Tokyo dialect

Last updated
Tokyo dialect
Native to Japan
Region Tōkyō
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog toky1238
IETF ja-u-sd-jp13

The Tokyo dialect (Tōkyō hōgen, Tōkyō-ben, Tōkyō-go (東京方言, 東京弁, 東京語)) is a variety of Japanese language spoken in modern Tokyo. As a whole, it is generally considered to be Standard Japanese, though specific aspects of slang or pronunciation can vary by area and social class.


Yamanote (red) and Shitamachi (blue) Yamanote Shitamachi.gif
Yamanote (red) and Shitamachi (blue)


Traditional dialects in central Tokyo are generally classified in two groups: Yamanote dialect (山の手言葉, Yamanote kotoba) and Shitamachi dialect (下町言葉, Shitamachi kotoba). The Yamanote dialect is characteristic of the old upper class from the Yamanote area. Standard Japanese was based on the Yamanote dialect during the Meiji period. The Shitamachi dialect is a working-class dialect, and it preserves features of Edo Chōnin (Edokko) speech, so also called Edo dialect (江戸言葉, 江戸弁, Edo kotoba, Edo-ben). Tokyo-style rakugo is typically played in the Shitamachi dialect.

Tokyo dialect dates back to Tokugawa Ieyasu's establishment of Edo. Large groups of people, speaking a range of dialects migrated across the country. The Kyoto dialect was the prestige language of the time and strongly influenced the Edo dialect in the early Edo period; the dialect grew inside the largest city in Japan and became the new prestige language in the late Edo period. Because of its unique history, especially in relation to the Kyoto dialect, Tokyo is a language island in the Kantō region. For example, traditional Kanto dialects have been characterized by the use of volitional and presumptive suffix -be, which is rarely used in Tokyo.


The Shitamachi dialect is primarily known for its lack of distinction between some phonemes that are distinct in Standard Japanese. Most famously, it neutralizes [çi] and [ɕi] so shiohigari ("shellfish gathering") becomes shioshigari, and shichi ("seven") becomes hichi. Also, it famously fronts [ɕu͍][d͡ʑu͍] to [ɕi][d͡ʑi] so Shinjuku becomes Shinjiku, and shujutsu ("operation") becomes shijitsu.

Another notable feature is the monophthongization of [ai ae ie oi] to [eː] in the Shitamachi dialect. For example, hidoi ("terrible") becomes shidee, and taihen da ("It's serious") becomes teehen da. That feature is used in Standard Japanese as informal masculine speech like wakan'nee (wakaranai "I don't know") and sugee (sugoi "great").

In addition, /r/ is pronounced as a trill [r] to convey a vulgar nuance in Shitamachi speech. In informal speech, intervocalic /r/ is often changed to [ɴ] or sokuon so okaerinasai becomes okaen'nasai ("welcome back home") and sō suru to becomes sō sutto ("then, and so").

Pitch accent

A few words are pronounced different pitch accent between Yamanote and Shitamachi. The following words are typical examples:


Most of the grammatical features of the Tokyo dialect are identical to the colloquial form of Standard Japanese like the examples mentioned here. Noticeable features of the Tokyo dialect include the frequent use of interjectory particle sa, which is roughly analogous to "like" as used in American English slang; tsū (common style) and tee (Shitamachi style), instead of to iu ("to say" or "is called"); the frequent use of emphasis sentence-final particle dai or dee in Shitamachi, which is famous for a typical Shitamachi verbal shot teyandee! ([nani o] itte iyagaru n dai!, "What are you talking about!?").

Historically, Kanto dialects lacked keigo (honorific speech). However, because of its connection with Kyoto and the stratification of urban society, the Tokyo dialect now has a refined keigo system. The Yamanote dialect is primarily known for an extreme use of keigo and the keigo copula zamasu or zāmasu, sometimes zansu, derived from gozaimasu. The courtesy imperative mood asobase or asubase is also a well-known keigo word from the traditional Tokyo dialect. For example, "Won't you please wait for me?" translates to for o-machi kudasai in standard Japanese, and o-machi asobase in the traditional Tokyo dialect.


Though it also includes a few distinctive words, it is largely indistinguishable from the standard speech of Tokyo except for phonology. Famous Shitamachi words are the swear word berabōme! or beranmee! (masculine Shitamachi speech is commonly known as Beranmee kuchō or "Beranmee tone"), atabō for atarimae "of course", mattsugu for massugu "straight" and choito for chotto "for a moment, a bit." Atashi is a first-person feminine pronoun in Standard Japanese, but in Shitamachi dialect, it is often used by both men and women. An emphasis prefix o is used frequently with verbs such as oppajimeru for hajimeru "to start" and ottamagerufor tamageru "to be startled."

New Tokyo dialect

Traditional Tokyo dialects can still be seen used in fiction, but most families living in Tokyo speak Standard Japanese today. The distinction between Shitamachi and Yamanote is now almost extinct.

Historically, many people moved to Tokyo from other regions and sometimes brought their dialects into Tokyo with them. For example, jan (じゃん), which is a contraction of ja nai ka ("isn't that right?"), comes from Tōkai–Tōsan dialect via Kanagawa and Tama, and chigakatta, a nonstandard form of chigatta ("it was different"), comes from the Fukushima and Tochigi dialects. [1]

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  1. Fumio Inoue (井上史雄) (1998). Nihongo Watching (in Japanese). Tōkyō: The Iwanami Shoten (岩波書店). ISBN   978-4-00-430540-8.