Japanese Dialects Explained by Each Region

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When you travel around Japan or watch some anime, you might recognize people talk differently sometimes with unique accents. Japan consists of 47 prefectures and like other countries have the dialect of each region, Japan as well has distinct dialects in each region. From the north to south, the Japanese dialect can be easily recognizable if you’ve learned the basics of Japanese. Although more people tend to speak standard Japanese nowadays and you can hardly catch any dialect especially if you live in Tokyo, you’ll be surprised how different the language can be when you meet the local people at your travel destinations.

As we said, many people, especially young people like to talk in standard Japanese, that’s true. However, the funny thing is, when Japanese people who used to have a strong accent or dialect in their hometown are on the phone with their family or old friends, or meet someone from the same area, they suddenly switch to the dialect of their hometown. The dialect is something deeply rooted to people and represents each region’s culture very well.

It’s fun to learn some dialects of each region before you travel and surprise the locals. Also, it will take your Japanese to the next level! Here is a guide to the typical Japanese dialects explained by each region. 

Hokkaido Dialects

Hokkaido is often chosen as a popular holiday destination among international tourists for skiing, snowboarding, natural exploring and much more. Despite the distant location from the main island, it is said there’s not so much difference between Hokkaido’s dialect and standard Japanese since many people in Hokkaido are originally somewhat “immigrants” from other different parts of Japan when you look at the history of Hokkaido. But there are still many unique dialects that are used in Hokkaido and here are some examples. 

  • Oban-desu (おばんです): Good evening
    Common greeting expression equivalent to “konbanwa” in standard Japanese
  • Menkoi (めんこい): cute/ adorable
    Adjective used to describe something cute or adorable, similar to “kawaii
  • Shibareru (しばれる): It is extremely cold/ chilly outside
    Common word which is used to mention about the freezing temperature
  • Kowai (こわい): tired/ exhausted
    In standard Japanese, “kowai” means scary or terrifying. In Hokkaido dialect, it is used when you need to tell you are tired or exhausted.
  • Namara (なまら): very/ extremely
    Adverb used to emphasize something, similar to very or extremely 
  • Nashite? (なして): Why?
    Very simple expression to ask the reason
Sapporo Hokkaido

Tohoku Dialects

Tohoku region comprises six prefectures: Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata and Fukushima prefecture. They have some similarities to Hokkaido, and some dialects are used in both regions. They generally have a unique accent which is very distinctive and recognizable. Even native Japanese speakers sometimes find it difficult to understand what they say as they are quite different from standard Japanese. If you want to travel to famous tourist attractions in the Tohoku region, learning some basic dialects below in advance will add more fun to your trip! 

  • Nda (んだ): that’s right
    Common and casual expression equivalent to “souda”/ “soudesu” in standard Japanese
  • Ume (うめ): tastes good/ yummy
    It is a shorter version of “umai” (うまい) which means yummy or delicious in standard Japanese (“oishii” sounds more polite)
  • Menkoi (めんこい): cute/ adorable
    Adjective used to describe something cute or adorable, similar to “kawaii
  • Shibareru (しばれる): It is extremely cold/ chilly outside
    Common word which is used to mention about the freezing temperature
  • Azumashi (あずまし/あずましい): comfortable/ pleasant
    Adjective used to describe something comfortable 
  • Idamashi (いだまし): waste
    It means “what a waste!” / “Mottainai” (もったいない) in standard Japanese
tohoku akita

Kanto Dialects

The Kanto region encompasses 7 prefectures including Tokyo. Compared to other regions, they don’t have a strong accent in their spoken language which is similar to what is considered as standard Japanese taught in general Japanese textbooks. If you are planning to visit only Tokyo or the adjacent prefectures during the whole trip, you don’t need to worry about getting confused by unfamiliar dialects.

  • Okkanai (おっかない): scary
    It is used as an adjective to describe something scary or terrifying (also widely used in Chubu, Tohoku and Hokkaido region) 
  • Katasu (かたす): clean-up/ put away
    Casual word equivalent to “katazukeru” (片づける) in standard Japanese. It is very common and can be understood by people from other regions around Japan
shotengai tokyo

Chubu Dialects

The Chubu region consists of nine prefectures which cover the central part of the main island of Japan. Since it expansively encompasses a large area from the Pacific coastline to the other side of the Sea of Japan, dialects spoken there vary depending on each region.   

  • Kinodokuna (気の毒な): Thank you
    It is used particularly in Ishikawa prefecture as a common expression to mean “thank you” (In standar Japanese, kinodokuna has a completely different meaning; “That’s a shame”/ “I’m sorry to hear that”) 
  • Shitoru (~しとる): present continuous/ progressive 
    In standard Japanese, “shiteiru” (している) or “shiteimasu”(しています) is used for ongoing actions. It can be “shitoru” in Nagoya dialect which sounds more casual.   
  • Kanbene (かんべね): I’m sorry
    It’s a dialect from Niigata prefecture equivalent to “gomenne” in standard Japanese. It’s a casual way to say sorry.
  • Erai (えらい): tired/ exhausted 
    It is used widely in the Chubu region meaning tired or exhausted. But it can cause some confusion outside of the area, because in standard Japanese, “erai” is used for a compliment such as “well done” or “great!” which has a completely different meaning. 
things to do in Nagoya

Kansai Dialects

Kansai dialects are probably the most famous Japanese dialects of all. It is spoken in the Kansai region, the western part of the main island of Japan including Osaka and Kyoto. They have a very unique accent which is quite different from the standard Japanese. Another distinctive feature is a negative copula such as “hen” (へん) or “yanai” (やない), which is added at the end of verbs. Here are some common Kansai dialects and examples.

  • Ookini (おおきに): Thank you
    Common expression which means “thank you”, “arigato” (ありがとう) in standard Japanese. 
  • Oideyasu (おいでやす): Welcome 
    It is a famous Kyoto dialect which is often heard at sightseeing spots or used people working in traditional areas such as Gion (祇園). 
  • Maido (まいど): Thank you (at shops or restaurants)
    It is a casual way to say “Thank you” which is most likely heard at shops or restaurants.
  • Nanbo (なんぼ): How much? 
    It is used to ask the price at shops or restaurants which is equivalent to “Ikura” (いくら) in standard Japanese. 
  • Kamahen (かまへん): I don’t care/ Never mind 
    In standard Japanese, “kamawanai” means “I don’t care”, which becomes “kamahen” in the Kansai dialect. It consists of two parts: “kamau” (かまう=do care), and the negative copula “hen” (へん) which is exclusively used in the Kansai region.    
  • Chau (ちゃう): It isn’t/ That’s not true 
    It is a shorter version of “chigau” (ちがう) or “chigaimasu” (ちがいます) in standard Japanese which means “That’ not true”.  
Osaka

Chugoku/Shikoku Dialects

The Chugoku and Shikoku region consists of 9 prefectures which are easily accessible from the Kansai region by shinkansen or car. It is home to a great number of world-famous tourist attractions, including Miyajima in Hiroshima. 

  • Jyaken (じゃけん): because
    It’s a casual dialect mainly spoken in Hiroshima and Kochi which means “because”. It is often heard at the end of sentences in place of “nanode” or “dakara” in standard Japanese
  • Oidemase (おいでませ): Welcome 
    Common greeting used in Yamaguchi which has a similar sound to “oideyasu” in Kyoto.
Hiroshima

Kyushu Dialects

The Kyushu dialect might sound a little harder to understand compared to other dialects such as those of the Kansai and Chubu regions. One of the most famous ones is Hakata dialect, which is spoken in Hakata area in Fukuoka prefecture. 

  • Yokayo (よかよ): That’s fine
    It is equivalent to “iidesuyo” (いいですよ) in standard Japanese. Often used to agree someone’s suggestion or accept requests.
  • Nanba shiyotto/Nan shitotto? (なんばしよっと?): What are you doing? 
    It can be translated as “What are you doing?” in English, and “Nani wo shite imasuka?” (何をしていますか) in standard Japanese. 
Fukuoka

Okinawa Dialects

Okinawa is widely renowned for the beautiful beaches and scenic spots, making it a popular summer getaway destination. The welcoming atmosphere and friendly locals offer a memorable time for everyone from all over the world. It also boasts a unique language, tradition and culture which have evolved for over centuries with the geographically isolated location. 

  • Mensore (めんそーれ): Welcome
    Mansore means “Welcome” in Okinawan dialect, which is equivalent to “yokoso” (ようこそ) in standard Japanese. It is often used to welcome guests or tourists at shops or casual restaurants. 
  • Haisai/ Haitai (はいさい/はいたい): Hi/ Hello
    It is a casual way to say hello in Okinawan dialect. (“konnichiwa” in standard Japanese) Men use “Haisai” while women use the other one “Haitai”, and they can be used at any time of the day from early morning to late at night.  
  • Masan (まーさん): tastes good/ delicious
    It means delicious or tastes good when talking about food. It’s equivalent to “oishii” in standard Japanese. 
Kerama island Okinawa

The expressions we introduce above are only some examples of Japanese dialects. Dialect variation in Japanese reflects the strong relationship between the cultural differences of each region. It may take you a while to get used to the unique dialects, especially if you are visiting Japan for the first time or have never left the big city such as Tokyo where the standard Japanese is largely spoken. But once you learn a bit of the dialects and try them with locals, you can get closer and get a more warm welcome from the locals. 

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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.

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