Using an Ice Cube to Understand Regional Differences in Japan

One thing I always notice traveling around Japan are the distinct regional flavors of different cities and areas in Japan. Despite its smaller geographical size compared to the U.S., regional differences seem to flourish in Japan.

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I mean… yes in the United States we have the Southern accent, and some words differ between regions (think: “sub” versus “hoagie” or “pop” versus “soda“) but it is nothing like the rich regional variation of Japan!!

In Japan, there are :

  • distinct regional dialects (not just an accent but with entirely different words and intonation)
  • unique cuisine specialties (like Kobe beef in Kobe)
  • differing clothing styles and mannerisms

And other random differences like which side of the escalator to stand on (Tokyo Kanto area- LEFT, Osaka Kansai area – RIGHT).

Ready to try? Quick!! Where was this photo taken?

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Answer: The Kansai area (Actually the Kansai International Airport in Osaka.) Because we were standing on the RIGHT side of the elevator.

Regional Differences in an Ice Block

Most of my time in Japan has been either in Tokyo (in the “Kanto” region) or in Kyoto (in the “Kansai” region). My Kansai friends tell me that Kansai people are known for their jolly and boisterous personalities, while Tokyo people are a bit more snobbish and like to think of themselves as refined. To put it simply –

Kanto is more reserved. Kansai is more aggressive.

This summer, I got to visit both areas and see these regional differences first hand. Take a look!

Here’s a block of ice to cool down with on the street in Kobe (part of the Kansai region).

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You can barely see the ice block. Everyone has their hands all over it and is jostling for position.

I encountered a similar ice block in Tokyo.

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Photo Credit: A. LeClair.

You might think, “Well there just was not anyone near the ice block.” This is Tokyo! There was a crush of people just outside the picture.

But NO ONE was touching the block. There was even a sign saying, “Please touch the block!!” My brother and I were the only ones who went up to touch it.

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