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Kanto and Kansai Word Differences in Japan

Learn about the linguistic differences between the Japanese spoken in Kanto and those spoken in Kansai with these slang words.

By 4 min read

Throughout history, spoken Japanese has evolved in hundreds of different ways, creating dialects in each region. The two most spoken were the Edo and the Kinai dialect.

Once Meiji was restored to the Imperial throne, sweeping political and educational reforms took place. Many dialects were suppressed in favor of the Edo dialect to promote cultural unity and cohesiveness. Remains of the distinct dialects can still be found across Japan, most notable in the famous successor of the Kinai dialect, the Kansai dialect.

Here are five key slang differences between Japanese spoken in Tokyo and the Japanese you’ll need to get by with the crazy folks of Kansai.

1. ‘Arigato’ and ‘ookini’

Ookini or arigato, it’s the thought that counts, right?

Of all the words to start this list, arigato (thank you) is the one that best sums up how total the differences can be between Kansai and the other regions of Japan. A word as simple as thanks can be completely different from its counterpart in Osaka than from what it is in Tokyo, this is exemplified by the word ookini.

Ookini is an abbreviation of the phrase ooki ni arigato (thank you very much) and is universal in the Kansai dialect as an alternative thank you. Over time, the continued abbreviation of the phrase epitomizes the casual culture of Kansai compared to Tokyo, so much so that it’s best not to use this when conducting serious business, as it can be considered too casual at times.

Kanto Kansai English
ありがとう おおきに Thank you

2. ‘Totemo’ and ‘mecha’

Mecha kawaii (cute)!

Mecha (very) is a popular word, particularly among the youth in Kansai and it’s easy to see why it’s a preferred alternative to totemo as an adverb. Being a two-syllable word instead of totemo’s three allows sentences containing it to move fluidly.

It’s not uncommon for speakers to use it twice in a sentence to emphasize the enjoyment of delicious food or an interesting shop to conversation partners.

It’s a particularly fun word to learn as a beginner Japanese speaker. Its meaning is simple and can be used with versatility in most conversations and demonstrates a willingness to learn more of the Kansai dialect when talking with native speakers.

Kanto Kansai English
とても めっちゃ Very

3. ‘Hontou’ and ‘honma’

Yes. I’m serious. And don’t call me Honda.

Hontou (truly or really) is one of the first conversational words that beginners will learn. It’s a great way to clarify your feelings regarding a point of conversation. However, in Kansai, others may think you’re speaking more formally, so it’s best to switch to honma for casual conversation.

Honma, similar to metcha, is a less formal adverb found in the Kansai dialect. Even if you don’t plan to learn Kansai slang, it’s best to be aware of this change so that you’re not confused by the replacement of hontou, otherwise, you might find yourself lost in the conversation.

Kanto Kansai English
ほんとう ほんま Really

4. ‘Ikura’ and ‘nanbo’

Pay the man.

Ikura (how much) is a valuable key phrase that all travelers should learn before coming to Japan. However, it can be pretty surprising that the word is completely different in Kansai.

Nanbo is a transformation from the Japanese word nanihodo (how much or to what extent) but is used as an informal inquiry for shopkeepers or regarding menu items in Kansai. Next time you’re marching down the streets of Dotonburi and are curious about the price of takoyaki, be sure to ask, “nanbo?”

Kanto Kansai English
いくら なんぼ How much?

5. ‘Shouganai’ and ‘sha-anai’

It can’t be helped!

Shouganai is one of the more difficult words to translate. It somewhat refers to a mentality regarding hopelessness, inevitability or a lack of control. Sometimes, it can mean doomed, impossible, inevitable or simply difficult.

The Kansai version, sha-anai, on the other hand, can mean a host of things, but at its core, the meaning boils down to “it can’t be helped” or “it is what it is.” The term’s pessimistic meaning is instead a pragmatic turn of phrase in Kansai that showcases the cultural willingness of Osakans to look to the future instead of fretting about the present.

Kanto Kansai English
しょうがない しゃあない Can’t be helped

Those are a few of the key slang words you’ll hear when visiting the Kansai region, listen out for them in daily conversation and experience the cultural differences between Toyko and Osaka on a linguistic level.

Let us know some of your favorite slang words from Kansai or any other region of Japan!

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