Kansai vs. Kanto: the Rivalry between the Regions
We’ve all made shortcuts in our lives, whether it’s buying frozen dinner instead of making our own food, or taking a quick glance through a Wikipedia summary instead of actually studying a topic. Stereotyping is just another example of these shortcuts that we make, except this time it’s cognitive. With stereotypes, we over-generalize about a specific group of people and try to make sense of their social contexts through simplicity. Nevertheless, some stereotypes do have some truth to them! And if we keep in mind that stereotypes are merely stereotypes, it allows us to have some unique, and sometimes comedic, discussions about the opposite ends of the world.
Here we aren’t here to talk about the opposite ends of the world, instead we’re here to talk about the opposite ends of Japan: the eastern Kanto region (Tokyo area) and the western Kansai region (Osaka/Kyoto area). Through our experiences interacting with artisans in both regions of Japan, we’ve noticed a few regional stereotypes that may or may not hold certain truths…
Humor: Why So Serious Kanto?
Simply put, Kansai people feel that Kanto people just can’t take a joke. In Kansai, people laugh at jokes, and, good-naturedly, laugh at each other. One teases another, knowing that he or she will be teased back just as equally. This sort of treatment is normal in Kansai, but it might as well break into a fight in Kanto. For Kanto people, the playful Kansai humor is just too over the top. For Kanto people, Kansai humor can be considered disrespectful. Kanto residents keep in mind that their comments, whether playful or not, might stab at an insecure spot and cause distress.
2. Dialect: Fast-and-Furious Kansai
The Kansai dialect is a thick one. It’s not uncommon for a Kanto person to stare blankly at a Kansai person speaking in Kansai dialect, because some Kansai words just don’t exist in the standardized Japanese language. However, this is taken to another level when watching two Kansai people argue. The Kansai dialect is fast-paced and high-pitched by nature, which sounds fun and upbeat for a normal conversation, but during a fight it’s fast and furious. In addition, Kansai residents don’t hold back; they say what they feel until they’re satisfied. Meanwhile, Kanto people don’t seem to fight as often on the surface, but some may say that they tend to hold more grudges, which can then be expressed passive-aggressively.
3. Preferences: Escalators and Food
Other major, but more light-hearted differences exist; for example, escalator etiquette: Kanto dwellers stand on the left, while Kansai stand on the right. This is because Kanto was once a region filled with samurai, who preferred to stand on the left-side to draw out their katana when they encountered their enemies. Meanwhile, Kansai was traditionally a region filled with merchants, who always kept in mind the protection of their money, which they commonly carried in their right hand.
Another example is the differences in soup stocks: for Kansai people, Kanto soup stock is way too robust, while for Kanto people, Kansai soup stock is way too light. Sometimes, even the way dishes are eaten differ: for example, takoyaki(octopus dumplings) are considered a full meal in Kansai, while it is considered a side dish in Kanto.
Just as the West Coast differs immensely from the East Coast in the U.S., or the northern half from the southern half in Italy, we feel the same tension here, too, between the Kansai and the Kanto regions in Japan. With this piece, our hope is not for you to pick a side, but instead to keep in mind such playful rivalry between the two regions and appreciate their respective qualities and quirks.