In an attempt to draw more visitors, Kobayashi City in Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture has released a video to promote the natural beauty and appeal of the town. The ad features a French man, talking about the quirky yet charming nature of the locals and the beautiful environment the city has to offer. As he speaks, Japanese subtitles appear at the bottom of the screen, allowing those who don’t understand French to know what the man is saying.
But the last line of the ad is throwing many Japanese viewers for a loop, as it dawns on them that the man is not actually speaking French at all, but a local Miyazaki dialect.
The video begins with our French traveler mulling over some of the oddities he’s noticed since he began living in Kobayashi. How, for example, despite the lush and expansive forests surrounding the town, the town’s name literally means “small forest”. And how even though fresh spring water flows from the tap in every home, people still buy bottled water.
But it’s not all strangeness in Kobayashi, as our French guide has grown fond of the kindness and good hearts of the locals.
After all the years he has lived there, he notes, there is one thing he’s come to notice: that he has picked up on the local Nishimoro-ben, or Nishimoro dialect. It is only then that Japanese viewers come to realize that our narrator has in fact been speaking in Nishimoro-ben, and not French, throughout the entire video.
Yes, he was speaking Japanese! His French accent is certainly detectable, but if you are a speaker of French yourself, you would have noticed from the beginning that he is not speaking it at all. However, Nishomoro-ben is so different from hyoujungo (the “standard” Japanese spoken in Tokyo and surrounding areas, and the Japanese that is taught to foreigners learning the language) that it is almost like a completely different language.
Turning on the closed captions on the video will give you a dictation of the Nishimoro-ben he is speaking, so you can compare it to the standard Japanese.
For example, the line “この小林市は不思議なことだらけだ/Kono Kobayashi-shi wa fushigi na koto darake da”, which translates to “This Kobayashi City is full of little mysteries,” in Nishimoro-ben becomes: “小林ちゅうとはじょじょなとこじゃっちおや思たっどん/Kobayashi-chuu towa jojo na toko jacchi oya omotaddon“. It’s no wonder most Japanese viewers mistook it for another language completely!
If you do plan to take a trip to Miyazaki, however, there is no need to worry. Standard Japanese is spoken and understood throughout the whole country, so you don’t need to study a whole new dialect to get around!