Speaking in and around Kyoto
Kyoto is a great city to study, work or just travel in. There are great historical sightseeing spots to sink into the culture. It is not as crowded as the big metropolitan centers of Tokyo or Osaka, yet it is not as deserted a countryside town may be. The atmosphere is nice with many green natural, a great variety of shops, restaurants and izakayas to meet your classmates or work colleagues after a long day. Whichever may be the reason for you being in Kyoto, there shall certainly be many chances to interact with the locals. In doing so, you may start hearing some uncommon words used more frequently than expected, making you doubt on your language ability, but do not fear! This is just “Kyoto-ben” or Kyoto dialect.
Kyoto dialect shares many expressions with Kansai-ben (Kansai dialect) commonly spoken all around this area. Let’s check some of the most common words and expressions you may hear while in Kyoto.
This is the equivalent to “Irasshaimase”, regularly heard when entering a shop/restaurant while being greated by the staff. Although the use of “irasshaimase” is very common, more traditional shops, high end dining restaurants and ryokans may use “oideyasu” instead. Another alternative to this expression is “okoshiyasu” which has a slightly more polite connotation. Apparently, the former is most commonly used with first time customers and the later with repeating customers.
You may hear this one quite a lot when exiting a shop or in conversations. It is the equivalent of “arigato” (thank you) in standard Japanese. Sometimes you may even hear both used together as “ookini arigatou”. This is because “ookini” originally meant “very” or “greatly” as in “thank you very much”, however, “arigato” is usually dropped in usage.
Another addition you may hear is “maido” as in “maido ookini”. This conveys the meaning of “thank you for always supporting our business”.
This is an ending grammar construction naturally used while speaking. Evolved from the “keigo” (polite) construction of verbs, in Kyoto dialect you may conjugate the verb to its negative form (imperfect construction) and add “haru” instead of the negative ending “~nai”
Example: 行く iku (to go) ⇒ 行かはる ikaharu.
Close by, in Osaka however, the construction changes in the following way (using the continuative and conjunctive form):
Example: 行く iku (to go) ⇒行きはる ikiharu
This is used in the same meaning as “~nai” to conjugate a verb to its negative in standard Japanese.
Example: 分からない wakaranai ⇒ 分からへん wakarahen
You may hear some slight variations to this as well, as may be the case with できひん “dekihin”, having evolved from できない “dekinai” (can not do).
In connection to the “~hen” ending of negative verbs, here is one you may hear. This is the verb “kamau” (to mind, to care) turned to its negative with ~hen, however it has seen a abbreviated transformation from “kamawahen” to “kamahen”. It carries the meaning of “I’ts fine, don’t worry”.
Person A: 遅れてごめんなさい。”okurete gomennasai” (Sorry for being late)
Person B: かまへん、かまへん。”kamahen, kamahen” (Don’t worry about it)
Having evolved from the standard ”chigau” (to differ, to vary), finishing your sentence with “chau” carries a casual sense of seeking confirmation.
Example: これは寿司ちゃう？ “kore wa sushi chau?” (Isn’t this sushi?)
Equivalent in meaning to “dame” in standard Japanese, meaning: wrong, no good, must (not).
Example: これを食べたらあかん！ “kore o tabetara akan” (You must not eat this).
Adjetive with the same meaning as “omoshiroi” (amuzing, enjoyable) in standard Japanese.
This one you may hear a lot. It carries the same meaning as “honto” (real) in standard Japanese. A particular combination you may come across is “honma ya!” (that’s right!/that’s so true) or “honma ni?” (really?).
Agaru・あがる / Sagaru・さがる
Particularly when asking for directions around Kyoto, you may hear people say “agatte” (go up) or “sagatte” (go down). This simply means to go in the north direction (up) or south (down). The fact that Kyoto streets have a grid style design make it possible to refer to directions on this manner.
Example: あそこの角に右に曲がってあがるとすぐに着きます “asoko no kado ni magatte agaru to sugu ni tuikimas” (Turn right on that corner, go north and you shall arrive shortly).
This one is a must to highlight when speaking of any particular dialect in the Kansai area. It basically means “why” but has a strengthened connotation due to its construction. A better feeling of it may be “why one earth?” or “what the hell!” as in getting rather upset by the situation in question. It is very well used in comical skits (the Kansai area is well known for its comedians) and a must use with your local friends.
Some additional words you may come across
You may see this at a restaurant’s description or on it’s menu. It refers to typical home-cooked dishes and it gives customers a home like feeling.
Another word you may see on a restaurant’s menu. This is the equivalent of 煮物（”nimono” or stewed/boiled dishes）.
Example: 大根炊いたん “daikon taitan” (stewed daikon radish)
We hope these words allow you to continue getting ready for your future visit to Kyoto and all the marvels that the Kansai area has for you to discover.