Kansai

Kansai (関西) is the western region of the main Japanese island of Honshu, second only to Kanto region of Eastern Japan in population. The area is also known as Kinki (近畿) District, literally "near the capital" (referring to ancient capital Nara and Kyoto), and its three big cities Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe as Keihanshin (京阪神).

Differences between Kansai and Kanto (the eastern region dominated by Tokyo) are slight but numerous. Kansai people speak a distinctive dialect of Japanese, use lighter-colored soy in their cooking, ride on the other side of escalators and are renowned for humor and their love of food.

Prefectures

Kansai Region
Hyogo
the largest prefecture in Kansai, stretching from coast to coast and covering Kobe and Himeji
Kyoto
synonymous with the city
Mie
eastern prefecture with one leg in Chubu (actually on the other side of Nagoya bay), best known for the Ise shrine and the famous Mikimoto "Pearl Island"
Nara
Japan's oldest capital Nara and its surroundings
Osaka
mostly Osaka itself, but covering Sakai city and numerous nearby suburbs as well
Shiga
mountainous prefecture dominated by beautiful Lake Biwa
Wakayama
mountainous terrain and the southern coast

Cities

Todai-ji Temple, Nara

Other destinations

Talk

The Kansai dialect (関西弁 Kansai-ben) is Japan's largest dialect group after Tokyo's dialect group collectively. There are many subdialects, ranging from the elegant and effete Kyo-kotoba (京言葉) of Kyoto's courtiers to the gruff but imaginative gangster slang of Osaka, much favored by Japanese comedians. Some notable features include the copula ya instead of da, the negative ending -hen instead of -nai, the use of akan instead of dame for "No way!", and the use of ōki-ni (おおきに) instead of arigatō gozaimasu for "Thank you".

That said, most Kansaites are perfectly conversant in standard Japanese, so knowledge of the local dialect is by no means necessary, but even a few words will be appreciated. The typical Osakan greeting is Mōkarimakka? ("Making money?"), to which the typical reply is Bochi-bochi denna ("Well, so-so"); trying this out on a friend or acquaintance is guaranteed to produce a surprised smile, and make you look like a kettai (strange), aho (idiot) and omoroi (funny) guy.

English is taught at all schools in Japan, and while it is less commonly spoken than in Tokyo you will find that younger people will often know enough English to communicate, especially those residing in the cities. Still, learning even a few important phrases in Japanese will be appreciated and not as difficult as many Westerners think.

Get in

By plane

There are three major airports in the Kansai Metropolitan Area. International flights land at Kansai International Airport. The primary domestic airport is Osaka's Itami Airport (officially called Osaka International Airport even though there are no longer any international flights). A new regional airport opened in Kobe in 2006, right across the bay from Kansai International in fact, Kansai was originally supposed to be built there!

By train

The Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train) line from Tokyo serves Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. The San'yo Shinkansen connects to Okayama, Hiroshima and Hakata.

Get around

The three major cities of Kansai - Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe - are connected by a myriad of train routes. When traveling between two of these cities, it helps to determine what method of transportation fits your travel needs, and fits your budget... unless you have a Japan Rail Pass, of course.

Besides the Shinkansen, Japan Railways operates the main trunk line - the Tokaido Line - between Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. The Kyoto-Osaka segment is known as the JR Kyoto Line, while the segment from Osaka to Kobe is the JR Kobe Line. The Special Rapid, or Shin-Kaisoku (新快速), generally leaves every 15 minutes with very fast transit times. If you do not have a Japan Rail Pass, however, JR can be more expensive compared to private railways.

Kyoto to Osaka

If you do travel via the Keihan, an interesting thing to listen out for are the departure melodies - songs that are played before the train departs a station. Composed by Casiopea keyboardist and railroad enthusiast Minoru Mukaiya (向谷 実), each departure melody is part of an entire song - you will hear all parts of the song if you travel along the full route.

Another private railway that runs into Kyoto and Osaka is the Kintetsu Line (近鉄). One major drawback is that services run on separate lines requiring you to change trains at Yamato-Saidaiji, and the total travel time is slightly longer than other options as a result. On the other hand, if you have a little extra money, Kintetsu is one of the few operators that run reserved seating services - a reserved seat trip from Namba to Kyoto with a change of trains takes approximately 70 minutes and costs ¥870 on top of the regular fare. Tickets for these services can easily be purchased at ticket machines, which offer English translation. Kintetsu is also a great way to travel between Kyoto and Nara.

To go from Kyoto to southern Osaka (where Kintetsu trains terminate), you would be better off taking one of the other routes listed above; when you reach Osaka, change to the southbound Midosuji subway line and get off at Nanba.

Osaka to Kobe

Kyoto to Kobe

Nara to Kobe

Tickets and Passes

Most of Kansai's regional transportation companies have tied up to offer the ICOCA tickets, which can be used on pretty much any train, subway, monorail, cable car or bus in the region. The Nankai and JR trains from Kansai Airport are also included, and you can buy your card or pass at the airport's train station.

See

Temple roofs in Mount Koya

With its political and geographical significance in the history of Japan, the region of Kansai possesses three quarters of Japan's "National Treasure" buildings, half of its "National Treasure" artworks, as well as five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making it an unmatched destination for heritage tourists to Japan.

World Heritage Sites

Castles

Hikone Castle

Original Castles

Kansai is home to two of the nation's remaining original castles. Both are designated National Treasures.

Reconstructed Castles

Castle Ruins

Eat

Kansai cooking is subtly different from the Kanto style, although the average short-term visitor is unlikely to spot many differences. Perhaps the most visible differences are a tendency to use light-colored soy instead of dark, especially in soups, and a preference for thick white udon noodles over the thin buckwheat soba noodles of eastern Japan.

Some famous Kansai dishes include:

Drink

Kansai is sake country, with Nada (in Kobe) and Fushimi (in Kyoto) alone accounting for 45% of the country's production. Kobe in particular is a good place to tour sake breweries, many of which are open to visitors.

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