A newspaper feature using Pokemon to teach Japanese dialects gained traction on Twitter due to an unexpected double meaning. Twitter users were surprised to learn that “chinchin,” an everyday word in Aichi Prefecture dialect, means something different elsewhere.
What might be part of someone’s daily vocabulary in Aichi is in fact a “dirty” word somewhere else. The dialects of Japan are many and varied, and one 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 manners of speaking. Linguists currently acknowledge over a dozen distinct dialects, generally separated into Eastern and Western Japanese dialects.
Some dialects vary only slightly from “standard” Japanese, while others differ greatly. The dialects of Okinawa, Kagoshima, the Ryukyu Islands, Hachijo-jima, and Aogashima are sometimes considered separate branches of the Japanese language.
At the highest level, linguists divide dialects into Kanto-ben, or Eastern Japanese, and Kansai-ben, or Western Japanese. Kansai-ben is the most well-known Japanese dialect, and features many grammatical variations such as ending negative words in “n” or “nu” instead of “nai.” Osaka-ben ends negative words in “hen” and often concludes sentences with the particle “de” or “wa.” Characters speaking Kansai-ben frequently show up in Japanese film and television.
Kyoto-ben, which replaces the sentence-ending phrase “desu” with “dosu,” is often perceived as sounding refined and elegant. Hokkaido-ben features many loan words from the language of the native Ainu people. These include menkoi meaning “cute” and “oban” meaning “good evening.” (Another example is the northern berry haskap, from the Ainu hashikapu.)
You say “very hot”, I say…
The dialect of Aichi prefecture is generally referred to as “Nagoya-ben,” after Nagoya, the largest city in Aichi. It includes elements of both Eastern and Western Japanese due to Nagoya’s central position between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka.
The Aichi- or Nagoya-ben word that gained attention on Twitter recently is “chinchin.” “Chinchin” in Aichi means “very hot.” It refers to objects or temperatures that are too hot to be described using the standard “atsui.”
However, in the rest of Japan, “chinchin” is a slang term referring to the penis. It’s a “cutesy” nickname similar to the 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 due to sounding too similar to “Chinchin.” Many people outside of Aichi Prefecture are unfamiliar with the “very hot” meaning of the word, and know it exclusively as slang for genitalia.
The newspaper article shared on Twitter uses the Pokemon Dodekabashi, known as Toucannon in English, as an example of how “chinchin” is used in Aichi dialect. The original sentence means “Toucannon’s beak becomes very hot when it attacks an enemy.” However, the alternate meaning of the word means that one can also read the sentence as “Toucannon’s beak becomes a penis when it attacks an enemy.” This produces an amusing mental image of the Normal/Flying-type Pokemon’s beak becoming unfortunately replaced with a set of genitalia.
Other fun aspects of Aichi-speak
Using “chinchin” to mean “very hot” is not 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 their emotions. If you are using Aichi-ben to repeat secondhand gossip you heard from another person or read in the newspaper, you might 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 “waya.”
If you’re traveling in Japan, odds are each area you visit will have 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 in Aichi in the summer, don’t forget to pack appropriate clothing for the “chinchin” weather!
What to read next
 Okumura, Nao. “Japanese Dialect Ideology from Meiji to the Present.” Portland State University. 26 July 2016. Link.
 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.” 25 January 2021. Link.
 Nagoya International Center. “Nagoya-ben.” 1 December 2015. Link.