Top Dialects of the Japanese Language

Japan is a small but densely populated country: with over 800 people per square mile, it packs its 127 million inhabitants into a small space (by comparison, the United States has a density of only 85 people per square mile). And given Japan’s connected, urban nature — over 90% of the population lives in cities — you might expect that the Japanese language would be relatively consistent throughout the country. But in reality, Japanese has a number of highly distinct dialects that thrive to this day. Here’s a summary of some of the most common ones.

Image via Pixabay

Image via Pixabay

1. Standard

The Standard Japanese dialect, referred to in Japanese as hyojungo, is most similar to the language spoken in Tokyo, Japan’s capital and largest city. As the standard version of the Japanese language, it’s taught in schools, and is the dialect used in most mass media.

The Standard Japanese dialect is familiar among those who are learning Japanese for two reasons. First and foremost, it’s the version of the language that is taught to foreigners. And second, it’s used in anime and manga, which are often popular among Japanese language learners.

2. Osaka-ben

The Osaka dialect is native to Japan’s Kansai region, which encompasses 10% of the country’s total area, and has a population of over 20 million. It’s famously associated with comedians, and especially with manzai, Japan’s traditional style of stand-up comedy.

It’s said that the Osaka dialect is more melodic than Standard Japanese. Grammatically speaking, speakers of this dialect are more likely to omit particles, which can be frustrating to learners who have worked so hard to master them!

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3. Osaka-ben

The Meiji Restoration was a sequence of events that restored imperial rule in Japan during the mid-nineteenth century. Before the Meiji Restoration, the Kyoto dialect was the standard dialect in all of Japan.

Nowadays, the Kyoto dialect is associated with softness, politeness, and elegance. Like the Osaka dialect, it deviates from Standard Japanese in its use of particles. For example, the final particle is realized as in the Kyoto dialect.

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Image via Volfgang / Wikipedia

4. Hiroshima-ben

The Hiroshima dialect is particularly well known because of its portrayal in movies, especially in relation to the Yazuka, which is the Japanese mafia! However, in addition to the Yazuka, the dialect is spoken by millions of people who are not connected to organized crime rings. Unlike the Kyoto dialect, which is associated with suave elegance, the Hiroshima dialect is known for its roughness and rugged quality.

The dialects on this list are some of the most common ones that you’ll hear. However, Japanese is home to plentiful dialectal variations. For instance, the Okinawa dialect is considered to be so distinct from other forms of Japanese that some linguists consider it to be an entirely different language!

No matter what dialect of Japanese you want to learn, it’s important to take tailor-made classes from a native Japanese speaker, as this is the fastest and most efficient way to master the language’s many intricacies. Send us a quick inquiry to find out how we can help you best learn Japanese.