Despite being the closest thing the world has to a perfect nation-state, Japan is not without its regional differences. Ironically, these differences are one of the biggest similarities I have found between Japan and America. Though we are, indeed, the United States, we often see large idealistic gaps between geographical regions, mainly between the north and south, and Japan surprisingly has similar tendencies even if they are expressed in different ways. In going from the greater Tokyo area to Japan’s other megaregion, Keihanshin (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe), there were a number of differences that were very easy to spot and others that took more of a trained eye and some background knowledge on Japan to discover.
One of the biggest and most obvious differences given our initial focus on transportation was the stark increase of personal vehicle use in Keihanshin. Though a majority of the population, including ourselves, still commute, and there is still an extreme lack of Atlanta-like traffic, there is still a very noticeable increase in personal vehicle usage in the area. This is, of course, in large part due to Keihanshin’s smaller population and larger land area, which creates a slightly less imperative need for public transportation, but it is still on a far greater level than any transportation in America. It is also harder for Keihanshin to build railways and subway lines, as the area is situated within mountain ranges (which we have experienced firsthand on our daily class commute), as opposed to Tokyo which is situated on relatively flat land surrounded by mountainous areas.
Despite its slightly more rigorous physical layout, however, Keihanshin has managed to develop into a travelable and workable megaregion. Whatever gap exists in technology between itself and Tokyo, it makes up for with rich cultural experiences and history. As the first long-standing capital of the country, Kyoto specifically has literally countless shrines and historical hubs which, although present in Tokyo as well, are far more frequent and sometimes significant than their other megaregion counterpart. Most of Japan’s unique cultural icons are the most present in Kyoto, for example, Torii gates, geisha, and ancient battlegrounds are the most abundant in this area.
Despite its homogeneity as a country, the regional differences in Japan are actually very pronounced. The citizens further this by showing regional pride, something which I found many similarities to from an American perspective. While some of the regional differences in Japan were created inadvertently and shouldn’t necessarily be seen as cultural statements, some of the differences were self-created and mirror the petty rival culture we have between the north and south of America. For example, in many parts of Keihanshin, I noticed that people walked on the right side of escalators, stairs, etc. I discovered that the cause of this was a refusal or unwillingness to follow Tokyo’s standard (which was followed by virtually every other region in Japan), which reminded me of silly rivalry things we do between the north and south in America. Although historically in our own country the implications of one region going off on its own tends to be very negative, however, in Japan it is less malicious and more just a petty act. This difference, I would argue, comes mainly from cultural backgrounds and the fact that Americans speaks their minds against other countries and amongst ourselves, but Japan is more prone to small actions that have strong implications in a very high context. That said, I still find it funny that, upon further research, I discovered that Keihanshin, specifically Osaka, likes to be very explicit regarding their differences from Tokyo and take pride in being the odd one out in the typically silent Japanese culture. Perhaps the homogeneity heightens differences between regions or perhaps they are just very proud of their unique regional cultures, but either way, the dynamic is one that surprised me in regards to its similarity to America’s.