The Glory of Kansaiben (関西弁)

Hello, everyone! I hope all is well with you, wherever you are and wherever you may be reading this! So far, my life in Japan has been marvelous in Kobe, even though it has had its ups and downs during my first five weeks abroad.

This weekend is NFL kickoff weekend, so I know I will be starving for some football action that will almost certainly not be on television in Japan. My favorite time of year in the United States is October; when the leaves begin to change colors and fall, when the nights are cool and crisp, and when the aroma of the fall season comes to you with every passing second. I love autumn. Unfortunately, it is still around 85 degrees on almost a daily basis in Kansai.

Today, I want to talk about something that has captivated me: Kansaiben, or 関西弁, in Japanese. For those of you who have never been to Japan or those of you who have never studied the Japanese language, Japanese has many different dialects and regional variations in the language, its structure, and some vocabulary. In Kansai (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto area), some people use the Kansai dialect, which has some very fun components when comparing it to Tokyo Japanese (which is what I studied in school, bot in Tokyo and Philadelphia).

Kansai people are much more direct and often louder than those people I met in Tokyo, and their dialect certainly represents that. Different phrases for “how are you,” different ways of conjugating some verbs, and different inflection and volume levels in every day conversation and in my office really make learning this dialect so interesting. As a foreigner, it has many, many benefits.

Last week, one of my coworkers gave me a book (in Japanese) with useful Kansai dialect phrases and sayings, and my boss has started to teach me a phrase or two each day before I head home for the evening. Subsequently, I use Kansaiben as much as possible when I interact with Japanese anywhere in Kobe. From the bar to the market, to the coffee-shop and the street corner, these conversations have been priceless for me.

Japanese people who would not reguarly speak with me for a litany of reasons are more than surprised when I respond to their inquiry about whether I can speak Japanese in their dialect. I have made many new friends and contacts by taking some extra time to study the Kansai dialect.

If anyone is living in Kansai or going to visit, I recommend you take a few hours and learn some of the commonly used Kansai phrases and words. It will pay dividends!

The Kansai dialect is just another interesting component of Japanese language study that I never would have though I could have done just two years ago when I virtually knew no Japanese.

The concept of dialects is so foreign to me as an English speaker in the United States, so I have taken great joy in the Kansai Japanese dialect.

Until next time!

A Night in Osaka

Last night a group of us from Kobe went to Osaka to do some shopping and eat some dinner. While we all assumed this evening would be inconspicuous and average, it turned into something much more meaningful for me by the end of the night.

Following a short ride on the JR Rapid Express train from Kobe to Osaka, we exited the station and headed into Osaka to take in some sights and sounds and after a while we found ourselves at a dining establishment near the train station. We were the only foreigners there in a sea of Japanese and others who were interested in speaking with us even though none of them could speak English very well.

Usually I am very shy or reserved when it comes to speaking Japanese-only with Japanese whom I do not know, but things were different last evening in Osaka. From the beginning of the night, I made a concerted effort to speak only in Japanese with the Japanese in an effort to both enhance my language ability and get to know some potential new friends. Following several interesting conversations and several hours, I had made new friends and walked out of the restaurant with a new sense of security and pride in my efforts to learn Japanese.

On the walk back to the station, I thought about how I had been to Osaka two years ago with a school trip but could not speak any Japanese at that time. While I had fun with my school friends on that trip, I realized that I had missed out on so many opportunities and friendships in Japan because I could not speak Japanese. That walk back to the station really made me know that the language study was worth it over the last two (really one and a half years).

Japan is such a different and interesting place now that I can speak the language and interact with the Japanese in their native tongue. The different sense of respect and understanding between myself and the Japanese is evident from the beginning when we speak Japanese.

I hope for many more of these types of conversations during this current stay in Japan.

Until next time!