So you’ve spent years studying the Japanese language, not only learning to read and write kanji, but honing your listening and conversation skills to a relatively fluent level, and you’ve finally fulfilled your dream of sticking a job in Japan. You’re placed in Osaka, the second largest city in the country after Tokyo, with its own unique culture and atmosphere. You’re thoroughly enjoying the vibe of your new city, but something’s wrong — the language the locals are speaking doesn’t sound anything like the Japanese you spent years learning. What’s going on?
Of course, like most countries around the world, certain regions will have their own unique accent or dialect, and Japan is no different. In the Kansai region of Japan, which consists of Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, Shiga, and Wakayama prefectures, you will hear some variation of Kansai-ben, or “Kansai dialect.” The most well-known is without a doubt Osaka-ben, aspects of which are shared with the dialects spoken in neighboring prefectures.
So now what… you have to learn another language all over again? Well, not really! Standard Japanese is spoken and understood throughout the whole country, and Kansai-ben is still mostly understandable if you have a good grasp of standard Japanese, so there is no urgent need to hit the books hard again. However, if you befriend some of the locals, while you won’t be expected to speak in Kansai dialect, you are more likely to build a closer relationship if you can understand it, and your efforts to use it will be appreciated…while also likely providing some amusement to your Kansai friends.
If you’re ready to add some Kansai-ben to your repertoire, Japanese-language writer Yumeno Usago over at our sister-site Pouch, a Kansai-jin herself, presents three interjectory phrases for beginning learners of Kansai dialect. Everyone have your pencils and notebooks ready? Good! Now without further ado, let’s begin.
1. Nandeyanen (なんでやねん)
This is probably the most popular, well-known phrase of the Kansai dialect and is the equivalent to doushite (why) in standard Japanese. Interject with this, and you’re sure to get a huge response from your partner. To share an anecdote of just how popular this phrase is, a Japanese friend of mine from Kyoto went to Tokyo for job training, and, at one point during a conversation with his peers, interjected with a “nandeyanen”. Much to his annoyance, they went on and on about how exciting it was to hear it used for the first time in real life.
2. Honmakaina (ほんまかいな)
Our resident Kansai-jin says this is a great interjection if you want to play or joke around in a conversation. Honma is the equivalent to the standard hontō (本当/really), and the phrase honma kaina is the equivalent to hontō nano (is that true)? For example, a conversation could go:
“Kyō, karē tabeten kedo saa~.” (So today I ate some curry…) “Honmakaina!” (You don’t say!) “O, Ou… uso tsuite dousunen!” (Um, yeah… why would I be lying!)
Yumeno says this will likely get you some laughs, so give it a go!
3. Honde? (ほんで？)
The equivalent to sorede? (and then?) in standard Japanese, honde? can be used to encourage your partner on in their story should you want to hear more. Saying it twice in a row – “Honde, honde?” – can show more enthusiasm, but Yumeno warns that continuously doing so can get you a “Shitsukoi na!” (You sure are insistent!)
Bonus: Se yaro (せやろ)
This is one I personally would like to introduce. I hear it often among my Japanese friends, and even at times around the office. This phrase is the equivalent of sou desho or dayo ne (isn’t that right) in standard Japanese, used when seeking agreement, or when showing your own agreement in a conversation. For example:
“Sono fuku, eena.” (That’s a nice outfit.) “Se yaro. Mama ni kattemoroten.” (Isn’t it? My mom bought it for me.)
Remember everyone, the best way to improve at anything is to practice, and language learning is no exception. So put away your embarrassment and reservations, get out there, and strike up a conversation with some new friends.
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