Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kansai-ben (Crystal)

Living right in the middle between Osaka and Kyoto, I have plenty of exposure to Kansai-ben, the Western dialect of Japanese. Although Kansai-ben is not uniform across the region – Osaka-ben, for example, is specific to the city of Osaka, though it is also considered to be a part of the broader Kansai-ben. There are of course several other dialects, but the main contrasting one is the Eastern dialect: Kanto-ben, which is considered Standard Japanese.

Unfortunately, my Japanese is not at a level where I can really pick up its usage in everyday life unless I’ve been taught to look for it. All too often I get asked, “Have you heard this word?” and the answer is always no. I mean, I’ve probably heard it in the background, but it has just remained part of the vast abyss of sentences I couldn’t even begin to understand unless they were slowed way down and preferably written.

However, I have picked up some pieces here and there. The professor of my Spoken Japanese class is a big fan of Kansai-ben (even though he’s from Hokkaido), and really enjoys teaching it to us, along with slang. Recently we had a day in class where all we did was study Kansai-ben.

Part of what distinguishes Kansai-ben is its vocabulary. One that’s pretty recognizable even to foreigners is aho, which means “idiot, fool.” In the east, baka is used instead, but in the west, baka is a much more severe insult.

There are many different Japanese dialects (source: www.sakura-house.com)

There are other substitutions: akan for dame (forbidden), okan for okaasan (mother), kyousan for takusan (a lot), ookini for arigatou (thank you), and lots of others. The one I hear all the time is meccha, which means “very.” At Kansai Gaidai’s Halloween Costume Contest yesterday, I was constantly surrounded by cries of “Meccha kawaii!” (too cute!) “Meccha kakkoii!” (so cool!). Along with the different vocabulary, there are also different stress patterns.

But there are also differences in grammar. One of the easiest is that the negative verb ending –nai become –hen in Kansai-ben. In most verbs, it’s a pretty straightforward substitution, but shinai (doesn’t do) becomes seehen or shiihin, and konai (doesn’t come) becomes keehen or koohen or kiihin. Some other word endings that are a little more difficult to explain include ten, non, and yano.

I asked a few people some quick questions about the usage of the dialect. The two native speakers of Kansai-ben both immediately told me they were very proud to speak to Kansai-ben. There doesn’t seem to be as much pressure for speakers to change their accents; it’s not eradicated in schools or anything like that, though Standard Japanese must be used for written assignments, and some more casual/slangy Kansai-ben would still be considered casual/slangy, and therefore inappropriate. But it’s used all the time in advertisements, speeches by politicians, etc.

However, Kansai-ben does entail some stereotypes when heard by outsiders. Osaka-ben especially is associated with comedians and entertainers. For some Tokyoites, the accent can be grating, though this view seems to be fading away. A girl not from Kansai who I asked about it told me that since coming to the area for school, she has come to really love the accent and think it’s cute.

This makes an appropriate final blog post for me, as I’ll be conducting my research this semester on attitudes toward Kansai-ben and its usage. I’m particularly interested in the pride that speakers feel toward it, and whether they ever feel pressure to hide it when visiting elsewhere. I look forward to conducting interviews and doing research about this during the second half of my semester here in Japan.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Understanding Japanese (Chris)

Being in Japan in two months has taught me that Japanese is difficult to learn. There are many things that could be a part of that issue, but the main thing is that there are people who speak in a different dialect then the dialect that I learn in the classroom. The dialect that people speak in my area is referred to as “kansai-ben” while the dialect that I learn is not just the generic Japanese, but the dialect that is most commonly used in Tokyo. 
Cartoonish statue of Hideyoshi and Onene at Kodaiji
This would seem to be a problem, but most of the time I do not notice the subtleties of kansai-ben. There is one phrase and one grammar point of kansai-ben that I have learned while here. The phrase is “めちゃ” or “mecha.” This word is just a way of saying “very” or “really” in English.  The grammar point that I learned is ~hen. It is as far as I know just the short-form negative (for those studying Japanese language) it replaces the conjugation ~ない in use.  I hear these phrased used every once in a while, but not often. I have heard from my friends that there are professors that will accidentally start speaking in kansai-ben and have to apologize, because most students do not know how to speak the dialect.

Dialect is used everywhere that I have experienced in the Kansai region. But, most of the time I hear the standard dialect when someone is talking to me. I have heard from my friends that there are professors that will accidentally start speaking in kansai-ben and have to apologize, because most students do not know how to speak the dialect. So, someone is speaking it. I have also heard it in passing sometimes. This could be a form of code speak, and kansai-ben is mostly used within the populace, and standard is used with foreigners. It is a possibility.

Cherry tree at Kodaiji
The week before this past week, my Japanese professor came to Japan during fall break to visit, so her, another student from Beloit, and me went to Kyoto and visited Kodaiji Temple and Sanjusangendo. Kodaiji is heavily attributed with Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s wife. And, Sanjusangendo is famous for the 1001 Buddha statues that fill it. This temple was quite a site to take in. It will be hard to display the temple as no pictures were allowed in the temple, but pictures could not do justice to the grandeur of the temple. This week was midterm testing, and I spent all week studying for all of my tests. I am currently ready for a day off, but that is not going to happen. Saturday is the Nukiho Matsuri (or Rice Harvest Festival) at Fushimi Inari Taisha so I will be there experiencing this festival. So, until next time, sayonara.
Statues at Sanjusangendo (stock image)