Let’s Enjoy 10 funny Japanese dialect phrases in Kyoto!

Let's Enjoy 10 funny Japanese dialect phrases in Kyoto!

Apart from the standard Japanese that foreigners learn, every region of Japan has its own unique dialect (ben). However, Kyoto people don’t like their language to be seen as a provincial dialect as it derives from a time when Kyoto was the imperial capital and, therefore, was once the standard. So I will refer to Kyō kotoba (lit. Kyoto words) rather than Kyoto-ben.



 

Let’s Enjoy 10 funny Japanese dialect phrases in Kyoto!

 

1. A Refined Cadence

Kyoto exudes traditional refinement and sophistication and this also permeates the way Kyoto people speak; a soft, lyrical quality to their pronunciation. This is especially noticeable in the pronunciation of “…masu” verb endings and the “desu” copula. In standard Japanese, these are pronounced hard as /mass/ and /dess/ but in Kyō kotoba, the final “u” sound is voiced, but ever so lightly.

 

2. Dosu

While on the subject, the copula “desu” of standard Japanese is typically pronounced as “dosu” in Kyoto, though probably more so by older people, or Geisha, who do much to preserve the traditional way of speaking. The agreement “Sō desu ne” (I agree) of standard Japanese, might be said as “Sō dosu nā” in Kyoto.

 

3. Agreeing

If you noticed that final “nā” particle in the above example, this is common in seeking agreement in Kyō kotoba, particularly when paired with “ya” as in “yanā”. Thus, the standard Japanese “Kare wa erai hito dane” (He’s a great bloke, isn’t he) would be “Kare wa erai hito yanā” in Kyoto.

 

4. Did You Hear an Echo?

Kyō wa totemo atsui (it’s very hot today) is classroom standard Japanese, though everyday Kanto speech tends to omit modifying adverbs like “totemo” (very) in favour of dramatic intonation on the adjective alone. But in Kyō kotoba, words are often repeated for emphasis, but with a more ‘clipped’ or urgent sounding intonation, as in “Kyō wa atsui atsui!” or simply “Atsui atsui!”

 

5. Welcome!

When you enter shops and restaurants in Kyoto, you may hear the staff call out “Oideyasu!” This is the equivalent of the “Irasshaimase” greeting common in other parts of Japan. In some situations you may hear “okoshiyasu” which is closer in meaning to “make yourself at home.”

 

 

 

6. Politeness

If you noticed the “…yasu” ending on the previous two examples, this is a common feature of many polite and social expressions in Kyō kotoba: “Gomenyasu” (sorry/excuse me); “Okibariyasu” (good luck); “Kōhi okureyasu” (coffee please); “Mitokureyasu” (please take a look); or “Kan’nin shi to okureyasu” (excuse the delay). As a general rule, any standard Japanese expressions ending “…kudasai” change to “[o]kureyasu” in Kyō kotoba.

 

7. …haru

Ending sentences with “…haru” is fairly common across Kansai-ben, but is far more common in Kyō kotoba where, for example, “kuru” (to come) becomes “kuraharu” and “shiteru (doing) becomes “shitaharu” – notice too the slightly different conjugation, where the “ta” form of the preceding verb is preferred to the “te” form. In this way, “Nani shiteru no?” (What are you doing?) becomes “Nani shitaharu no?” and “Nani o tabeteru no?” (What are you eating?) becomes “Nani o tabeta haruno?”

 

8. Negatives

As with other Kansai dialects, the standard Japanese negative “…nai” form becomes “…hen” in Kyō kotoba, so that “ikanai” (don’t go) becomes “ikahen” and “Mitsukaranai” (cannot find) becomes “Mitsukarahen”. The common expression “Wakaranai!” (I don’t understand) is said as “Wakarahen!” in Kyoto.

 

9. Kyō Kotoba Vagueness

As a Kanto-ben speaker, it’s hard to know what some Kyō kotoba phrases actually mean; I need to read or hear them in context before they become clear to me. Of course, Japanese in general is known for being vague or indirect, but in Kyoto it’s a real art form! For example, “Bubu dzuke demo dōdosu ka?” means, apparently, “How about some soup?” but is used to suggest that a guest has overstayed their welcome and should leave.

 

10. Leaving

Well, I think I’ll pass on the soup! “Ōkini” is how to say thanks, rather than “arigatō”, while the standard “Sayonara” (goodbye) is reduced to “Sainara” in Kyō kotoba. But to be really polite on leaving, you can say “Oyakamassan” to thank your host for their time.

 

Conclusion

Kyō kotoba is clearly quite distinct from standard Japanese and, because it grew out of Kyoto’s position as the ancient capital, Japanese people see it as a classic, elegant, and nostalgic way of speaking. It is more polite than standard Japanese, and has a somewhat lyrical, feminine quality that is often copied by Japanese female announcers.

 

Let’s Enjoy 10 funny Japanese dialect phrases in Kyoto!

1. A Refined Cadence
2. Dosu
3. Agreeing
4. Did You Hear an Echo?
5. Welcome!
6. Politeness
7. …haru
8. Negatives
9. Kyō Kotoba Vagueness
10. Leaving