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A regional accent or dialect
In the past, many people looked down on provincial accents and slang as the preserve of unsophisticated country folk. In fact, newcomers to the Tokyo area used to try to eliminate any trace of namari from their speech lest they appear uncool or uncouth to cosmopolitan Tokyoites. Recently, though, intentional use of provincialisms has become fashionable among teenage girls in Tokyo, who have praised this style of speech as kawaii (cute) or kakkoii (cool).

Teenage girls have begun using the exclamation "Dera kawaii!" (that's so cute!) during normal conversations, substituting the usual totemo (very) with the provincial dera. Magazine publisher Shufu-to-Seikatsu Sha Ltd. polled 4,000 middle and high school girls and discovered that 60% of them use words from provincial dialects in their conversations and e-mails. The company wasted no time in publishing Chikappa Menkoi Hogen Renshucho (The Super-cute Dialect Workbook), a collection of 2,000 words culled from Japan's diverse regional dialects.

Namari has found its way into other media, too. A CD that features a special version of the classic song "My Grandfather's Clock" sung in the dialect of Akita Prefecture, for example, has sold some 200,000 copies. And a late-night variety television show that incorporates regional accents and dialects into its sketches and gags became so popular that it was moved to a primetime slot in September.

Why have dialects become popular? According to Nikkei Trendy magazine, when an "idol" (beautiful young female celebrity) speaks in a provincial dialect, people are captivated by the gap between her polished media image and the rawness of her real accent. Some people also say that hearing regional accents has a relaxing effect. Columnist Nakamori Akio, meanwhile, suggests that when women talk in the dialect of their home region, it seems that they are speaking from the heart. (December 7, 2005)