How many dialects are there in Japan? – Imagawayaki –

November 5, 2014 Juju Kurihara Culture, Entertainment, Vocabulary Tags: 4 Comments

When I was in the university, I had met for the first time people from different part of Japan. Of course not all the people I met before were from Tokyo but they had already lived in Tokyo for a long time and they had adopted Tokyo-ben (東京弁) and I couldn´t know where they were from. Those I met at the university were directly from their hometown and many had their local accent. Yes, like any other countries, there are many different accent and dialect depending on which part of Japan they come from. 

One of the senior students was from Aomori. He was very fun to talk with but because of his accent, when he got excited, I could hardly understand him. Since I was a new student and didn´t want to be rude, so I just listened to him and smiled. He finished talking and said to me, "wakannakattappe?", which means "you didn´t understand, did you?". It was the only phrase I understood during the conversation. But he just laughed about it and it was all fine. 


The most well known dialect is Osaka-ben (大阪弁), spoken in Osaka. Here is the comparison between Tokyo-ben and Osaka-ben in terms of the accent and the sound. 


Japanese_dialects-jaThen How many dialects are there in Japan? 

According to a Japanese linguist, Misao Tojo (東条操) divided into 16 dialects in 1953. However, each prefecture has its own dialect. Imagine, there are 47 prefectures in Japan and it´s possible that there are 47 way of calling one thing inside Japan. It´s quite impressive.

The map shows you the division of major dialect block. First, it´s divided in two, Hondo hougen (本土方言/ the mainland dialect) and Ryukyu dialect (琉球). Ryukyu is Okinawa islands. Since this island was an imperial, they have a special language.

Then inside the mainland dialect, it´s divided into five, Touhoku Hougen (東北方言/ Touhoku dialect), Higashinihon Hougen (東日本方言/ Eastern dialect), Hachijou Hougen (八丈方言/ Hachijo islands dialect), Nishinihon Hougen (西日本方言/ Western dialect) and Kyuushuu Hougen (九州方言/ Kyuushuu dialect).  


imagawayakiThis sweet bun, for example. In my entire life, I´ve called this Imagawayaki (今川焼き). Outside is like a pancake and anko inside. And this simple thing has more than 10 ways to call depending on the prefecture. 

Hokkaido : Imagawa-yaki, Oyaki, Oobanyaki, Home-run-yaki, Amatarou-yaki, Kaiten-yaki, Enban-yaki and two others. 

Aomori : Imagawayaki, Gameko-mochi and three others.

Akita and Yamagata : Ajiman and others.

Saitama : Taikoyaki, Biiban and five others.

Tokyo : Imagawayaki, Ougonyaki and two others.

Yamanashi : Jiman-yaki and other.

Nagano : Dorikonoyaki, Gikoyaki and five others.

Shizuoka : Chapporo-yaki, Garou-manju and seven others.

Shiga : Shibaraku and four others.

Osaka : Tomoe-yaki and six others.

Tottori : Hoppe-yaki and three others.

Hiroshima : Bikkuri-manju, Kaiten-manju and four others.

Okayama : Otake-manju, Taiko-manju and four others.

Ehime : Taiko-manju, Oobanyaki and three others.

Fukuoka : Kaitenyaki, Taikoyaki and five others.

Kagoshima : Kaiten-yaki, Taihoyaki and three others.

Okinawa : Anko-manu. 


Surprise. There are similarities between the prefectures that they are close to each other but who would imagine Imagawayaki could be called so many different ways. Well, I didn´t. 



Now how many of you learnt thank you in Japanese is Arigatou (ありがとう)? Even this simple word, it can be said in at least eight different ways in Japanese.  

ありがとう(Arigatou/ standard), おおきに(Ookini/Osaka, Kyoto ), おしょうしな(Oshoushina/Yamagata), あんがとさん(Angatosan/Osaka), すまんのう(Sumannou/?), たいがたい(iTaigatai/Hiroshima), ありがとがんすた(iArigatogannsuta/Iwate), あんとう(iAntou/Nagano). Actually I didn´t know most of them and there are more ways for Arigatou. I´m shocked rather than surprised.


Recently more people talk standard Japanese if they are not from Osaka area. But I believe that different accent and dialect make the person more unique. You don´t understand? I don´t see the problem, you just ask and I´m sure they are happy to explain to you. I hope Japan keep the dialect. Now, can you buy Imagawayaki wherever in Japan you are? Try!


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  1. blauereiter 8 years Reply

    During my first 3 months of film school at a senmongakko ( college ) in Tokyo I could hardly understand my classmates, because just like the experience you described most of them were not from Tokyo but all over Japan, and as excitable kids they speak really fast !

    It was painful at first but my Japanese improved by leaps and bounds in that 3 months. :]

  2. Thank you juju-san, for the comment.

    I am in my 50s, and the very first Westerner I can remeber who spoke perfect Japanese is the late “Roy James” who hosted a TV program in 1960s. While speaking in Japanese just like we do in hte program, I remember him pronouncing “camera” in the English way. I found it very exotic.

  3. Dialects in Japan are like gradation of colors. The variety is caused by the pre-modern communication and transportation conditions as well as by the Tokugawa Shogunate policy to prevent unnecessary contacts and ties between different feudal domains (藩).

    There all variety of dialects within Kansai-ben, Kyushu-hogen (九州方言) and of course Tohoku-ben(東北弁). Daniel Carl from the US came to Japan, lived and learned to speak fluent Japanese and became known on media for his excellent and amusing Yamagata-ben(one of 東北弁), once expressed how he had been fascinated by all the differences and variety.

    Thinking of how small the land (islands) we have is, the colorfulness in the language is unique, amazing and for those learners of it as a second language, confusing!

    • juju.kurihara 8 years

      Thank you for the comment, Noboritate san.

      Daniel Carl was one of the first foreigners who spoke fluent Yamagata-ben. It was amazing. When I travelled to Hawaii, my guide spoke perfect Osaka-ben and he even made me laugh with sort of Manzai jokes. I always think that Osaka-ben is easier for foreigners to learn Japanese because it´s more melodious than Tokyo-ben and easy to get the rhysm. There are many unique dialects and accents in Japan and why do they have to learn only one?

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