In Aichi, This Japanese Word “Dirty” Means Something Different

A newspaper article using Pokemon to teach Japanese dialects has gained traction on Twitter due to an unexpected double meaning. Twitter users were surprised to learn that “chinchin”, a common word in the dialect of Aichi prefecture, means something different elsewhere.

What might be part of someone’s everyday vocabulary in Aichi is actually a “dirty” word elsewhere. The dialects of Japan are many and varied, and a word can mean many different things across the country.

The dialects of Japan

Japanese is not a monolithic language. Different regions and prefectures have their own dialects, with unique vocabularies, grammars and ways of speaking. Linguists currently recognize more than a dozen distinct dialects, usually separated into Eastern and Western Japanese dialects.

Some dialects vary only slightly from “standard” Japanese, while others differ significantly. The dialects of Okinawa, Kagoshima, Ryukyu Islands, Hachijo-jima, and Aogashima are sometimes considered separate branches of the Japanese language.[1]

At the highest level, linguists divide dialects into Kanto-ben, or Eastern Japanese, and Kansai-ben, or Western Japanese. Kansai-ben is the best known Japanese dialect and has many grammatical variations such as the ending of negative words in “not” Where “naked” instead of “nah.” Osaka-ben ends negative words in “chicken” and often concludes sentences with the particle “of” Where “Washington.Kansai-ben speaking characters appear frequently in Japanese films and television.[2]

Kyoto-ben, which replaces the end-of-sentence sentence “desu” with “dosu”, is often perceived as a refined and elegant sound. Hokkaido-ben features many loanwords from the language of the indigenous Ainu people. These include menkoi meaning “cute” and “Oban” meaning “good evening”. (Another example is the northern bay haskap, Ainu hashikapu.)

You say “very hot”, I say…

Warm weather

The dialect of Aichi Prefecture is generally called “Nagoya-ben”, after Nagoya, the largest city in Aichi. It includes elements of Eastern and Western Japanese due to Nagoya’s central position between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka.

The word Aichi- or Nagoya-ben that has recently caught the eye on Twitter is “cheers. “Chinchin” in Aichi means “very hot”. It refers to objects or temperatures that are too hot to be described using the standard “atsu.

However, in the rest of Japan, “chinchin” is a slang term referring to the penis. It’s a “cute” nickname similar to English “wee-wee” or “pee-pee”. The association of ‘chinchin’ with the penis is so strong that the Western comic character Tintin was renamed ‘Tantan’ in Japanese because he looked too much like ‘Chinchin’. Many people outside of Aichi Prefecture are unaware of the “very hot” meaning of the word and know it exclusively as slang for genitals.

Newspaper article shared on Twitter uses the Pokemon Dodekabashi, known as Toucannon in English, as an example of how “chinchin” is used in the Aichi dialect. The original phrase means “Toucannon’s beak gets very hot when attacking an enemy.” However, the alternative meaning of the word means that the phrase can also be read as “Toucannon’s beak becomes a penis when attacking an enemy”. This produces an amusing mental image of the beak of the Normal/Flying type Pokémon which is unfortunately replaced by a set of genitals.

Other fun aspects of the Aichi language

Using “chinchin” to mean “very hot” isn’t the only unique word or phrase found in Nagoya or the rest of Aichi Prefecture. A person in Aichi who finds themselves surprised by something may choose to end a sentence with “gaya” to indicate his feelings. If you use Aichi-ben to repeat second-hand gossip you heard from another person or read in the newspaper, you can use “gena”, meaning “so they say”. A bicycle, rather than being called a “jitensha’, could instead be a “ketta”, while something that is spoiled or rotten could be described as “way.[3]

If you’re traveling to Japan, chances are every region you visit has its own local dialect. Learning local words and phrases is a great way to expand your knowledge of the Japanese language. And, if you’re traveling to Aichi in the summer, don’t forget to pack clothes suitable for the “chinchin” weather!

What to read next

Sources

[1] Okumura, Nao. “Japanese Dialect Ideology from Meiji to the Present.” Portland State University. July 26, 2016. Link.

[2] Long live Japan. “【関西弁】大阪・京都などでよく使う関西独特の言葉・例文18選.” January 25, 2021. Link.

[3] Nagoya International Center. Nagoya-ben. December 1, 2015. Link.

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