Although Japan is a tiny country in size made up of even smaller islands, its dense population is rich with diversity and the language reflects that in regional dialects. While standard Japanese is a monotone-like sound derived from the Tokyo accent, the multiple dialects and accents range from the lively and expressive southern accent to the somewhat comical Kansai accent to the islander Okinawan accent. Even if you are fluent in Japanese, you may very well be unable to understand many local dialects. Locals will appreciate if you can comment on the weather or greet them in their local dialect, but do not expect you to know anything but the Tokyo dialect, if at all.
When standardization of the language occurred in the 19th century, the Tokyo accent and dialect was chosen as the standard and those who spoke standard Japanese were associated with the educated and elite of society. Those who spoke local dialects were seen as — you guessed it — uneducated. Thing are of course a little different today, and local dialects are respected and seen as valuable for the cultural identity of each region. That being said, many Japanese who move to Tokyo tend to drop their original dialect and adopt the standardized version, so you’ll hear very little diversity in speech when in Tokyo, despite the millions of non-Tokyo natives.
While the northern island actually has its own accent, to the outsider, it is not noticeably different from the Tokyo standard.
This regional group of dialects, including Kyoto-Ben and Osaka-Ben has captured the heart of the country since many Japanese comedians hail from the area and incorporate Kansai-Ben in their stand-up routines. This is also considered the “cool” accent to have and many younger Japanese intentionally speak standard Japanese with a Kansai accent — just to be hip.
This southern dialect is definitely the most distinct dialect in Japanese: It was used in World War II as a code language. Japanese people associate this dialect with the south — a more rural, countryside association accompanies the accent.
Way down in Okinawa, the natives once spoke a tongue so distinct that it is considered its own language. The culture, language and food of this remote island are quite unique in Japan. The language is now dying out, but many who love Okinawa and call it home hope to preserve this traditional islander language.Share