For a long time now, I’ve wanted to write an article about Kyoto Dialect. Well, I’ve wanted to write articles about all of the different 方言 (hougen, “dialects”) spread across Japan.
There’s only one problem with this–I don’t speak Kyoto dialect. Or any cool local dialects other than that boring stuff they speak in Tokyo, Japanese classrooms, etc.
As such, I was really excited when I finally found a native Japanese guest writer to give us a detailed look at the dialectical language of Kyoto (written below).
I’ll insert some comments here and there, because I love exploring this stuff, but I’ll leave the intros of Kyoto words and phrases to Kensaku, our resident expert on all things Kyoto.
Hope you enjoy, everyone! ^_^ – Niko
Does “Kyoto Dialect” Exist?
If you have lived in Japan for more than a year, or if you have toured around Japan for at least a week, then you must have visited Kyoto.
Kyoto is a magical place with a culture that can’t be found anywhere else. And just like other parts of Japan, Kyoto has its own dialect.
However, is it really a distinct dialect?
Usually the word ending 〜弁 (~ben) is used to describe a local dialect, for example, Osaka-ben.
On the other hand, 標準語 (hyoujungo) or “standard language” is used to describe the style of Japanese found in Tokyo and most Japanese textbooks.
Accordingly, when people refer to “Kyoto Dialect,” they often say 京都弁 (Kyouto-ben). But people in Kyoto don’t like that expression. There is a good reason for this. You need to know a little bit of history to understand their feeling.
As you might know, Tokyo is the current capital of Japan. Tokyo has been the capital since 1869, when the Emperor moved his residence into Edo Castle. Before moving to Tokyo, for about 1000 years, the capital was Kyoto. So, for a very, very long time, Kyoto’s language was the standard for Japanese.
Considering that fact, it makes sense that people in Kyoto are very proud to be Kyoto locals and live in this city. And this is also the reason that people here don’t want to regard how they speak as a dialect.
Instead some local people call it 京言葉, “Kyo-kotoba”(kotoba means words/language). And I will also use this expression throughout this article, since I myself am a big fan of this historical town.
I’ve actually met a quite a few Japanese people that have… well… less-than-polite things to say about calling 東京弁 (toukyou-ben, “Tokyo Dialect”) 標準語 (hyoujungo, “standard Japanese”).
It makes sense if you think about it. Try telling a British guy that American English is standard English, for example. I’m sure he’ll support you 100% (<– sarcasm).
The problem then is deciding what we are supposed to call “Kyoto Dialect” in Japanese. I mean, you can probably get away with saying 京都弁 (kyouto-ben), but maybe it’d be a bit safer to stick to Kensaku’s advice and say 京言葉 (kyoukotoba). – Niko
Okay, so let’s get into the more interesting and perhaps more useful part.
Kyoto Dialect – Phrases & Greetings
Here are some “Kyo-kotoba” you might hear while you are in Kyoto.
Although Kensaku already pointed this out, this is not widely used (or even understood) Japanese. Native speakers from other areas of Japan will have never heard a number of these words.
So, yeah, don’t go using them in Tokyo or Sapporo or something. However, it might be fun to try them out on some people in Kyoto if you ever find yourself there. – Niko
うち (Uchi): Uchi is used by women in Kyoto, which means “I”. The accent is placed on “う”.
I’ve actually heard girls in Tokyo using うち (uchi), too, some of whom I know for a fact are not from Kyoto. But that was pretty rare. In Tokyo I heard あたし (atashi) used by girls most often. – Niko
あがる (Agaru): Agaru means go north. And さがる (Sagaru) means go south.
あじない (Ajinai): Ajinai is a slightly (and I mean just slightly) polite way to say “this doesn’t taste good”.
あめさん (Amesan): Amesan means a candy. In Osaka, people use ちゃん (chan) instead of さん.
いけず (Ikezu): Ikezu is used when you feel someone is mean to you.
いちはなだって (Ichihanadatte): Ichihanadatte means “first”. For example, コンビニに行くと、いちはなだってジュースをかう (First thing I do at a convenience store is to buy a juice).
いぬ (Inu): This is a verb used to mean “to go home”.
いらち (Irachi): Irachi means “impetuous” or “impatient”, and sometimes it refers to a person with these characteristics. The accent is on ら.
— え (– e): This is an ending, which falls into — よ (yo) in the standard Japanese. For example, そんなことしたらケガするえ (If you do such a thing, you will get injured).
えんばんと (Enbanto): Enbanto means unfortunately.
おす (Osu): This is basically a be verb. どす is also used for the same meaning.
おぶづけ (Obuzuke): Obuzuke is a Ochazuke. Ochazuke is a typical and casual Japanese food, which you pour tea over rice with some ingredients such as sea weed.
きばる (Kibaru): Kibaru is Kyoto version of がんばる (Gambaru).
ごもく (Gomoku): Gomoku means garbage. In the standard Japanese, it is ごみ (Gomi).
— し (– Shi): — Shi is a particle, which means “and so”.
じゅんさい (Jyunsai): Jyunsai is usually used as adverb like Jyunsai na. Jyunsai is a name of the slippery plant. Originally, Jyunsai na means “hard to grasp”, but now it means “irresponsible”.
ちょちょこばる (Chochokobaru): Chochokobaru is a verb which means “sit down”.
なおす (Naosu): なおす is a verb which has two different meanings. 1. Put away and 2. Fix (this is the standard Japanese).
にぬき (Ninuki): Ninuki is a boiled egg in Kyo-kotoba.
ねぶる (Neburu): Neburu means to lick.
— はん (– han): — han is an ending to names, which basically has the same meaning with — さん (– san).
はんなり (Hannari): Hannari could be the most famous Kyo-kotoba. This is a word to describe the elegant and bright.
ほかす (Hokasu): Hokasu means “to discard”.
Unique Greetings in Kyoto
おいでやす (Oideyasu): Welcome!
I was talking to Rei, and she was probably most familiar with this greeting, おいでやす (oideyasu).
She said that she pictures a 舞妓さん (maikosan) saying these phrases. I have no idea how to translate maiko. Wikipedia says that a maiko is an apprentice geiko, which is somehow different than a geisha.
This is basically the Kyoto version of いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase), which you’ll hear shop workers all across Japan yelling out every time someone walks through their doors.
One easy way to remember this phrase might be to think of おいで (oide), which is a very casual way of saying “Come here.” Very casual. Like, you could say it to a kid, or a dog, or your boyfriend, but under no circumstances should you say it to your boss. – Niko
おこしやす (Okoshiyasu): Okoshiyasu also means welcome.
I don’t actually know if this is correct, but the way I chose to remember this phrase is to think of お越しください (okoshi kudasai), which is a very polite way of saying “Come (here).” So sometimes you’ll see or hear phrases like this:
mata okoshi kudasai
Please come again.
Actually, if we’re talking about a convenience store or something, they would probably snap 〜ませ (~mase) onto the end of it, making it a bit more formal:
mata okoshi kudasaimase
Please come again.
おやかまっさん (Oyakamassan): This greeting is usually used when you leave someone’s place, and it means “thank you for your time”.
はばかりさん (Habakarisan): Habakarisan‘s meaning is closed to ごくろうさま (Gokurosama). It means “thank you for your effort”.
Why Kyo-kotoba Are Important & Should Be Handed Down
Are Kyo-kotoba widely used in Kyoto?
That is a tough question. There is a big chance that you might not hear it if you visit Kyoto just for a few days for sightseeing. There are a few reasons for this.
First of all, since Kyoto is a big city, many people come here to work. I, myself, lived in Tokyo before moving to Kyoto (I moved to Kyoto simply because I love this place so much), which means that not everyone you encounter will be a native of Kyoto.
In addition, I heard that some Kyoto locals “avoid” speaking their tongue with visitors. Especially people working in the tourism industry, such as at hotels, would speak the standard Japanese, because some customers might not feel comfortable with the local language. Personally, I think this is an unnecessary concern. Because in my opinion, most people want to immerse themselves deep in the Kyoto culture, which includes Kyo-kotoba. But I do understand their intention.
Indeed, Kyo-kotoba is one of the important cultural aspects of Kyoto, which has been passed down from generation to generation. And I do hope & believe that this cultural heritage will be handed down to the next generation, because I simply like the sound and more importantly, it is culturally valuable.
Kyo-kotoba is as important as the historical heritage sites spread all over Kyoto, such as Kiyomizudera Temple and Nijo Castle. I’m sure that the Kyo-kotoba people speak now is very different from the one spoken 500 years ago.
However, the Kyo-kotoba at each period of time reflects the Kyoto at the time.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Kyoto was the capital where court families lived, when it became the capital in 794. Then they were mingled with warlord families. And when the government was in Edo (Tokyo), Kyoto became one of the busiest commerce towns in Japan. I believe these different elements have had some effect and gradually changed Kyo-kotoba. Even after Kyoto lost its role as the capital and the court families left, we can still feel nobility from the words people speak nowadays.
The Words & Phrases Unique to Kyoto
Next time you visit Kyoto, it is a great idea to pay attention to the words and phrases I mentioned above. Probably, Oideyasu and Okoshiyasu are the most likely Kyo-kotoba to be heard. If you can distinguish the Kyo-kotoba from other Kansai dialects, your listening skill is pretty good. Well, even if not, just enjoy the unique experience through beautiful and elegant Kyo-kotoba!
Learning Japanese – Dialects & Everything
Now that I’m at a higher level of Japanese, I’m really interested in exploring things like dialects quite a bit more. Maybe I should start here with Kyoto Dialect!
Also, for any of you out there interested in learning any kind of Japanese, I’m here to help, yo…
Other Sites, Links, and Articles About Kyoto Dialect
Because there’s always more to learn…
Articles In Japanese About Kyoto Dialect:
- Japanese Wikipedia: 京言葉
- Site About 京言葉
- 京都弁会話集 (This site has a nice table of 京都弁 lined up next to 標準語.)
Articles In English About Kyoto Dialect:
- Wikipedia: Kansai Dialect (Note that this is not about Kyoto Dialect in particular.)
- YouTube Video: Kyoto-ben at Gion (祇園で京都弁)
- Japanese Stack Exchange: What are the main differences between 京都弁(Kyoto-ben) and 大阪弁(Osaka-ben)