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Books on "Prefectural Character" On the Rise (April 8, 2004)

The front cover of Shusshinken de Wakaru Hito no Seikaku (Soshisha)
Japan is often thought of as a relatively small nation, but the Japanese islands stretch for thousands of kilometers. The country is composed of 47 prefectures, from the snowy mountains of Hokkaido in the north to the sunny beaches of Okinawa in the south. These individual areas of Japan are as varied as their climate, and it is no surprise that people coming from different areas may have very different outlooks on life. Recently a wave of new books has been focusing on this very phenomenon, with titles spelling out the unique "prefectural character" of the various parts of Japan.

All in the Birthplace
In summer 2003 the first of these books rolled off the presses, touching off the boom in prefectural books. This was Shusshinken de Wakaru Hito no Seikaku (Judging People's Characters by Their Prefectures), written by Iwanaka Yoshifumi and published by Soshisha. The author, who holds a degree in literature from the University of Tokyo and heads a small publishing firm, has become known as a top analyst of prefectural character. Among his other works on the subject are Nagoya-gaku and Hakata-gaku, in-depth looks at the character of people from Nagoya and Hakata, and Fushigi no Kuni no Shinshu-jin (People from the Mysterious Land of Nagano).

Iwanaka's work may have kicked off this boom, but plenty of other authors have been quick to follow up his work. A trip to the bookstore will turn up close to a dozen books published over the last half a year or so. These range from works focusing on one prefecture, describing the characteristics of its inhabitants in great detail, to overviews of the entire Japanese archipelago that compare and contrast the denizens of different areas.

The Numbers Behind the Conclusions
Iwanaka takes care to bring hard data into his books. He backs up his claims with a range of statistics and survey results, and he has spent considerable time traveling to different parts of Japan looking for information on this topic. His findings extend to the field of business management, where he claims to have discovered that company managers, particularly owners of small businesses, tend to judge their employees on the basis of their own prefectural quirks. This means that workers coming from different regions of Japan may find it difficult to get along with the boss.

Iwanaka's first book took a look at all 47 prefectures in the nation, describing the typical characteristics of their residents in a few pages each. But some of the conclusions drawn are quite illuminating. People born in Saitama Prefecture northwest of Tokyo, for example, are the least likely in the nation to state that they love their home prefecture. Those from Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, meanwhile, are such heavy drinkers that their per capita expenses for medical care are the highest in Japan. The book illustrates the wide variety to be found among the Japanese.

Not Accepted by All
The popularity of these books does not mean that they have been accepted uncritically by all readers, though. While many of the points they make can cause people to nod at some recognizable quality, there are still plenty of people who don't think that geography is such a defining influence. But as is often the case in the world of publishing, there is no such thing as bad attention; and the discussions spawned by these books are only helping to propel them further. The brand-new field of prefectural character analysis looks like it will enjoy this boom for a while yet.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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