November 24, 2019

by Rio Yamada, Kanaka Yamada, and Mika Morita

People in Kyoto tend to tell their thoughts or ideas indirectly. The reason is that Kyoto people think strongly that they want to avoid conflict with other people, therefore they beat around the bush, and avoid trouble. They do not want to hurt others’ feelings, therefore they do not say their real thoughts, ideas, and minds to others’ face directly. Japanese indirectness may be difficult for people from other cultures to understand. However if you are thinking about going traveling to Kyoto, or if you want to know about Kyoto (or people in Kyoto), it does not hurt to know about phrases of Kyoto. In this article, we will introduce 9 phrases that are used by Kyoto people, and the meaning of these phrases. And also we will suggest how to say these words in English.

Kyo-Kotoba Phrases

1. 丁寧な仕事してはるね (teinei na shigoto siteharune)

This phrase literally means “You do a polite job.” However the true meaning is “Your work is inefficient.” 丁寧 means “polite, or courteous”, and 仕事means “job” in English. The literal meaning is able be taken as a compliment, but the real meaning is not a compliment at all. The reason is that the more politely someone -works, the longer it takes to finish their tasks. The speaker wants to say you are working very slowly, so do your job more efficiently. 

2. 独創的やね (dokusouteki yane)

The literal meaning of this phrase is “You are a creative person/You have an original idea.” However the real meaning is “You are weird person/You do not fit into your surroundings.” 独創的 means “original, or creative” in English. As we mentioned in the first paragraph, Kyoto people do not say their thoughts directly because it will hurt feelings of others. The speaker thinks if they say that “You are odd” the listener may get hurt, therefore they tell the listener in a roundabout way to avoid direct expressions.

3. よう勉強してはりますなあ (Yo benkyou sitehari masuna)

The literal meaning of this phrase is “You study very hard” in English. よう mean “very” and 勉強mean “study”. This surface meaning of this phrase is a compliment for someone. However, there is another meaning for Kyoto people. That is “Don’t say too much”. When they want someone to be silent, they use this phrase.

4. あんたいつ見ても元気そうやな (Anta itsu mitemo gennki souyana)

The literal meaning of this phrase is “You look energetic every day”. あんた means “You” and 元気そうやな mean “look energetic”. This meaning looks like a regular greeting. However another meaning of this phrase for Kyoto people, is “Don’t take a day off because you are energetic.” When they use “You look energetic every day”, they tell someone not to take a day off.

5. 良い時計してますなぁ (ii tokei shitemasuna)

良い means “good.” 時計 means “watch”, so this phrase literally means “You are wearing a good watch.” However, it is not the true meaning. This phrase seems to give a compliment to someone for his or her watch, but there is a true meaning behind it. The hidden meaning is “You prattle on.” or “Your talk is so long.” This phrase is used in the situation when people are having a conversation and someone’s talk is so long. People use this phrase to indicate to the speaker that he or she should check his or her own watch while he or she is speaking to realize how much time has passed. The reason why they do not say this straight out is to avoid creating an awkward atmosphere. Like this, so people in Kyoto tend to talk in the public face, and hide the true meaning. Thus, people point out little things in a casual manner by beating around the bush. 

6. たいそう元気でいらっしゃいますなあ (Taisou gennkide irassyaimasuna)

The literal meaning of this phrase is “You are very well”. たいそう mean “very”, and 元気mean “well” or “energetic”. Kyoto people use this phrase when they think someone is noisy. This true meaning for them is “You are so noisy”. They cannot say this directly  to someone, so they use these words to insinuate their meaning.

7. 掃除してる側から汚れるわ (Souzi siteru sobakara yogoreruwa)

The literal meaning of this phrase is “Getting dirty right after cleaning ”. 掃除mean “cleaning”, 側からmean ”right after” or “just after” and 汚れる mean “getting dirty”. When Kyoto people use this phrase, they mean, “Don’t walk along here”. They want to tell a person who is walking along the street that they get dirty because of you.

8. おたくのお嬢さんのピアノお上手になりましたね(otaku no ojyousan no piano ojouzu deduce)

おたくのお嬢さん means “your daughter.” 上手になる means “become better at”, so this phrase literally means “your daughter become better at playing a piano.” The hidden meaning is “I hear your daughter playing the piano every day, it is a bit annoying, so could you be a bit quieter please?” They do not make snide remarks intentionally, but people want to point out something without making someone feel bad.

9. 遠い所から来てはるなあ (Toi tokorokara kiteharuna)

The literal meaning of this phrase is “You came here from a distance” in English. 遠い所means “distant place”. However, when Kyoto people use this phrase, there is another meaning. Another meaning is “You came from a rustic place”. Kyoto people say this expression to people from the countryside to put them in their place, because Kyoto people have pride to live in the ancient capital city.

Like this, not only the food and historical buildings but also the word culture of “Kyo-Kotoba” (phrases which are unique to Kyoto), have been used by people in Kyoto for long time, which is one of the appeals of Kyoto.

At first glance, when people know the real meaning, they sound like sarcastic remarks. Even among Japanese people, some of them think people in Kyoto are cold-hearted. In fact, however, -“Kyo-Kotoba”- was created because of the characters of people in Kyoto who have the feeling that they don’t want to create unpleasantness with other people.

In this article, only we introduced only nine of “Kyo-Kotoba”, but there are many other phrases. If you are interested, why don’t you check them out!