How many dialects are there in your country? Until 150 years ago Japan was not united so there were many dialects. But it’s very interesting that the dialects have some stereotypes. For example if you speak the dialect of Hiroshima, it sounds like you’re like a Yakuza who likes to kill someone for a hobby. In reality in series each protagonist speaks the dialect depending on his character or his work. Do you want to know the characteristics? Let’s go!
Tokyo (Yamanote): The Cold Businessman, Female
Foreigners do not know it very well, but in Tokyo there are two dialects; they are Yamanote and Shitamati. Yamanote was the Japanese language that the Samurai used to rule in Edo, and now it is the basis of normal Japanese. Shitamati, on the other hand, is the dialect for the commoners.
So now let’s look at the image of the Yamanote dialect. Normally there’s an image of the elite or banker of Tokyo. Because they normally received education in Tokyo or grew up in Tokyo to be the important people, to be a banker speaking the Aomori dialect sounds strange in our image. However the jobs of these guys have cold stereotypes, don’t they? That’s why people from another region feel that people who speak only normal Japanese seem cold.
But the Yamanote dialect has the image of weakness as well. For example, in some series the elites do not know much about the difficulty in their lives, so when they suffer a lot, they tend to run away. That’s why people who speak the dialect of the far-off region of Tokyo have a very strong image as a general who was promoted like a private soldier in Tokyo, because they tried very hard to get out of their village. On the contrary, the Tokyo people have like an image of an ensign who graduated from the military academy a few years ago.
The thing about Tokyo (Shitamati): Nice, likes to fight, use all the money he earns.
Generally the Japanese seem serious, but they were not, particularly the commoners of Edo were contrary, and their dialect still has the image of this era. They lived only for “Now”, therefore they used all the money they earned, drank a lot of alcohol, and fought a lot with someone. This was a very cool kind of man in Edo, and the image of their dialect is that.
So the dialect of Shitamati is the descendant of the Edo commoner’s dialect, so when we hear it, we feel that they are angry and sometimes nice. So I feel that this dialect is very similar to Cockney of England. Actually the place where the language of Shitamati was spoken is East Tokyo, and Cockney is East End of London. Maybe their image is more or less the same except that the young people don’t want to talk about Shitamati.
It’s a dialogue from George Bernard Shaw’s opera. A protagonist speaks Cockney, and we translate into Shitamati. It sounds very aggressive.
花売り娘 お、あれぁあんたの息子かい？ ったく、どういう躾（しつけ）してんだかねぇ、貧しい花（あな、おあしも払（あら）売り娘の商売もん台無しにしちまって。まあいいや、あんたに払（あら？
Or, area anta no musuko kai? taku, douiu situke sitendakanee mazushii anaurimusume no shyobaimon dainasi ni sitimatte, oasimo harawazu donzura kai. Maa iiya, anta ni aratte moraouka?
- Ana: In normal Japanese we are called Hana, they do not pronounce H.
- Anta: It means “You”, but it’s very aggressive.
This old man’s Japanese is very Shitamati-like.
Oosaka’s thing: Comedian, Likes business, Yakuza
The dialect of Oosaka gives us the image of Chaos. For example, the homeland of Japanese comedians is Oosaka. That’s why it sounds so fun and lively. But it was a central city of internal commerce in Edo era, so there are those who love money. There are also some bad people like Yakuza in this city. That’s why there’s another image of Narco.
A police group against Yakuza. It is famous that the police speak like Yakuza.
This girl speaks very typical of Oosaka.
Kyoto: elegant, cunning
Kyoto is a city close to Osaka, it was the capital of Japan for 1000 years. Therefore, there is an air of elegance and refinement in its speech. It is true that Kyoto has the image of the aristocrats at the court of Japan.
But on the other hand, it is also one of the areas where there are more tatemae in Japan, and the traditionalists of Kyoto often think that the rest of the Japanese are peasants. In fact, Kyoto has a cynical and sarcastic image, and the Kyoto dialect is often used in the TV dramas as the mother-in-law of an upper-class family intimidating the heroine.
Hiroshima: The Medellin cartel
It is often said that the dialect of Hiroshima sounds like a “Sicario”. There is a reason for this, and it is because the legendary Yakuza film “Jinghi Naki Tatakai” was set in Hiroshima. After the war, it became a dangerous city with the most constant yakuza fighting due to the atomic bombing that destroyed the city, but now it is a normal provincial city.
By the way, the image of the yakuza of Hiroshima is more honorable than that of the yakuza of Kansai. Unlike the yakuza of Tokyo and Osaka, who fight for money, the yakuza of Hiroshima are more likely to fight for their pride, rather than earn money. The Cali cartel is the yakuza of Osaka and Tokyo, but the Medellin cartel is like the yakuza of Hiroshima.
Fukuoka: (female) Traditionalist (male)Traditionalist
Fukuoka is a city in northern Kyushu. Men tend to be macho, and have traditional values that women should be submissive to men, but in reality, wives are more powerful. Women have a reputation for speaking quietly and beautifully, and they are always high on the list of dialects in which they would like to be spoken to by their girlfriends. As a result, people in Fukuoka are not as violent as people in Tokyo or Oosaka
- Fukuoka->Looks like a male, but women control them.
- Oosaka, Tokyo->Kill someone to do business.
- Hirosima->Someone insults him, so he kills him.
Kagoshima: pure, warrior, simple
Kagoshima is a region in southern Kyushu. It is the region where there are the bravest people in Japan, and people believe they are Spartans. In fact, many famous soldiers were born there, and they are simple and do not fear death, so there is no mistake in thinking that they are Spartans. In dramas, they often play the role of a stubborn policeman. By the way, their dialect is particularly hard to understand.
I really have no idea what they are saying. Without subtitles I also cannot understand this conversation at all, which makes it almost impossible for a foreigner to understand it. You probably think it’s in Korean when you first hear it. There’s even a rumor that this dialect may have been created to be used as a code because this area has been a very closed area since ancient times and had a very aggressive tribe.
Aomori: poor farmer, patient, serious
Aomori is the northernmost prefecture of the Tohoku region and has a lot of snow, so farming was very difficult. Because of this, there was a lot of famine and poor farmers died there. As a result, when you come to Tokyo, you are often considered a country boy, and people ask you, “Wow, you have a really tough accent, huh? Where are you from?” Many people do not use the dialect because they are told to do so (people from Kansai definitely speak in the Kansai dialect, even in Tokyo). On the other hand, they have an image of being patient because they have lived for many years in a hard land, and are likely to be trustworthy businessmen when it comes to work. In fact, many soldiers who are strong in war are also from Tohoku. Kagoshima soldiers have the image of fighting quickly and furiously, but Tohoku soldiers have the image of a soldier as a sniper patiently waiting for the enemy. You can see that there is also a difference in strength.
I hope you have learned that the Japanese language has many different dialects. If you are interested in learning more about the dialects and characters, we hope you enjoy watching Japanese dramas. What is your favorite dialect?