Kansai-Ben and Everything You Need to Know About It

Kansai-ben (‘ben’ being the term used after the name of the dialect or region), is one of the most popular dialects in Japan. It is the dialect spoken in and around the Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe regions.  Although there are subtle differences in each smaller region, broadly, the grammar and accent resonate with the gist of the Kansai dialect. For example, the dialect used in the Osaka region is called Osaka ben which is commonly heard in comic shows and anime. The one used in Kyoto is called Kyoto-ben which is known for sounding more refined due to the city’s aristocratic history. 

Imagine you go to Japan after a grueling four years of learning the Japanese language. Those late-nights practicing Kanji, the distressing attempts at memorizing Keigo, and the agonizing months and months of mastering one of the most difficult languages. And at last, the efforts have come to fruition; you made it to Japan. But only to realize, you don’t understand much of the Japanese the people here speak! This is when most non-Japanese people encounter ‘dialects’. So how important is it to know about the Kansai dialect? 

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A Bit About Japanese Dialects

Dialects are the changes in accent, intonation, vocabulary and grammar that are peculiar to a  geographical area. Although Japan is a small country, the Japanese language varies vastly across geographies. The Japanese taught in schools in Japan and to non-Japanese people, is called Standard  Japanese. It is the ideal language to have perfect grammar and pronunciation. However, its use is limited to classrooms and perhaps formal writings such as newspapers. The common language, called きょううつうご (Kyoutsuugo), is used when people of different native dialects communicate.

History of Kansai-ben 

In the Meiji era, when the capital of Japan was moved from Kyoto to Edo and Edo was renamed to Tokyo,  there was a deliberate effort by the Japanese administration to establish a ‘Standard Language’. This thereby led to the Tokyo dialect being recognized as Standard Japanese. 

The Kyoto-Osaka style of speech maintained its elegance even after the capital was moved to Tokyo. The imperial court was situated in Kyoto for a considerable period of Japanese history. This influenced the Kansai-ben (particularly the Kyoto-ben) honorific speech, or けいご (keigo), to be more elaborate. Despite its tumultuous history, Kansai-ben is still perceived as one of the most culturally dominant dialects of Japan. 

Kansai-ben vs Tokyo Dialect

It is always handy to remember a few Kansai-ben words and phrases. Even when Japanese people speak in Standard Japanese, you may hear words from Kansai-ben slip out sometimes.  

めっちゃ (Meccha)

This word has spread beyond the Kansai region and is used to say totemo (very much). You can say meccha oishii (it is very delicious). 

あかん (Akan) 

This word is the Kansai-ben equivalent to dame. An outright akan! means ‘don’t do it. It can be used while saying:

そんなこと言っちゃあかんや。
Sonna koto iccha akan ya
You should not say such a thing.  

ほんま (Honma) 

This is the colloquial Kansai-ben for hontou (really). It is used as an exclamatory phrase such as  Honma? (Really), or as an affirmative response such as honma ya na (Yeah, you’re right). 

おおきに (Ookini)

The phrase mainly used by shopkeepers in the Kansai region, means arigatou (Thank you). In shops  they say maido ookini to mean, ‘Thank you for your continued patronage’.  

なんぼ (Nanbo) 

While shopping, you can flaunt your Kansai-ben prowess by asking nanbo? (ikura in Standard  Japanese) meaning ‘how much?’.  

ええ (Ee) 

This word should not be confused with the one in standard Japanese that mean ‘yes’. In Kansai-ben,  ee is equivalent to いい (ii) which means good.  

Many Japanese people relate the words ぼちぼち(bochibochi), すきやねん(sukiyanen) and いやや ねん(iyayanen) to be distinctive of Kansai-ben (used more widely in Osaka). Bochibochi is the reply to someone asking もうかりまっか (mookairmakka), meaning ‘are you making money?’. This is the casual way of asking ‘how have things been?’. Sukiyanen gained popularity after it was used in a  campaign in Osaka called すきやねん大阪 (Sukiyanen Osaka). The word simply means ‘to like something’. 

Similar to sukiyanen, iyayanen is also used commonly in Osaka. It means, ‘to dislike something’. 

Grammar in Kansai-ben

Kansai-ben grammar is considerably easier to grasp than the grammar of other dialects. The sentence ending だ(da) in Standard Japanese is usually replaced with や (ya) in Kansai-ben.

When we say そうなんだ (Sou nan da) in Standard Japanese, it changes to そうなんや (Sou nan ya) in  Kansai-ben. Accordingly, the words だろう (darou) and だから(dakara) also change to やろう (yarou) and やから (yakara).  

In the book Oosaka kotoba no tokuchou, the author Fei P’eng writes about his research on the Osaka dialect by analyzing vocal cords while speaking. He states that the Osaka dialect requires the speaker to open his mouth only slightly. Hence, some words are changed while speaking in Osaka ben. 

For example, ちがう(chigau) has changed to ちゃう(chau). Try pronouncing these and you will see how the above logic fits perfectly. Words such as かって(katte) also become こうて(koote), あ って(atte) becomes おうて(oote). This changes the grammar (te form of verbs) quite prominently. While this research was primarily focused on the Osaka dialect, it has a bearing on the whole Kansai ben. 

The term ちゃう(chau) is also used for replacing じゃない (jya nai). We say にほんじんちゃう (nihonjinchau) to mean にほんじんじゃない (nihonjin jya nai), or しずかちゃう (shizuka chau) to  mean しずかじゃない (shizuka jya nai). This chau also becomes a rhetorical question to mean ‘isn’t  it?’. So, we can say:

これええんちゃう?
Kore eenchau?
Isn’t this good?

Negation of verbs in Kansai ben is equally familiar outside Kansai region. The ない (nai) part of the verb is replaced with へん(hen). Hence たべない(tabenai) becomes たべへん(tabehen). のまない (nomanai) becomes のまへん(nomahen). For part tense-negation of verbs, we add かった(katta) to  the above forms. Therefore, たべへんかった(tabehenkatta) means ‘did not eat’, and のまへんか った(nomahenkatta) means ‘did not drink’.

The -hen words also stand for invitation in the way we say いきなない (ikinai?). We can say this in Kansai-ben as いかへん(ikahen?) meaning ‘won’t you come?’. Now, you can probably flaunt some of the Kansai-ben by inviting your friends. Just say:

こんど映画にいかへん?
Kondo eiga ni ikahen?
Do you want to go (see) a movie?

Pronunciation and Accent of Kansai Dialect 

The popularity of Kansai-ben can be attributed to its unique accent. There are several situational comedic instances that represent Kansai-ben on a lighter note. The satire element is emphasized by the accent. A key difference in pronunciation between Standard Japanese and Kansai-ben is the prolonged pronunciation of single-syllable words. For example, the word き(ki), which means ‘tree’, is pronounced as a short khi sound in standard Japanese. Whereas in Kansai-ben it is pronounced as a  long khii sound. Similarly, the words め (me) for ‘eyes’ and て (te) for ‘hands’ become long mee and tee sounds. 

There is often a mix-up in pronouncing some homonyms. The word はし (hashi), which means both  ‘bridge’ and ‘chopsticks’, is pronounced differently in Standard Japanese and Kansai-ben. Let’s look at the pitch pattern of such words. The underlined syllable is pronounced in a lower intonation while the shaded syllable is pronounced in a higher intonation.  

EnglishStandard JapaneseKansai Dialect
Whyなんなん
Chopsticks
Bridge
Rain
Candy
Dog

The soft accent and wavering pitch are characteristics of Kansai-ben. It has more pitch patterns than  Standard Japanese. Owing to this distinctive accent, Kansai-ben was once regarded as coarse and imposing. Gradually, with the increase in stand-up comedians and TV shows, it gained a renewed light-hearted and affable image. 

Should You Learn Kansai-ben? 

Besides being a soft-sounding dialect, Kansai-ben also carries a humble articulation of expressions. It uses more indirect expressions. For example, in the Osaka dialect, there are expressions, かんがえとき まひょ (kangaetokimahyo) or かんがえときまっさ (kangaetokimassa) which may sound like they mean ‘I will take some time to think about it’. These expressions, in fact, indirectly convey a rejection or denial. 

Similarly, while speaking, よろしい (yoroshii) which is more formal, is used more frequently than いい (ii). The nuance in Kansai-ben greetings conveys a feeling of consideration for others. The greeting いっていらっしゃい (itte irasshai) becomes おはようおかえり (ohayou okaeri) meaning ‘finish your work quickly and come home to rest’. Also, the copula, だ (da), changing to や (ya), portrays the softness of speech in Kansai-ben. どうして (doushite) becoming な んで (nande) is a similar example. どうして (doushite) sounds callous, imposing the responder to  reply with an exact ‘yes’ or ‘no’. 

Kansai-ben also has its distinct share of けいご (keigo) or honorific expressions. Using the term はる (haru) at the end of the verb, makes it formal yet not too rigid. While speaking in Kansai-ben, it is always better to use this はる (haru) form of verbs in formal situations, than using the Standard  Japanese けいご (keigo). This form is usually used by women and it depicts affection. Women also often use the word うち (uchi) instead of わたし (watashi) or あたし (atashi).

Study Material for Kansai-ben 

Living in the Kansai region and interacting with locals is by far the most effortless way of learning Kansai ben. Other resources such as Japanese anime, TV shows and movies help in comprehending the accent. If your goal is to adapt Kansai-ben in everyday conversations, you can follow the widely popular stage show, Yoshimoto shinkigeki.

There are numerous anime that you can watch repeatedly, such as Lovely Complex, Bleach and Hikaru no go. Eventually, you can initiate a  conversation in Kansai-ben and surprise everyone. Here is a trick. When you are asked, かんさいべ んわかりますか (Kansai-ben wakarimasu ka), meaning ‘do you understand Kansai-ben?’, just say ぼ ちぼちやね (bochibochi ya ne) and wait for them to get blown away by your wit! After all, Kansai people love goofy banter.

Check out: Top 10 Easy Anime to Learn Japanese for Beginners

Conclusion

The dialect diversification of the Japanese language is as rich as it is perplexing. A one-hour drive from  Osaka to Kyoto is enough to slightly alter the dialect. The unrivaled popularity of Kansai-ben has promoted tourism, language learning and entertainment business in the region. The dialect not only depicts the way people speak; it also illustrates the amicable nature of the Kansai people. We have come a long way since the time when dialects fostered stigma and an inferiority complex. It is a means of blending in with the locals and enjoying your stay in Japan. So, let’s brush aside our inhibitions and give them a shot. After climbing the mountain of mastering the Japanese language, learning Kansai-ben seems like moving up a molehill. かんばりや!

Do I need to learn Kansai-ben if I am staying in Kansai region?

In day-to-day conversations, Kansai people often speak in their dialect even with non-
Japanese people. It is helpful to socialize and make friends if you can converse in Kansai
dialect though it is not an obligation.

How do I learn Kansai-Ben if I’m not staying in Kansai region?

Although staying in Kansai region is the most natural way of adapting to the dialect, many
learners staying outside Kansai or Japan are also able to learn it well. Watching Anime,
movies and TV shows showcasing characters speaking in Kansai-ben is known to be very
effective.

Which region is Kansai-Ben spoken in?

The Kinki region of Japan (which includes Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara, Shiga and Wakayama)
is the Kansai-Ben-speaking region. There are countless variations in accent and words in
each smaller region too. Yet, it is mainly referred for the dialect in Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe region.

How is Kansai-Ben different from Standard Japanese?

Kansai-ben and Standard Japanese differ mainly in accent. The grammar and vocabulary
differ somewhat yet it is coherent to non-Japanese people.

Is Kansai-Ben used in formal situations

Although it is popularly believed that Kansai-ben is colloquial, there is Keigo (honorific)
expressions for formal situations. It is used at the workplace with colleagues and selectively with
seniors and with customers.

Is it difficult to learn Kansai-ben?

Kansai-ben can be fun to learn if it is studied with its humor. The accent can be difficult to
acquire. However, the resources given above are helpful to learn it.

s there a different writing system for Kansas-ben?

Standard Japanese is used for written communication. Kansai-ben can be used for writing
any non-formal communication such as writing messages for friends and social media but
the writing system is the same as Standard Japanese.


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