Japanese has different dialects spoken in different regions throughout the country. What you often hear in or around Tokyo is standard Japanese, which is the most common form of the Japanese language and is used in formal situations. Once you visit the Kansai region, however, you will find yourself surrounded by locals speaking in distinctively different accents and intonations. Whether you are learning Japanese, planning a visit to the Kansai region, or are just curious about the unique dialect, we have you covered with all you need to know about Kansai Ben!
1. What is Kansai Ben?
As we mentioned above, Kansai Ben is a Japanese dialect that originated in the Kansai region. The Kansai region refers to the western part of the main island of Japan, and is home to some of Japan’s best tourist destinations such as Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Kobe. Kansai-ben is dominantly spoken in the previously mentioned areas, and is also often seen and heard in movies, novels, comic books, as well as TV shows that are based in the Kansai region.
History of Kansai-ben
The history of Kansai-ben dates back to as far as a thousand years ago. In ancient times, Kyoto played an important role as the capital and political center of Japan. Kamigata dialect, which is considered to be the origin of Kansai dialect, developed and was used as standard Japanese in these areas over the years. During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), the capital of Japan was officially moved to Edo, which is known as present day Tokyo. People in Edo started to develop and use their own dialect which took the place of Kamigata dialect as the new standard of the Japanese language.
Since then, Kansai-ben has been exclusively used in the Kansai region. However, Kansai Ben is still a big part of Japanese culture, with about 20 million native speakers, making it the most spoken and famous dialect in all of Japan!
Different Types of Kansai-ben
Basically, “Kansai Ben” refers to not a single dialect, but a group of several regional dialects spoken in the Kansai region. They have distinctive features and different variations depending on where exactly they are used. For example, Osaka’s locals use “Osaka Ben”, the most famous type of Kansai Ben, which is often heard on comedy TV shows.
People in Kyoto, on the other hand, commonly use “Kyoto Ben”. The vocabulary and expressions are pretty much the same as Osaka Ben, but Kyoto Ben is less intense than Osaka ben. This is because Kyoto ben has developed as the mixture language spoken by the court nobles and commoners. If you visit some of the famous tourist attractions in Kyoto, you will hear locals speaking Kyoto Ben, which has unique expressions and words that don’t exist in Osaka Ben!
2. How is Kansai-ben different from standard Japanese?
Kansai Ben is distinctly different from standard Japanese in terms of accent, pitch, intonation, as well as words and expressions they use. One of the most common characteristics of Kansai Ben is probably the unique accent. They sometimes put an emphasis on the syllable of a word which differs from what we hear in standard Japanese. For example, when they say “Arigatou”, (means “Thank you” in Japanese), the high pitch comes on the sound of “ga”, instead of “ri” which is more common in standard Japanese.
There are also plenty of words and expressions that are only used in Kansai Ben. “Ookini” is a great example which has the same meaning as “Arigatou”, but is exclusively used in the Kansai region. They are both widely used in contemporary society around the Kansai region, and the young crowd tends to use “Arigatou” rather than “Ookini”, which is said to sound a little bit old in Kansai Ben.
3. Is it difficult to learn Kansai Ben?
If you want to become fluent in Kansai Ben, it may take a few years of hard study and commitment. This is because communication in the Kansai region uses not only language but also humor. Humor is one of the most important elements for Kansai people and it’s the culture. That’s why Osaka is regarded as the mecca for comedians and the famous stand-up comedy club is located in Osaka. However, if you just need some basic knowledge of Kansai Ben for your next trip to the Kansai region, it is a completely feasible goal with a few days or weeks of preparation!
For sightseeing purposes, there are some simple Kansai Ben words and expressions that are easy to remember for foreign tourists. Learning them will be a big help while you are staying in the Kansai region. They will also be a great tool to make for smooth communication with the locals!
4. Useful Kansai-ben Expressions
- Ookini (おおきに)
Ookini is a common expression which means “Thank you” in Kansai Ben. It is often used at shops and restaurants, and sounds a little bit more casual than saying “Arigatou”. “Maido” (まいど) is also often used to tell their appreciation for their customers after they purchase or order something.
- Nanbo? (なんぼ?)
If you go shopping at Osaka’s famous markets or shopping districts, you may have a chance to hear locals say “Nanbo?”. This word means “How much is it?”, and it is often used to ask the price at shops. In standard Japanese, “Ikura Desu Ka?” (いくらですか?) is the phrase which has the same meaning, and it is also commonly used in the Kansai region alternatively.
- Oideyasu (おいでやす)/ Okoshiyasu (おこしやす)
Oideyasu, and Okoshiyasu are common expressions in Kyoto Ben which both mean “Welcome”. You will hear these expressions at shops, restaurants, or even at teahouses where you can enjoy professional Maiko performances!
If you need some help organizing your trip to Japan, it is always a good idea to check out one of our private tours with an English guide. We would be more than happy to help you make your trip to Japan a safe, comfortable, and unforgettable one!
→ Learn about the history of Osaka at Osaka castle, discover locals’ favorite specialties at Kuromon Ichiba Market, and immerse yourself in the unique food culture that Osaka has to offer at Dotonbori Street!
→ Join our private walking tour and explore the beautiful ancient city of Kyoto full of history and exciting experiences!
Kansai Ben has been used by locals in the Kansai region as part of its culture for centuries. The unique accent and expressions in Kansai Ben will soon let you find them attractive. It is also an essential means of communication to enjoy a friendly conversation with someone who is from the Kansai region!
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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with traveling 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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