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Japan Regions

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Japan is a chain of islands that’s home to 127 million people. From a distance it may seem like a uniform country. Up close, there are huge differences in culture and society from one area to the next.Politically, the country is divided into 47 prefectures. Informally, each prefecture belongs to a region. Regions are associated with weather, geographical features, culture, food and dialects of Japanese. In many cases, locals strongly identify with their region. The following are Japan’s regions from North to South.

Hokkaido


Hokkaido is Japan’s large northern island. It’s a vast area of farms, mountains, small towns and cities such as Sapporo and Asahikawa that have surprisingly large nightlife areas. The island’s population is around 5.5 million people.

Tohoku


Tohoku is the northernmost region of Japan’s main island that includes six prefectures: Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata. It has a reputation as an icy wilderness but the region has warm summers and a population of over 9 million people including several large cities such as Sendai and Morioka. The region has a dialect of Japanese known as Tohoku-ben that’s strong enough to make communication somewhat difficult for people from Tokyo. Tohoku-ben generally gets stronger the further north you go and the deeper you venture into the countryside. Many people are shy about using it outside of their hometown because it has a stigma of being rural. Tohoku is known for its winter sports, matsuri, hospitality and excellent food. The region is also dotted with many of Japan’s top attractions.

Kanto


Kanto is a populous region of 43 million people centered around Tokyo. It includes Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma. Much of the region is one giant contiguous block of urban area known as Greater Tokyo. Unlike other regions of Japan, few people strongly identify with the Kanto region. Instead they tend to identify with their town such as Tokyo, Yokohama or Saitama. If you ask people where they’re from, nobody says Kanto.Kanto is an unimaginably gigantic place with endless travel potential from nightlife to temples.

Chubu


Chubu is a collection of prefectures in the middle of Japan between Kyoto and Tokyo that have little in common. Its prefectures are Aichi, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama and Yamanashi. The region contains Japan’s most mountainous areas including Mount Fuji. It also includes Nagoya, the country’s fourth largest city. The region’s population is close to 22 million.

Kansai


Kansai is a region of 22 million people centered around the cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe that form a massive contiguous urban area. The region has a dialect of the Japanese language known as Kansai-ben. Some locals look at Tokyo-style Japanese phrases with great amusement. Kansai and Kanto have an intense rivalry that goes back centuries if not longer.Another word for the Kansai region is Kinki. This was the more common term for the region in the past. In recent years, it has been downplayed because its pronunciation makes English speakers giggle. The region includes Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Nara, Wakayama, Mie, Shiga and Fukui prefectures. Kansai has more than its fair share of Japan’s best tourist attractions.

Chugoku


The Chugoku region is at the bottom of Japan’s main island and includes Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori and Yamaguchi prefectures. The Kanji for Chugoku is 中国 which is also the Japanese word for China meaning “middle country”. This is an odd name for a region of Japan, so an alternative name Sanin-Sanyo is occasionally used for the region. Chugoku has several distinct dialects of Japanese. Parts of the region are heavily industrialized and others are rural. Chugoku has a population of 7.5 million and Hiroshima is its largest city. The Hiroshima area is also home to the Chugoku’s most popular tourist attractions such as Itsukushima Shrine and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Kyushu


Kyushu is a densely populated island of 13 million that’s the 37th largest island in the world. The island is lush and green in spots with several of Japan’s most active volcanoes. It’s divided into seven prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Oita, Kagoshima and Miyazaki. Kyushu has been populated since prehistoric times and has a rich history that’s represented by the many castles and temples in the area. It also has several of Japan’s largest cities and best known onsen resorts.

Shikoku


Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands and is the 50th biggest island in the world. It’s home to Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima prefectures that all have relatively low populations. The population of the entire island is 4 million. Shikoku has some nice nature, temples, onsen and one of Japan’s best festivals.

Okinawa


Okinawa is a chain of small southern islands with a humid subtropical climate and a unique culture from Japan. Its population is relatively low at just over 2 million people. Okinawa has eight main islands that each has a unique local culture.

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