For the sake of convenience and efficiency it is best to rely on an electronic dictionary. These can become a bit pricey, especially if you're looking for a dictionary that allows you to look up words by handwritten hiragana/katakana/furigana.

A feasible and perhaps more attractive alternative is to use a Nintendo DS. There is a fantastic game called Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten (漢字そのまま楽引辞典)which serves as both a regular dictionary and also a kanji dictionary. Since the DS allows you to use a stylus to draw items on its touch screen, you can simply write in the kanji or kana that you don't know and it will give you the English meaning. Or, conversely, you can write a word in English and the game will look up the Japanese for you.

At the moment, due to the exchange rate, the game generally costs around $50 or more. You can buy it online or even wait until you get to Japan and buy it there. The game is fairly popular and most stores selling video games will have it.

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(Insert information on other games useful for learning and practicing Japanese.)