The Kansai region (関西地方 Kansai-chihō) or the Kinki region (近畿地方 Kinki-chihō) lies in the southern-central region of Japan's main island Honshū. The region includes the prefectures of Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyōgo and Shiga, sometimes Fukui, Tokushima and Tottori. While the use of the terms "Kansai" and "Kinki" have changed over history, in most modern contexts the use of the two terms is interchangeable. The urban region of Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto (Keihanshin region) is the second-most populated in Japan after the Greater Tokyo Area.
The Kansai region is a cultural center and the historical heart of Japan, with 11% of the nation's land area and 22,757,897 residents as of 2010. The Osaka Plain with the cities of Osaka and Kyoto forms the core of the region, from there the Kansai area stretches west along the Seto Inland Sea towards Kobe and Himeji and east encompassing Lake Biwa, Japan's largest freshwater lake. In the north, the region is bordered by the Sea of Japan, to the south by the Kii Peninsula and the Pacific Ocean, and to the east by the Ibuki Mountains and Ise Bay. Four of Japan's national parks lie within its borders, in whole or in part. The area also contains six of the seven top prefectures in terms of national treasures. Other geographical features include Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture and Awaji Island in Hyōgo.
The Kansai region is often compared with the Kantō region, which lies to its east and consists primarily of Tokyo and the surrounding area. Whereas the Kanto region is symbolic of standardization throughout Japan, the Kansai region displays many more idiosyncrasies – the culture in Kyoto, the mercantilism of Osaka, the history of Nara, or the cosmopolitanism of Kobe – and represents the focus of counterculture in Japan. This East-West rivalry has deep historical roots, particularly from the Edo period. With a samurai population of less than 1% the culture of the merchant city of Osaka stood in sharp contrast to that of Edo, the seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate.
Many characteristic traits of Kansai people descend from Osaka merchant culture. Catherine Maxwell, an editor for the newsletter Omusubi, writes: "Kansai residents are seen as being pragmatic, entrepreneurial, down-to-earth and possessing a strong sense of humor. Kanto people, on the other hand, are perceived as more sophisticated, reserved and formal, in keeping with Tokyo’s history and modern status as the nation’s capital and largest metropolis."
Kansai is known for its food, especially Osaka, as supported by the saying "Kyotoites are ruined by overspending on clothing, Osakans are ruined by overspending on food" (京の着倒れ、大阪の食い倒れ Kyō no Kidaore, Ōsaka no Kuidaore). Popular Osakan dishes include takoyaki, okonomiyaki, kitsune udon and kushikatsu. Kyoto is considered a mecca of traditional Japanese cuisine like kaiseki. Kansai has many wagyu brands such as Kobe beef and Tajima cattle from Hyōgo, Matsusaka beef from Mie and Omi beef from Shiga. Sake is another specialty of the region, the areas of Nada-Gogō and Fushimi produce 45% of all sake in Japan. As opposed to food from Eastern Japan, food in the Kansai area tends to be sweeter, and foods such as nattō tend to be less popular.
The dialects of the people from the Kansai region, commonly called Kansai-ben, have their own variations of pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Kansai-ben is the group of dialects spoken in the Kansai area, but is often treated as a dialect in its own right.
Kansai is one of the most prosperous areas for baseball in Japan. Two Nippon Professional Baseball teams, Hanshin Tigers and Orix Buffaloes, are based in Kansai. Koshien Stadium, the home stadium of the Hanshin Tigers, is also famous for the nationwide high school baseball tournaments. In association football, the Kansai Soccer League was founded in 1966 and currently has 16 teams in two divisions. Cerezo Osaka, Gamba Osaka, and Vissel Kobe belong to J. League Division 1 and Kyoto Sanga F.C. belongs to J. League Division 2, the top professional leagues in Japan.
The terms Kansai (関西), Kinki (近畿), and Kinai (畿内) have a very deep history, dating back almost as far as the nation of Japan itself. As a part of the Ritsuryō reforms of the seventh and eighth centuries, the Gokishichidō system established the provinces of Yamato, Yamashiro, Kawachi, Settsu and Izumi. Kinai and Kinki, both roughly meaning "the neighbourhood of the capital", referred to these provinces. In common usage, Kinai now refers to the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto (Keihanshin) area, the center of the Kansai region.
Kansai (literally west of the tollgate) in its original usage refers to the land west of the Osaka Tollgate (逢坂関), the border between Yamashiro Province and Ōmi Province (present-day Kyoto and Shiga prefectures). During the Kamakura period, this border was redefined to include Ōmi and Iga Provinces. It is not until the Edo period that Kansai came to acquire its current form. (see Kamigata) Like all regions of Japan, the Kansai region is not an administrative unit, but rather a cultural and historical one, which emerged much later during the Heian Period after the expansion of Japan saw the development of the Kanto Region to the east and the need to differentiate what was previously the center of Japan in Kansai emerged.
The Kansai region lays claim to the earliest beginnings of Japanese civilization. It was Nara, the most eastern point on the Silk Road, that became the site of Japan's first permanent capital. This period (AD 710–784) saw the spread of Buddhism to Japan and the construction of Tōdai-ji in 745. The Kansai region also boasts the Shinto religion's holiest shrine at Ise Shrine (built in 690 AD) in Mie prefecture.
The Heian period saw the capital moved to Heian-kyō (平安京, present-day Kyoto), where it would remain for over a thousand years until the Meiji Restoration. During this golden age, the Kansai region would give birth to traditional Japanese culture. In 788, Saicho, the founder of the Tendai sect of Buddhism established his monastery at Mount Hiei in Shiga prefecture. Japan's most famous tale, and some say the world's first novel, The Tale of Genji was penned by Murasaki Shikibu while performing as a lady-in-waiting in Heian-kyo. Noh and Kabuki, Japan's traditional dramatic forms both saw their birth and evolution in Kyoto, while Bunraku, Japanese puppet theater, is native to Osaka.
Kansai's unique position in Japanese history, plus the lack of damage from wars or natural disasters has resulted in Kansai region having more UNESCO World Heritage Listings than any other region of Japan. The five World Heritage Listings include: Buddhist Monuments in the Hōryū-ji Area, Himeji Castle, Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities), Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, and Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.
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As of 2002 there were 12 international schools for foreign expatriates in the Kansai region. Alex Stewart of The Journal of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan wrote that this made the Kansai region one of two places in Japan, the other being the Tokyo area, with significant education options available for foreign expatriates with dependent children. Historically expatriates preferred to live in Kobe, with a concentration of them being in and around Rokko Island as of 2002; the Osaka area did not get an international school for foreign expatriates until 1991.
The Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake of 1995 caused a decline in demand for international schools, as there were about 2,500 U.S. nationals each resident in Osaka and Kobe after the earthquake while the pre-earthquake number each was about 5,000. American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) Kansai chapter president Norman Solberg stated that since 2002 the numbers of expatriates in Kansai were recovering "but the fact is there is still a persistent exodus to Tokyo."
As of 2002 the largest international school for expatriates in the Kansai region was Canadian Academy in Kobe. There are two European international schools in Kansai: Deutsche Schule Kobe/European School in Kobe and Lycée Français de Kyoto (formerly École française du Kansai) in Kyoto.
Hōryū-ji Golden Hall, the oldest wooden structure in the world.
Tōdai-ji Main Hall, the largest wooden structure in the world.
Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan and 3rd oldest lake in the world.
Kongō Gumi, used to be the world's oldest continuously operating company, constructed several Japan's cultural assets.
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