‘KENMINSEI’ – PREFECTURAL PECULIARITIES
by Ed Jacob graphics by Wayne Wilson
Have you ever wondered why Japan has an emperor? If we’re going to be completely honest about it, four islands really isn’t much of an empire, is it? The reason for all this ‘empire’ talk of is that way back when, Japan was a collection of dozens of tiny kingdoms and even after the country was unified in somewhere around the third century BC, it took a really long time to get local authorities to start thinking of their territories as ‘prefectures’ instead of ‘countries’. The Japanese interest in ‘kenminsei’, which can be roughly translated as ‘the unique characteristics of people in various prefectures’ is a vestige of this way of thinking. Books like Kenminsei No Omoshiro Daigimon and Kenminsei No Ningengaku are hot sellers in Japan right now, and there are literally thousands of homepages on the internet devoted to the subject. Here are a few of some of the more well-known quirks of character and regional peculiarities:
Hokkaido – The women in Hokkaido are said to be the most liberated in Japan. They have the unusual habit of proposing marriage to their men and are also number one in Japan when it comes to initiating divorces. No one knows whether it’s the men or the women that are to blame, but Hokkaido also has the highest divorce rate in the country. The prefecture is also known for its love of new things. You see the words ‘shinhatsubai’ (new product) on a lot of packages in Japan, but nowhere so often as in Japan’s northernmost prefecture and Hokkaido is one of the most important test markets in the nation. Hokkaidoites are also known for their ‘Kansai allergy’ and are said to dislike people from Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto.
Akita – Say the word ‘Akita bijin’ (an Akita beauty) to a Japanese male and watch his eyes light up. The idea that women from Akita are beautiful dates back to at least the Heian period, and women from this prefecture are famous for their pale white skin. Akita’s women have an average skin whiteness index of 29.6%, making them far paler than the average Japanese women, whose whiteness index is only 26.6%. Whether they really are more attractive or not, people up in Akita take their personal care very seriously. At 2.09 per 1000 people, the number of beauty parlors and barber shops per capita is about twice the national average.
Yamagata – People here eat more ramen more than anywhere else in Japan, spending an average of 11,236 yen per household on the food every year. They also seem to like sleeping a lot too, because although nationwide, the number of hours of sleep a person gets per night is decreasing steadily (it’s down to seven?hours and forty-five minutes per night) the amount of sleep the average person in Yamagata gets is eight hours and eight minutes and rising. Another peculiarity of people from Yamagata is their dislike of seatbelts. According to a Japan Automobile survey, only 63.9% of drivers used them, the lowest figure in the country.
Miyagi – If you hate pachinko, this is the wrong place for you. Twenty-nine percent of people from this prefecture admit to having indulged in the world’s most annoying pastime during the last year.
Ibaraki – Unlike Akita, Ibaraki is famous for its unattractive women. Mito city, in particular, is said to have the worst looking girls in Japan, just edging out Sendai and Nagoya in the ugliness rankings.
Niigata – After Okinawa, Niigata is the least educated prefecture in Japan. A mere five percent of Niigatans go to college or university, and when you compare this number with the 63.2% of people from Nagano (whose citizens are the best educated in Japan), who have gone on to post-secondary education, it becomes obvious that this prefecture has some educational catching-up to do. A gamblers’ paradise, Niigata is famous for its love of horse racing and pachinko. Maybe gambling debts are the reason that they also have the highest suicide rate in the country.
Tochigi – People in Tochigi are crazier about karaoke than anyone else in Japan. They have the biggest karaoke parlours (with an average of 16.5 rooms as opposed to the national average of 10.9), and they are crowded from morning to night with a succession of housewives, students and salarimen. The prefecture is also famous for its karaoke groups whose members dress up in tuxedos and evening gowns to go singing. Tochigi is also known for it’s puritan ways ? in national surveys it always has the highest proportion of women who say they would never forgive someone who had an affair.
Tokyo – During the Edo period, there was a famous saying that went, “Fires and fighting are the flowers of Tokyo” and today, Tokyoites are still known for their short tempers. Sometimes ‘kenminsei’ gets pretty far-fetched, especially when they start trying to apply science to regional stereotypes. Several books on the subject attribute the short tempers in Tokyo to a shortage of calcium in the drinking water.
Nagano – Folks in Nagano must be among the most honest in Japan, because they are more likely to pay their NHK fees than people anywhere else in the nation. Although it has always been rural, Nagano is famous for having the best educated people in Japan. Perhaps it is all this book learning that has made them argumentative enough to acquire a reputation as some of the nation’s most contentious people. They also have more dogs than any other prefecture.
Saitama – Saitama is the New Jersey of Japan and is widely known as ‘Dasaitama’ (Ugly Saitama). And it isn’t only the prefecture that’s known for its ugliness – the people are too. If you see someone with no fashion sense in Tokyo, popular wisdom has it that they probably live in Saitama. It’s okay to make fun of Dasaitama though, because even the people who live there hate it. When its residents participated in a survey on ‘whether or not you like the prefecture you live in’, Saitama ranked 55th out of 56, and when asked ‘Is your prefecture comfortable to live in’, they came in dead last. On the positive side, Saitama also has one of the lowest rates of deaths from seijinbyo (lifestyle-related illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and high-blood pressure) in Japan.
Chiba – Known for it’s political corruption, Chibans are famous for their, “If they’re not paying me, I won’t vote” attitude and the number of arrests for violations of election laws in this prefecture is far higher than average, particularly in local elections.
Shizuoka – You’re less likely to die of cancer if you live in Shizuoka than in any other prefecture. Maybe this is why, in public opinion surveys, more people from this area say they are happy to be living in Shizuoka than anywhere else in the nation.
Aichi – Aichi in general, and Nagoya in particular are known for producing the thriftiest people in Japan. Their savings accounts are inevitably among the largest in the country, and the people are known for their extreme economization measures, such as taking flowers home as ‘omiyage’ from funerals.
Osaka – Osakans walk faster than anyone else in Japan ? at an average speed of 1.6 meters per second, surpassing even Tokyoites, who are no slouches themselves, with an average speed of 1.56 meters per second. Osakans must always be in a hurry because they are also known for jumping lines and running yellow lights. They’re are also famous for their gaudy fashion. Because young people in Kansai are more likely to live with their families, they have more disposable income for clothes, and the pressures of living at home are said to cause them to want to vent what is pent up inside them through colorful fashion. Although Tokyo is often thought of as the fashion center of Japan, fashion experts say that most of the big trends actually start in Osaka. Osaka is also a natto hater’s paradise as you will find millions of people in Kansai who agree with you when you voice your opinion on the world’s most disgusting food.
Nara – For some reason, unlike their neighbors in Osaka, who are reputed to be the best in Japan when it comes to making money, folks in Nara are said to have the least business sense in Japan.
Kumamoto – Kyushuites in general, and people from Kumamoto prefecture in particular, are known for their stubborn and conservative nature. During the Meiji period, Kyushu was the scene of some really ugly battles where samurai wannabes armed with little more than swords tried to take on government soldiers armed with modern firearms. Their descendants are said to only a little less unbending. People from Kumamoto are also said to be the most patriotic in the country, and more Self Defense Force members were born here than in any other prefecture. People form Kyushu also give more blood than anywhere else in Japan.
Kagoshima – Japan’s slowest walkers are found here ? your average person walks at only 1.33 meters per second. Kagoshima is also known for having it’s having an unusually low number of extended families, particularly for such a rural prefecture. In Japan, parents usually live with their children when they get old but people from Kagoshima are famed for their independence, and tend to move away from home when they are young, making it far less likely that they will take in their parents when they are old.
Fukuoka – People from this prefecture are known for their optimism, which is perhaps reflected in the fact that their savings rates are among the lowest in the nation. Fukuoka, despite being relatively rural, is second only to Osaka when it comes to high crime rates. On the bright side, Fukuokans are known for their cheerfulness, courage, and love of being the center of attention, three qualities that are important for entertainers, so it is not surprising that this prefecture is known for producing more famous performers than any other. Actor Ken Takakura, musician Hiromi Go, comedian Tamori, and singer Seiko Matsuda all hail from here.
Miyazaki – People from Miyazaki in Shikoku are said to be the most honest in Japan and consistently answer ‘yes’ to questions like “Do you believe that lying is the worst thing a person can do to someone else?” in national surveys. Miyazakiites are also known for being mild, serious, and diligent, but also for being passive and too easy-going.