Kansai-ben is the variety of Japanese spoken in Kansai, that is to say the region of Honshū including the prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto, Mie, Hyogo, Nara, Wakayama and Shiga. It is considered the strongest among the different dialects of Japan thanks to its historical and cultural background. Modern Kansai-ben has developped from classical Japanese, the language spoken at the time Nara, and then Kyoto were the capitals of the country.
When speaking with someone from Kyoto or Osaka, be careful in comparing Kansai-ben to Standard Japanese, especially avoid saying that Tokyo people’s way of speaking is easier to understand, or worse that is better. Kansai people are very proud of their variety and actually there’s quite a rivalry among them and Tokyojins.
But what are the main differences among what is called Standard Japanese and Kansai-ben? Does it sound like a completely different language or can you survive even with your basic Japanese?
From my experience, it depends on who you are speaking with. For example the first time I came to Japan I spent the last couple of days in Osaka. During the whole trip I always tried to use the little Japanese I knew to interact with people and most of the time I was able to express my needs one way or another. But when I went to a supermarket in Osaka it was different. There was an ojisan at the register and when he asked me if I needed a bag for my stuff, I stared at him wide-eyed. He kindly repeated me but I couldn’t understand at all. I turned to my friends, asking them for help, but neither them could understand. I must admit that at that time my Japanese was way worse than how is now, but it was the first time I felt in trouble.
Since I’ve moved here I started paying more attention and to catch the differences between the Japanese they teach you at school and the way people actually speak here in Kyoto. Everytime I walk in the street or I chat with someone I can hear lots of “meccha” “meccha kuccha”, “honmani?”. Intrigued by how it sounds and eager to get to know more about it, I’ve decided both to attend Kansai-ben classes at school and to practice it as much as I can.
So here’s what I’ve learned up to now.
1- Meccha. It means “a lot”, “very”, “terribly” and it’s the abbreviation of the expression meccha kuccha, used to emphasise what you are saying. An example sentence may be “Meccha kawaii yan” meaning “You do are pretty!”
2- Honma ni. Honma ni means “really”. I often hear it in sentences to express surprise, for example “honmani yūten no?!”, which means “Are you serious?”. Sometimes I hear people saying either “honma?” in a very informal way, or “honma desu ka?” when trying to be slighlty more polite. We can translate honmani and meccha as hontou ni and totemo
3- Akan has a double meaning. On one hand is used to express prohibition, so it’s the same as dame. For example you can say “tabako wa akan”, meaning “It’s forbidden to smoke”. On the other hand it expresses an obligation, and it’s used in combination with the verb in -nai kei (informal negative form). For example if you say “jugyō ni ikanaakan” you’re saying that you have to/ you are forced to go to the lesson.
4- ōki ni. I heard this expression for the first time at the conbini. After I paid the cashier told me “ōki ni arigatō”, so I assume is the same as “dōmo arigatō gozaimashita”.
5- Kamahen it’s the abbreviation of kamawahen (=kamawanai) and it’s used to say “don’t worry”, “never mind” in an informal way, for example if you arrive late to an appointment and you say “gomen, basu okurechatta”, your friend may say “kamahen”, “no problem”
6- Shindoi can be translated as “tired”. If they ask you “Kyō, shigoto wa dō?”, instead of saying “Tsukareta”, you can say “shindokatta”
7- Chau corresponds to chigau, that is to say “it’s not like that”, “nope”, “you’re mistaken”. I usually hear it repeated two, three times. “repōto ashita made dasanaakanka?” “chau, chau, chau. Raishū made”
8- omoroi instead of omoshiroi. I once heard “nani ga omoroi nen?”, which means “what’s so funny?”
9- Sammu samui it’s an expression used in Kyoto to emphasise that it’s very cold
10- okan and oton are very casual words for okaasan (“mother”) and otoosan(“father”)
11- Occhan, obachan are terms used to refer to an old man or an old woman. They can be replaced by ossan or obahan but they sound quite rude. Even ruder and offensive are jiji and baba, so try not to use them at all
12- shaanai is the equivalent of shikata ga nai, that is to say “it can’t be helped”, “there’s no choice”
13- doushitan? means “what’s the matter?”, “what’s going on?”. Kansai-ben particles vary a little from Standard Japanese, for example “no” is “n”, “ne” is “na”, “da” is “ya”, “yo” is “wa” and so on
14- Gotsui can replace meccha, but it’s more common among the aged.
15- Nandeyanen it’s an expression that you’ll hear quite a lot. It means “You must be kidding”, “What the heck?!” and it’s used when someone does or say something stupid. It’s very common among friends and it’s less rude than what is seems
16- yakamashii is like urusee or urusai, and it’s addressed to someone who’s being particularly noisy
17- yaruyan means sugoi, that is to say something impressive. A Japanese friend told me that in Osaka they use it very often. For example if you go to a karaoke and you pick a traditional Japanese song, let’s say “Jidai Okure”, some ojisan may tell you “jibun yaru yan” meaning that he’s impressed by your choice
18- Last but not least yaro. I hear it almost in every conversation, but still I can’t undestand the meaning clearly. It can be used in several ways. It’s a word expressing uncertainty and can be translated roughly as “I think so”, “It may be like that”, “I guess”. For example “Dou yaro?” means “I’m not sure what to do”, “I’m not sure I can make it”. In other contexts stands for the shortened form of yarimashou, another way to say shimashou, shiyou, so it means “let’s do it”.
The list goes on and on but I’m still a beginner and these are the words and expressions I could actually catch while speaking with people.
Some may think Kansai-ben is a bit rude or difficult to understand, but for me it’s meccha omoroi. I’ve always been curious in the way a language may vary according to the geographical area, and I like Kansai-ben accent. To my ears it sounds very friendly and every time I try to add Kansai-ben words in my sentences, the reaction is always positive, that’s why I like to interact with people here.
So If you ever come to Kyoto, why not try to speak it?