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NIPPONIA No.31 December 15, 2004

6 Wonders of Japan
By Mick Corliss
Born in the state of Oregon in the U.S. After working as a journalist for The Japan Times, Corliss became a freelance writer and translator in 2002.

A number of very famous historical figures were born in what is now Aichi Prefecture. Aichi people are known to be thrifty and practical. (Photo: An underground shopping mall in Sakae, Nagoya)

Personality by Region?
Written by Mick Corliss, Photos by Sugawara Chiyoshi

The Japanese have a habit of remarking on the small size of Japan. However, somewhat conversely, they also have a penchant for ascribing an array of behavior or personality traits to the many regions squeezed into the nation's limited land space. Different regional personalities are pigeonholed into convenient categories. People from the northeast are persistent, Tokyoites have a flashy bent and Osaka people are sticklers when it comes to money—these are just a few of the common stereotypes. In fact, there is even a special word for these regional characteristics: kenminsei.
Maybe it is that that my homeland is so vast, or maybe it is a function of our relatively short history, but in any case, in America the connection between birthplace or hometown and personality gets short shrift. Still, having lived in Japan close to a decade, I have to say that I have come to share in the belief that there is something to the idea that origin has something to do with one's personality. For example, regional differences seemed apparent in experiences hitchhiking around Japan—from Iwate in the north to Kagoshima in the south. The time waiting for vehicles to stop and pick me up differed dramatically by region. If I were to go out on a limb, in general I would have to say that the folks in Kochi and Ishikawa prefectures were quick to stop and those in Fukuoka and Ehime were a little less excited about the prospect of giving me a lift. Whether this was merely coincidence or the vagaries of regional personality characteristics, I cannot say.
Still, there are mixed views on the idea of regional personality. Experts that support the idea contend that there is no way to deny the influence of common histories, geography and environmental conditions in shaping regional attitudes.
"In addition to being long from north to south, Japan is also very mountainous, and the weather of regional areas differs immensely. Also, the nearly 300 fiefdoms that persisted around Japan from the late 16th century to the end of the 19th century played a major role in perpetuating unique traditions and customs," explains Yano Shinichi, a marketing consultant who uses regional personality characteristics to concoct sales strategies.
"Even though these areas have been reorganized into prefectures today, it seems these regional differences are still fairly alive," he added.
According to Yano's book and a genre of like books, people from Aichi Prefecture are—depending on your point of view—thrifty, rational and diligent. Put another way they are chronic penny-pinchers. But is this really the case? I decided to ask a friend from Nagoya, the largest city in Aichi Prefecture, newspaper writer Kaba Toshiya.
"Aichi people definitely excel at being thrifty," Kaba confirmed. "The way they live day in and day out is simple, but when it comes to events like weddings or funerals they spend a fortune. For instance, when a child gets married, there are parents that buy the couple a car or a house. Maybe parents in Aichi have a strong sense of affection for their kids."
Moreover, many of the key historical figures who unified Japan and a number of leading corporations, including Toyota, are all from around Aichi Prefecture, where it is said people feel a sense of pride and responsibility for making Japan what it is today.
"When Tokyoites go outside of their city, they say they are going to the country. When Nagoya people go to Tokyo, they say they are going to the country—the reason being that they feel their city is the heart of Japan and number one," Kaba elaborated.
The more I investigated this topic, the more I reflected on my own situation. In fact, it might be that the people of Oregon State, where I was born and raised, are a bit more open and outgoing than those in America's Midwest, where religion plays a more prominent role in society, or on the more traditional eastern seaboard. But being the opportunist that I am, I think I will try to take the best of three places: Oregon, Tokushima Prefecture (which was my home for a year), and my longtime home of Tokyo.

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