Japanese Dialects: A Simple (But Complete) Guide

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Do Japanese have dialects?

Of course! How many of them do you want? 

Japan teems with dialects. The existence of so many dialects is attributed to the length of time the island nation has passed through over centuries. Its natural configurations, internal and external affairs until the late 19th century play a significant role in the birth and evolution of Japanese dialects. 

Like all other dialects of a language, Japanese dialects feature variegated accents, inflections, vocabulary and distinct pronunciation style. Even stress on vowels and consonants differ significantly when there is a switch over to another dialect. 

Japanese dialects are broadly classified into 2 major types: the Tokyo-type 

and the Kyoto-Osaka type, a division based on geographical north and south dimensions. 

Let’s explore more! 

Standard Japanese

Standard Japanese is the officially accepted form of Japanese in the written form. As the British English of London is the epicentre of standard English, Standard Japanese is the refined Japanese form that provides the platform for formal learning of the language. 

Standard Japanese is the form taught in schools, broadcasted on television and used for all official communication across the length and breadth of the country. 

Ok, let’s get ready to explore different avenues of Japanese language through its dialects!

Major Japanese Dialects

You must be gearing up to know the names of different Japanese dialects and learn something more about them. Without much ado here we are!

1. Hakata Ben

The Hakata dialect (博多弁/はかたべん) is a resident of Fukuoka city. This Japanese dialect is a typified dialect of Fukuoka and its suburbs.  Even it is nowadays used with the Standard Japanese in the print and digital media for regional news circulation.

2. Osaka Ben

This Japanese dialect owes its origin to the Kansai family of dialects famous in the Kansai region. The beauty of this region is that every inhabitant in this region speaks a dialect. 

It is unlike Standard Japanese which is harsh phonetically. This Japanese dialect is melodious and pretty good for exchanging pleasantries owing to its musical nature. 

Osaka-ben is frequently used in anime. Young children start their preliminary lessons through this dialect. 

Have you ever heard of a person from Osaka? 

Well, the first thing you’ll notice is that people speaking this dialect omit articles.

3. Hiroshima Ben

Hiroshima! It fills us with mystery, enigma and horror whenever we hear the name. 

History keeps beckoning…

A movie titled ‘The Yakuza’ was released back in 1974. The movie is a Japanese native dialect that had its roots in the Chugoku region. The storyline, plot and script of the movie was so strong that the local dialect became indelibly associated with the Japanese mafia. 

We know that often a small thing becomes a marker for a big thing. 

The Hiroshima Ben dialect  is now one of the most recognizable Japanese dialects. 

5. Nagoya Ben

What’s there in a name? 

Yes, sometimes there’s a lot in a name. 

The Japanese dialect Nagoya Ben is a citizen of the Nagoya City of the Aichi province. The dialect is a fine blend of both eastern and western Japanese dialects owing to the geographical location of Nagoya city. 

The accent resembles the standard Tokyo accent and the speakers of this Japanese dialect have earned the recognition of crying like a cat! 

6. Sendai Ben

Sendai Ben is a member of the Japanese dialect group Tohoku Ben. Needless to say, it belongs to the Tohoku region. 

Having been closest to the standard Japanese, it has the distinction of being used in the mainstream media. 

7. Hokkaido Ben

This Japanese dialect is the youngest of all Japanese dialects. The name has its roots in the island of Hokkaido that formed recently. There were a large number of immigrants who migrated from the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions and gave shape to a unique dialect. 

Hokkaido Ben is a fine blend of special features of different dialects with a distinct flavour of its own. 

Standard Japanese v/s Common Japanese

Somewhere, you must have come across these two Japanese expressions, ‘hyōjungo’ and ‘hōgen’, during your pursuit of study of Japanese language. 

Standard Japanese or hyōjungo is the officially accepted form of the language as it keeps a record of all official modes of communication in schools, colleges, business, government and on the news. It is the language that everyone is required to understand. 

Common Japanese or hōgen are restricted to different regions or prefectures of Japan. Though Japan is small in size, it takes pride in having a plethora of Japanese dialects which are uniquely diverse. 

Common Japanese is the language of the commoners which undeniably has the aroma of the region where it belongs. It is the language of the soil. 

Nevertheless, dialects bear the expressions of different local communities and cultures. When several dialects interact with each other, it produces beautiful crossroads of cultures. 

Why are there so many Japanese dialects? 

No nation is small enough. 

Japan has 47 prefectures and as all great prefectures have it, each region has a distinct dialect. From north to south, every nuke and corner of the small island nation has a story to tell. 

You’ll wonder more when you interact with people at different location points during your travel destinations. There is definitely Standard Japanese but Japanese dialects keep brewing with the natives every day. The Japanese dialects provide shape and forms to the subtle and basic expressions of the Japanese commoners belonging from different regions of Japan. 

As the prefectures so the people, and so the dialects. 

Go as you like it! 

How should dialects influence your Japanese learning? 

A dialect represents its people. 

Japanese dialects express the cultural identity of the speakers. For the speakers it is peacefully beautiful to wake up to the dialects they speak and sleep with them. 

While learning, you might be wondering about the simple maths at the back of your mind, ‘47 Japanese dialects! A hell lot!’ 

It’s because you are a bystander. You don’t have to know them all if you don’t want to. Just interact with the people you come across during your travels, walking and living in Japan. No rush! No worries. 

Absorb Japanese dialects for the sake of absorbing them when they are served to you in the most colourful palette. It’ll enrich your experience as a traveller, as a wander and as a solitary reaper. 

Standard Japanese will construct an objective world. Whereas Japanese regional dialects will enamour you completely. 

What Japanese dialect is taught in schools?

As we all know, schools refer to the formal mode of education. As the expression ‘formal’ goes, it should be the Standard Japanese that is used for all formal and official purposes. 

Standard Japanese or hyōjungo bears the signature of the Japanese government. Going by that, all schools, colleges and Government machinery must follow the Standard Japanese. 

What are the benefits of Learning Japanese and the Different Japanese Dialects? 

For a moment, consider yourself to be a businessman who is required to travel across the length and breadth of Japan. It’s quite obvious that you have to do a lot of things for marketing and promoting your business. Therefore, knowing Standard Japanese alone would not help. People would simply not buy! 

Now assume that you are a student who has come to Japan to explore and prepare a thesis on Japanese, their culture and language. Your study would be an incompletely meaningless thesis if you overlook Japanese dialects. 

Exactly! Japanese dialects are indispensable to Japanese culture. 

Learning Japanese has gained an incredible momentum among linguistic aspirants across the globe since the late 20th century. It is one the most important languages of the east. 

Footprints of Japanese dialects in the media are quite pronounced now. Japanese pop culture is attested by Japanese dialects. 

Can you forget anime? The Japanese dialect Osaka Ben is the most used one in anime. 

Which Japanese should I learn? 

This question sounds like I am asking you which food I should consume. 

When you are in the land of the rising sun, grab whatever comes in your way! 

Have a roller coaster ride! 

Marry the Japanese dialect you like most! Marry another if you are not satiated yet. Marry the third. Marry the fourth, fifth, sixth… so on and on…

Nobody is going to arrest you for showing your great love to the most beautiful Japanese dialects. I assure you that Japanese dialects will always reciprocate your love and the Standard Japanese would be the presiding priest!