Language Local

The Beauty of Japanese Dialects

Like many other languages Japanese has a huge variety of local dialects that differ from standard Japanese (標準語/Hyojungo). Generally more you are going far away from Tokyo, more the local dialect would differ from standard Japanese. Japanese people are really impressed if you are able to use the local dialect to communicate with them. And no need to worry, even if you do not speak standard Japanese, just knowing some local expressions will be really appreciated by the people.

Let us have a deeper look into the most those dialects.

Osaka Ben (大阪弁): Osaka Prefecture

Probably the most famous dialect across Japan, the Osaka dialect is very popular nowadays because of TV shows and dramas. Many actors come from the Kansai region thus using a lot of the local expressions. Osaka dialect has a very strong and passionate way of saying things unlike standard Japanese which is more plain. Osaka dialect has been influenced by Chinese language in the old days and it explains why it has many pitch accents. From a standard Japanese speaker perspective the Osaka dialect is not the hardest to understand compared to other dialects.

EnglishStandard JapaneseOsaka Dialect
Youあなた (anata)自分 (jibun)
Thank youありがとう (arigato)おおきに (ookini)
Interesting面白い (omoshiroi)おもろい (omoroi)
Very muchとても (totemo)めっちゃ (metcha)
Not goodだめ (dame)あかん (akan)
Really本当 (honto)ほんま (honma)

Kyoto Ben (京都弁): Kyoto Prefecture

The other very famous dialect in the Kansai region, the Kyoto Ben, is the traditional dialect of Kyoto and is known for its softness and politeness. Due to its connections with the Geisha culture, it is sometimes considered as feminine and elegant. Kyoto dialect used to be the Standard form of the language until the Meiji Restoration (1868). Thus, many speakers of the dialect are very proud of their distinct accent. For non Kyoto native people it is sometimes hard to get the meaning when two person are using the Kyoto dialect together.

EnglishStandard JapaneseKyoto dialect
I (for women)あたし (atashi)うち (uchi)
Welcomeようこそ (yokoso)おいでやす (oideyasu)
Unfortunately残念ながら (zannen nagara)えんばんと (enbanto)
Elegant 優美 (yubi)はんなり (hannari)
Impatientせっかち (sekkachi)いらち (iratchi)
I like you好きです (suki desu)好きやねん (suki yanen)

Hakata Ben (博多弁): Fukuoka Prefecture

Spoken on the island of Kyushu in the southwest of Japan, the Hakata dialect which takes it name from the ancient city of Hakata (now part of Fukuoka) is the standard form of the dialects used in Kyushu. The Hataka dialect is really appreciated across Japan because it is very soft and pleasant to hear it especially when it is used by women. Many Japanese men will say that they love Hakata dialect because of its cuteness and simplicity. Being part of western Japan, the Hakata dialect share some similarities with other dialects like the ones in Hiroshima or Kyoto. 

EnglishStandard JapanseHakata Dialect
Good良い (yoi)よか (yoka)
Cute可愛い (kawai)愛しらか (aishiraka)
Butしかし (shikashi)ばってん (batten)
What are you doing ? 何をしている? (nani o shiteiru )何しよん (nani shiyon)
Very much とても (totemo)がば (gaba)
I like you 好きです (suki desu)好いとーよ (suitoo yo)

Hiroshima Dialect (広島弁): Hiroshima Prefecture

Hiroshima is located in southwestern Japan between the Kansai region and Kyushu island. The Hiroshima dialect has an undeserved reputation in Japan as being uncouth. This has little to do with grammatical or lexical divergence but is a perception of the frankness of expression in everyday Hiroshima dialect speech. In reality  it is an honest kind of dialect, blunt and to the point, so it says a lot about the people who speak it. The Hiroshima dialect is one of the most recognizable Japanese dialects and it is usually associated with Japanese Yakuza'a way of speaking.

EnglishStandard JapaneseHiroshima Dialect
I私 (watashi)わし (washi)
Welcomeようこそ (yokoso)ようきんさったのう (yokin sattano)
Very much とても (totemo)ぶち(butchi)
Difficult 難しい (muzukashi)いたしい (itashii)
How much ?いくら ? (ikura)なんぼ ? (nanbo)
I like you 好きです (suki desu)好きじゃけ (suki jake)

Hokkaido Dialect (北海道弁): Hokkaido Prefecture

The island of Hokkaido is located in northeast Japan and the dialect used there is called Hokkaido ben. After the Meiji Restoration (1868), people from the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions migrated to Hokkaido and created a unique amalgamate dialect. Thus, Hokkaido dialect is a mixture of different varieties with a set of distinct characteristics. Hokkaido is a melting pot of Japanese people coming from different regions and the Ainu indigenous language make the dialect seemingly funny to outsiders. But it is fun to learn and practice when one is visiting the island.

EnglishStandard JapaneseHokkaido Dialect
Cute可愛い (kawai)めんこい (menkoi)
Alwaysいつも (itsumo)ばんきり (bankiri)
Not goodだめ (dame)わや (waya)
Very muchとても (totemo)なまら (namara)
See youまたね (matane)したっけ (shitakke)
I like you 好きです (suki desu)なまら好きです(narama suki desu)

Tohoku Dialect (東北弁): Aomori, Iwate, Akita, Yamagata, Miyagi, Fukushima, and Niigata Prefecture

Tohoku dialect is a  dialect very interesting because it’s known to be the hardest dialect to understand. In fact, Tohoku dialect is so different from standard Japanese that even native Japanese speakers often can’t understand it and need subtitles whenever people speaking this dialect appear on TV or in movies. It is usually associated with farmers and country folk. Tohoku region is located in the north part of Japan, north from Tokyo.

EnglishStandard JapaneseTohoku Dialect
I / You私 (watashi) / あなた (anata)わ (wa) / な (na)
Why ? なぜですか? (naze desuka ?)なして? (nashite)
Not good だめ (dame)まいね (maine)
Thank you very much ありがとうございます (arigato gozaimas)おしょしな (oshoshina)
No problem 大丈夫 (daijobu)さすけね (sasukene)
See youまたね (matane)んでね (ndenee)

Let's speak Japanese dialects

After learning the standard language which is primarily called Tokyo dialect or standard Japanese, it is fun to learn the other dialects as well as it is absolutely not hard at all. It is almost as funny and interesting to learn them as those dialects kept many expressions from Old Japanese which cannot be found now in Modern Japanese. As for the studying part you can buy books that give you a lot of vocabulary and expressions. Some of those will be hard to find because the transmission of some dialects is only orally but for the most famous ones (Osaka and Hakata dialect) you can find books in Japanese bookstores. 

More informations about Japan's Regional Best Food on our article here!

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Fabien Mizart

Author & Translator

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