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Osaka vs Tokyo – Choosing Your Japan Adventure

Osaka vs Tokyo. You wouldn’t think there would be much debate between Tokyo or Osaka given Tokyo’s obvious dominance as one of the greatest megacities in the world, but Osaka has its defenders.

I am one of them. It simply comes down to how much time you have in Japan as to which city you choose to visit. I would recommend seeing both, but for some people that isn’t possible.

Here I’ll explain the contrast between Tokyo and Osaka to give context between the two.

I’ve spent a month or so in Tokyo travelling around on different trips and lived in Osaka for a month, to give you an idea of what I know. If you’re reading this post then I assume you are most likely trying to decide which one to visit.

There are relevant links to other articles on Tokyo and Osaka throughout the post. They open in a new tab so you don’t lose track of this post.

Osaka vs Tokyo

First a quick overview of the two cities

Size and Population:

Tokyo: Tokyo is the capital city of Japan and the most populous metropolitan area in the world. It’s a sprawling metropolis consisting of 23 special wards and numerous suburban areas, with a population exceeding 13 million people.

Osaka: Osaka is the second-largest metropolitan area in Japan after Tokyo. While significantly smaller than Tokyo, Osaka is still a major city with a population of over 2.6 million people.

Culture and Atmosphere:

Tokyo: Tokyo is often seen as a blend of traditional and modern Japan. It’s known for its skyscrapers, high-tech infrastructure, bustling streets, and vibrant nightlife. Tokyo is also home to various historical and cultural landmarks, including temples, shrines, and museums.

Osaka: Osaka has a distinct identity characterized by its friendly and outgoing residents, delicious street food, and lively entertainment districts. The city is often referred to as the “Kitchen of Japan” due to its culinary scene. While Osaka has its share of historical sites, it’s generally perceived as a more laid-back and less formal city compared to Tokyo.


Tokyo: Tokyo offers a vast array of attractions, including iconic landmarks such as the Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, and the Imperial Palace. The city is also renowned for its shopping districts like Ginza and Shibuya, as well as its diverse culinary scene.

Osaka: Osaka is famous for attractions like Osaka Castle, Universal Studios Japan, and the bustling entertainment district of Dotonbori. Visitors can also enjoy exploring traditional neighbourhoods like Shinsekai and experiencing the vibrant atmosphere of Kuromon Ichiba Market.


Tokyo: Tokyo has an extensive and efficient public transportation system, including trains, subways, and buses, making it relatively easy for visitors to navigate the city.

Osaka: Osaka also has a well-developed transportation network, although it’s not as extensive as Tokyo’s. The city is served by subway lines, trains, and buses, which provide convenient access to major attractions.

Cost of Living:

Tokyo: Tokyo is known for being one of the most expensive cities in the world. Accommodation, dining, and entertainment tend to be pricier compared to other cities in Japan.

Osaka: Osaka generally has a lower cost of living compared to Tokyo, making it a more budget-friendly destination for travellers. Food and accommodation can be more affordable, although prices may still vary depending on the area.

Now for a slightly more in-depth look between Tokyo and Osaka…


Osaka vs Tokyo

I’ll get straight to the point. If I only had a few days and had to choose between Osaka or Tokyo, then I would choose Tokyo.

It’s just a massive metropolis city with so much to do. Osaka can’t compete with it, to be honest, when it comes to that. 

Tokyo has a population of around 9 million people to give you an idea of the size and with that comes a lot of fun.

Tokyo Fun

You have the crazy busy shopping areas of Shinjuku and Shibuya to get lost in for hours shopping and eating.

The nearby area of Harajuku and Takeshita Street is full of cosplay fun and weird fashion shopping.

Or just hang around with a drink and people-watch.

Then you have the ‘otaku’ geek area of Akihabara full of gaming arcades, anime shops, and the supremely weird ‘maid cafes’.

Experience: A guided tour of Akihabara to explore the anime and manga culture (plus a visit to a maid cafe).

Yes, you can find all of this kind of thing in Osaka, but the sheer size of Tokyo, like mentioned for this kind of stuff on such a huge scale, can’t be beat.

Gaming arcade in Akihabara.

Video of busy Shibuya Crossing:

All that being said Osaka has an overall friendlier vibe from the people than that of Tokyo, and that makes a difference.

Offbeat Tokyo 

Getting away from the main tourist spots and finding off-the-beaten-path neighbourhoods is one of the best things you can do in any city.

Tokyo has quite a few of these neighbourhoods to choose from.

Read: Off the beaten path neighbourhoods in Tokyo


Shimokitazawa tokyo

Harajuku Street.


Traditional Tokyo

Osaka vs Tokyo
Asakusa Temple in Tokyo.

Although much of Tokyo was destroyed in WWII there are important cultural shrines and temples in Tokyo such as Asakusa Temple and Meiji Dingu.

Asakusa Temple.

Asakusa tokyo

Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park.

meiji shrine tokyo

Entrance to Yoyogi Park.

Yoyogi Park tokyo

Sumo in Tokyo is alive and well and one of the most cultural things you can see in Japan.

Sumo in Tokyo.

sumo tokyo

sumo tokyo
Tokyo Sumo Stadium.

Traditional music and dance can be seen in various venues. Sometimes at the National Museum.

Traditional music at the Tokyo National Museum.

national museum tokyo

Food in Tokyo

Ramen in Tokyo.

tokyo ramen

The food in Tokyo doesn’t need much to write about it as it has food from all over Japan, and it’s all awesome.

You will find the food in Tokyo and Osaka the same so there’s no point comparing them.

Although I will say that Osaka is known as the ‘nations kitchen’ because of a lot of the food that originated from there.

Read: 10 of the best Japanese foods to try

Living in Tokyo

Living in Tokyo is another story altogether compared to just visiting for a few days on holiday.

For a good insight into what it’s like living in Tokyo as a foreigner take a look at this guest post from a friend who taught English in Tokyo for several years:

Read: Teaching English in Tokyo

So that’s the rundown on Tokyo. What do you think?


Osaka vs Tokyo

Osaka is a different vibe to Tokyo.

Simple as that really and that’s the main difference that I love when comparing Osaka or Tokyo.

Osaka Fun

Shopping in Osaka.

osaka vs tokyo

Let’s get down to it straight away: every city in Japan is fun in some way or another but Tokyo and Osaka are the ultimate for fun in Japan.

Osaka has the same things as Tokyo. The bars, karaoke places, gaming arcades etc are all there in abundance, but like said so many times by this point (I know, I know) it’s a different vibe.

Shopping area in Dotonbori area.

osaka vs tokyo

A food street in Osaka.

osaka or tokyo

Traditional Osaka

Osaka Castle.

Osaka castle

Osaka doesn’t have much in the way of things to see that are old (Osaka Castle being an exception).

But with nearby Kyoto just 15 minutes away by train it’s much easier to do a day trip there and see the best-preserved temples and shrines in Japan.

There are plenty of other easy-to-reach places from Osaka like Nara with plenty more temples and shrines.

So what Osaka itself lacks in the old it more than makes up for it in its easy access to the best places for traditional culture in Japan nearby. Much easier than in Tokyo.

Read: The best day trips from Osaka.

Offbeat Osaka

Street art in America-mura area.

osaka street art

This is where Osaka shines!

Yes, Tokyo has some cool offbeat neighbourhoods as well but with Osaka being much less touristy and the people generally being more ‘down to earth’ the much-quoted ‘vibe’ stands out big time.

One such fun area where this stands out a lot is America-mura (America village).

There you will find funky shops and bars and (!) street art.

Yeah, you don’t see much street art in Japan but Osaka has it.

Street in America-mura.

America mura Osaka

Nighttime in Osaka in a non-touristy neighbourhood. 

osaka at night

A very good friend Patrick who spends a few months every year for a long time now summed up why he loves Osaka more than any other city in Japan:

“Osaka is not a pretty city, it’s an industrial city and it shows.

But with that also comes that down-to-earth feel that sets Osaka apart from the other big cities in Japan.

I love the feel of the Amerika-mura and Shinbashi district with all its great (rock) bars filled with locals and tourists alike, tattoo parlours and underground shops.

I know that’s only just a small part of this big city but in my opinion, it’s there that you get the best feel for the city and its people”.

This opinion from Patrick is taken from a much longer post I did about why I believe Osaka is a better city to stay in than Kyoto for exploring that part of Japan.

Food in Osaka

As mentioned in the Tokyo part, the food in Osaka is just as good.

But one thing Osaka is very well known for is its okonomiyaki! You can find it in Tokyo, but Osaka is hard to beat.

Okonomiyaki in Osaka.

ononomiyaki osaka

Also, takoyaki in Osaka is unbeatable. Takoyaki is battered flour cooked with octopus inside and can be found at many street food places.

Just look for the red/orange octopuses to find good takoyaki.

Takoyaki in osaka dotonbori

Living in Osaka

Living in Osaka is a joy. I spent over a month in Osaka and a month in Tokyo as mentioned before. Osaka is easily cheaper and easier to get around.

The people tend to be friendlier and more down to earth and you feel less stressed as far as big modern cities go, partly due to the smaller size of 3 million or so people.

A friend wrote a post on what it’s like living in Japan as a foreigner and she was based around the Osaka area.

Read: Living in Japan as a Foreigner 

Kyoto vs Tokyo

Kyoto vs Tokyo

Ah, Kyoto. 

Yes, we can’t leave Kyoto out of this as it’s an easy one to figure out.

You will probably end up going to both anyway!

Especially if it’s your first trip to Japan, Tokyo and Kyoto are must-visit cities, and with the fast Shinkansen trains, you can easily reach Kyoto in only a few hours so there’s no excuse not to go.

Kyoto was saved from the bombing in WWII and you can find the best-preserved temples and shrines in Japan there.

Read: What to do in Kyoto in one day


Osaka vs Kyoto

This debate I have covered in another post about Osaka or Kyoto (mentioned earlier).

Osaka vs Tokyo

Ultimately, whether you prefer Tokyo or Osaka depends on your personal preferences and interests. Tokyo offers a dynamic urban experience with a mix of tradition and modernity, while Osaka is renowned for its friendly atmosphere, delicious food, and unique cultural identity.

Both cities have their own charm and attractions worth exploring. To sum up, simply you can’t go wrong between Tokyo and Osaka.

To be honest, if you have only a few days to see either one then definitely do Tokyo than Osaka as it has a lot more to offer overall and is a true megacity.

But if you have the time then spend a few days in Osaka and enjoy the different feel of the place and use it as your base to explore more of the Kansai area.

Are you going to Japan and planning to move around quite a bit? Get a Japan Rail Pass to save money on the fast Shinkansen trains (highly recommended).

I recommend using SafetyWing Travel Insurance for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

If you liked this article comparing Osaka vs Tokyo a share would be cool: 

4 thoughts on “Osaka vs Tokyo – Choosing Your Japan Adventure”

  1. Pingback: The Best Day Trips From Osaka (The 13 Best Choices 2019)

  2. Great post! It makes me want to see Osaka. I’ve actually heard that Osaka’s native food, such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki are actually tastier if you try it Osaka’s restaurants, don’t you think?

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