The Kansai region sometimes referred to as the Kinki region is located in the south central part of Honshu, Japan’s main island. The prefectures of Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Shiga all comprise what is known as the cultural and historical heart of Japan. Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto are the second most populated urban areas after Greater Tokyo.
Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan can be found in the Kansai region as well as four of Japan’s national parks and six of the seven top prefectures in terms of national treasures.
There is a deep seated rivalry between the Kanto region, the symbol of standardization throughout Japan and the Kansai region which represents the counterculture of Japan. Many of the characteristic traits of the Kansai people descend from Osaka’s merchant culture. Oftentimes, Kansai people are seen as pragmatic, entrepreneurial and possessing a strong sense of humor. In contrast, the Kanto people are perceived as more sophisticated, reserved and formal.
Kansai is particularly known for its food, especially Osaka. Popular Osakan dishes include: Takoyaki (balls of grilled, savory batter with pieces of octopus inside), Okonomiyaki (savory pancakes with cabbage, meat or seafood, flavored with Japanese worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise), Kitsune Udon (literally means fox noodles, udon noodles served in hot soup and topped with seasoned aburaage/ deep fried tofu), Osaka Zushi (pressed sushi or box sushi as it is sometimes called) and Kushikatsu (seasoned, skewered and grilled meat). Other regional delights include Yudofu (a popular dish in Kyoto, this is tofu simmered in hot water with kombu/ seaweed and eaten with various dipping sauces). Kansai is also the home of many Wagyu brands including Kobe, Matsusaka and Omi beef and the region produces 45% of all sake in Japan!
The Chugoku region is located in the westernmost part of Honshu and consists of Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori and Yamaguchi prefectures. The area is further sub-divided into the heavily industrialized Sanyo region and the more rural Sanin region.
Popular dishes in this region include Okonomiyaki, Matsuba gani, Katsuo no tataki and Sanuki Udon. The okonomiyaki made in Hiroshima is quite different from the dish you will find anywhere else in Japan. Instead of pancake like batter cooked on the hot iron griddle, Hiroshima style starts with a crepe like thin pancake on the griddle that is topped with heaps of shredded cabbage and other toppings such as bacOkonomiyaki, Matsuba gani, Katsuo no tatakon, tempura bits or seafood. On the side, yakisoba noodles are cooked along with a fried egg before all the ingredients are assembled in layers. Tottori Prefecture is famous for Matsuba gani/ Snow crab and boiled crab commands high prices. The Kochi Prefecture is famous for bonito fishing and Katsuo-no tataki is a general term used to describe this fish seared over a flame. It is often served with lots of sliced garlic, thin sliced onions, shiso, green onion, myoga, and lemon with generous amount of soy sauce mixed with yuzu citrus. Sanuki style udon is served al dente with a simple soy sauce or broth.
So there you have it! Getting hungry yet? Stay tuned as we venture further south and sample other regional dishes.