Tokyo dialect

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Tokyo dialect or Tokyo Japanese (Tōkyō hōgen, Tōkyō-ben, Tōkyō-go (東京方言, 東京弁, 東京語)) is a term that can be used to refer to:

  1. Standard Japanese (Mistakenly): Although the term "Tokyo Dialect" exists to differentiate language spoken in Tokyo with standard Japanese, many English sources mistakenly use the term to refer to standard Japanese
  2. Edo-ben: A traditional Tokyo dialect that, though no longer used in modern Japanese, can be commonly seen in fiction and popular culture. It is also commonly seen in rakugo performances
  3. All of the Japanese dialects spoken in Tokyo city throughout history
  4. All of the Japanese dialects spoken in the Greater Tokyo Area throughout history: In addition to the dialects spoken in Tokyo, this includes dialects from Tama, Hachijo, Ogasawara, and Hokubu Izu Shoto
  5. New Tokyo Dialect, a term used in academic contexts where it is being argued that the form of Japanese spoken in modern Tokyo deviates from Standard Japanese
  6. In the case of Tokyo-go: A term to refer to Tokyo-specific jargon, terminology and slang.
  7. A sarcastic way of referring to Standard Japanese by Japanese people from outside of Tokyo

Tokyo Dialect and Tokyo Japanese are mostly used in minor academic contexts in Japan, and are not widely-recognized terms, with no concrete definition.

The language spoken in modern Tokyo is not "Tokyo dialect" but Standard Japanese.

Traditional Tokyo dialects[edit]

Traditional dialects from central Tokyo, which are no longer in use, can be classified into 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. Yamanote dialect is significantly different from standard Japanese in that it does not have contractions used in casual speech, and has unique collocations like "zamasu". In modern Japanese it can be seen used mostly in fiction, and/or in a sarcastic manner to portray someone as pompous or affluent in a negative manner.

The Shitamachi dialect is a working-class dialect, and it preserves features of Edo Chōnin (Edokko) speech (see Early Modern Japanese), 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. Yamanote dialect and Shitamachi dialect can be compared to the British RP and Cockney in English. In modern Japanese it can be seen used mostly in fiction, typically used to caricaturize "everyman" type characters.

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 de facto standard of the time and strongly influenced the Edo dialect in the early Edo period; the dialect grew inside the largest city in Japan and is theorized to have became the new de facto Standard Japanese 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.

New Tokyo Dialect[edit]

New Tokyo Dialect (新東京方言) or Greater Metropolitan Area Dialect (首都圏方言) is a term used to refer to the language spoken in the Greater Tokyo Area by academics arguing that this language deviates from Standard Japanese. It is not widely recognised.


  • Kazue Akinaga (秋永一枝) etc (2007). Teruo Hirayama (平山輝男) etc (ed.). Nihon no Kotoba series 13, Tōkyō-to no Kotoba (in Japanese). Tōkyō: The Meiji Shoin (明治書院). ISBN 978-4-625-62400-1.