Many countries breed internal rivalries well short of civil war. In Japan, says Sapio (Sept-Oct) it’s east vs west, Kanto vs Kansai. The word the magazine uses in its headline is kenokan, which the dictionary defines variously as “hatred,” “dislike,” “abhorrence,” “disgust.” Take your pick.
Kanto, to Kansai, is an upstart. Kansai, to Kanto, is hidebound. It’s an ancient quarrel, as befits an ancient nation. “Ancient,” of course, is relative. In Kansai terms, we’re talking 1,000 years and more. Tokyo, by contrast, was still a fishing village called Edo when Nara and Kyoto had risen, declined and slowly sank into the faded grandeur, vestiges of which remain to this day. Edo’s rise to metropolitan status was lightning-swift, following a shogunal decision in 1603 to make it the nation’s capital. It became Tokyo (“eastern capital”) in 1868. Kansai’s slide to backwater status gathered speed.
If Kansai people are resentful, who can blame them? Nara, founded in 710, was Japan’s first city and first capital, an impressive imitation of the Chinese capital Chang’an, then the largest city in the world. Sino-Japanese culture was born here. Its heyday was brilliant but short-lived. In 794, the capital was shifted to Kyoto, then called Heian-kyo, and a whole new phase of Japanese culture began – the Heian Period (794-1185). Osaka, meanwhile, was the economic hub. Where and what was Tokyo all that time, or even Edo? Nowhere, nothing. The Kanto plain in those years was where Nara- and Heian-Period warriors (such as they were, in these pre-samurai days) pushed barbarian tribes when they became obstreperous.
Lost glory is a painful inheritance. By the mid-17th century, the writing was on the wall. Kansai could cling to its glorious past all it liked. The future was Edo’s.
Kansai never got over its rude displacement, writes International Research Center for Japanese Studies Professor Shoichi Inoue in Sapio. It’s “a feeling of being left behind, a feeling of helpless anger.” Bad enough that the Tokyo dialect became “standard Japanese,” or that Tokyo culture (such as it is) is pervasive and inescapable. More galling still is Tokyo’s economic dominance. Tokyo’s economy to Osaka’s, says Inoue, is 10 to 1. Even companies traditionally based in Osaka moved their head offices to Tokyo, relegating proud Osaka to branch office status.
There’s an irony at work here. As symbolic as anything of Japan’s postwar rise from the ashes is the shinkansen, whose first run was in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics. The shinkansen, Inoue writes, brought hordes of Tokyo tourists to Kansai. Kyoto and Nara had of course been tourist centers even during the Edo Period (1603-1868), but the numbers now were beyond anything. In the shinkansen age, Tokyo people en masse discovered the ancient charm of ancient Kansai – and, as is the way with Tokyo people, made them their own. Their praise was fulsome. The hordes swelled – swelling Kansai pride in proportion, says Inoue.
Kyoto people are good hosts, as befits their elegant inheritance. And if the elegance conceals a hint of condescension – again, who can blame them?© Japan Today