Photo:Markus Koljonen on Flickr

Osaka Dialect: The Local's Language

I wasn’t always this eloquent you know.

There was a time, believe it or not, when my accent, my slang and my manner of speaking was so thick, so heavy that I was barely coherent to anyone born outside of my hometown.

Sometimes people couldn’t tell if I was being friendly or aggressive, one time an English friend of mine even sarcastically offered to get me an interpreter, in order to continue the conversation I had tried to start with one of his lady friends in a bar near his home city of Liverpool.

And let’s face it, when people from Liverpool are making wisecracks about your unintelligible accent, you know you’ve got a major problem!

But such is the burden of anyone born in or near Glasgow, in Scotland.

For Glasgow people are indeed world famous for how hard it is for them to be understood by outsiders.

As Spider-Man famously once said: “It is my gift; it is my curse!”


Scarper Montgomery on Flickr

So, for much of the next decade, as I moved from Scotland to Japan to Hong Kong and back to Japan again, I set about trying in every imaginable way to lose, or at least weaken my excessively strong Glaswegian brogue.

On one fateful night when my dad called me as I was out shopping in Osaka I guess I finally made a breakthrough, for my dad inquired, as only a sweary Scotsman can: “Son, how the f##k did you pick up that weird American accent?”

That was when I realized I had to scale things back. It was bad enough that my bulky frame leads to people mistaking me for an American when they see me, but the idea of people thinking I sounded like one was totally unpalatable.


Luke Gattuso on Flickr

Of course I’m only kidding, I’ve got nothing but love for my American brothers and sisters, so long as you aren’t voting for You-know-who!

As I settled into life in Osaka however, I came to realise that, in actuality, my predicament was not unique. People from Osaka were, for a long time in Japan, faced with a similar problem. For much like Glasgow, Osaka has its own, strong, often comical and occasionally offensive, yet often incoherent dialect.


Luke Gattuso on Flickr

The locals call it Osaka-Ben.

I’ve written articles before, both here and elsewhere on the Internet about some of the similarities between Glasgow and Osaka. Both are hard working cities, both are home to groups of people who love a good drink, a good dinner and a good laugh.


Wally Gobetz on Flickr

In the way that Scotland has produced comedians like Billy Connolly, Frankie Boyle and Kevin Bridges, so too has Osaka produced most of the current crop of nationally famous comedians. Much like Glasgow, there is just something innately funny about what Osaka people say, and the way in which they say it.

So, in much the same way as the aforementioned hero, Spider-Man, finally came to accept and embrace his powers, so to have I, thanks to the carefree attitude and tremendous self-pride of the people of Osaka, come to appreciate my own accent more. It has also prompted me to learn more about this amazing dialect in the hopes that I may, someday actually get some of the innumerate jokes and one-liners my friends and colleagues drop at our all too frequent drinking parties and other events.

So, if you fancy learning to speak like an Osaka native, where should you start?

Here is a top 5 of common words and phrases to get you started:

1) Hon-ma-ni?

This is quite an easy one to get you started as it actually isn’t all that different from the conventional, Tokyo-centric Japanese you will learn in a regular Japanese class or textbook.

Meaning “is that so?” or “really” it is very similar both in writing and pronunciation to the more common “Hon-tou-ni?” which has exactly the same meaning.

This is a nice easy one to remember and good for throwing out there now and again just to show your Osaka friends that you’ve done your homework!

2) Nan ya?


Again, as in the case of “hon-ma-ni” this one is pretty easy to remember as it doesn’t stray too far from the conventional textbook you will find in your regular Japanese class.

The meaning is basically the same as “Na-ni?” meaning “what?” or “What’s going on?”

In Osaka it can also be used as a casual way of getting someone to clarify something. Along the lines of: “What? I didn’t hear what you said” or “Say that again?”

3) Nan ya nen?


We are straying a bit off the beaten track here linguistically. “Nan ya nen?” is an extended form of “nan ya” meaning “what are you doing?”

The first time I heard this was during a soccer game a couple of years ago when the then Manchester United star, Nani, made a basic error which prompted one of the patrons in the bar where I was watching the game to throw his hands in the air an exclaim “Nani, nan ya nen!?”

This of course left the other people in the bar, who weren’t aware of the name of the aforementioned player giggling awkwardly as they pondered what on Earth the somewhat inebriated gent was yammering on about!

4) Nande-ya-nen


This is a natural extension of the previous phrase and has the dubious honour of being the first piece of Osaka-ben that I ever learned. My Japanese co-teacher taught it to me as a means of expressing her exasperation at a particularly difficult student’s ongoing disruptive behaviour.

It loosely translates as “you’ve got to be kidding me!!”

And believe me when I say, this was her being very diplomatic about this particular student!

5) Se-ya-nen


This final one is also really easy to remember and it literally is just a superlative way of saying yes.

So, when you ask a lovely young lady from Osaka if she is happy to go out for drinks and she replies “se-ya-nen” congratulations, mission accomplished!

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