Tokyo vs Osaka. 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 personally 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’s 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.
Tokyo vs Osaka
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.
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.
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.
Although much of Tokyo was destroyed in WWII there are important cultural shrines and temples in Tokyo such as Asakusa Temple and Meiji Dingu.
Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park.
Entrance to Yoyogi Park.
Sumo in Tokyo is alive and well and one of the most cultural things you can see in Japan.
Sumo in Tokyo.
Traditional music and dance can be seen in various venues. Sometimes at the National Museum.
Traditional music at the Tokyo National Museum.
Food in Tokyo
Ramen in Tokyo.
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.
Living in Tokyo
Living in Tokyo is another story altogether compared to just visiting for a few days on holiday.
For a good insight on 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 a number of years:
So that’s the rundown on Tokyo. What do you think?
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.
Shopping in Osaka.
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 like 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 the different vibe.
Shopping area in Dotonbori area.
Food street in Osaka.
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 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 Tokyo.
Street art in America-mura area.
This is where Osaka really 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.
Night time in Osaka in a non-touristy neighbourhood.
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 it’s 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 a best feel for the city and it’s 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 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! (Yes you can find in Tokyo, but Osaka is hard to beat).
Okonomiyaki in 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.
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 foreigner and she was based around the Osaka area.
Kyoto vs Tokyo
Yes 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 really 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.
Osaka vs Kyoto
This debate I have covered in another post about Osaka or Kyoto (mentioned earlier).
Tokyo or Osaka
To sum up simply you can’t go wrong between Tokyo or 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 to the place and use it as your base to explore more of the Kansai area.
Going to Japan and plan to move around quite a bit? Get a Japan Rail Pass to save money on the fast Shinkansen trains (highly recommended).
If you liked this article comparing Tokyo vs Osaka a share would be cool! 🙂