Travel to Kansai: Another Look at Johto

By Chou Toshio. Art by Chou Toshio.
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Oha-YOH-san! Hey everyone, and welcome to Chou’s tour company (aka Japanese Culture/Language Lesson 3). Today I'm taking you on a trip through the Kansai 関西region of Japan, inspiration for Pokémon Gold and Silver's Johto Region. For those that are unaware, every generation of Pokémon has had a map based on an actual geographical layout of a Japanese region (except for Black and White, which is based on New York City; how dumb right? Come on GF, NYC Pokemon don't exist, see: WishBliss). Kansai is one of the two major regions of Honshu, the main island of Japan. The other major region is Kanto in the east (bet you can guess which Region was based off of Kanto).

Despite their relative geographical proximity, Kansai and Kanto have very distinctly different cultures—a relation actually reflected well as one plays through Heart Gold / Soul Silver, encountering people from both regions. Kansai people are generally considered funnier and laid back, and apt to show a lot of pride in being from Kansai and rivalry towards Kanto. This rivalry originates from Kansai being the original seat of power in Japan, and still being its cultural and religious center in many ways. All across the country, one should line up on the left side of the escalator to let others pass, but in Kansai, one should stand on the right. While other dialects fade with the passing time, Kansai people grasp proudly to their local tongue, which still appears constantly in media nationwide. Amongst the magnificent temples and shrines, deep forests of momoji (miniature Japanese maple) and matsu (Japanese pine), and the bustle of ports and skyscrapers, you will find the people of Kansai—still in many ways the beating heart of Japan.

Kansai is a place near and dear to my heart, as I have visited relatives in Kyoto and Osaka too many times to count. I feel honored to take you on a short spin through the area, featuring my own photographs from my own exploration.

Whale Shark at the Osaka Aquarium by Chou Toshio 2008


You book yourself a flight to 関西国際空港 (Kansai International Airport), and the first thing you notice upon getting on—you are immediately surrounded by Kansai-Jin (Kansai people). Unlike a plane going to Narita near Tokyo (the main Japanese airport), there are no Chinese, no Koreans, and no other folks transferring to head on to other areas of Asia. You're immediately surrounded by chattering, laughing Kansai people heading back home from business or travel (see if you can pick out a "Nandeyanen!" or "Chau wa!" amongst the conversation around you). You're not even there yet, but are already immersed in Kansai.

After landing, you take a train into Osaka from the airport's artificial island in Osaka Bay, and find yourself in a bustling sea of people. Skyscrapers and neon lights adorn the second most important center of Japanese commerce (after Tokyo), and even while walking, the people of Osaka seem to race to the fast beat of the city. You find yourself troubled, in this swarming mass of cold and impersonal Japanese, growing ever anxious, when suddenly you hear a friendly voice from behind:

「なんやあんた、なにボートしとんねん? ほんな、ウチがあんないしたるわ。ついてきいぃや! 」 "Hey you, what are ya doin' looking lost!? That case, I'll take ya around! Come now!"

You turn around and a young girl motions for you to follow, laughing and giving you a big grin. Being the Pokémon player you are, you immediately recognize her as Whitney (アカネ), the leader of the Goldenrod City (コガネシティ) gym. A light bulb goes off, and you realize that geographically, and as a large bustling port-city, Goldenrod is Johto's Osaka. Not to mention Whitney's extremely strong Osaka dialect (which you will pick up if you play the game in Japanese). She's not the only one though, Bill and all his programmer buddies in the other games speak in Osaka dialect as well! You decide to follow the gym leader, and never regret it as she takes you through the great city of Osaka.

How do you like those whale shark photos? Osaka Aquarium is one of the biggest aquariums in the world, and each of those "little" fish is around 2 ft long!

As mentioned earlier, Osaka is an important foundation of Japan’s trade and business, but it is also an important cultural figure in many respects.

Need a Laugh!?

The first and most significant is Osaka's dominance in Japanese comedy. Osaka people aren't just stereotypically funnier—they are funnier. This is born from the culture of Osaka, with Osaka folks being more open, friendly, outgoing, and livelier than your stereotypically shy Japanese. In Japan, when someone out of the blue slaps you on the shoulder to greet you with a smile, odds are he's either a foreigner, or a man from Osaka.

Osaka has always been the Mecca of Japanese comedy, giving birth to its greatest comedians and drawing in others from around the country. It is the headquarters of Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., a giant entertainment company that scouts, trains, and ultimately gives birth to Japan's greatest entertainers and comedy acts. If there's a reason why, despite being non-standard, Kansai dialect is generally understood by almost all Japanese—it's because almost all the comedians are from Osaka and speak in Osaka-ben (dialect) for even greater comedic effect. In fact, if you're going to be a comedian and don't speak it, you better learn. Yoshimoto has schools for that though, so you can learn to fix your stuffy standard Japanese. Actually, for you readers of this article as well, we'll work on your Osaka-ben later on in this article! Then you can be funny. Hah!

Just learn how to put on Manzai, Japanese standup comedy, and get good at putting up a good Boke (dull-headed act) to incite a good tsukkomi (straight act). Look up wikipedia for more in-depth explanations of these integral comedic concepts.

Osaka, Japan's Kentucky!?

It's not Chicken, but Osaka is distinctly famous for fried foods. The two most notable are Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki. Yaki means fried by the way. Both of these dishes were born following World War II, when American relief sent rations to support post-war Japan. Frankly though, the Japanese had no idea what the hell to do with all the wheat and cabbage—thankfully the people from Osaka figured it out!

Okonomiyaki, literally "fried favorites," consists of a cabbage-based wheat pancake topped with a thick sour soy-based sauce, fish flakes, and ginger. I promise you it tastes a lot better than your western imagination is probably picturing. The reason why it's called "fried favorites" is because you can get pretty much anything in Okonomiyaki—from beef, chicken, or pork, to chopped octopus, squid, or even fish eggs. Really almost anything your heart desires. Farther to the west, in Hiroshima, the dish has Yakisoba (Fried Noodles, or read as "Chow Mein" in Chinese and in many western countries) baked into the base, but Osaka people have pride in keeping Okonomiyaki in its "purest form." A true man from Osaka would never dare consume Monjayaki, an eastern dish from Kanto with similar ingredients but a much more runny texture.

Tako means octopus (anyone for a Tako Taco?), and Takoyaki is just what it sounds like—fried octopus. Well more like fried octopus balls. The octopus is chopped and mixed into a thick batter (the same batter as Okonomiyaki) to make fried balls, about 2 inches in diameter, that are once again topped with sauce and flakes like Okonomiyaki. These balls are either skewered or eaten with toothpicks, and taste like a miniature octopus Okonomiyaki. The smaller Takoyaki is especially popular at Omatsuri (festivals) and other occasions for food on the go.

Both Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki are wonderful savory dishes from Osaka, and should you visit Kansai, I urge you to try these western delicacies (with copious amounts of cheap Japanese beer, like Asahi or Kirin).

A garden in Nanzenji in Kyoto, by Chou Toshio 2009

Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, by Chou Toshio 2009


Now you know why I went out of my way to collect the two badges from the two major cities of Kansai (I joke).

Kyoto literally means "capital city," and once in history, this great city was the seat of Japanese government, and the traditional home of the Japanese Emperor (though the Emperor has almost never directly ruled Japan). To this day it is unquestionably the heart of Japan's culture, being the location of many of the country's great temples and shrines, and 14 World Heritage sites. As you stroll through the night streets of Kyoto, you once again meet your guide from the Pokémon world. A beautiful woman wearing a Kimono, Espeon in tow, approaches you:

「どうないしてはるんどすか?よろしゅうすなら、ウチについてくれやす。」 "Whatever 'tis the trouble? Should it please ye, I implore ye to follow."

Her name is Sakura, a young Maiko (though you may know her as Kimono Girl Sayo) training in Ecruteak City (エンジュシティ). Johto's Bulbapedia page notes Kyoto as the likely inspiration of Ecruteak, with good reason. Aside from its obvious geographic location, Ecruteak has romantic streets adorned with buildings of traditional Japanese architecture and Japanese lanterns. The city is home to religious landmarks like the Burned Tower and Bell Tower, similar to the many temples and shrines of the old capital, and is wrapped in a forest of Momoji (miniature Japanese maple) loved by the Japanese for their beautiful 紅葉, autumn colors. Amongst the softly lantern-lit streets of Kyoto, Sakura guides you. She is one of the many young Maiko, an apprentice Geisha, and one may be lucky to catch a glimpse of in Kyoto's night streets, gracefully walking in full dress to an entertainment appointment or on a mistress's errand.


While stigmatized by the connection to prostitution, a Geisha is better considered as a type of traditional, cultured artist. While in bygone centuries the Geisha were indeed connected to the Japanese pleasure industry, it was only as the greatest of elites. Geisha did not stay in mere pleasure quarters, and had the dignity to choose her bedmates—for a Geisha was the refined talent of a multitude of art forms in dancing, music, and of course, conversation. A true Geisha was coy, disciplined, and extremely intelligent. While in the present, the prostitute may be gone, the artist remains, and even today many girls train to become this perfect figure of feminine charm and grace. With the passing of time, many Japanese traditions have died, and arts have disappeared, but for many such arts, the Geisha have survived as the greatest and sole persevering practitioners. One could call them cultural custodians and treasures of Japan.

Kinkakuji, the "Golden Pavilion" temple in Kyoto, by Chou Toshio 2009

Photo at Ginkakuji, the "Silver Pavilion" temple in Kyoto, by Chou Toshio 2010

Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji, Gold and Silver

Ecruteak's two towers, Bell and Burned, connected to Ho-Oh and Lugia respectively, are probably nods to Kinkakuji 金閣寺, Temple of the Gold Pavilion and Ginkakuji 銀閣寺, Temple of the Silver Pavilion. While the buildings are not towers, I think one need look no further than the names of the temples (and video games) to see the connection. Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji are both important temples in Kyoto, and designated as World Heritage sites.

Kinkakuji is famous for its Pavilion, colored gold with a special technique pressing gold leaves. Its handsome figure reflects gracefully over a large lake on the Temple grounds. It is a favorite location of tourists from all over the world looking to enjoy the flavor of Japan's ancient capital.

In contrast, Ginkakuji is more famous for its garden than its Pavilion. While originally, it was planned to be coated with Silver Foil, the architect met his end before its completion. The architecture is of the same style as Kinkakuji, and the Ginkakuji name was kept to link the two together. To this day, the building is preserved unfinished, in respect to the "wabi-sabi" (aged, natural chaos) aesthetic sense of the Japanese. With its extensive moss covered gardens graced by miniature maple trees, Ginkakuji is certainly a pillar of wabi-sabi and absolutely breathtaking. I have been to Ginkakuji any number of times, in all seasons, and every time I am inspired to photograph—I still remember the awe of entering the first time, the feeling that "this must be, one of the most beautiful places in our world," and to be surrounded in true art, genius of landscaping.

On a more comical note, if you watch Lucky Star, there is an episode where the girls visit Kyoto on their school travel (all Japanese middle/high school students go on excursions to other parts of Japan as a tour group). At Ginkakuji, Konata, noting Ginkakuji's naming, despite not being silver, comments, "I wonder if they have Ruby and Sapphire too . . ." (Yes, it is a Pokémon reference). There, my friends, is a fantastic boke, can someone please tsukkomi her?

Heian Shrine in Kyoto, by Chou Toshio 2006

Koke Dera, the Moss Temple in Kyoto, by Chou Toshio 2010

Dabbling in Religion

It may be difficult to notice, but there is a difference between Shrines (Jinja 神社) and Temples (Tera 寺). Essentially Shrines are Shinto and Temples are Buddhist. This is important to keep in mind should you (embarrassingly) follow the wrong protocol when praying at one of the many in Kyoto or Nara.

Shintoism, unlike Buddhism, is unique to Japan, and it could be said that essentially 100% of Japanese are Shinto followers. That said though, Shintoism is considered by many Japanese to be not a religion, and is practiced by most Japanese alongside another "real" religion like Buddhism or Christianity.

The reason is that there is no devout entity in Shintoism, no "higher being." Shinto kami 神, or gods, should probably be better thought of as spirits. They are nature spirits, or past human spirits, and exist in everything and on the same plane as humans—meaning they are fallible, imperfect, and earthly, and it is said there are over 8 million of such spirits. Therefore, Shinto prayer finds itself more along the lines of asking a neighbor for favors or for advice, rather than any sort of worship. There is great respect for kami, but then, it is the same respect you should pay your neighbor. If you don't like the fortune told or the advice given, just tie it to a tree, go visit another shrine, and ask a different kami. Thus, Shintoism is often pointed to as just another part of "living as a Japanese" rather than faith, like taking off your shoes before going into your house, bathing at night, or eating raw fish.

On an interesting note, the royal house, that is the Emperor of Japan, is actually the head of Shintoism. But, just like Shintoism is something of a non-religion, the Emperor of Japan is not really iconic as a head of church. Actually, I have met many Japanese who weren't even aware that the Emperor is connected to Shintoism. While the royal house does pray ritually everyday for the good of the people and country, the Emperor is more of a goodwill ambassador than a spiritual leader. He is no Pope that is, and no preaching. How's that—a king who has never ruled, and a head of church who has never preached in one!

Shintoism, being the nature-centric system it is, is often paid respect on events of new beginnings—at the beginning of the New Year in January, or school/business year in April, and to celebrate births. Buddhism is followed most closely when people die, as the belief of re-birth brings comfort to people. And 40% of weddings are Christian, because western weddings are pretty. Of course the commercially-driven Christmas is universal. A tour guide I had in my first trip to Kyoto, upon explaining Japanese religion, joked, "The Japanese are born Shinto, marry Christian, and die Buddhist—they enjoy the most enjoyable parts of all faiths!"

By the way, in front of an alter at a Shinto Shrine: bow twice, clap twice, bow once; at a Buddhist temple, bring your hands together, bow slightly, and pray.

Todai-ji Temple in Nara, by Chou Toshio 2010

Some other Major Cities in Kansai


Nara was the first, the original capital city of Japan, between 710 and 784. It was originally built based on Chinese design on a north-south east-west grid. The in-city proximity of Buddhist temples, and increasing political power of said temples eventually led the Emperor to move the capital to Kyoto. Even now, Nara, like Kyoto, is an important cultural and historic city, with many of its own shrines, temples, and landmarks. One noticeable feature of Nara is its deer, which roam freely and are both protected and cared for by the prefectural government. From the ancient era of its designation as capital, the deer have been considered holy animals.

Based on Geography and Flavor, Nara is most likely Violet City キキョウシティ. As Japan's first capital, I find it appropriate that Violet City should be the first gym challenge of Gold / Silver.


Off to Olivine City anyone? I find it amusing that the Steel Gym should be in the birthplace of the Japanese Navy. Kobe City (Kobe Village at the time) was once the home to the 海軍操練所 Kaigun Sourenjo, a Naval Academy established by Katsu Rintaro (Katsu Kaishuu) in 1864 for his dream of a strong and independent Japan. Katsu was a well respected leader in the last days of the shogunate, was a strong advocate for modernization, played a key role in negotiating the peaceful resignment from power of the old Tokugawa regime, and in rearing the great young leaders of the era. Many great men who would become leaders in Japan's modernization learned and trained under Katsu in Kobe, including the men of the Kameyama Shachuu and their leader Sakamoto Ryouma. After the disbanding of the Naval Academy, Sakamoto and his companions would go on to ally the former enemy clans, Choshu and Satsuma, to topple the Bakufu (Shogunate) and further negotiate through Tosa-Clan for the Bakufu's return sovereignty to the Emperor. These great deeds brought about the Meiji Restoration, and the beginning of Japanese modernization, while sidestepping a bloody civil war. Ryouma was truly a hero amongst many whose legacy Kobe can be proud of.

On another note, Tosa domain was also Sakamoto's birth place, and like Cianwood City (home of our Team Rater Badge and a southward trip from Olivine), is on the island of Shikoku. まっこと、かんさい でのうて、しこく ゆうがはまた ちがうぜよ! (Shikoku Dialect: Truly, not Kansai, Shikoku is different still!)

関西弁 Kansai Ben (Dialect)

With that, I would like to move into our language study segment, and take a closer look at Kansai-Ben and how it differs from Standard Japanese. I will try to run through both beginner-level Japanese examples, and some more advanced grammatical conversion for stronger Japanese speakers. Studying non-standard Japanese can be fun, and I myself gained a better understanding of standard Japanese by trying to teach myself Kansai-ben (in order to speak with Kansai relatives). In other words, it's fun, so give it a shot!

Today I will only really go into plain form casual Kansai-ben, and probably closest to the Osaka-ben. While Kansai is widely spoken, and certainly there is variation between cities (you do have Osaka-ben, Kyoto-ben, Kobe-ben, Wakayama-ben, etc.), they are all closely related, and especially when speaking casual plain form, should be similar. Kyoto is famous for a very unique high-language (polite speech) that I had Sakura use in the Kyoto explanation, but its conjugation is much more complex and no normal people talk like that on a daily basis. Try learning standard Keigo/Sonkeigo/Kensongo (Polite/Honorific/Humble) speech before learning the Kyoto version. Anyway, moving on.

How YA doing? Sorry for making a bad joke here. Probably the most distinct and immediately noticeable feature of the Kansai dialect is the replacement of "da" for "ya" at the end of sentences. Exp: Standard: そうだな Soudana "Yeah ok." Kansai: せえやな / ほうやな Seeyana / Houyana

The "da" becomes "ya." "Ja" like "Jan" or "Janai" can also become "Ya". You will also notice here the tendency of Kansai-jin to turn "Sou" sounds into "Hou" sounds.

Other Simple words, grammar and particles:

Standard Japanese => Kansai Ben => English Explanation

Nai => Hen/Hin => is used to indicate negative like "Won't go," which would be "ikanai" in standard or "Ikahen" in kansai. Conjugation can be different too, for instance "Won't come" is "Konai" in standard and "Keihin" in Kansai.

Zo => De => A sentence that ends in forceful punctuation, like "We're going!" It should be noted that Kansai's "De" is weaker than "Zo," and Kansai people may also use "zo."

Yo => Wa => An emphasis adding sentence ender, similar to, but weaker than, Zo. There is a similar "wa" used in feminine speech in standard, but while that tone is rising, the tone of the Kansai "wa" is falling, and also used by men (even manly men).

N/A => nen => A general emphasis adding sentence ender that has no equivalent in standard Japanese. Unlike the others above, it can be used to emphasize a question, like the famous "Nandeyanen!?" (Why the hell!). Some other examples: "Dareyanen!" (Who the hell!?) "Nanyanen" (What the hell!?) "Itsuyanen!?" (When the hell) "Dokoyanen!?" (Where the hell!?) "Donaiyanen!?" (How the hell!?) It doesn't have to be a question though, and can be also used similarly to the others above. While there is no standard equivalent, in Shikoku dialect, this is "ki". "Nandeyanen?" => "Douiteyaki?" (In standard "Nande", "Naze" and "Doushite" all mean "Why?" Kansaiben's "Nandeyanen" uses "Nande", where as Shikoku's "Douitejaki?" uses an altered "Doushite?").

Janai / Chigau => Chau => Janai means "Not" and "Chigau" means "Diffierent" / "Wrong." For both of these, and generally when expressing negative, Kansai people will often just say "Chau" as a shortened form of chigau. Just be careful of intonation.

Exp: 3 Girls are looking at a small fluffy dog
Girl 1: Chau Chau chau, chau? (It's not a Chow Chow, no?)
Girl 2: Chau Chau Chau. (No, it's not a Chow Chow)
Girl 3: Chau Chau Chau? (It's not a Chow chow?)
Girl 1: Chau . . . !! Ah, Chau! (No . . . !! Ah, Ciao! (goodbye in Italian))

Yeah, it’s a contrived example, but there you go.

Atashi / Ore => Uchi / Wai => Atashi and Ore are casual expressions for "me" for women and men, respectively. In many games/anime/media, Kansai women use "Uchi" (like Whitney or Bebe) while men use "Wai" (like Bill). In real life though, most Kansai people just use the standard pronouns though.

Ii => eh => Good.

Hontou => Honma => Truly / Really.

Chou (different from my name) => Mecha Mecha => Super / Really.

Shimeruzo => Shibakuzo => "I'll dust you".

Kimochiwarui => Kimoi / Shindoi => Gross (kimoi) / Feel bad (shindoi).

Suteru => Hokasu => Throw away.

Omoshiroi => Omoroi => Interesting.


I will list a few grammar patterns I don't want to explain from square one for those who can already speak some standard Japanese. Following that, I will write a brief dialog to be followed. See if you can spot the differences.

~Tekure => ~Toite

~Teageru => Teyaru / Taru

~Teiru => Teoru / Toru

~Teshimatta / ~Chatta => Temouta

~Tano (past tense) => ~Tan (asking) / ~Ten (answering)


A: Kaimono shitan? (Did you go shopping?)

B: Un, Kaimono shiten. (Yes I did)

~Shinaide => ~Sende

~Ikenai / Dame => Akan

~Shinakyaikenai / Shinakuchaikenai => Senna-akan

Example Dialog, Avenue SU Abridged "If you Were Gay."

S: Standard, K: Kansai, E: English

E: "Ok, but just so you know. If you were gay. That'd be ok. I mean cause hey-- I'd like you anyway! Because you see, if it were me~ I would feel free to say, that I was gay (but I'm not gay)."

S: ま、いっておくけど ...もし、おまえがホモだったら、そりゃそれでいいじゃない。だって、それでもおま えがすきだよ! それでさ、おれだったら〜じゆうに、きらくでいえるぞ、おれがホモだって、(ホモじゃない けどな〜)。

K: ま、ゆうとくけど ...もし、おまえがホモやったら、そらそんでええやんか。せやって、ほんでもおまえが すきやねん! ほんで、ワイやったら〜じゆうに、きらくでゆえるで、ワイがホモやて、(ホモちゃうねんけど )。

E: "Nicky, please, I'm trying to read . . . what!?"

S: ニッキー、しずかにしてくれ。ぼくはほんをよんでいるぞ ...なんだよ!

K: ニッキー、しずかにしといて。ワイはほんをよんでおんねん ...なんやねん!

E: "You can count on me . . . to always be!! Beside you everyday, to tell you it's okay, you were just born that way, and as they say, it's in your DNA you're gay!!"

S: おれにたよっていいよ ...ずっといっしょだって!! いってあげるぞ、まいにちだって、だいじょうぶだ って、それでうまれたからしょうがいないって!だってDNAによって、おまえはホモだ!

K: ワイにたよってええわ ...ずっといっしょやねん! ゆうてやるわ、まいにちやて、だいじょうぶやって、 ほんでうまれたからシャーナイって!せやて、DNAによって、おまえはホモやねん!

E: "I am not gay!!!"

S: ホモじゃないっていってるぞ!!!

K: ホモちゃうや〜ちゅうとんねん!!!

E: "If you WERE gay."

S: ホモだったら、って

K: ホモやったら、ちゅうはなしやわ

I hoped you enjoyed that dialog, with a bit of added Boke and Tsukkomi (for the whole song, check out my thread in A Forum). Kansai is a wonderful place, filled with great sites, great food, and great people. It's no wonder GF honored it with the second (and best *cough*) game. You have to see it with your own eyes, then maybe go back and play Heart Gold again. I hope you enjoyed and learned from my Kansai tour, and that you will be able to visit it one day yourself! If you are further interested in studying Kansai-ben, PM me and I'll send you more information.

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