Tohoku - The Hidden Japanese Language

By ken cannon - 11:17 AM

Screenshot of the Tohoku Dialect Video
Tohoku-ben, Japan's weirdest dialect
This time I'm featured over on Tofugu's channel and blog to teach you all about Tohoku-ben, a unique Japanese dialect!

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Ken Cannon

Tohoku Video Transcript

Hey guys! So my name is Ken Cannon and I’m here on behalf of Koichi and Hashi from Tofugu to teach some Tohoku-ben. Or Tohoku dialect.

Now Tohoku dialect is a dialect of Japanese, of course, otherwise I’m kind of on the wrong blog. But what’s interesting about it, is that it’s hailed as being the hardest dialect to understand. In fact, it’s actually so different from standard Japanese, that even native Japanese speakers often times can’t understand what they’re saying, and actually need subtitles whenever people speaking this dialect appear on TV or in movies.

In particular when I first heard it I didn’t think it sounded anything like Japanese.

So with that said its obviously pointless for us nonnative speakers to even give it a shot, but in an attempt to be rebel and point out the fact that I was I’m joking Let’s get into it!

First Tohoku-ben is spoken in the Tohoku region which extends slightly east of Tokyo and all the up to Hokkaido this little island up here... (Showing map) And to get you really motivated there is actually not just one Tohoku-ben, but about a dozen different versions of it spoken throughout Tohoku. Yay!

Now today in particular we are going to be focusing on Tsugaru-ben, spoken in Aomori, the most north part of Tohoku. And arguably the furthest sounding dialect from actual standard Japanese. I like to start small, obviously…

So let’s get started in this video with the 4 most common Tsugaru ben grammars, or grammar patterns.

1. Ku’s are GU’s!

Or most k sounds in standard Japanese, when said in Tsugaru ben actually become g sounds.

For example… hayaku - fast becomes… hayagu


Now this difference comes from the fact that Tsugaru-ben is kind of famed for its lazy sounding speech, in where the goal is to attempt to move your mouth as least as possible. There is even a common joke about this, that it’s so cold there, that people don’t want to talk.

Skit: fill in later

In fact Tohoku-ben is actually so famous for this it has a bit of a rude nickname... Zuu zuu ben... Because that’s supposedly that’s what its sounds like when Tohoku speakers are talking… also bees

2. Be

Be usage is twofold, one is it stands in place of the volitional form… I.e. ikou… lets go. And it can also stand for darou, or desho. The word probably.

For example, doushiyou, what should I do, becomes… dousube


Now be is probably the most famous grammars of all Tohoku, and yes it is also used throughout the rest of Tohoku. Same with the ku’s are gu’s. Although it may not necessarily mean the same thing.

So if you use be with anyone outside of Tohoku, they will definitely know what dialect you speaking…

(Skit): fill in later

3. Jya

Jya, is used after verbs to make them more forceful. So in that way it is very similar to the particle “yo” or the verbal exclamation point!

For example. Iku yo, I’m going, becomes Igu jya


Now this is not to be confused with the ancient copula jya... Used by samurais and old men in place of da, the standard copula.

Skit: fill in later

4. Ai  = ee

Now this refers mostly to negative verbs, and adjectives. You simply exchange any ai endings, with ee.

For example…

Itai…ouch, becomes… itee


This switching of ai with ee, appears in standard Japanese as well. However it is very slangy, and can be kind of rude if said to the wrong person…

Skit: fill in later

Awesome, now that you’ve got the basic grammars down… it’s time to learn some Tsugaru ben vocabs…

 So scroll down below and we’ll get into some more of this buzz buzz ben….

(Black screen with text) : Readings of example sentences in blog post below

1. geimusho sa Iganeba maine jya

2. Wa, shinobi da be

3. Na, shinobi jya nee be

Blog Post

So first let’s start with my favorite Tsugaru ben vocab… because of course I’m the only person that matters…


Maine pretty much equals “dame” or “ikenai”, basically “bad”

So let’s try a buzz buzz ben sentence…

Tsugaru ben: Geimusho sa Iganeba maine jya

Standard Japanese: Geimusho ni ikenakucha ikenai

Break down: Prison, to, if don’t go, bad

English: I got to go to prison/ If I don’t go prison it’ll be bad

Next, the two most common Tsugaru be words.

Wa and na

Respectively, I, and you. These come from, watashi, and anata… for lazy people.



Tsugaru: Wa, shinobi da be

Standard Japanese: Watashi wa shinobi darou

Breakdown: I, ninja, am, probably

English: I’m probably a ninja


Tsugaru: Na, shinobi jya nee be

Standard JP:  Anata wa shinobi jya nai deshou

Breakdown: You, ninja, not, probably

English: You’re probably not a ninja

3rd most common vocabs

Nda or nda ga

Nda equals “sou desu” or “that’s right”

And nda ga is “sou desu ka” = is that so/really?



Tsugaru ben: Nda, wa, megoi jya

Standard JP: So da, watashi wa kawaii yo

Breakdown: That’s right, I, cute, !

English: That’s right, I’m cute!


Tsugaru ben: Nda ga? Koichi-san, jikko ga?

Standard JP: Sou desu ka? Koichi-san wa ojiisan ka?

Breakdown: Really? Koichi, Mr., grandpa?

English: Really? Koichi is a grandpa?

And for our last Tsugaru ben for the day…

Da hande or just hande

Which equals, dakara or because/therefore


Tsugaru Ben: Wa, sexy da hande, hashi-san, wa no godo ni agogareru jya

Standard JP: watashi wa sexy dakara, hashi-san wa watashi no koto ni akogareru yo!

Breakdown: I, sexy, am, therefore, hashi, the idea of me, yearns.

English: Because I’m sexy, hashi yearns for me.

Alright that’s all for this post, hope you guys enjoyed it and I’ll hope to see you around Tohoku sometime!

And a big thanks to Tofugu for having me teach about tohoku ben!

Ken Cannon

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