Reading analog books

Does anyone here read paper Japanese books often? I really prefer reading that way over digital books.

However, coming across unknown vocabulary can be tough. I used to be able to use Google translate and the camera on my phone to highlight the text and then do a lookup, but this feature has mysteriously disappeared. Instead, the app does an automatic real-time translation. But it doesn’t often work well, and I’d rather have the dictionary lookup.

What I’ve been doing since, is just going to the jisho app on my phone and I can usually recognize the kanji in the word from other words, so I can type those words and copy paste the kanji. On ocassion, I have to look up the component kanji by searching radicals, etc. or even drawing the kanji. These approaches can take the flow out of reading and get annoying at times, but I’m guessing this is part and parcel of the intermediate stage.

Still, it happens so often (once or twice a page) when I’m reading novels, I think that if I can streamline the process it would save me a lot of time in the long run and make my reading time more productive.

How do you all handle unknown vocabulary in actual paper books?


I keep bringing this article up, but I think its really insightful on the process of getting better at reading. How to start reading books in Japanese | Inside That Japanese Book


I don’t read paper books so take this advice with a huge grain of salt, but have you considered just marking those words and looking them all up at once later?


I also hate what they did with the google translate app. However you can still take a picture of it, and then send it to translate home, the sentence might be weirdly structured or out of order, but since we’re looking for a singular kanji or word it shouldn’t matter too much. That’s my work around.

Personally my preferred method is to use a dictionary on my phone (Takoboto is the specific one I use) for everything, all the time.

It does take some getting used to at first, and searching kanji by radical is cumbersome.
But in my experience, the muscle memory accumulates over time such that before long I got to the point where I barely think about it at all, even while looking up lots of words in quick succession.

It’s important to me personally that it’s a method I can use with any source I come across whatsoever (print, digital, manga, prose, video, audio, games - anything) as long as I have my phone with me (which isn’t a difficult requirement these days), so it means I don’t feel limited to any specific medium or platform.
It’s counter-intuitive to avoid other helpful tools, but I just don’t ever want the feeling of “ugh I wish I could use [cool tool] on [material in the wrong format],” so I picked one method that worked for everything and got really really used to it. And that universality helped the muscle memory build up even faster.

(Constructing word lists that I can export easily to Anki is the other reason I like this approach).

So anyway - I guess I’d just offer reassurance that if you’re using a particular dictionary a lot, you will get better at using said dictionary, and so the cumbersomeness will decrease over time.

(and for what it’s worth, if it’s available on your platform, Takoboto has a more forgiving search in terms of unconjugating grammar for you than Jisho’s in my limited experience + the word list feature is extremely useful)


I do read paper books, and this is exactly what I do :slight_smile:

Especially if you only need to look up a word or two on each page - they probably aren’t urgent words.

Also, I use Jotoba instead of Jisho because the search suggestions are very handy if you can make a good guess at the kanji readings.

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I only read paper books, mostly out of preference but also to spare my eyes considering I spend too much time on the computer already. Whenever I come across unknown vocab I either make an educated guess based on the kanji and context, or look it up on Jisho real quick, especially if I see it multiple times in a short amount of time.

If the lookups are too frequent for a comfortable reading pace I simply stop and start another book instead, saving the other book for later. has been helpful in gauging difficulty before actually acquiring the books (although sometimes I disagree with the ratings after reading the books), and I try to construct a difficulty curve that I can progress along. Sometimes I drop down a little bit in difficulty after a tough book, mostly to remind myself how much I’ve improved since I was truly at that level (sort of like going back to early game areas with late game gear in a game).


On writing a Kanji to search, using a smartphone with a proper Japanese handwriting keyboard would be better. I use Google Keyboard. Finger needs to be practiced a little to squeeze into small writing area.

I haven’t use camera OCR for ages. Maybe someone would know an alternative app. (or hopeless if Google doesn’t develop…)

About the dictionary, I prefer offline dictionaries, because they are faster. Changing back to the dictionary form is also an educated guess, if the dictionary fails to normalize the form somehow.

Otherwise, probably knowing the Kanji or guessing the Kanji via components might be more important, then guess the vocabularies. Or, just guess the vocabulary as a whole unit. No need to be 100% perfect.

Most of the time I read extensively when I read paper books, so I don’t look up any new words. The key to doing that of course is to make sure you’re picking books that don’t have too many unknown words.

If I read intensively, it tends to not be books but short stories. They’re also physically printed on paper, so I usually have the paper in front of me with my computer open to When I come across a new word I look it up on jisho and then take a note in the margin. Sometimes I’ll use my phone if I don’t have my computer, but that’s a bit of a pain

i gave up and got an e-reader haha. it’s not quite the same as a paper book but it’s a good compromise

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This is what I do when reading paperback as well. I actually have one app I prefer for radical look up (Takoboto as well for me) and one I prefer for just writing it (Yomiwa). Once the muscle memory is there it goes so fast.


I encountered the same thing but you can stop it from doing that, I’m not sure what your setup looks like but there’s probably a little drop-down arrow next to the language selection on the google lens screen. If you click on that you should be able to swap it to showing the original sentence; that’s what I’ve been doing for kanji I don’t know and it works well! Otherwise if I know the kanji I just try to construct it myself through readings and such :joy:


I’m reading 終末なにしてますか?もう一度だけ、会えますか?right now and following through the deck chronologically while I’m at it, filtering for new/learning words. If I were to read something not in jpdb, I might probably obtain a digital copy along with the physical and put it in some reader or something so I can yomichan stuff when necessary.

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I use a standalone electronic dictionary – if I can make a good guess at the reading that’s usually fastest, but writing the kanji with the stylus on the touchpad is usually not too awkward if I have to. It’s definitely better than a by-radical search would be.


I have a selection of bilingual books on topics I’m fond of. Not sure of their exact name. I get them every birthday from a Japanese family member. They have perfect english & 日本語 on each page. The translation is already done for you. Just cover the English as you are reading. And refer to it when necessary. These books are all factual, maybe not what everyone is looking for and I’m sat on a bus currently so can’t share photos or isbns. :slight_smile:

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I have this one, though it wasn’t 40 bucks.
Maybe 5 at Book-off.

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Another option you might like - I’ve switched to using the DeepL translation app for most OCR. It’s not quite as good at reading stylized text, but it’s great for printed pages, and they make it easier than Google Translate does to copy individual characters and paste them into a dictionary.