Okinawa Hai fallback


Kelly will be joining us on island in April and she’s trying to get her Japanese groove on early. As in the language. Here’s what she’s thinking.

Learning the native language in Okinawa is really important to me.  I know a lot of people have told me that I won’t need to learn it because a lot of people speak English anyway, but I would really prefer to learn the language and maybe raise my kids to speak it as well.  My question is what is most commonly spoken there?  Basic Japanese or Okinawan dialects?

I found a GREAT beginner’s Japanese course available free online, but I’ve heard that Okinawan Japanese differs.  Some sources say that Okinawans were once forbidden from speaking the national language of Japanese (which scared me – would someone be offended if I spoke Japanese?!) and other sources said that Japanese is now the most common spoken language on Okinawa with only the older generations speaking the Ryukyu-based Okinawan Japanese (Basically saying that nearly everyone speaks basic Japanese there now).  I guess I’m hoping that is true because there are more free resources for Japanese than there are for Okinawan dialects.  I was wondering what others experience was with this.  I would hate to spend time studying the wrong language.

I am no expert but I am sure that standard Japanese is spoken, or at least understood, here. Some words vary between the dialects. Not sure they are technically dialects. Maybe it’s much like British English and American English differ. Same, same but different.

Any further thoughts on the differences between the two kinds of Japanese? What are they called anyway? Ryukyuan Japanese and Standard Japanese?

HERE is a link to a previous post about learning Japanese while you’re here. There are certainly lots of opportunities to learn here.


  1. There’s an orgnization in Hawaii called the Hawaii United Okinawa Association (there are a lot of Hawaiians who are of Okinawan descent) and they offer classes in the Okinawan language in an effort to keep the Okinawan hogen alive. That’s a real positive for the language! Hopefully, there are similar groups in Okinawa offering hogen classes in an effort to preverve the Okinawan hogen in Okinawa itself.

  2. I know it’s a couple of years old but I don’t think it’s ever too late to point out a mistakes and correct it, especially since this website is still active and getting web search “hits”. ;o)

    The Okinawan dialect is referred to as HOGEN (pronounced HO as in “hoe” (the digging tool), “GEN” as in “get” (fetch) but with the T replaced by an N.

    HOGEN is the aboriginal language of the Okinawan people from way back. I used to speak it when I was a kid growing up in Okinawa but, as somebody else pointed out, it was not officially taught in schools so most of the younger generation folks don’t can’t speak it or understand it at all. I’ve forgetten most of it myself (which is a shame) primarily because I was educated in an American school and ended up speaking English at home most of the time except when speaking to my mom in Japanese.

  3. Yep! lol – I’m starting to get excited. The husband is even swearing to learn Japanese with me. Looks like he’s leaning towards living off base so we might need to learn the language a little better! Well, that and I just want to be sure that I know what I’m eating if we go out to eat somewhere local…hehe

  4. Thanks everyone for your answers! I had started studying Japanese and then heard somewhere else about the Okinawan dialects. Here’s the complete Japanese video set I found on YouTube for beginner’s Japanese:
    This set of videos is AWESOME because they teach you like you are a complete idiot – great for someone like me who IS a complete idiot when it comes to the language. Very comprehensible and easy to understand.

    Some other sites I found:

    More about Hogan/Rykyuan Japanese:

    And a handy translator:

    Anyone have any other links? Thanks for answering this. It IS very sad that the native language is dying…kind of like Gaelic in Ireland. Gaelic was supposed to be the native language there but everyone speaks English, so I suppose I’ll just learn Japanese and maybe study the Okinawan language as a sidenote. 🙂

  5. That’s interesting about the “mensore” thing. Today I was driving through American Village and noticing for the first time the sign near Starbucks that says “welcome” in a couple of different languages. The last one was in hiragana and I sat at the light trying to decipher it. I think I got as far as “me-n-sew-something”. It didn’t make any sense. Mensore! Thanks gang!

  6. The Okinawan dialect is more of a completely different language unrelated to Japanese than a true dialect and varies significantly from region to region (and island to island) in Okinawa prefecture. Standard Japanese is taught in the schools. Okinawan is typically only spoken at home or in social circles. Many with mix in Okinawan phrases with standard Japanese in informal situations. Unfortunately, it’s true that the Okinawan languages are dying out.

  7. All Okinawans speak Japanese, but from what I’m told its with a “country” accent. Different parts of Japan/Okinawa have words that are specific to that region. It’s called “-ben”, so there are some words that are found in Kyoto that are specific to that region, so it would be Kyoto-ben. The old Okinawan language is called “Hogan” and its different within different parts of Okinawa. Apparently Tokyo-ben is the language of TV Reporters and Movie Stars.

  8. Go ahead and learn Japanese…you will be understood and will be able to communicate. Everyone does learn English in school but many will not speak it. It is best to know some Japanese anyway, it is the polite thing to do.

    This site has some info on the Ryukyuan Languages…the debate is on whether they are their own language or just a dialect of Japanese. I would say that learning a few of the Okinawan greetings would be nice since you will run into some elderly people here that will know them but don’t assume that all older people are Okinawan, because a lot of people come from mainland to retire here.

  9. Ok, my Japanese friend that grew up in Ishikawa told me that there is still some Okinawa Dialects, but they are mainly with the senior citizens. The schools are not aloud to teach any dialect just the standard Japanese. So the dialects are only with those whos grandparents/parents use it with them, but they know the regular Japanese also.
    Hope it helps. What is the free online Japanese site you found?