Staying in Kyoto for a few months is great and learning Japanese in Japan sounds amazing. Something you should realize, however, is the fact that Kyoto, Osaka and the rest of the Kansai region have their own dialect known as Kansai-ben but often also referred to as Osaka-ben.
It differs quite a lot from the standard Japanese taught in language classes and more than once I myself completely blanked out when talking to my Japanese neighbours or friends who without them realizing naturally switched to their dialect. That being said, Kansai-ben is truly enjoyable to pick up since you can only learn it outside the classroom by interacting with other people. Kansai-ben is far more outgoing than standard Japanese and while some associate that with being noisy, others associate it with being warm and friendly. For this reason quite a few foreigners like to pick up Kansai-ben to add some personality to their Japanese and for those who study or work in Kansai it helps open up to new people.
Some words and phrases
Before I show you some of the key words and phrases me and my friends have picked out for you to start off with, it is important to mention Kansai-ben is a quick and fluent dialect meaning that between a lot of the words where you would normally expect a pause (indicated below by a space) Kansai-ben tends to omit the pause and pronounce the words as one. Apologies for using romaji, but our website might get confused with the use of hiragana, so better safe than sorry.
Kansai-ben [Standard Japanese] – English
Akan [Dame] – No good
Bari ee yan [Ii desu ne] – Really good, isn’t it?
Chau [Chigau] – Incorrect / to differ
Honmani [Hontou ni] – Really?
Maido [Maidoarigatogozaimasu] – Hello / Thank you (in a commercial setting)
Obahan [Obaasan] – Grandmother / Older woman
Ohayou-san [Ohayougozaimasu] – Good morning
Omae [Anata] – You
Ossan [Ojisan] – Grandfather / Older man
Seyakara [Dakara / Desukara] – So / Therefore
Uttoushi [Mendokusai] – Uninteresting / Troublesome
Ariehen [Arienai] – Unbelieveable
Honde [Kara] – And then
Ikou ka? [Ikamsyouka] – Shall we go?
Iran [Iranai] – Don’t need / want (something)
Kamahen [Daijoubu desu] – No problem / It’s OK
Nandeya [Nande / Naze] – Why?
Naniyanen [Nan desu ka] – What is it? Or when spoken more fiercely “What the hell?”
Naniyattake [nanidattane] – What was it …
Omoroi [Omoshiroi] – Interesting / Funny
Omonnai [Omoshirokunai] – Not interesting / Funny
Ookini arigatou [Argiatou gozaimasu] – Thank you (Polite)
Shiran [Shirimasen / Shirana] – I don’t know
Wakarahen/Wakaran [Wakarimasen / Wakanna] – I don’t understand
Yanka/Yanke [Jya nai ka] – Isn’t it?
A glimpse at the grammar
Learning Kansai-ben’s grammar is something you should stay away from if you haven’t mastered intermediate standard Japanese yet, since the two will confuse you beyond belief. Nonetheless, I want to at least take a quick look at some its basic patterns.
While standard Japanese uses [nai], Kansai-ben replaces the nai for [hen] to indicate a plain (casual) negative form. However, this construction is also used for potential form, which makes it incredibly tricky to distinguish the two. Example:
Kaehen [Kawanai / Kaenai] – Won’t buy / Cannot buy.
Simply replace the standard Japanese ending of [ta] with [ten].Example:
Shiten [Shita] – Done.
Japanese in general has dozens of particles used throughout a sentence and within Kansai-ben some are used differently or are different from standard Japanese. Examples:
Kai [Ka] – To indicate a question
De [Yo / Zo] – To emphasize something is as stated.
Ya [Desu / Da] – It is.
Want to learn more Kansai-ben?
A simple search engine search for Kansai-ben will give you dozens of good websites straight away, which list even more words and phrases as well as a detailed overview of the grammar. For those who prefer to have something in their hands “Colloquial Kansai Japanese: The Dialects and Culture of the Kansai Region” by D.C. Palter and K. Slotsve is a must-have. The book clearly explains the particularities of Kansai-ben’s grammar, provides you with a dictionary as well as hundreds of phrases and conversations on how to use the dialect in your daily life in Kansai. As a bonus it also adds some fun to the mix by telling you more about the region’s cuisine, customs and specialities.
For learning standard Japanese, check out these resources.