Digital Archives of Japanese Cultural Heritages
Kansai is capturing both Japan’s and the world’s attention. Located in the center of Japan, the Kansai region is at the heart of national and international industrial transportation and telecommunication. The region, which covers an area with a radius of approximately 150km (95 miles), has a richly varied topography. Kansai now includes ten prefectures: Fukui, Mie, Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Nara, Wakayama, Tokushima and Tottori. It is also embedded with well-known major cities with unique characteristics such as Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe.
Kansai, which occupies 11.8% of Japan's land area, generates 18.7% of its GDP. It has a combined Gross Regional Product of US $862 billion (FY2007). The fundamental fact that Japan is a politically stable and industrial dispute-free developed country gives an advantage in providing a business-friendly environment. In the context of structural reform and deregulation progressing in Japan, the region, with its 24 million people and multifaceted characteristics, actively plays a key role in Japanese economy.
Togetsu Bridge, Arashiyama
The Kansai region, consisting of ten prefectures with Osaka as its nucleus, is the cradle of Japanese history.
Until 1869, when Tokyo became the capital city, the Kansai region had always been the location for Japan’s capital and the center of important historical events. Kansai has traditionally led the country in innovation and contact with foreign countries. Such international exchange is an important foundation o f t h e a r e a’s development.
In the fifth century, Osaka, one of Japan’s first seaports, was an important access point to the culture and the goods of the Asian continent. It was also the site of the court of several emperors, most notably that of Emperor Nintoku.
The terminus of the ancient silk road was the old city of Nara. In the eighth century, it became the first permanent capital of Japan and brought the entire country under a single authority. The unique culture of Nara that flourished during that century of prosperity still retains an important place in the Japanese mind.
From the time of its establishment in 794 as the country’s capital, Kyoto prospered and remained the center of Japanese politics, economy and culture, sustaining the country’s development for over a thousand years. The townspeople of Kyoto, called the Kyo-machishu, played an active role in trade with the Asian continent, forming the prototype of the entrepreneurial spirit. They spurred economic growth not only during Japan’s Middle Ages, but have continued to do so up to the present.
The municipality of Sakai (in Osaka) began to carry on trade with the Asian continent, extending Kansai’s sphere of international exchange to include Southeast Asia.
When Western civilization reached Japan, the Kansai region was quick to adopt it. At one point, Sakai monopolized all Japanese trade with Europe. Even during the period of Japan’s isolation (1641-1858), the merchants of Osaka had access to modern Western civilization. At the end of the Shogunate era, Kobe opened its port to foreign trade and Osaka soon followed suit. Together, the two cities became important players in international trade.
The old foreign residential neighborhood of Kitano
During the Edo period (1603-1867), Edo (present Tokyo) served as the political center and seat of the Shogunate government. Nevertheless, thanks to the industriousness of their merchants and the wisdom of their magistrates, Osaka and Kyoto prospered as the economic centers of Japan.
Until the end of this era, Osaka was the center of Japan’s commodity and distribution. At that time, influential merchants opened exchange houses in Osaka to render financial services, which included the circulation and settlement of exchanges and bills, as well as advancing loans. Rice prices determined at Osaka’s Dojima rice exchange became the national standard. The futures transaction of rice recognized by the government in 1730 at Dojima is said to be the origin of futures transactions in Japan.
As the Meiji Restoration (1868) swept the country, Kansai managed to avoid a serious economic crisis by making vigorous efforts to bring about modernization. After completing the transition to modern industry, Kansai offers a unique urban environment surrounded by beautiful scenery. Osaka became known as the “Manchester of the Orient,”and developed into the country’s largest commerce center. In Kyoto, traditional industries were modernized, resulting in entirely new industries. These served as a prelude to Kyoto’s present-day economy. In addition, Kyoto, a world-renowned traditional city, has made unique contributions in the area of culture and scholarship. Nara is the source of ancient Japanese culture, and Kobe has established itself as a cosmopolitan port city with an international atmosphere. Kansai’s multi-faceted charm mainly comes from the fact that these attractive cities with unique characters lie in close vicinity to each other.
Bunraku (c)Ningyo Joruri Bunrakuza Mutsumikai
Nurtured in an area that values economic dynamism and freedom, Kansai’s arts, education, cuisine and culture possess a very distinctive quality.
Noh, Bunraku (Puppet theatre), and Kabuki,representative of Japan’s traditional performing arts, were all originated in Kansai. These masterpieces first appeared in the Edo period and have been kept alive ever since. Now UNESCO declares them as World Intangible Heritages.
The tradition of rational, positive and scientific Chonin (merchant) instruction is alive today in many of Kansai’s universities and research centers, which have produced many Nobel prize-winners.
Kobe is home to a sizable Chinese and Indian population and is famous for its superb ethnic cuisine. The gourmet searching for traditional Japanese delicacies will find plenty in the streets of Kyoto, where traditional crafts and art can also be enjoyed.
Osaka became known as the city of “Kuidaore,” or epicurism, in the Edo period. Osaka merchants considered eating to be a matter of great importance, and distinguished their food culture through a varied offering of fresh food dishes. Today, Osaka continues to be a center of Japanese food culture, with a wide variety of outstanding traditional and international restaurants.
Tourist Information Center, 1F International Arrivals Lobby, Kansai International Airport