An Atlas of Japanese Dialects


For the First Time (Again, and Again)

   It was bound to happen sooner or later: "For the First Time in Forever" from Disney's "Frozen" sung in the Hakata dialect:

   And in the Kansai dialect:

   And in the Hachinohe dialect of Aomori:


And in the Okinawan dialect:



And in the Hiroshima dialect: 

   And in the Toyama dialect (poor quality):






Like most Japanese cities, Sasebo is best seen at night.

   The other day, I overheard a student asking a classmate "Nanba suru-to?" (なんばすると? ー What are you going to do?) I had heard a number of versions of this phrase, but not quite the way she had said it, so I asked where she was from.


   "Where in Nagasaki?"



   In standard Japanese, to ask "What are you going to do?" you might say one of the following:

何をしますか? Nani-o shimasuka?

何をするの?    Nani-o suru-no?





   It’s been a while since I last posted something on my hôgen blog. Not that I haven’t wanted to. It’s just that I’ve been terribly busy with other projects, two of which are finally coming to an end. With luck, I should be able to write more about the two dialects I find particularly interesting: namely, the Okinawan dialect (including the Ryûkyûan language) and Kagoshima dialect.

   But, for the time being, allow me to relate a funny conversation I had with my wife earlier this past summer.


   As my wife’s parents live a short walk from the sea, we often take our boys to play at the beach. Like many beaches in Japan, the one at Seaside Momochi has a large net that is designed to keep the jellyfish away from the swimmers. The nets don’t always work—the buggers manage to get past them—but it is better than nothing.

   When my wife was young, she lived in the prefecture of Saitama which lies just northwest of Tôkyô. Every summer, though, her mother would take her and an older sister to the town of Kushikino[1] on the western coast Kagoshima prefecture where their grandparents lived.

   Having heard that they used to spend every day at the beach, I asked my wife if she had ever been stung by a kurage (jellyfish).

   “Kurage? No,” she answered. “But I was stung by an ira once.”

   I had never heard of an ira before so I asked what it looked like.

   She said she wasn’t quite sure, but added, “All I remember is that it hurt like the dickens.”

   Looking up ira, I discovered that the word was from the Kagoshima dialect and meant—surprise, surprise—jellyfish.

   “Oh, so I have been stung by a jellyfish after all.”[2]


[1] Kushikino is now called Ichiki-kushikino-shi (いちき串木野市) after the city merged with the neighboring town in 2005. Because neither town was willing to abandon their name, the new city’s was named after a tongue-twisting amalgamation of the two. Apparently, Ichiki-kushikino-shi is the city with the longest name in Japan. So that’s something. For the most ridiculous address in Japan, go here.

[2] To be precise, ira refers to a specific kind of jellyfish, the andon kurage (行灯海月, Carybdea rastoni) which has a much stronger poison than the more common aka kurage (赤海月, Chrysaora pacifica).


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?


Amami Language

   Amami, a Ryûkyûan language related to Okinawan, has two main dialects: Northern Amami, which is spoken in the northern part of Amami Ôshima and Kikai Island; and Southern Amami, spoken in the south and on Yoron Island.

   The following are some common words from the language:

メラベ    (Merabe)                   娘 (Musume, daughter)

イモーレ (imohre)                   いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase, welcome!)

キョラムン (kyoramun)           美人 (bijin, a beautiful woman)

シギュロイ (shigyuroi)             寒い (samui, cold)

   Begs the question of whether it really does get cold or not on those tropical islands.

アチャイ (achai)                     暑い (atsui, hot)

   One of the few words that bears some resemblance to Japanese.

キョラサ (kyorasa)                 美しい (utsukushii, beautiful)

    Note the similarity between “kyoramun” and “kyorasa”. Also, in the Okinawan language the word for “beautiful” is chura.

カナシャ (kanasha)               恋しい (koishii, beloved, dear)

インガ (inga)                         男 (otoko, man)

ウナグ (unagu)                      女 (onna, woman)

ネッセ (nesse)                       若者 (wakamono, a young person, youth)

ハウッチュ (haotchu)             老人 (rôjin, an old person)

    Similar to both Chinese and Okinawan. In Chinese, 老 is pronounced lao. In Okinawan 人 is famously read chu, as in shimanchu (島人).

しぅじゅつ (shujutsu)            夫婦 (fûfu, a husband and wife)

イクサタン (ikusatan)            叱られる (shikarareru, to be scolded)

ハチカン (hachikan)              恥ずかしい (hazukashii, embarrassing, shameful)

キムチャゲィ (kimuchagei)     可哀想 (kawaisô, pitiful, poor)

ダリティ (dariti)                     疲れた (tsukareta, tired)

テーゲ (tehge)                       たくさん (takusan, a lot, many, much)

    I’ve seen this “tehge” used in other Japanese dialects.

アグマサ (agumasa)              眠たい (nemutai, sleepy)        


    Well, as you can see from this very limited sampling of words and phrases that the Amami dialect bears almost no resemblance to the Japanese language. I do see some similarities with Okinawan, but my study of that language is only cursory at best. It would be interesting to look up the words in Okinawan and see how many common words there are.