7 major japanese dialects

7 Major Japanese Dialects You Oughta Know

You booked your ticket to Japan.

You have mastered all the basics and you think you are able to hold many conversations in Japanese.

Overflowing with confidence you roam the streets almost begging for your first meaningful interaction with a native speaker.

You finally manage to overcome your restraints, stop a Japanese person, and ask for that hobby store that is supposed to be nearby.

“アニメの店は どこですか?” (あにめの みせは どこですか?— Where is the anime store?), you ask, juggling between shyness and decisiveness.

“知らん” (しらん- I don’t know), he answers before vanishing into the crowd.

You try to recall any grammatical form that resembles the words. You search your mind palace for what seems a plausible translation of what you heard. In the end you start to question your hearing capabilities. Maybe you got it wrong.

Well, you didn’t. You just stumbled into a Japanese speaker of a particular dialect (Hakata Ben). Keep reading and you will be able to tell the basic grammar differences between the seven major dialects and standard Japanese.

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What Is a Dialect?

According to David Crystal, one of the most celebrated linguists of our time, a dialect is any variety of a language, including the standardized version. A dialect is also any language that is socially linked to a specific region, generally accepted to be derived from a national standard language.

Japan has a lot of dialects. Considering the length of time the island has been inhabited, the mountainous mainland that serves as a natural barrier, the isolation from all external affairs until the late 19th century, and the internal isolation of the numerous shogunates; the existence of so many dialects shouldn’t come as a surprise. The main differences between the dialects are generally matters of pitch accents, use of inflections, vocabulary and the use of particles. There are instances where they differ even in how they use vowels and consonants.

There is a main distinction between the different Japanese dialects. They are divided into two major types: the Tokyo-type (東京式/とうきょうしき) and the Kyoto-Osaka type (京阪式/けいはんしき). As you can probably guess, it is a division based on the northern and the southern dialects. Thus, there are numerous subdivisions shaped on each particular region. The dialects belonging to these two groups are, to a large extent, not deriving from the standard dialect.

There are dialects from peripheral regions that may be incomprehensible to speakers from different parts of the country. There are even mountain villages or isolated islands that speak dialects deriving from Old Japanese. Imagine that!

But don’t worry—we are not going to study Old Japanese. Instead, we will explore some of the differences between the major Japanese dialects. Just enough to know when you are talking to a cheerful guy from Hokkaido or a natural born comedian from Osaka.

Standard Japanese

The form that is considered the standard is called 標準語 (ひょうじゅんご), “Standard Japanese,” or 共通語 (きょうつうご), “common language.” As with the standardized British English of London, spoken by the high class Londoners of previous centuries, 標準語 was spoken by the high class citizens of Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

Today, it is the form taught in schools, used on television and official communication. Due to this modernization, speakers of regional dialects experienced a sense of inferiority. After World War II, the rise of the already inflated Japanese nationalism led to a push for the replacement of all regional varieties with the “common language.”

The conversion was far from successful. Yes, Standard Japanese is the primary language taught in schools and used in all official matters. However, as difficult as it was for the regional varieties to cast out this sense of inferiority, they are now considered something more valuable: a token of the past, a nostalgic memoir, a verification of local identity.

It is no longer shameful to speak in your dialect, as it was in the past. Young people are even beginning to create their own Creoles—distinct regional speech form—based on the regional dialect, like the Japanese spoken in Okinawa, for example.

In the next few paragraphs, I will give you some of the basic differences between the Standard Language and seven of the most widespread varieties. Get ready for some funny Japanese speech patterns.

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7 Major Japanese Dialects You Oughta Know

1. Hakata Ben

7-major-japanese-dialects

The Hakata dialect (博多弁/はかたべん) is spoken in and around Fukuoka city. It is sometimes called 福岡弁 (ふくおかべん), due to its increased popularity as the typical dialect of Fukuoka and its suburbs. Lately, the dialect is used in regional news along with Standard Japanese.

Grammar point

Standard Japanese

Hakata Ben

だ、じゃ
turns into

犬だね (いぬだね)

It’s a dog, isn’t it?

犬やね (いぬやね)

生徒だけど (せいとだけど)

I’m a student but…

生徒やけど (せいとやけど)

赤じゃない (あかじゃない)

It’s not red.

赤やない (あかやない)

―ない
turns into
―ん

食べない (たべない)

I don’t eat.

食べん (たべん)

知らない (しらない)

I don’t know.

知らん (しらん)

―い
in adjectives turn into
―か

遅い (おそい)

It’s late.

遅か (おそか)

良い (よい)

It’s good.

良か (よか)

Final Particle ―よ
turns into
―ばい

それだよ

That’s it.

それやばい

言ったよ (いったよ)

I said it.

言ったばい (いったばい)

2. Osaka Ben

7-major-japanese-dialects

The Osaka dialect (大阪弁/おおさかべん), more commonly known as part of the Kansai dialects (関西弁/かんさいべん) is spoken in the Kansai region. In this area, almost everyone is speaking a dialect.

Osaka-ben is characterized as a more melodic and harsher version of Standard Japanese. The thing you might first notice when you hear a person from Osaka speak is that they easily omit the particles.

Grammar point

Standard Japanese

Osaka Ben

Final Particle ―ね
turns into
―な

寒いね (さむいね)

It’s cold, isn’t it?

寒いな (さむいな)

始まるね (はじまるね)

It’s starting, isn’t it?

始まるな (はじまるな)

―ない
turns into
―へん

飲まない (のまない)

I don’t drink.

飲まへん (のまへん)

食べない (たべない)

I don’t eat.

食べへん (たべへん)

から
turns into
さかい

帰るから (かえるから)

I’m leaving.

帰るさかい (かえるさかい)

暇だから (ひまだから)

I’m bored.

暇やさかい (ひまやさかい)

Final Particle ―よ
turns into
―で,-わ(weaker)

良かったよ (よかったよ)

It was good.

良かったで (よかったで)

食べたよ (たべたよ)

I ate.

食べたわ (たべたわ)

3. Hiroshima Ben

7-major-japanese-dialects

Back in 1974, there was a movie called “The Yakuza” (Kudos if you know it). This movie used the dialect native to the Chugoku region.

Ever since, the local dialect is commonly associated with the Japanese mafia, which is unfair, I know. Part thanks to the movie, the Hiroshima Ben (広島弁/ひろしまべん) is one of the most recognizable Japanese dialects.

Grammar point

Standard Japanese

Hiroshima Ben

だ、
turns into
じゃ

犬だね (いぬだね)

It’s a dog, isn’t it?

犬じゃね (いぬじゃね)

生徒だけど (せいとだけど)

I’m a student but…

生徒じゃけど (せいとじゃけど)

元気だ (げんきだ)

I’m fine.

元気じゃ (げんきじゃ)

―ない
turns into
―ん

食べない (たべない)

I don’t eat.

たべん (たべん)

しない

I don’t do.

せえへん

―でください
turn into
―んさんな

飲まないでください

(のまないでください)

Please don’t drink.

飲みんさんな (のみんさんな)

書かないでください

(かかないでください)

Please don’t write.

書きんさんな (かきんさんな)

―てあげる、であげる
turns into
―ちゃる、-じゃる

教えてあげる (おしえてあげる)

Let me show you.

教えちゃる (おしえちゃる)

 選んであげる (えらんであげる)

Let me make a choice.

選んじゃる (えらんじゃる)

4. Kyoto Ben

7-major-japanese-dialects

Part of the Kansai dialects (関西弁/かんさいべん), Kyoto Ben (京都弁/きょうとべん) along with the Osaka Ben  (大阪弁/おおさかべん), are called the Kamigata dialect (上方言葉/かみがたことば, 上方語/かみがたご).

The Kyoto Ben, the traditional dialect of Kyoto, is known for its softness and politeness. Due to its connections with the Geisha culture, is sometimes considered as feminine and elegant.

Kyoto Ben used to be the Standard form of the language until the Meiji Restoration. Thus, many speakers of the dialect are very proud of their distinct accent.

Grammar point

Standard Japanese

Kyoto Ben

Final Particle ―よ
turns into
―え

行きますよ (いきますよ)

I’m going.

 行きますえ (いきますえ)

 こちらですよ

Here it is.

こちらどすえ

Final Particle ―ね
turns into
―な

そうですね

That’s right.

そうどすな

暑いですね (あついですね)

It’s hot, isn’t it?

暑うおすな (あつうおすな)

です、でして
turn into
どす、どした

そうです

That’s right.

そうどす

 どうでした

How was it?

どうどした

ありません
turns into
おへん

地図はありません

(ちずはありません)

There is no map.

地図はおへん (ちずはおへん)

学生じゃありません

(がくせいじゃありません)

I’m not a student.

学生やおへん (がくせいやおへん)

5. Nagoya Ben

7-major-japanese-dialects

I think you’re getting the pattern of my dialect overviews. So let me hear you (in the weird Dora the Explorer voice): Where is the Nagoya Ben (名古屋弁/なごやべん) spoken? You guessed right: In Nagoya City of the Aichi prefecture.

The dialect is a mixture of both eastern and western Japanese dialects, due to the geographical position of Nagoya. Even though the accent is pretty close to standard Tokyo accent, speakers of Nagoya Ben are more than often characterized as speaking like a cat.

Grammar point

Standard Japanese

Nagoya Ben

Final Particle ―よ
turns into
―に

美味しいよ (おいしいよ)

It’s tasty.

 美味しいに (おいしいに)

 良かったよ (よかったよ)

It was good.

良かったに (よかったに)

Negative form ―ない
turns into
―せん

飲まない (のまない)

I don’t drink.

飲ません (のません)

食べない (たべない)

I don’t eat.

 食べせん (たべせん)

―てください
turn into
ーてちょう

書いてください (かいてください)

Please write.

書いてちょう (かいてちょう)

来てください (きてください)

Please come.

来てちょう (きてちょう)

―くなる
turns into
ーなる

大きくなる (おおきくなる)

It becomes big.

おおきなる (おおきなる)

 安くなる (やすくなる)

It becomes cheap.

安なる(やすなる)

6. Sendai Ben

7-major-japanese-dialects

Sendai Ben (仙台弁/せんだいべん) is part of the dialect group Tohoku Ben (東北弁/とうほくべん), spoken in Tohoku region. Sendai is the capital city of the Miyagi prefecture.

The Sendai Ben is the closest of the Tohoku ben to the standard form of Japanese. Closer to Hokkaido, the regional dialects are so different, subtitles may be needed with mainstream media.

Grammar point

Standard Japanese

Sendai Ben

Particle ―を
turns into
―ば

雑誌を買った (ざっしをかった)

I bought a magazine.

雑誌ば買った (ざっしばかった)

 窓を開ける (まどをあける)

I open a window.

窓ば開ける (まどばあける)

Particle ―に・へ
turns into
―さ

東京へ行く (とうきょうへいく)

I go to Tokyo.

東京さ行く (とうきょうさいく)

友達に貸した (ともだちにかした)

I lent it to a friend.

友達さ貸した (ともだちさかした)

だろう、でしょう
turn into

寒いだろう (さむいだろう)

It will be cold.

寒いべ (さむいべ)

日本人でしょう

(にほんじんでしょう)

He’s probably a Japanese.

日本人だべ (にほんじんだべ)

そう
turns into

そうだ

That’s right.

んだ

 そうじゃない

That’s not it.

んでね

7. Hokkaido Ben

7-major-japanese-dialects

The island of Hokkaido was settled recently. After the Meiji Restoration, people from the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions migrated to Hokkaido and created a unique amalgamate dialect. Thus, Hokkaido Ben (北海道弁/ほっかいどうべん) is a mixture of different varieties with a set of distinct characteristics.

Grammar point

Standard Japanese

Hokkaido Ben

よね? / でしょう?
turns into
―っしょ

行くよね (いくよね)

I’m going.

行くっしょ (いくっしょ)

 これだよね

This is it, isn’t it?

これっしょ

―よね? / でしょう?
turns into
―しょや

言ったよね (いったよね)

I said it, didn’t I?

言ったしょや (いったしょや)

明日でしょう (あしたでしょう)

It’s probably tomorrow.

明日しょや (あしたしょや)

Potential form of Godan Verbs turns into
ーれる

行ける (いける)

I can go.

行かれる (いかれる)

 飲める (のめる)

I can drink.

飲まれる (のまれる)]

―だろう / でしょう
turn into

寒いだろう (さむいだろう)

It will be cold.

 寒いべ (さむいべ)

 日本人でしょう

(にほんじんでしょう)

He’s probably a Japanese.

日本人だべ (にほんじんだべ)

A Dialect or Not a Dialect?

By now you should have a rough idea of the major Japanese dialects. Do not forget that not all differences in the language are due to a dialect. People use slang words, change their vocabulary depending on the context, omit particles and change their speech pattern.

But next time you find yourself in Japan, or even watch a Japanese movie, you might notice that strange inflection and tell a friend: “Hear that weird ending? That’s because he is an Osaka-jin.” Imagine that.


Thanasis Karavasilis is a writer and lover of stories who was educated to be a teacher of English. He spends his time between worlds and inside pages; written or otherwise. You can get a glimpse of his adventures somewhere inside his hideout.

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