The United Prefectures of Japan
By Kay Sakamoto
Even though Japan is often percieved as an ethnically homogenous country, where everyone acts and thinks the same, to the Japanese there is a big difference in our behaviors and characteristics among the 47 prefectures and 8 regions that make up this country.
A weekly TV program featuring such differences has been running since 2007. Considering the size of the country, it is surprising that there can be so many differences to introduce and that the show is popular enough to continue for this long.
One of the most highlighted areas are the people of Kansai region, consisting of six prefectures, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara, Wakayama, and Shiga, and Nagoya city, the prefectural capital of Aichi prefecture.
For Kansai, it is said that they are so impatient that they will start crossing once the opposite light turns yellow instead of waiting for their light to turn green. They brag how cheap they got something for and Oba-chans are proud to wear shirts with leopard faces (not prints!).
For Nagoya, the castle topped with two “Shachihoko (golden dolphins)” and expensive weddings are said to be indications of how much people of Nagoya care about what others think. People of Kansai and Nagoya are referred to as “Kansaijin” and “Nagoyajin” with the word “jin/ hito” as if the region and the city is a name of a country. Maybe the behaviors and characters are too strong and needed differentiation from the other “Nihonjin,” that I am not sure.
However, after moving to Tokyo from Kansai, I did notice that what I thought was normal while living in Kansai is clearly not the standard. In Tokyo, people do keep their voices down on trains and I don’t hear people laughing and talking with friends. I have to make extra effort to make people laugh because conversations would often end without laughter, unlike in Kansai where it’s normal to have enough talkative and funny people among a group, if not everyone!
Although I’ve only stayed there for about a month for business, watching women in the streets and visiting department stores, I had the impression that they preferred the brand name clothes or bags to be very obvious with noticeable logos. On the contrary, they seemed to be very cautious when interacting with others. Taxi drivers avoided answering expected time of arrival as if they were careful about arriving earlier or later.
When I traveled to Hiroshima, the impression I had with everyone I encountered was that they were all honest people even through my brief conversations. They seem to have a way of making people feel comfortable without being openly welcoming or overfriendly. While in Okinawa, I was worried that a lot of things took too much time and the people I encountered tend to take things easy (and for the same reason, vacationing there is just relaxing).
The way that the people of Tohoku dealt with the recent earthquake disaster, proved what has been said about their character of being tolerant and patient, not only to the rest of the country but to the whole world.
I won’t say all stereotypes of prefectures are true and apply to everyone but from personal experience, I believe that certain behaviors and characters roots are linked to the slight geographic differences within this small country.
I hear a lot of foreigners saying that they are able to tell Japanese from other Asians after living in Japan for a while. How about challenging the next level, if you are able to tell which prefecture or region your Japanese friend or colleague is from?
Hints are everywhere, the way they dress, the way they talk, and the way they interact. If you are not sure, I recommend you to ask. It’s a very common question Japanese ask one another especially when they first get acquainted. In fact, you may learn more about each prefecture and region through knowing your new friend!