When the Akita prefectural government was choosing people to be their cultural ambassadors, it might have been a surprise to foreign people that one of the people they chose was the beauty queen Nozomi Sasaki (佐々木希). After years working at the highest levels of modelling, Nozomi Sasaki had become as well-known for her feisty and unpredictable behavior as she was for her looks. Why would a traditional prefecture like Akita take a chance on her?
To most Japanese people this decision was easily understood. After all, Nozomi Sasaki is the living incarnation of the 秋田美人 (Fair beauty from Akita) ideal. In traditional Japan, powerful people wanted to avoid women that looked like they worked in the fields, so they had a preference for fair women. As Akita is a cold place, their uniquely pale skin was seen as highly desirable in a bride and the idea of the 秋田美人 was born.
Nozomi Sasaki further lives up to this image by refusing to use anything but her local Akita accent when being interviewed. The government were clearly impressed and both her and the glamorous Natsuki Katō (加藤夏希) were officially given the title of あきた美の国大使 (Cultural Ambassadors for Akita’s Beauty).
Of course Japan is a beautiful and cold country, so while the 秋田美人 is the most famous, the list of places that are renowned for beauty includes most snowy, cold areas such as;
• 津軽 – (Tsugaru)
• 庄内 – (Shonai)
• 越後 – (Echigo)
• 京 – (Kyo, the short form of Kyōto)
• 博多 – (Hakata in Fukuoka)
The male equivalent of this is 九州男児. A word for the manly young men of Kyushuu prefecture. The word is often linked to fearless, burly men with a fondness for boozing and living a carefree life.
On the other hand, you will unfortunately hear 茨城ブス (An Ibaraki Ugly) too. Unfortunately, Ibaraki is recognized as one of an axis of ugly called the 三大ブス (さんだいブス) that includes 仙台 and 名古屋. Luckily for the people of these areas, this image is slowly starting to die out, largely helped by the likes of models such as Ibaraki-born Jun Kitagawa (北川ジュン).
Similarly, because of its closeness to Tokyo, Saitama is often mocked as the capital’s uneducated sibling. In Kanto the phrase ‘ダサイタマ’ is often used to describe the area; a compound word made up of ださい (something is lame) and Saitama! The awkward hand sign that represents the area known as the 埼玉ポーズ in particular is often used on TV as a source of ridicule.
Naturally wherever a stereotype exists, real life soon finds an exception. Much as 北川ジュン is the opposite of an Ibaraki Ugly, Saitama has the incredibly popular AKB48 A-team member Haruna Kojima (小嶋阳菜) to thank for their recently improved image. Her unashamed love of her hometown and, yes, doing the 埼玉ポーズ has resulted in her legions of fans reconsidering their image of the prefecture.
Being called words like ださい would probably not trouble the people of Okinawa. In the hot southern islands, they have a very different idea of cool. If you are laid-back and able to just life take care of itself, you will be appreciated there. In fact they even have a word mostly for people who live on the main island and don’t understand Okinawan cool: ナイチャー.
ナイチャー is the opposite of the laidback, cool Okinawans. In this case it is a negative way to say that a person is uptight or mistakenly thinks they are better than those around them. As a reference, think the way that hippies looked down on ‘squares’ in the 1960s.
One of the fascinating things about the regional words is that they are in a constant state of change. Both 北川ジュン and 小嶋阳菜 have shown that their hometowns can produce great beauty and effortless cool respectively despite their bad reputations. Maybe in the next 10 or 20 years, Ibaraki will be known for its stunning beauty and Saitama will be the king of cool? Until then, it is best to simply take these as general stereotypes that likely say little about the real people in those areas.