Adding Words & Phrases to Your iPhone 3G’s Dictionary (Japanese Only… I Think…)

UPDATE: Due to constant updates in iOS, the information in this blog post is no longer relevant.  (3/25/2013)

(As usual, all Japanese words and phrases will be defined in the vocab list at the end of the article)

2/3/10 update: please see my new article here!

After using Japanese keitai (cellphones) for a few years and thoroughly enjoying how sophisticated they were to compared American cellphones – and how integral they were to modern Japanese culture – I got an iPhone 3G the first day they were introduced into the Japanese market. The first couple of days were a honeymoon, but soon I had come to totally regret my purchase. It didn’t have copy and paste. It was slow as hell. It crashed several times a day. Safari hung a lot. It couldn’t send or receive
絵文字 (emoji). The battery made it painfully obvious that Apple had no idea about the usage habits of the Japanese market (ie; everyone is addicted to their keitai and used to doing a lot of things iPhone can do already). Even the fact that it didn’t have buttons started to annoy me.

Many of those issues have been addressed (except the no button issues, which I’m fine with now). And I can honestly say I totally dig my iPhone now (except how damn slow it is – I’m on a 3G not 3GS). But one thing that has been driving me batty from day one is the kanji conversion. Admittedly, with the first major OS update, it got a little better, but basically the “Japanese lexical input” is light years behind the average Japanese cellphone. The beauty of native Japanese phones is that they possess a customizable user dictionary that allows you determine what conversion options pop up after you input the 読み仮名 (the kana reading which is the basis of Japanese text input in computers and keitai). What this meant is if you had frequently used words that weren’t in the phone’s default dictionary, you could enter them yourself. This is great for nicknames, set phrases, non-standard readings/kanji, slang, and private jokes among your friends. But most of all, this means you can shortcut all of your own 顔文字 (kaomoji).

my japanese iPhone 3G's home screen
the home screen my iPhone 3G

As I mentioned in an earlier post on the topic of kaomoji (Japanese smileys), the iPhone’s lack of a customizable user dictionary was a serious bummer. Not only did it prove that Apple didn’t take into consideration the most advanced cellphone culture on the planet (in terms of technology and integration of usage into lifestyle), but it took a lot of the fun out of having a cellphone. I have a library of probably 100 kaomoji – some are factory installed on the iPhone, but most are ones I picked up here and there. I copy and pasted all of them into 5 pages of the iPhone’s Notes app. But to stop writing a message, exit, open the notes, find the appropriate kaomoji, copy it, open the SMS or e-mail app again, find the right spot in the message, insert the cursor and paste it into the message…. well, I’m not on a fast 3GS model, so needless to say this took waaaaaaaaaay too much time.

typical use of kaomoji in a japanese text message
typical use of emoji in a japanese text message

For those unfamiliar with emoji and kaomoji, they are basically the equivalent smileys – image-based/animated smileys and text-based smileys, respectively. While in America smileys get used from time to time, particularly within instant messaging clients, the Japanese tend to use emoji and kaomoji heavily in keitai mails (text messages). My guess is that because they use an ideographic writing system which means concepts are conveyed in a visual manner thru kanji, rather than just letters, the Japanese tend to be naturally inclined to use pictographs in their cellphone mail correspondences. That and it’s kind of fun to use them in creative ways. People have their favorite kaomoji and emoji which they consistently use to give their e-mails and unique personal quality. While emoji on a phone are limited to a set determined by the carrier, kaomoji, on the other hand, are infinite and can be input directly by the user. People share kaomoji with their friends and post massive compilations of their favorites on sites like 2chan and Mixi.

a typical mix community looks like this. this one is dedicated to cellphone addicts. lololol.

Now back to my earlier gripe about the iPhone. Last night I discovered a free app in the App Store called 辞書登録 (Jisho Tōroku – dictionary input) which actually can access the “Japanese Lexical Dictionary” of the iPhone and input new words and phrases. This means that now you can add all your favorite slang, non-standard kanji words, alternate readings, archaic kana (such as ヱビス) and – of course – kaomoji!!

this is how emoji and kaomoji are used together in japanese e-mails
here you can see emoji and kaomoji used together with the standard japanese writing system

This app is free. It’s called 辞書登録Lite by MGJ Interactive. At the time of writing this, it has a 2/5 star rating and 41 reviews (I didn’t bother trying to read any of them). MGJ Interactive makes another version called 辞書登録Plus – which is not free and currently has no ratings and no stars. So I’m not sure what the deal is besides offering more editing options and a free plugin that… yes, offers more editing options.

Since the Japanese Lexical Dictionary is used universally, you can use any kaomoji or words you entered in any application or websites. You just expanded the dictionary of the iPhone.

The input is simple – just like on any Japanese keitai. The application is only available in Japanese. However, it’s not a complicated app, so if you check out the image files below you can pretty much figure out what to do without worrying about the Japanese prompts.

The first text input field is labeled読みがな (yomigana) which means “kana reading.” Literally this is the reading of a kanji word spelled out in hiragana. This is basically what you will input to make the dictionary convert to your desired output word. The second text input field is labeled 登録語 (tōroku-go; registered word). This is the reading/word you want to pop up in the list of choices for kanji conversion when using your phone. After you’ve filled out these field, a third field label一時登録 変換テスト実行 will pop up. This means your entry has been temporarily entered into the dictionary and you’ll need to confirm it.

Kaomoji aside, let’s say you have a friend named 依子 (Yoriko) but her nick name is りこちゃん (Riko-chan).  Now you can change the kanji converter so that when you type in よりこ in hiragana it offers you both and りこちゃん as choices.  Any Japanese cellphone can do this, but until now your iPhone couldn’t do this basic [and dare I say necessary] conversion.   Next, let’s look at using it with kaomoji, and then we’ll look at an example similar to the 依子りこちゃん case.

Here’s a step by step run down of how to use it.

GOAL: Every time I type しね, I want the kaomoji for “fuck you” to pop up.

  1. 読みがな:  write しね

    死ね means "fuck you" in Japanese
    step 1 – enter the spelling (in hiragana) of the word you want to trigger the kanji conversion.
  2. 登録語:  write ( -_-)

    this kaomoji is universally recognized.  lol.
    step 2: enter the word you want to pop up in the conversion options.
  3. 変換テスト実行:  write しね, choose ( -_-)from the list

    now you know how to add any word to the iphone's dictionary!!
    step 3: re-enter the spelling from step one and select your desired conversion (what you entered in step 2) and select it.
  4. push the 新規 button at the bottom left hand corner to register the word into the iPhone’s Japanese dictionary.

Here’s another illustration. This time I wanted to enter the kanji for ももんが (flying squirrel). This kanji is extremely rare and doesn’t appear in the regular i-mode set of kanji available on typical Japanese keitai. However, the iPhone, like any computer, can display this unusual word. I wanted to input it to stump my Japanese friends (to date I’ve never met a person who could read it).

GOAL: Every time I type
ももんが, I want鼯鼠 to pop up.

  1. 読みがな:  write ももんが
    add words & phrases to your iphone's dictionary

  2. 登録語:  write 鼯鼠
  3. 変換テスト実行:  write ももんが, choose 鼯鼠 from the list

    add words & phrases to your iphone's dictionary
    confirm your entry. remember, it’s temporary until you confirm it!
  4. push the 新規 button at the bottom left hand corner to register the word into the iPhone’s Japanese dictionary.

Piece of cake, right?

You betcha!

Why wasn’t a user customizable dictionary included in any of the iPhone updates? I can’t imagine the Japanese market is the only one that has a need for such a thing. But one of the interesting thing about apps like this… is that the Japanese App Store is teeming with applications that fill the roles of standard features on any typical Japanese keitai. By that I mean the iPhone is missing so many features that people living in Japan take for granted, but Apple, in their infinite wisdom, decided they weren’t important enough. At any rate, I’m curious to see how the next generation of Japanese phones shape up, now that the international cellphone market is starting to catch up with Japan.




short for
携帯電話 mobile phone; a japanese cellphone.
most foreigners in japan, even if they cannot speak japanese, tend to use this word too.





registration, entry



literally, “picture letters” – pictographs
smileys and other icons made of small kana-sized image files that can be used in e-mails.



literally, “face letters” – text based smileys.

see my original article for some examples!


ni chan

short for “2 Channel” – a popular japanese website that covers any topic you can imagine.  a lot of japanese netspeak and underground slang terms originated on 2chan.


mixi, the most popular SNS in japan. years before facefook had a viable mobile site, mixi was fully compatible with japanese cellphones by virtue of a WAP site (the standard japanese mobile site format, at least prior to iPhone and other smart phones).

awwwwwwww yeah!
mαrky( -_-)



Because this article featured the free version of 辞書登録, I wrote a follow up piece regarding the paid version.  This free one is just a demo and the words you enter will be gone the next day.  So if you need this function, I strongly recommend you get the paid version.  You can find my article here:

Customize iPhone’s Japanese Dictionary

7 thoughts on “Adding Words & Phrases to Your iPhone 3G’s Dictionary (Japanese Only… I Think…)

  1. i’ve never tried the handwriting input before, so in the case of that particular kanji, i just copied it from a website and pasted it into the text field.

    1. Aha, copy and paste. I hardly ever use that feature.

      The handwriting input can be useful, but it’s actually for Chinese, so for Japanese input you’re limited to the subset of kanji that also exist in Chinese.

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