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KS Cover no. 77 2006 Ocober

OCT 2006 :: 077

The great Kansai-Kanto debate

Be it New York and Boston in the US, Melbourne and Sydney in Australia or Manchester and Liverpool in the UK, rivalries are part of life. Many center on sports,others on regional status.Some,like the Lancashire-Yorkshire rivalry in northern Britain, on wars long since fought and forgotten. In Japan, the most famous of regional rivalries involves Kansai, the area in which so much of Japan's culture evolved, and Kanto, the area today centered on Tokyo, the capital. Both are intriguing in their own right so, explaining why they think one of these areas outshines the other we will have, in Kansai, KS contributor Kerrie Laturiuw and,sumo,in Kanto, sumo and Japanese culture writer Mark Buckton.

The case for the Kansai

While loving my life in the Kansai, I've visited the Kanto often, but none of my visits have been quite what I call enjoyable.

So my not-so-pleasant experiences of "east of the checkpoints" make me an enthusiastic, albeit subjective candidate for the pro-Kansai argument.

I live in a part of Shinkobe which is around 15 minutes from all of the CBD, the shinkansen station, the airport, and the Nunobiki mountain waterfalls, where I can feast on fresh forest air and forget the city is anywhere near me. Kansai abounds with places where you can enjoy nature while maintaining the convenience of a city lifestyle.

When people ask me if I like living in Japan, my answer is often "I like living in Kobe".

I knew as soon as I arrived in Japan that Tokyo wasn't for me. Too much concrete, and the whole environment seemed so built-up and man-made that I even harbored doubts that the vegetables in the supermarket had ever actually seen the sun, or that the milk was real.

It seems more than common for Kanto-jin to endure at least a one-hour-each-way commute to Tokyo on trains that are packed to capacity for the whole journey. Reportedly the demand for real estate in the suburbs near train termini is consistently high simply due to the competition for seats on the trains every day.

Back in Kansai, since the cities are smaller, commuting times are shorter, and as long as you don't need to take the notoriously fast JR Rapid express (shinkaisoku) trains, you have a choice of lines on most commuter routes, on which you're likely to find a seat.

Commuting by car also becomes a more feasible option when you live in the Kansai.

A 5-year-old Kansai girl once asked me why every single person in our Tokyo train carriage was wearing black shoes and either jeans or back trousers … was there some kind of uniform in Tokyo for the grown-ups?

She knew just as well as I that things would be more colorful if we were back home. Kansai folk, especially those from Osaka and Kobe tend to share her impression that Kanto-jin often appear dull indeed, except for the young alternative crowd in places like Harajuku.

It's unanimous that people tend to be more direct, warm, and funny in Kansai, the home of manzai, than in the East, but there are also a few popular opinions regarding Kansai women in particular that have featured in the media:

That Kansai women are fierce bargain hunters at the supermarket. That its not uncommon for Kansai housewives to be living it up out with their friends on weekdays while giving their husbands measly lunch allowances. That for a lot of young Kansai women, having a fun atmosphere and a good sense of humor are more important qualities in a boyfriend than being physically attractive, and that the reverse tends to apply to most Kanto women. (This makes Kansai a land of opportunity for the some-what aesthetically challenged although funny guys out there, and will hopefully save the Kansai from invasion by an emerging generation of cosmetically-enhanced salon-commuting weight-watching brand-toting young men!)

The case for Kanto

Status and name value is a massive part of Japanese culture and nowhere more so than the classic - ‘where do you live' line we all encounter at some point or other.

Along these lines, forresidentsofKansai,theareaseveralor residents of Kansai, the area several hundred kilometers to the east known as Kanto is often viewed as the anti-Christ and regional rivalry is a living breathing beast.

For those in Kanto however, anything south of Kanagawa or north of Tochigi is largely irrelevant, viewed simply as land for growing the food we consume here up the posh end of the Tokaido. In short, the rule of thumb is largely out of sight, out of mind.

For this reason, any comparison of the Kansai and Kanto regions will only be of interest to those using ‘mecha' – those with an aversion to ending each sentence with ‘jan' but, to get the ball rolling, lets look first at that bastion of rivalries everywhere – sport:

Sports teams around the Kanto make up the backbone of the nation's professional leagues. Volleyball, basketball, martial arts and even cricket – I jest you not – are based in Kanto. All of the stables representing Japan's national sport of sumo are based in Kanto. Japan, not to put too fine a point on it, has no similarly influential sporting region. Period.

Entertainment is no different. Theme parks abound with Chiba; a short ride east of Tokyo hosting Disney's twin Japanese offerings. Kanagawa is the home of zoos, safari parks, animation themed parks for kids of all ages and the usual mix of fast rides and gravity defying stomach turners. Golf courses are dotted throughout the region, particularly in Ibaraki, Chiba and Tochigi as are onsen – especially to the north of Tokyo.

All the major forms of theater unique to Japan are based in Tokyo - Kabuki, Noh and contemporary theater. Cinemas, in the capital alone are counted by the dozen if not by the score; premieres are almost daily news often slipping by unnoticed.

Historically of course, the story of Kanto over the past 1,000 years is the history of Japan.

Nikko in Tochigi and Kamakura on the Pacific coast south of Tokyo are bursting at the seams with temples and shrines and, even though history, culture, sports and more modern forms of entertainment should speak for themselves in putting to bed the so called ‘rivalry', I will end by quoting a Japanese friend, well traveled domestically and internationally, almost fluent in English who, when asked how he'd feel if transferred on promotion by his (extremely prominent) company to the Kansai region responded with: "I'd quit."

Kansai text: Kerrie Laturiuw • Kanto text: Mark Buckton

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