Photo: iStock/ istock Chunyip Wong and Eloi_Omella

Kanto and Kansai word differences

By Fergus Gregg

Throughout history, spoken Japanese has evolved in hundreds of different ways, creating dialects in each region. The two most spoken were the Edo and the Kinai dialect.

Once Meiji was restored to the Imperial throne, sweeping political and educational reforms took place. Many dialects were suppressed in favor of the Edo dialect to promote cultural unity and cohesiveness. Remains of the distinct dialects can still be found across Japan, most notable in the famous successor of the Kinai dialect, the Kansai dialect.

Here are five key slang differences between Japanese spoken in Tokyo and the Japanese you’ll need to get by with the crazy folks of Kansai.

1. ‘Arigato’ and ‘ookini’

Of all the words to start this list, arigato (thank you) is the one that best sums up how total the differences can be between Kansai and the other regions of Japan. A word as simple as thanks can be completely different from its counterpart in Osaka than from what it is in Tokyo, this is exemplified by the word ookini.

Ookini is an abbreviation of the phrase ooki ni arigato (thank you very much) and is universal in the Kansai dialect as an alternative thank you. Over time, the continued abbreviation of the phrase epitomizes the casual culture of Kansai compared to Tokyo, so much so that it’s best not to use this when conducting serious business, as it can be considered too casual at times.


2. ‘Totemo’ and ‘mecha’

Mecha kawaii (cute)

Mecha (very) is a popular word, particularly among the youth in Kansai and it’s easy to see why it’s a preferred alternative to totemo as an adverb. Being a two-syllable word instead of totemo’s three allows sentences containing it to move fluidly.

It’s not uncommon for speakers to use it twice in a sentence to emphasize the enjoyment of delicious food or an interesting shop to conversation partners.

It’s a particularly fun word to learn as a beginner Japanese speaker. Its meaning is simple and can be used with versatility in most conversations and demonstrates a willingness to learn more of the Kansai dialect when talking with native speakers.

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4 ( +4 / -0 )

Bleah. This Kansai/Kanto thing has been done to death.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

One important thing when learning about dialects of Japanese is that each one have some degree of gendered words and expressions, so for students learning conversation with a native partner coming from a different location (so the student have no other reference for that dialect) some care is needed to not mistakenly learn those expressions thinking they are neutral and just different from plain Japanese because of the dialect. One person I know had a phase where he spoke relatively neutral "textbook" Japanese but sometimes used feminine expressions in Kansai dialect because of this.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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