Despite being a relatively small country, there are many dialects spoken across Japan. There are dialects that are so different that they seem like they are speaking another language, to ones that are relatively similar to standard Japanese. We have Hyojun go, which is the standard Japanese that everyone can understand, and is generally spoken in Tokyo. The dialect in Osaka is called Osaka-ben and it has its own share of unique intonations, unique words, and phrases. Osaka-ben is a variation of Kansai-ben, which is the Kansai dialect spoken inside the Kansai region. While they are similar, be careful of certain phrases and words that won’t mean the same in other Kansai region cities.
If you listen to the people of Osaka, you will find that intonations they use are a quite different from standard Japanese. Compared to the standard, Osaka-ben has more relaxed sounds and words that could seem aggressive at first, but are actually said in a playful way. So don’t be frightened by its language. Japanese people acknowledge the people of Osaka and Osaka-ben's friendly, playful, and comedic nature.
Another important thing to know is that Osaka-ben is actually quite well known and used. Certain phrases are now commonly used everywhere. The spread of the Osaka-ben dialect is due to the famous comedians who are from Osaka. They have popularized many common Osaka-ben dialect phrases. You might have heard some before!
But without further ado, here are 10 useful Osaka-ben dialect words and phrases that you should know and you can use when you are mingling with locals in Osaka!
Meccha, is an Osaka-ben dialect word that means “very”. It has the same meaning as the word “totemo” but compared to “totemo”, “meccha” is very casual and is used to emphasize. Therefore, avoid using it in a very formal setting.
As it is used to emphasize, it’s a word that is very often used in conversation. A common phrase you might hear people say is “meccha kawaii”, meaning “very cute” or “meccha kakkoii”, meaning “very cool!” You can literally add it to any adjective.
You’ll find that the younger generation use this a lot, regardless of the region they are from. Open up Instagram and you’ll see a photo with #meccha oisii (very delicious). That is how common this word is used! This is one of those Osaka-ben dialects that have become widespread. You may be surprised to hear it all over Japan!
“Honma ni” is an iconic phrase that the people of Osaka use. It means “really?” and can be used with an inquisitive tone or used as a response to something unbelievable. For example, if someone tells you something that you have a hard time believing, respond with.. “honma ni?” It can also be used if something exciting happens and you’re in disbelief.. “honma ni?!”
It’s essentially the Osaka version of “hontouni”, or “hontou” in standard Japanese. Like this, you can also use “honmani” without the particle “に”. So just say “honma?”
If you hear someone using the phrase honmani, you can be sure they’re from the Kansai region.
“Ookini” is the English equivalent of “thanks!” It’s an informal way of saying thanks. You’ll find that many food stalls and older people still use this phrase, while the younger generation tends to not use it as much.
It can be used on its own “ookini!”, to just simply say thanks. However, we can also use along with a combination of words. For example, “ookini gochisosan”. In this case it would be a casual way of saying “thanks for the meal!” Another possible phrase you might hear is “ookini kangaetokimasu”. The literal translation will be “thanks, I’ll think about it.” But be careful, this phrase implies a “no thank you”. Despite saying they will think about it if someone says this more often then not they are brushing you off.
This is a widely known Osaka dialect phrase. “Nandeyanen” roughly means “you’ve got to be kidding me!”, a joking “why?!” or even “what the hell”. It has a light and joking tone to it and we often use in a playful situation.
It’s a common phrase we hear in the Japanese comedy scene. The boke “ボケ” (fires the jokes) and tsukkomi “ツッコミ” attempts to catch all the jokes. When catching the jokes, “nandeyanen” is one of the classic phrases used.
Just because many comedians use it doesn’t mean that you can’t use it as well! This Osaka-ben phrase goes well with the playful image the people of Osaka have, so you will hear people use this phrase in everyday life. If your friend does something weird, maybe be the one to say “nandeyanen!” and turn it into a joke and have a good laugh.
“Naosu” is a very useful phrase that you might already know. In standard Japanese it means to “correct” or to “repair”. But it’s useful to know that in the Osaka-ben dialect, this word holds a different meaning: to “put away”. This word often confuses standard Japanese speakers as well. For example it can be used to tell someone to put away their books, “hon wo naoshite”, but may confuse a standard speaker as they think that they are being asked to “fix” a book (Whatever that means...).
Now you know if someone says “Teburu wo naoshite”, they don’t want you to fix the table but they want you to put away the table! Confusion avoided.
This Osaka-ben phrase “akan” usually translates to “no good”, it’s a phrase that can be used in a similar way as yabai (to emphasize a feeling) or as a “no”. This is a very useful phrase to know as it can be used in many different situations.
For example, it can be used in a situation if someone asks you to do something, you can use “akan” as a way to refuse that request. You might also hear someone shout “tabena akan!” In this case it would mean you “must” eat! In contrast, maybe you’re trying to stop yourself from eating more, in that case it’ll be “tabetara akan!”
Furthermore, if something stressful happens or something fails and you are feeling stressed out, you can express your distress by crying out “akan!”
Bochi-bochi is an Osaka dialect phrase that means “so-so”. It’s an exchange that is often made between shop owners, asking each other how things are going. If they ask “how are things going” and someone replies “bochi-bochi”, it means that things are going slowly, or bit by bit for them. For many shop owners this exchange is the same as “hello” and “how are you?”, so if you’re working and someone asks you this, don’t be too alarmed. For many it’s just a greeting.
You can also add this phrase as a possible response to the “ogenki desu ka?” question. By knowing this phrase you can reply “bochi-bochi desu”, meaning things are going so-so for you. Neither bad nor good. It’s also the perfect vague answer to give someone when you don’t particularly want to talk about a subject. That also means if someone responds to you with “bochi-bochi”, they could not want to talk about that subject, in that case avoid and find the next topic of conversation.
Another way you can use this phrase in everyday conversation is when telling someone “we should get going soon.” By saying “bochi-bochi ikouka”, you are telling them “we should go”, but in a way that won’t rush them. It implies that you should go home, but not too much in a rush. You can head home at your own pace.
This phrase means “Are you stupid?!”. Yes it does sound bad, but it actually has an affectionate or joking tone to it most of the time. While “aho” does mean stupid or idiot, in Osaka many use it with affection. It’s used in the same way people who lovingly call their best friend a stupid idiot. “Aho” is used in a similar way, especially in Osaka.
At first, the Osaka-ben phrase “aho chau?” sounds very aggressive, but it is used as a response to someone (usually someone close to you, like friends or family) who does something weird, stupid, or funny. It’s a joking response that can be used to call out your friend and tell them “you’re being stupid!”
Be careful though, this is a very casual Osaka-ben dialect phrase, so only use it on people who you are close with or from Osaka that you do know. You don’t want someone you met for the first time thinking you are an aggressive person.
“Nanbo” and “makete” are both commonly used phrases, especially when you are out shopping for a bargain. It should be no surprise that Osaka has created many phrases related to shopping. This is due to Osaka having many world-class shopping centers and also due to the fact of Osaka being the first place for starting business and trading in Japan.
Firstly we have “nanbo” meaning “how much?” This is a short but very useful Osaka-ben phrase to remember when you are out shopping. It holds the same meaning as “o-ikura desuka?” (How much is this?) So, if you are out shopping and can’t find the price tag, go up to the shop clerk and simply ask “kore nanbo desuka?” (How much is this?) There you go! You could even ask how much they could sell something to you for “kore nanbo ni shite kureru?”
Another useful phrase to remember is “makete?”, meaning “can you give me a discount?” The meaning is the same as the phrase “kore nanbo ni shite kureru?” So take your pick.
So when you are out shopping maybe give haggling a bit of a go and ask for the price “nanbo desuka?”, then ask “makete kureru?” and maybe you might be able to get a discount?! The people of Osaka are famous for bargaining for the best price, so these phrases could help you out. Fingers crossed that you manage to grab the best bargain.
Shaanai, is an Osaka-ben dialect phrase that roughly translates to “it can’t be helped”. It’s the Osaka dialects version of “shikata ga nai”.
We use "shaanai" mainly when someone is resigned by the outcome. For example, if something unexpected happens and it can’t be helped, you might say “shaanai ne”. It’s a phrase that’s hard to find a direct translation for. It holds the nuance that you are trying to keep going forward instead of being stuck over the outcome. The feeling of resignation over something that has happened but aren’t being hung up over it.
In Osaka, you will also find that people use the phrase when they are unhappy with the outcome of something they couldn’t influence. Also used when there’s nothing they can they do to change the outcome. People also use this phrase to express frustration.
So, while the phrase “shaanai” can mean “it can’t be helped”, it can be used to express the frustration over something that couldn’t be helped.
This list is only the beginning of the countless phrases and words the Osaka-ben dialect has. Well done for even having an interest in trying to learn the dialect! The Japanese language is already hard enough but with all these dialects, it’s confusing.
As I said above, Osaka can seem a bit aggressive at first but is a very friendly city. It is filled with delicious food and an endless amount of places to shop! So when you are in Osaka, work up the courage and use these Osaka-ben phrases. The locals are sure to appreciate you taking the time to use their own dialect.
Hopefully, the phrases I have listed will help you fully experience Osaka and meet some new people. Fingers crossed, you also won’t be as confused in Osaka because you’ve already studied up on the frequently used phrases. No confusion, you can swiftly put away that chair instead of confusing yourself as to why they want you to suddenly fix that chair!
Hopefully, this list of Osaka-ben dialect phrases will help you out when you are in Osaka and will help you make the most of your time in Osaka!