Edo investigates...


It is a small room, each wall lined with neatly catalogued books. In one corner, a sink gurgles with globules of spit. The air is a dense, impenetrable fog of tobacco smoke. Around a dozen middle-aged men are sitting talking, but the sound they are producing do not seem to belong to any known language; It is a sound like an old car engine, a gentle, incessant purring, shattered every ten or twenty seconds by a harsh, strangled splutter.

With far too much time on my hands, I decided to penetrate this most enduring of mysteries. What is Tochigi-Ben? Why do they use it, where does it come from, and what the fuck does it mean? Here are the fruits of my investigations.

Tochigi-Ben is part of the Eastern Kanto family of strange Japanese dialects. It shares much in common with our eastern neighbour Ibaraki, although the western boundaries are more distinct; Gunma-ben and Saitama-ben have much in common with each other, but less in common with Tochigi-Ben. The city of Ashikaga forms a semi-autonomous linguistic enclave, being much closer to its southern and western neighbours than to the language spoken in our prefectural capital. Southern areas such as Oyama and Nogi have long been subjected to the influence of Tokyo dialect, and their language is closer to the Japanese of the Edo area. The area north or east of the frontier town of Ishibashi forms the heartland of Tochigi-Ben territory.

Article 34, section III, subsection 22b of the Constitution of Tochigi Prefecture states that

"...all male teachers over the age of fifty must communicate exclusively in local dialect, so as to render themselves completely incomprehensible to foreigners, the general Japanese population, and probably each other as well"1.

This regulation is particularly strictly respected by those higher up the educational hierarchy, which is why even JETs extremely proficient in the Japanese language generally have absolutely no idea what the hell their kocho-sensei is trying to say.

But all is not lost. In the course of my travels I discovered an ancient website, which has lain undisturbed, perfectly preserved in thick, hypertextual sludge, for several months2. This website, I believe, holds the key to an understanding of this ancient and mysterious language. I shall now attempt to divulge these secrets to you. Unfortunately it's all in Japanese. I've done my best, but don't bet the ranch on my translation. With the exception of pronunciation, I've tried to select mainly stuff that young people use, and haven't bothered with some of the minor differences in usage. But if you're like me and you learned all your Japanese in Tochigi, you might want to look back at the original site and find out why people in the rest of Japan looked at you funny when you used what you thought was standard language.

I'll show Tochigi-Ben like this, and standard Japanese - 標準語 (hyoujungo), or if you're being P.C. about it 共通語 (kyoutsuugo) like this. I have romanized う as u and lengthened vowels (like えー) as double letters (eg. ee). All English used is standard in Essex.


(1) - Some of the above facts are not true.

(2) - http://www3.justnet.ne.jp/~myattun/

1) Pronunciation.


2) Intonation:


3) Sentence attachments

(I don't know what to call these in English. In Japanese, 付属 fuzoku.)


4) Expressions


5) Vocabulary

The above should be sufficient to equip you for the majority of basic Tochigi-ben situations. An understanding of simple Tochigi-ben should help you interact with your friends, colleagues and neighbours and help protect this fascinating and valuable cultural asset. Or if it all gets too much for you, just pronounce the following words, very, very slowly, in a loud, clear voice:

"HYOU - JUN - GO - GA - HA - NA - SE - MASU - KA ?"