Photo: Becca Takano

5 ways to understand and identify Japanese dialects

By Matthew Coslett

As anyone that has spent any time living in the same area of Japan can attest, the Japanese language is surprisingly malleable. Each of the major areas in Japan has little twists on basic Japanese that subtly, or not so subtly, tell the listener which region the speaker comes from and even which part of that region he/she identifies with.

When it comes to these regional differences, the Japanese language uses three words to talk about them: 表現 (ひょうげん - expressions from a particular area), ~弁 (べん - suffix for dialect) and なまり (accent). The major 弁s that most people encounter are 大阪弁, 博多弁, 名古屋 弁 and, of course, the countless ones in the 関東 region, or Tokyo and its surrounding area.

[Note: There are three major dialects in Kansai (Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto) that comprise what we typically know as 関西 弁. Therefore, for the purposes of this article anyway, I’ve referred to 大阪弁. However, often when people talk about 関西弁, they are usually referring to 大阪弁 — though technically these are different.]

While writing about all the differences in the Japanese language between regions is a big enough topic that entire books have been written on the difference between all the Tokyo dialects alone, there are generalizations on what words are commonly changed regardless of the area.

As a general rule, most Japanese dialects vary on the following five points.

Click here to read more.

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Language has many dialects and accents. This is not news.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Language has many dialects and accents. This is not news.

It's a column about culture. You would find this in any standard newspaper. And remember, this site is not 'Japan News Today', it's Japan Today. And this is an article about the Japanese language. And the article is not trying to make some revelation that dialects and accents exist, it is discussing specific Japanese dialects, and how to identify them. which would seem very relevant to the idea of 'Japan Today'.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Interesting article. Many dialects are impossible to me. Especially Akita-ben. Can anyone identify where I live when I use the word “tsukacha”?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

It's interesting about the dialects across Japan.

i noticed it travelling through from Kyushu to Hokkaido - different expressions and intonations..

Would have been more edifying if there were some work done on the etiology of the dialects.

Because, truly, every country has its spread of different dialects.

Travelling in Europe, for instance in Germany the way German is spoken in the Bavarian region differs greatly from German in places like Berlin.

And the same holds true for the US or Canada, China, France.

There must have been different geo-cultural, ethnic etc factors that have played into the formation of these differences.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

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