An Atlas of Japanese Dialects


At the Beach in Fukuoka

   Noticed this sign at the beach the other day. Can you spot the Hakata-ben (博多弁, Hakata dialect)? And can you change the sign to make it even more Hakata-ben-ppoi  (博多弁っぽい), that is make it look more like the Hakata dialect?



   During my most recent trip to Okinawa, I was at long last able to clear up a number of things regarding the local dialect that had been confusing me for quite a while.

   I listen to a lot of music from Okinawa and have even written about the song Chinsagu nu Hana in previous posting. The song is sung in a dialect known as Uchinâ Yamato-guchi, the Japanese language as it is spoken in Okinawa with the local accent and words and phrases from both the Ryûkyû language and to some degree American English. The word Uchinâ, by the way, is how “Okinawa” is pronounced by Okinawans (O→U  kichi  nana  waa) and one of the first things I was happy to finally clarify. Ask your typical Japanese what Uchinâ means and they’ll either say they’ve never heard of it or venture a guess that it means “us”, “our” or “my”, as in the standard Japanese phrase uchi no (うちの). 

   The Ryûkyû language, on the other hand, belongs to a subgroup of languages called the Japonic languages. It can be broken down further into six major dialects, which are generally unintelligible to each other. The following, nicked from Wikipedia, shows how to say “Thank you” and “Welcome” in each of these languages:


Thank you


Standard Japanese




Arigatesama ryoota


















   Most of these languages are on the verge of extinction thanks to the same sort of misguided integration policies used in France (Occitan, Breten) and Britain (Welsh), which suppressed their use. Only the Okinawan language (Uchinâ-guchi) which is spoken in the southern part of the Okinawan mainland and was the official language of the Ryūkyū Kingdom since the reign of King Shō Shin (1477–1526) still counts a sizeable number of people (0.9 million) among its speakers.

   The following list of Okinawan proverbs were found here. As you can see there is very little, if any, similarity with standard Japanese.


Ataishi turu atairu. - We get along well with those we can get along with well.

Achinee ya tankaa mankaa. - Business is a two-way street.

Aramun jooguu ya duu ganjuu. - One who eats plain food is healthy.

Ichariba choodee. - Once we meet and talk, we are brothers and sisters.

Uya yushi kwa yushi. - Parents and children teach one another.

Kaagee kaa ru ya ru. - Beauty is skin deep.

Kamuru ussaa mii nayun. - The more you eat, the more you gain.

Kuu sa kana sa. - Small things are lovable.

Kuchi ganga naa ya yakutatan. - A smooth talker is a good-for-nothing person.

Kutubaa. Jin chikee. - Spend words as efficiently as money.

Kutuba noo ushikumaran. - A word can't be recalled once spoken.

Shikinoo chui shiihii shiru kurasuru. - Let's live helping each other in this world.

Shinjichi nu ada nayumi. - Kindness will never be wasted in any way.

Jin too waraaran kwa tu ru waraariiru. - We can laugh happily with our children, but not with money.

Chu uyamee ru duu uyamee. - If you respect others, they will respect you.

Choo kukuru ru dee ichi. - The heart is the most essential human quality.

Tusui ya tatashina mun. Warabee shikashina mun. - The old should be treated with due respect. Children should be treated with gentleness.

Tusui ya takara. - The old people are treasures to us.

Miitundaa duu tichi. - Man and wife are one flesh.

Nuchi nu sadamee wakaran. - Only God knows one's term of life.

Machushi garu ufu iyoo tuyuru. - One who waits patiently will catch a big fish.

Miinai chichi nai. - We learn by watching and listening.

Mii ya tin niru aru. - Our fates are as registered by heaven.

Munoo yuu iyuru mun. - Speak well of others.

Yaasa ru maasaru. - Food is delicious when one is hungry.

Duu nu duu ya duu shiru shiyuru. - You know your body best.

Choo kani ru deeichi. - Common sense is essential.

Yii kutoo isugi. - Do good things quickly.

Chira kaagi yaka chimu gukuru. - Kind hearts are better than fair faces.

Yuu ya shititin mii ya shitinna. - Even if you hide yourself from the world, don't lose sight of your real nature.

Nmarijima nu kutuba wasshii nee kuni n wasshiin. - Forgetting your native tongue means forgetting your native country.

Ashibi nu chura saa ninju nu sunawai. - The more the merrier.

Acha nu neen chi ami. - Tomorrow is a new day.

Yikiga nu kutubaa shuumun gaai. - A man's word is his honor.

Mookiraa kwee michi shiri. - Once you have made a fortune, know how to spend it.





How d'ye do?

   This search turned up very few hits. It seems people all over Japan utters the standard phrase “Hajimemashite” (初めまして) when meeting someone for the first time. That’s to be expected, I suppose. Why, even loquacious Americans can become rather stiff and uncomfortable around strangers. Dôzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.


   In Hachinohe


      Hajime yanshite

         (Possibly used throughout the former Morioka han, present-day Aomori and Iwate.)




   In Nishimorokata-gun



         (Standard Japanese: はじめてでしょうか)

   In Sendai


      Onya, manzumanzu

         (Can also be used when you receive something.)



   Ara, hajime dedannshina


   Hazume dedansu

      (~だんす, dedansu is Akita-ben for desu)

   Southern Akita prefecture


      Atta koto nê yana. Hajimete dayona

         (A casual way of saying to a friend’s friend, “We haven’t met, have we? How d’ye do?)




      (Probably a contraction of konnichiwa) 

Chûbu - Niigata


   Not sure if this is read “Hatsu da noh” or “Haji da noh”, but it’s probably the latter.

   Sado-ben, spoken on Sado Island



         (Because it’s an island and everyone already knows everyone else rather than say, Nice to meet you, they ask where you’re from: どこの出身 -- Doko no shusshin?)

Aichi -  Nagoya-ben


      Omyâsan, hajimete danamo

         (Apparently only older women use this phrase nowadays)

Kansai - Ôsaka



      Seems like they say this a lot in Ôsaka.

Shikoku - Tokushima


   Ôta koto nain chau

      (Standard Japanese: 今までに会ったことはないでしょうか -- We haven’t met before, have we?)



   Hajimichi, yaibîn yâsai

      (A casual, and rather long way of saying hajimemashite)


Hakata Ben

Hakata Yamakasa Gion Festival 

  There are a number of dialects found throughout Japan, the most famous of which is the Kansai dialect, known as Kansai-ben. It is spoken by the people of Ôsaka and its environs and commonly used by comedians, many of whom hail from the region.

   Hakata-ben the dialect spoken in and around Fukuoka City is another well-known patois. In addition to many other idiosyncrasies, it uses the suffix "-to" to mark the past tense and questions.

   For example, "What are you doing?" in Standard Japanese is "Nani o shite iru no?" In Hakata, however, people often use either of these two phrases: "Nanba shiyotto?" or "Nan shitôtô?"

   The most widely known phrase in Hakata-ben is Tottôto (とっとーと). This means to take something for oneself or reserve something, as seen in the following examples:

A. この席、とっとーと?

Kono seki tottôto?

Is this seat taken?

B. とっとーと。


Yes, it’s taken.


E. あんた、お菓子たべんと?

Anta okashi tabento?

Aren’t you going to eat the sweets?

F. あとで、食べるけん、とっとーと。

Atode taberuken, totôto.

I’m going to eat them later, so I’ve “got dibs” on them.

   In the video below, AKB48's Mariko Shinoda speaks in Hakata ben to her friend back in Fukuoka.

   Recently, a new souvenir has gone on sale in Fukuoka. Called Tottôto, it is a pie made with sweet bean filling. We recommend it. The commercial for this confectionary is quite entertaining. Have a look:

For more on Japanese dialects click

Written by Yokorômons, edited by Aonghas Crowe


Three days from today


 Who knew that a word as quotidian as "three days from today" could be said in so many different ways? Shiasatte (明明後日) is the standard way to say three days from today or two days after tomorrow in Japanese. Why people here just don't say, "See you on Wednesday", I do not know. 

   + Shiasatte, shâsatte, shigâsatte, shinoasatte, shirasatte, and so on.

    Sâsatte, sannasatte

    Yanoasatte, yanâsatte, yanasatte, yaneasatte, yaniasatte


   X Yûka, sonayûka