yomiwa also provides a way to learn kanji via flashcards (lists). In the Lists section of the app there are several premade lists of kanji grouped by JLPT level and grade. A kanji’s grade means the school grade at which a native Japanese elementary school student would learn the kanji in the Japanese education system. If you happen to be studying for the JLPT, the premade JLPT lists could be a great review tool.

I need to mention here that learning kanji can be difficult and tedious, but it is an essential part of learning Japanese. Yomiwa is good, but you’ll definitely want to leverage other resources and strategies as well. I write in detail about the importance of learning kanji and ways to go about doing it here.

Yomiwa Draw: Lookup an Unfamiliar Kanji by Drawing it

Kanji recognition via handwritten input is an essential tool for any Japanese learner. Yomiwa’s Draw function is a great example of such a tool. If you encounter an unfamiliar kanji that you can’t copy and paste into a dictionary, you can identify it by handwriting (drawing) it with your finger or stylus in the Draw function.

Even if your drawing is a bit off, Yomiwa still does a pretty good job of identifying the target kanji or at least providing a list of potential candidates. You can then tap on the identified kanji and get all the information about it described earlier.

Yomiwa draw function in action

Yomiwa OCR: Lookup an Unfamiliar Kanji from a Picture

OCR stands for optical character recognition. Yomiwa’s OCR function captures kanji text from a picture. You can select an existing picture on your phone or take a new one right within the app. Once captured, kanji words will be overlayed with red boxes. You can then tap an individual word, which will highlight it in yellow, and a dictionary window will pop-up with the kanji reading in hiragana and the word’s English translation.

Yomiwa’s OCR is probably the best all in one solution to get kanji text captured and have the readings all in one place. But I would say google translate is still the most powerful OCR tool for accurately capturing text. Besides Yomiwa, there are a lot of other ways to identify and get the meaning and reading of unfamiliar kanji. I wrote a detailed article about the various ways here.

Yomiwa OCR and Analyzer functions in action (text from Wikipedia article about Kanji)

Yomiwa Community Wall

If you are really having trouble getting the reading of certain Japanese text, for example, highly stylized text written in manga, handwritten text on pottery, text engraved in stone, etc., you can take a picture of it and post it on the Yomiwa Wall and ask for help reading it from other Yomiwa users.

Yomiwa Analyzer: Paste in Kanji Text to get Furigana

Yomiwa actually provides a couple of ways to read Japanese on your phone. One way is via the Analyzer function in the main Yomiwa app. The other way is via the sister app, Yomiwa Browser, which I also highly recommend. With Yomiwa Browser, you can get furigana inserted right within a webpage containing Japanese text.

Japanese text in kanji can be read on a smartphone by adding furigana to it using the Yomiwa Browser app which will automatically insert furigana onto text on webpages. For non-web-based content, text can be copied and pasted into the Yomiwa app’s Analyzer function which will provide furigana.

Yomiwa Browser in action on Wikipedia’s article about kanji

Yomiwa’s Analyzer is a great feature. It provides furigana for text written in kanji. You can copy text from whatever source you want to read and then paste it into the Analyzer. Then you press the analyze button and furigana appears! The analyzer comes in really handy when used in combination with the OCR function. With Yomiwa’s OCR, often the capture screen can appear cluttered and it’s hard to highlight and read the individual captured words one by one. In these cases, you can tap the “Analyze Text (full picture)” button which will bring up the full converted text from the OCR capture into the Analyzer where furigana will be provided over the kanji text in a really tidy and easily readable format.

Yomiwa Translator

I will mention that Yomiwa does have a full translation function in which you can paste in Japanese text and get an English translation. But I cannot recommend that you use this function, the translation quality is not that great. Use the Google Translate app, or DeepL instead.

Yomiwa Lists and the Study Feature

In addition to 14 kanji lists referred to above, the List section contains 64 premade word lists, with over 45000 words in total. The word lists are grouped by categories, such as biology, computer terminology, music…. The lists can essentially be used as premade flashcard decks and could be a good way to start building your vocabulary around a certain subject. But my recommendation is to make your own lists.

Lists that you make yourself will appear in the Lists section as well, but they will also appear in the Study section. The study section is the place where you want to go to review your flashcards. One especially helpful feature is that words that you lookup in the dictionary automatically get added to a list called “History”, i.e., your search history.

There are definitely some limitations to Yomiwa lists. Essentially the “cards” are in a fixed format with just the word information from the dictionary. I wish there was more freedom to edit cards and add to them. This is what I like about Anki, you can add just about any information you want to a card.

If you are alright with a bit of a tedious multi-step process, what you can do is copy a word’s details from the Yomiwa dictionary, paste them in an Anki flashcard, and then customize it to your liking. You could also copy an example sentence from Yomiwa and use it in a cloze flashcard in Anki.

Conclusion about Yomiwa: You Should Have this App

In the end, I think you can probably stick with the free version of Yomiwa. The only real limitation of the free version is that you are limited to 8 OCR captures per week. The cost to upgrade for unlimited captures is $19.99. But to be honest, what you can do instead is capture Japanese text using the Google Translate app’s OCR, then copy and paste it into Yomiwa’s Analyzer. Otherwise, Yomiwa’s great features are all free to use! So go ahead and take advantage of this great learning tool. Here is a link to Yomiwa.net.

Colten Dumonceau

My goal is to provide information that will help you learn Japanese as quickly and effectively as possible. I have spent more than ten years learning Japanese, mostly self-taught, from absolute beginner to an advanced level. I believe its possible to go much faster than I did. Please let me share with you the best learning strategies I have uncovered.

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