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My question would be, if I were to pick up a Japanese dictionary, or had a project in which I needed to put several Japanese words (including hiragana, katakana, and kanji, with gojūon, dakuon, yōon, sakuon and the digraphs) in order, what would be the correct "alphabetical" order? I understand some of it, such as the fact that they all need to be read according to the gojūon order (a ka sa ta...) in hiragana form, and the smaller forms of kana come after the original forms.

I looked everywhere online and was unable to find a full list or explanation to this, I only found the separate tables for kana, which only confused me more.

I am only a beginner to learning the language, and every little helps me to understand it and the culture better! Thank you.

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The dictionaries I have use the following order. (From the publishers 小学館, 三省堂 and 学研.)

The usual lexicographic order by gojūon, mostly ignoring whether a kana has (han)dakuten or is a small kana.

(Recall the gojūon order means いうえお きくけこ しすせそ ちつてと にぬねの ひふへほ みむめも ゆよ りるれろ . You can reconstruct this by memorizing あいうえお and あかさたなはまやらわ. Also see What is the equivalent of "alphabetical order" in Japanese?)

Shorter words come first, so

  • ぎょうじ【行事】
  • きょうしつ【教室】

Small kana and (han)dakuten are only used as a last resort — to order words that would be in the same position under the above rule:

  • ひょう【雹】
  • びよう【美容】
  • びょう【秒】
  • ひょうか【評価】
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    How about kanji homophones spelt exactly the same in hiragana? E.g. 広辞苑 lists, for the reading ちゅうかい, words in this order: (1) 中海 (2) 仲价 (3) 注解・註解 (4) 衷懐 (5) 厨芥. – droooze Apr 20 '18 at 2:09
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    @droooze I think this might vary from dictionary to dictionary (or editor to editor). It looks like 広辞苑 is using stroke count of the first kanji. I have a dictionary (for students), which orders by 学年. A 漢和辞典 might order by radical. But the entries will all be next to one another. – Earthliŋ Apr 20 '18 at 6:48
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Part of the reason why this is a little tough to explain is that there are actually several historical "alphabetical" orders, so to speak. The two that are probably the most recognized today are the 五十音{ごじゅうおん}and the いろは systems of organizing the alphabet.

In most cases, you'll encounter the 五十音 system, such as when browsing a dictionary, or shopping for titles at a CD, movie, or bookstore. As you mentioned before, the consonant categories are grouped together, so for example, you might just see inserts that are あ か さ た な は ま and so on. Going from here, you should know that the 五十音 system typically orders words based on the first character's sound, and so, for example, items that begin with the sounds あいうえお are all under the あ tab, and in that order. Then, い will be before た, and た is before き in a dictionary.

Aside from this, oftentimes, you must consider 濁点{だくてん} ( ゛) and 半濁点{はんだくてん} ( ゜) usage in words. This means that words like へた and べんきょう and ペン might all be in the same general section of the dictionary (because they are all starting with the character へ). Most dictionaries will have all the non-濁点 words first, followed by the 濁点-starting words, followed by the 半濁点-starting words, before moving to the next kana. So, は then ば then ぱ then ひ, for example.

In words with「っ」in them, these might be placed after wherever the つ is located (i.e. さつえい before さっき) or might be all the way at the end of the kana section (i.e. さんぽ before さっき), but not before the 濁点 and 半濁点 variations (i.e. さっき before ざっし). This varies to some degree depending on your source material.

Many beginner/learner dictionaries will have a word lookup based on the learner's base alphabet (in English this would be ABC order), and is useful until you become used to the standard 五十音 grouping. In addition, once you start your journey into reading 漢字{かんじ} you'll find it much easier to locate the word you're looking for in a Japanese-language dictionary.

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    Hm... none of my dictionaries actually order their entries the way you describe. – Earthliŋ Apr 19 '18 at 9:18
  • Your answer has been a huge help, although it still seems a bit cloudy to me but I did only just start learning - I expect to get used to it as I keep going. Thank you so much! – Krissy Panczel Apr 20 '18 at 12:19
  • @Earthliŋ Maybe my dictionaries are not very good ones or aimed at beginners...! – psosuna Apr 20 '18 at 16:16

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