Kanto Vs. Kansai
Credit: CNN Travel https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/discover-japan-kansai-vs-kanto/index.html
The East Coast-West Coast rivalry is not limited to America. Japan has had a coastal rivalry going between the Western Kansai region and the Eastern Kanto region for hundreds of years.
Kansai is the seat of Japan’s historic capitals of Kyoto and Nara, as well as industrial cities Osaka and Kobe. Kansai’s historic pedigree exceeds Kanto’s. However, the Kanto region, including Tokyo, Yokohama and Saitama, is undoubtedly the powerhouse of modern Japan.
Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun who united Japan and ushered in 250 years of peace, established his government in Edo (now Tokyo). This elevated the city from a small fishing village to an economic and political hub. While the emperor remained in Kyoto until the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Eastern Kanto has been seat of political power in Japan for over 400 years. Though Tokyo has been the capital now for over 150 years, Kansai people still like to joke that it is only temporarily in the East.
Despite the rise in prominence of the East, the Kansai region maintained a proud regional identity that continues to this day. From dialect and sense of humor to escalator etiquette, the Kansai-Kanto contrast informs Japanese culture.
Credit: CNN Travel
Battle for Gastronomic Superiority
Both regions take great pride in their respective cuisines which are determined in part by differences in available ingredients. Kansai’s Kyoto is famous for its vegetable-oriented dishes, a product of the high concentration of Buddhist temples and growth of kyoyasai (京野菜 Kyoto vegetables). Takoyaki (たこ焼き fried balls of octupus batter) and okonomiyaki (お好み焼き savory pancake filled with vegetables and seafood) are staples of Kansai but regarded in Kanto as regional food and festival snacks. Kanto Japanese love their natto (納豆 fermented soybeans), but natives of the Kansai region are less likely to enjoy the healthy but pungent natto for breakfast. Generally speaking, while Kansai street food tends to be stronger in flavor than Kanto’s versions, traditional dishes involving broths tend to be a bit weaker in flavor. Kansai residents claim this is because of their superior water quality.
(Takoyaki which is famous in Kansai) Credit: Wikipedia Commons
(Natto) Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Kanto borders the Pacific Ocean while Kansai borders the Japan Sea, giving the regions access to different kinds of fish. As port cities, Tokyo and Yokohama enjoy immediate access to seafood, while more inland Kansai cities like Kyoto and Osaka relied on pickling methods and consumed more freshwater fish from nearby lakes and rivers.The list of cuisine contrasts between Kansai and Kanto is long and extends to Japan’s most famous culinary export: sushi.
The sushi produced outside of Japan is usually Kanto-style, nigirizushi (にぎり寿司 hand-pressed sushi) where a large bite-size filet of fish is pressed upon a rectangle of vinegared rice, but Kansai can lay claim to older variations of the seafood and rice combination. Kansai-style sushi focuses on the older oshizushi (押し寿司 pressed sushi). Oshizushi gets its name from pressing layers of sweetly vinegared rice with pickled fish often marinated in dashi; depending on the regional variation of oshizushi, non-seafood elements like eggs and vegetables may form additional layers.
(Oshizushi in Kansai) Credit: https://matcha-jp.com/en/3217
(Nigirizushi in Kanto) Credit: Cooking with Dog
Like all languages, there are many regional forms of Japanese dialects and accents. The advent of radio and television helped establish Kanto-ben (“the Eastern/Tokyo dialect) as the “hyoujungo” (“standard language”). Kansai folks dislike referring to the Tokyo dialect as the standard language and still prefer to call it Kanto-ben.
While the strength of some regional dialects is fading, Kansai people, particularly from the city of Osaka, use their Kansai-ben (Kansai dialect) with pride. The slang differs a fair bit from Tokyo’s, and Kansai-ben tends to sound more nasal and abrupt to the Tokyoites ear.Kansai-ben tends to drop syllables, shorten cumbersome grammatical structures and do without troublesome particles.
Some examples of phrasing differences:
ōkini / arigatō (thank you)
charinko / jitensha (bicycle)
ee / ii (good)
nanbo / ikura (how much)
Kanto people are considered reserved/standoffish by most other regions, while Kansai people pride themselves on having more exuberant personalities. Most think Kanto people tend to be more polite but Kansai people are friendlier. Kansai’s elderly women are famous for having outrageously colored hair and wearing loud animal prints, embracing the stereotype of having more obnoxious personalities.
The difference in stereotypical personality extends to each region’s respective forms of comedy. Kansai-style comedy is bawdier and more straightforward.
There are, of course, exceptions to every stereotype. Within the Kansai region, the sophistication of Kyoto clashes with industrial Osaka’s roughness. Though Japan may seem small on a map of the world, Japan is the same size as Germany. Japan’s self-imposed isolation further fomented regional identities and differences. Japan is much more diverse than visiting foreigners might first think.