The Japanese learned in school, in books, or other materials is what the Japanese call hyoujungo, or standard Japanese. Each region of Japan actually has its own dialect, hougen in Japanese, which still exists today more or less strongly depending on the areas and the generations. Kansai-ben is the most famous hougen. Spoken in the Kansai area (the region of Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe), this dialect reflects the culture and lively nature of its inhabitants. Famous for their sense of humor, Kansai people produce many famous comedians whom you will often see on TV, using expressions in their lingo as a comedic tool.
After getting solid basics in Japanese, I would recommend knowing the basics of Kansai-ben. Not only will it be useful if you travel in the area, but it will also help you grasp a distinct part of Japanese culture, and help you understand a specific way of joking your friends may use.
The Kansai dialect varies slightly depending on the area of Kansai where it is spoken (for example, Kyoto people do not talk the same as Kobe people). For this article, I will concentrate on Kansai-ben as it is spoken in the Osaka area.
- ’Ookini’: It is the local equivalent of “arigatou,” meaning “thank you.” If you go shopping in Kansai, local store staff will probably say it to you.
- ’Erai ookini’: “Thank you very much.” In Kansai, “erai” means “great” and “very.”
- ’Suimasen’ or ‘sunmasen’: As you may have guessed, it is the local version of “sumimasen,” meaning “excuse me” or “sorry.”
- ’Akan’: It means the same as “dame,” to express that it is forbidden or bad to do something.
- ’Honma’, ‘honma ni’: It is like “hontou” and “hontou ni” in standard Japanese, meaning “really.”
- ’Honma kai na?’: A local expression meaning, “Is that really true?”
- ‘Ee’, ‘eewa’, ‘eede’: “Ee’”is the Kansai version of “ii,” meaning “good” or “okay.” “Eewa” and “eede” both mean the same as “iiyo.”
- ’Meccha’: You may have heard this being used in standard Japanese conversations with friends, as it is a very famous expression. It means “very.”
- ’Seya’, ‘seyade’: These expressions are similar to “sou da” and “sou dayo.”
- ’Chau’: It is the local version of “chigau,” which can be translated in English as “to be different from,” but can also mean “no” depending on the context.
- ’Shindoi’: You may have heard this word in standard Japanese, but in Kansai-ben, it means “I am tired.”
The Negative Form of Verbs
Another key feature of Kansai-ben is the ending of the verbs in the negative form. It is rather different from standard Japanese, but the radical is usually the same, so it is very easy to understand with just a little training.
- In the present tense, for most verbs, replace the “-nai” of the negative form with the suffix “-hen.”
Standard Japanese: wakaranai; mienai; ikanai
Kansai-ben: wakarahen; miehen; ikahen
- Some exceptions:
Standard Japanese: nai (from the verb aru), shiranai, shinai, konai
Kansai-ben: arahen, shirahen or shiran, sehen, kehen
- The verb “iru” is another exception. In the affirmative form, it is “oru,” and in the negative form, it is “oran.”
- To transform the negative verbs to the past tense, follow the same rule as in standard Japanese and add “-katta.”
Standard Japanese: wakaranakatta, mienakatta, nakatta, inakatta
Kansei-ben: wakarahenkatta, miehenkatta, arahenkatta, orankatta
Using “De,” “Wa,” “Na,” and “Nen”
In Kansai-ben, the particles that are often used to end sentences also differ.
- As you may have noticed in key expressions, the particles “de” and “wa” are the equivalent of “yo” in standard Japanese. (The use of “yo” is a whole topic in itself and I recommend having a look at other resources like this one if it troubles you.)
Standard Japanese: Taberuyo
Kansai-ben: Taberuwa, taberude
- As you may have guessed, “na” is the Kansai-ben version of ‘“ne.”
- Finally, “nen” is used when you would say “no” or “noda” or “nda” in standard Japanese.
Standard Japanese: Kore kara taberunda.
Kansai-ben: Kore kara taberunen.
Going Further with Helpful Resources
I have introduced some key elements that will help you understand Kansai-ben interactions better. However, there are more exceptions and grammar elements to discover, as well as variations depending on the area within Kansai itself. If you wish to learn more about Kansai-ben, I recommend the excellent book, “Colloquial Kansai Japanese,” which explains all its specificities in easily understandable ways.
Another major component of Kansai-ben is its easily recognizable accent and intonation. I did not introduce it in this article because I believe it is difficult to grasp without being able to hear it. The self-study site Kansai-ben covers a lot of grammar and vocabulary, with the help of many video resources to get you used to hearing the dialect. The YouTube channel, Osaka Channel, is also a good resource to get the correct accent and intonation. However, it is only available in Japanese, so it is better to watch it only if you have good (at least N3 level) listening skills.