The Kansai region (関西地方 Kansai-chihō?) or the Kinki region (近畿地方 Kinki-chihō?) lies in the southern-central region of Japan's main island Honshū. The region includes the prefectures of Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyōgo, and Shiga. Depending on who makes the distinction, Fukui, Tokushima and even Tottori Prefecture are also included. While the use of the terms "Kansai" and "Kinki" have changed over history, in most modern contexts the use of the two terms is interchangeable. The urban region of Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto (Keihanshin region) is the second most populated in Japan after the Greater Tokyo Area.
The Kansai region is the cultural and historical heart of Japan with 11% of its land area and 22,757,897 residents as of 2010. The Kinki Plain with the cities of Osaka and Kyoto forms the core of the region, from there the Kansai area stretches west along the Seto Inland Sea towards Himeji and Kobe and east encompassing Lake Biwa, Japan's largest freshwater lake. In the north the region is bordered by the Sea of Japan, to the south by the Kii Peninsula and Pacific Ocean, and to the east by the Ibuki Mountains and Ise Bay. Four of Japan's national parks lie within its borders, in whole or in part. The area also contains six of the seven top prefectures in terms of national treasures. Other geographical features include Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture and Awaji Island in Hyōgo.
The Kansai region is often compared with the Kantō region, which lies to its east and consists primarily of Tokyo and the surrounding area. Whereas the Kanto region is symbolic of standardization throughout Japan, the Kansai region displays many more idiosyncrasies - the culture in Kyoto, the mercantilism of Osaka, the history of Nara, or the cosmopolitanism of Kobe - and represents the focus of counterculture in Japan. This East-West rivalry has deep historical roots, particularly from the Edo period. With a samurai population of less than 1% the culture of the merchant city of Osaka stood in sharp contrast to that of Edo, the seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate.
Many characteristic traits of Kansai people descend from Osaka merchant culture. Catherine Maxwell, an editor for the newsletter Omusubi, writes: "Kansai residents are seen as being pragmatic, entrepreneurial, down-to-earth and possessing a strong sense of humour. Kanto people on the other hand are perceived as more sophisticated, reserved and formal, in keeping with Tokyo’s history and modern status as the nation’s capital and largest metropolis."