Tokyo dialect

Tokyo dialect
Native to Japan
Region Tōkyō
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog toky1238[1]

Tokyo dialect (東京方言, 東京弁, 東京語 Tōkyō hōgen, Tōkyō-ben, Tōkyō-go) refers to the Japanese dialect spoken in modern Tokyo. The dialect in modern Tokyo is often considered to be standard Japanese, though it differs from standard Japanese in a number of areas and social classes.

Yamanote (red) and Shitamachi (blue)


Traditional dialects in downtown 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 more 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. One can compare Yamanote dialect and Shitamachi dialect to the British RP and Cockney in English.

The origin of the Tokyo dialect dates back to Tokugawa Ieyasu's establishment of Edo. This, in part, caused large groups of people, speaking a range of dialects, to migrate 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 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.


The Shitamachi dialect is primarily known for its lack of distinction between some phonemes which are considered wholly distinct in standard Japanese. Most famous is the neutralization of [çi] and [ɕi], so that shiohigari ("shellfish gathering") becomes shioshigari and shichi ("seven") becomes hichi. Another famous one is the fronting of [ɕu͍] [d͡ʑu͍] to [ɕi] [d͡ʑi], so that Shinjuku becomes Shinjiku and shujutsu ("operation") becomes shijitsu.

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

In addition, [ɽ] is realized as a trill [r], when conveying a vulgar nuance in Shitamachi speech. In informal speech, intervocalic [ɽ] is often changed to [ɴ] or sokuon such as 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 examples mentioned in "Colloquial contractions" in the article "Japanese grammar". Noticeable earmarks 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) in place 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 feminine 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 traditional Tokyo dialect.


Though it also includes a few distinctive words, today it is largely indistinguishable from the standard speech of Tokyo other than the phonemic difference. Famous Shitamachi words are a swearword berabōme! or beranmee! (masculine Shitamachi speech is commonly known as Beranmee kuchō or "Beranmee tone"), atabō for atarimae meaning "of course", mattsugu for massugu meaning "straight", choito for chotto meaning "for a moment, a bit" and so on. Atashi is a feminine first person 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 meaning "to start" and ottamageru for tamageru meaning "to be startled".

New Tokyo dialect

Traditional Tokyo dialects are now barely used as most families living in Tokyo speak standard Japanese. The distinction between Shitamachi and Yamanote is now almost extinct.

Historically, many people flocked 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?") came from the eastern Chūbu and Kanagawa dialects and chigakatta, which is a non-standard form of chigatta ("it was different") came from the Fukushima and Tochigi dialects.[2]


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tōkyō". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. 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.
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