Kansai? Nara? What is that?
Just to give you a brief background, I am from the Philippines, and is currently living in Nara City, Nara Prefecture in Japan. I am staying here as a scholar of Japanese government for special program for teachers. It's actually a short stay because I will only be here until March of next year.
So, here is a list of some information about Japan that I have learned while I am here. Some are general information, and some are focused on where I live - Nara.
Japan is considered to be an island country. Japan is composed of 4 main islands and a total of 6,852 small islands, of which some are inhabited. It is archipelagic, just like the Philippines. The main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Some references also include Okinawa, however, it is not considered one of the main islands, but is considered a prefecture (like a province), which is composed of a group of smaller islands located in the southernmost part of Japanese territory (not shown in the map).
Tokyo is the capital city. Of course, you already know what is the capital of Japan. Tokyo, the city capital is located on the upper east part of the largest island of Japan called "Honshu". The uppermost main island is Hokkaido. If you're a Filipino, you might be familiar with the movie starring Alessandra De Rossi and Empoy called "Kita kita". The location of the movie is Sapporo in Hokkaido. The smallest island is found on the western side of Japan, it is called Shikoku. And lastly, Kyushu is the island that is located in the southern part of the archipelago.
Japan has 8 regions. These regions or districts are Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto (where Tokyo is), Chubu, Kinki/Kansai (where I am currently living), Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu (including Okinawa). Maybe you've heard of Kansai from somewhere, because, I think, it is also a popular tourist destination amongst foreigners living in Japan and among local Japanese people.
Kansai/Kinki region is composed of 7 prefectures. These are Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Mie, Shiga, Wakayama, and Nara. I think Kansai is like the Visayas of the Philippines. If you're from the Philippines, Tokyo is likened to Metro Manila, and Osaka is like the Cebu of Japan.
However, unlike Manila and Cebu which do not belong on the same island, Kanto and Kansai areas are both found in Honshu. Kanto is found on the eastern side of Japan while Kansai is found on the western side of Japan.
Osaka is the largest city in Kansai. If you'd like to visit Osaka and other areas, you have to book your flight going to Kansai International Airport in Osaka. If you're fond of Harry Potter, Super Mario, Hello Kitty, etc. You should visit Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. I've visited this quite a few times already because I was able to purchase its annual pass. Apart from this, I would also like to recommend eating its most famous delicacies - takoyaki, and okonomiyaki. Super tasty, I assure you!
Kyoto is one of the most visited places in Japan. Kyoto is so popular because it served as Japan's capital from 794-1868. If you happen to visit Kyoto (which you should), you will be able to see and feel the ancient atmosphere of Japan (however, you'll be together with a lot of tourists). You can actually rent a yukata (summer version of kimono) or kimono for colder months and roam around the city, visit temples and shrines, and just enjoy the scenic view. Just recently, I visited Kyoto to witness the Gion Festival, one of the oldest festivals celebrated in Japan, while wearing a yukata, you know, for the experience. That's me in the photo. :)
Kobe beef is the best wagyu beef in the world. Kobe is the capital of Hyogo Prefecture. Kobe is an important port city for centuries, where trading happens within and outside Japan. The most popular "attraction" from Kobe to the world is the Kobe beef. Kobe beef is one of the breeds of "wagyu" or Japanese cattle, it is considered to be the most popular type of wagyu outside of Japan. I haven't tried eating the Kobe beef steak because it's really expensive. I just eat like a stir fry Kobe beef which is not so much considered as the real thing. :D
Nara is Japan's oldest permanent capital. Established in 710, Nara which was known as Heijo is Japan's first permanent capital. It is considered the first permanent capital because before this, the new capital is moved to a new location when a new emperor ascends the throne. Nara is known for its rich history as it is the home to Japan's oldest and largest temple like Todaiji Temple, and shrines like Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Moreover, Nara is more popular with its deers roaming around Nara park. Actually, there's literally a deer everywhere you go around the city, even along the shotengai or shopping street, inside my university campus, or in front of my dormitory.
Sad news about Nara. If you're following the news, Nara had been in the news headlines pretty recently because this is where former Prime Minister Abe was shot dead while delivering a speech near Yamato-Saidaiji station. It was really shocking news, not only to the people of Nara, but to Japan as a whole. As a foreigner living here, it was really unexpected that something like this can happen. I remember my interview for the scholarship, the interviewer asked me why did I choose Japan, and my answer was because the first time I went here, I felt a sense of security, that I can roam the streets without feeling afraid. I also mentioned how Japanese people value respect and honesty.
However, despite this unfortunate incident, I can still say that Nara is peaceful. Generally, Japan is a peaceful country, and each day that I am here, I can say, I am grateful for the chance to experience this every single day.