The Tohoku Regional Accent
is spoken in the northeast region of the Japanese island of Honshu, mainly in Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures. Not as often heard as the Kanto or Kansai
dialects in anime and manga, when it does show up you can be sure the character in question is a hick from the boonies and will not likely be taken seriously. The accent also carries the stereotype of laziness or clumsiness, as Tohoku speakers are known for slurring and not opening their mouths very much. The rather negative nickname for the dialect is zuuzuu-ben
, "zuuzuu" being the sound that a Kanto speaker hears when a Tohoku speaker neutralizes and drags their vowels. Because of the negative stereotypes, when speaking with Tokyo-ites, Tohoku speakers tend to hide their accents and speak in Tokyo dialect. The accent only shows up when talking to family or when stressed.
When a Tokoku accent is translated
, expect to hear something like a hillbilly drawl remniscent of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel
Most prominent features of the dialect include:
- Saying waa instead of watashi, and ora instead of ore (the latter even among women)
- Saying kero instead of kudasai/kure
- using da after verbs, considered a mistake in other parts of Japan
- Using be in place of darou or the equivalent verb conjugation (with a variety of particles even farther from the norm in localized areas). The slogan "ganbarou" ("let's hang in there"), ubiquitous since the earthquake on 11 March 2011, is "ganbappe" in the dialect of the disaster area.
- Drawing out vowels, which makes speech sound "lazy" or "slow".
- Pronouncing both /i/ and /u/ as an identical, in-between vowel (/ɨ/) after /s/ and /z/ (and sometimes /t/ and /d/ as well). "Sushi", susu (soot), and shishi (lion) all sound the same.
- Slurring vowel diphthongs together (a feature also common to Shitamachi tough-talkers in Tokyo): /ai/, /ei/, /oi/ and /ae/ come out as a prolonged [eː] (omee instead of omae, wagannee for wakaranai). The speakers themselves are said to be able to hear the difference between /ai/ and /ei/ regardless, but to people from Tokyo, they sound identical.
- Voicing of unvoiced consonants in the middle of words, especially /k/ to /g/ and /t/ to /d/. For example, suki datta (I liked it) becomes sugi dadda. It's also why the name of Ibaraki Prefecture (technically part of Kanto, but on the border with Tohoku) is frequently misspelled as "Ibaragi".
To an English speaker, these vowel and consonant mutations make it sound somewhat like Tohoku-ben speakers are talking through a bad cold. It must be those harsh winters up north.
On top of these features, individual dialects are also prone to preserving certain traits of old Japanese that are no longer present in the Standard language, for example:
- Being able to distinguish between two types of long /oː/ from the historical /au/ and /ou/ diphthongs (one is /ɔ:/, the other /o:/)
- Preserving the distinction of /ka/ and /kwa/, /ga/ and /gwa/ in Chinese-derived words
- Pronouncing the entire /h/-row of kana as /ɸ/ ("f" with upper and lower lip, not teeth), which is only done for the "fu" syllable in Standard Japanese. This is actually how the /h/-row was historically pronounced in Middle Japanese.
- Pronouncing /e/ as "ye" ([je])
- Distinguishing /o/ and /wo/ (both [o] in Standard)
- Pre-nasalization of voiced consonants, which sounds like inserting an /n/ sound immediately prior to the affected letter. For example, mado (window) becomes mando, and mago (grandchild) sounds like mang-o (the /g/ ends up assimilating, so the <ng> there is like English "sing"). This is somewhat common with /g/ in most Japanese dialects, but in Tohoku it still happens before /b/ and /d/ also.
Though no two versions of Tohoku-ben have the exact same combinations of slurred sounds and archaic features, they are generally lumped together on the basis of the defining characterstics that make them "zuuzuu-ben" in the eyes of Tokyo speakers. And, since Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe
and only a Kansai Regional Accent
gets any attention in media, who's to care if a pastiche gets used instead of a specific local brogue? (Kansai-ben is often abused the same way—using Osaka speech for anywhere
in the region, apart from Kyoto—but people in Kansai complain
See also: Kansai Regional Accent
. Compare "Rural" in British Accents
, "Hillbilly" in American Accents
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Anime & Manga
- The protagonist of Homunculus slips into his Tohoku accent when he's stressed or talking to himself.
- Ogiue from Genshiken is also prone to slipping into her accent when she panicks.
- Goku from Dragon Ball exhibits some of the vowel mutations (particularly the trouble with diphthongs), but none of the other phonological or grammatical changes. Meanwhile, his wife Chi-Chi has some of the grammatical features ("da" after verbs and adjectives, "be" as a particle) but none of the phonological ones.
- Yume from Somedays Dreamers slips into her native Tohoku accent when she gets excited.
- Interestingly, in the You're Under Arrest! this brogue gets assigned not to the hick character, but to The Ace. Visiting Minnesota Fats (and Natsumi's Love Interest) Shouji Tokairin is from Akita and doesn't even try to hide it — he's cool enough to not to care.
- Axis Powers Hetalia
- Sweden sp'ks in a Tohoku dialect, despite being quite sophisticated. (Hidekaz Himaruya himself is from Fukushima) It's probably just because he's tall and intimidating. It's translated in English as some kind of grunt speak. His fellow Nordic Norway speaks in the Tsugaru dialect. His accent is rather thick, but the English translations don't show it.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Major Armstrong, being a huge burly tough guy, speaks with a Tohoku accent. His accent has been PASSED DOWN THE ARMSTRONG LINE FOR GENERATIONS!
- Mousse in Ranma ½ speaks in Tohoku, despite being from China.
- Jin from YuYu Hakusho speaks with the Tohoku accent (this somehow became an Irish accent in the dub), which is kind of a subversion of the stereotype, seeing as he kicks ass.
- Duval from One Piece also slips into this accent when he gets mad. The scanlations translated it as an odd semi-southern accent. Some fans are hoping it gets translated as a Brooklyn accent in the FUNimation dub, because of who he resembles.
- A chapter of Rookies has a female student who's so shy she almost never speaks. When super-teacher Kawato tries to get her to come out of her shell, he discovers it's because she's so ashamed of her Tohoku accent. He gets her to help out with the baseball team a bit, and it turns out her fears of mockery are entirely unfounded — the guys end up falling all over themselves over how cute her accent is.
- Averted in Yoroiden Samurai Troopers as Seiji (Sage), the only one from Tohoku, does not speak with the accent and is arguably the smartest character. In the CD Drama Tenkuu Den, he and Touma (Rowan) banter back and forth about airports as Touma is from Osaka in a Northern Hillbilly vs. Southern Hillbilly sort of way.
- Haruo Hattori and her fellow Akita denizens from Club 9 are portrayed talking with extremely thick "country yokel" accents in the English translation. Her accent is commented on numerous times by people in Tokyo where she moves. While she is told to "watch the accent", Haruo always is portrayed talking in a thick accent.
- Mutsuko of Sunset on Third Street (Sanchoume no Yuuhi) talks this way, especially at the beginning where, newly arrived in Tokyo from Aomori, she expects to become a secretary at Suzuki Motor Corporation. Turns out, out she's been hired as a mechanic at Suzuki Auto Repair.
- Kamameshidon in Anpanman. To emphasise not moving his mouth as much, his mouth is always shown just as moving teeth rarely being opened. His attire also emphasizes a lower class. A few other characters also have a Tohoku accent, like Tanuki-Oni and Uncle Negi (who drops it as Naganegiman).
- The villagers in Only Yesterday, since most of the film takes place in Yamagata. The old ladies have particularly strong ones.
- Asuka in Kimi No Iru Machi moved to Tokyo from Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture. She hardly talked to anyone during her first year because she was so ashamed of her dialect, and she still slips into it when angry.
- The snowy village of Norqueen in Tales of Hearts. Possibly because the residents have been hiding from the rest of the world.
- Itsuki, the young peasant girl from Sengoku Basara speaks this way, being from a small, rural village in the far north of Japan.
- The entirety of the village of Sonne, and particularly Mami, from Breath of Fire IV speaks in this — largely because, again, Sonne is a small, isolated rural village up in the mountains. Localised in English as a deep Appalachian accent with occasional Scots phrases like "dinnae" and "ye ken"note .