The Wamyō ruijushō is the oldest extant Japanese dictionary organized into semantic headings, analogous to a Western language thesaurus. This ancient lexicographical collation system was developed in Chinese dictionaries like the Erya, Xiao Erya, and Shiming. The Wamyōshō categorizes kanji vocabulary, primarily nouns, into main headings (bu 部) divided into subheadings (rui 類). For instance, the tenchi (天地 "heaven and earth") heading includes eight semantic divisions like seishuku (星宿 "stars and constellations"), un'u (雲雨 "clouds and rain"), and fūsetsu (風雪 "wind and snow").
Each dictionary entry gives the Chinese character, sources cited, Chinese pronunciations (with either a homonym or fanqie spelling), definitions, and corresponding Japanese readings (in the ancient Man'yōgana system using kanji to represent Japanese pronunciation). It cites over 290 sources, both Chinese (for example, the Shuowen Jiezi) and Japanese (the Man'yōshū).
The Wamyō ruijushō, survives in both a 10-volume edition (十巻本) and a 20-volume edition (二十巻本). The larger one was published in 1617 with a commentary by Nawa Dōen (那波道円, 1595-1648) and was used in the Edo Period until the 1883 publication of the 10-volume edition annotated by Kariya Ekisai (狩谷棭齋, 1775-1835), also known as the Senchū Wamyō ruijushō (箋注倭名類聚抄 "Annotated commentary Wamyō ruijushō"). The 10-volume edition has 24 main headings divided into a total of 128 subheadings, while the 20-volume version has 32 and 249, respectively. The table below illustrates how words are semantically categorized in the 10-volume edition.
|1||Tenchi||天地||Universe||constellations, weather, gods, earth, topography|
|2||Jinrin||人倫||Humans||gender, kinship, family, marriage|
|3||Keitai||形体||Body||body parts, sense organs, internal organs|
|5||Jutsugei||術藝||Arts||martial arts, fine arts, skills|
|6||Kyosho||居處||Architecture||houses, walls, doors, roads|
|7||Sensha||舟車||Vehicles||boats, carts, carriages|
|8||Chinpō||珍寶||Treasures||precious metals, jewels|
|9||Fuhaku||布帛||Textiles||embroidery, silks, woven fabrics|
|10||Shōzoku||装束||Clothing||hats, clothes, belts, shoes|
|11||Inshoku||飲食||Foods and Drinks||liquors, beverages, cooked grains, fruits, meats|
|12||Kibei||器皿||Utensils||objects of metal, lacquer, wood, tile, and bamboo|
|13||Tōka||燈火||Illumination||lamps, lights, lighting|
|14||Chōdo||調度||Things and Supplies||implements, tools, weapons, utensils, furnishings|
|15||Uzoku||羽族||Birds||birds, feathers, ornithology|
|16||Mōgun||毛群||Wild Animals||wild animals, body parts|
|17||Gyūsha||牛馬||Domestic Animals||cattle, horses, sheep, body parts, diseases|
|18||Ryōgo||龍魚||Aquatic animals||dragons, fish, reptiles, amphibians|
|20||Chūchi||蟲豸||Miscellaneous Animals||insects, worms, small reptiles|
|22||Saiso||菜蔬||Vegetables||tubers, seaweeds, edible plants|
|24||Sōmoku||草木||Plants||grasses, mosses, vines, flowers, trees|
The broadly inclusive Wamyō ruijushō dictionary was an antecedent for Japanese encyclopedias. In the present day, it provides linguists and historians with an invaluable record of the Japanese language over 1000 years ago. For more details, see Bailey (1960:4-6, 18-19) in English and Okimori (1996:287-288) in Japanese.