Chow Chow


“It is my meaning,” announced Bogey this morning, “to turn your Japanese speaking into true Kansai-ben!”

Bogey is my highest level student. We have had classes together for months but only recently has he caught on that I am studying Japanese with some success. My lust to learn creates a whiff around me and I can’t hide it anymore; studying for the 4-kyuu gave me focus where before I had little and finally, I feel as though I can communicate – albeit on a base level. I want more and everyone can see it.

Bogey has a notebook filled with musings about the English language; one page collecting an assortment of onomatopoeias, another page filled with tropes. He has begun to add musings about Japanese to his pages, and these he shares with me.

Three times a week, I teach in the Kansai region, which is noted for having a very distinct dialect. It is considered pure comedy, and it is no accident, perhaps, that many famous comedians come from Kansai. Carnitas is Kansai born-and-bred and has cheerfully taught me a few key sayings. I learn others from my young students, who tack on mysterious endings to their verbs that look nothing like what I’ve been studying in my textbooks.

Bogey handed me a sheet of paper, folded in half. He showed me one of the halves, upon which he had written:

“Look. It is a chow chow, isn’t it?”
“No, no, it isn’t a chow chow.”
“It must be a chow chow.”
“No, no, it isn’t a chow chow, is it?”

“How do you say this in Japanese?” he asked me.

I translated the first couple of lines: “Mitte – chow chow, desu nee? Iie, iie, chow chow ja nai …” but stopped just short of “must be” as this is grammar I do not know. Bogey chuckled.

“That sounds very Japanese.” he said. “But in Kansai dialect ….” he dramatically showed me the other half of the page, which he had concealed with a clever fold:

“Are, chow chow chow?”
“Chow chow, chow chow chow.”
“Chow chow chown?”
“Chow chow, chow chow chown chow.”

“Oh, you’re kidding.” I said. “Does ‘are‘ mean ‘look’ in Kansai dialect? I hear my kids saying it all the time but I get confused because doesn’t it also mean ‘this’?”

“Yes, it does,” said Bogey. “The inflection is very important. Chow-ouuuuun; going down. Chow chow chow – the last going up. This is a real conversation in Kansai. It is my meaning to turn your Japanese into Kansai Japanese!”

In contrast, Himalaya-sensei corrects me when I use Kansai dialect, much as my grandmother does when I use the earthy Roman dialect instead of Florentine. What would either of them say if they heard me the other night, shouting, “Nan da nen*!?” at a reckless teenage girl on a bike who careened past me?

*What the heck!?

My grandmother – though originally from Rome – corrects me out of Italian language snobbery but Himalaya-sensei is my teacher and therefore has a duty to train me properly. Naturally, I want to learn standard Japanese but I cannot resist the rowdy, lusty bleat of Kansai-dialect. I like that I can communicate in dog breeds and that I now know that “akande” means “you mustn’t.” Some of my students say it often when the antsier ones are stealing flashcards or howling over me when I drill vocab. It’s nice to know they’re on my side.

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