In a country where foreign tourists and visitors are utterly spoiled for choice regarding where to stay, what to see and places to eat, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little lost, before you’ve even begun your trip.
Both Tokyo and Osaka are two of Japan’s biggest cities and both these mega metropolises offer experiences that are unique to each other. Tokyo is a fast-paced tech-savvy city with famous iconic landmarks and cultural epicenters.
Osaka is a city that takes the pace off normal life, it offers a laid-back atmosphere with a familiar chilled vibe flowing through its heart.
But, which one of these iconic Japanese big cities should you visit first? Which one is the better city? And what are the notable differences between them? So before you visit Japan, let us have a look at some key differences between these two major cities that make up a part of Japan’s intriguing urban landscape and pit together Osaka versus Tokyo.
Osaka: Let Us Take A Quick Look
There is something of a distinctive atmosphere about Osaka when compared to other cities in Japan. Located in the Kansai region it is Japan’s third-largest city and offers a warm and welcoming vibe. It feels like a place that is prime for exploring the numerous offerings that come with its culinary delights and fascinating local culture.
However you arrive in the city of Osaka, via Osaka Station or the many other public transport links, the first thing you will notice is how friendly and accommodating the local people are. The longer you stay, the more apparent, this becomes. No one can do enough to help you enjoy your stay and make you feel welcome for the duration.
Local Culture and Atmosphere
Comparing Osaka to Tokyo, there is a sense of a more casual approach to daily life in Osaka. Yes, it is a bustling city and one of Japan’s major destinations, but the pace of life just feels slightly slower and this is a pleasure as it allows visitors to casually take in the surroundings at their leisure and a more profound pace.
A thoroughly unique dialect also flows off the tounges of Osaka locals. Distinctive and lively, it is known as Osaka Ben. If you are able to harness the language of Japan, listen out for the humor and wit which are notable features of the local lingo that is Osaka Ben.
To mention there is a strong food culture that belongs deep in the soul of Osaka is an understatement. A heritage that dates back to the Edo period. As a major contribution to the overall atmosphere of the city, the food culture that Osaka offers is every bit as important as the welcome you receive.
There is a reason that Osaka is known as ‘the nation’s kitchen’. Michelin starred restaurants, with their famous popular dishes, adorn the lively streets that are also bursting with delectable aromas of street food, and there is no better place to sample local dishes like Okonomiyaki (fried pancakes) and Takoyaki (octopus balls).
City Attractions and Pleasant Surroundings
There are a huge variety of tourist attractions and day trips on offer in and around Osaka. Some are right in the heart of the city itself, others slightly further away from the buzz of the city.
Surrounded by a beautiful park, Osaka Castle is an integral part of Japanese history and also an important historic building that allows amazing panoramic views of the city from its observation deck.
Another popular Osaka landmark is the Umeda Sky Building, two towers connected by a floating garden observatory. A glass-enclosed escalator runs between the two towers and offers an exhilarating ride to the top. In Japan, people stand on the left side of an escalator, but it is worth remembering before embarking, that in Osaka they do the opposite
Things To Do in Osaka
Osaka will offer something for every visitor. It is a city with a unique blend of historical, cultural and entertaining experiences, from ancient temples of old to towering and imposing modern architecture. Not forgetting its reputation as ‘the nations kitchen’ where you’ll find some of Japan’s most famous dishes.
A visit to a Japanese Maid cafe will give you a quirky taste of Japanese pop culture. Amerika Mura is an area where you can purchase vintage and urban fashions.
Other tourist attractions include the Shitenno Temple, Osaka Aquarium in Kaiyukan, Osaka Museum of History and a visit to the Kuromon Ichiba Market is a must.
Osaka is where serious shoppers dream of visiting. Home to some of the biggest international brands and one of the best cities in Japan when it comes to savoring an authentic Far East shopping experience.
Places of note include the Dotonbori district, Tenjinbashisuji, the longest shopping street in Japan, Osaka Station City a massive complex located next to Osaka Station and Kuromon Ichiba Market where you can shop for local delights.
Historically Osaka is a merchant city and that brings with it the art of haggling. Don’t be scared to give it a go, but remember to be polite while deep in negotiations. Most shopkeepers in Osaka see haggling as a fun pastime and a way of engaging with foreign tourists
Hopefully, you will now have a better idea of how to navigate the tourist attractions of Osaka and feel informed when choosing your destination. But to see how these two cities compare, we now need to have a look at Tokyo
Tokyo: Let Us Take A Quick Look
As many of us already know, Tokyo is the capital city of Japan. It sits as part of seven prefectures that make up the Kanto region and is considered by most as the high-tech capital of the world.
As you would no doubt expect from the capital city of Japan, there are a myriad of attractions and activities to explore and discover. Far too many to mention them all, but hopefully we can guide you in a direction where you’ll feel completely fulfilled after your stay.
If you like to save money, then be aware that as a capital city, most things in Tokyo come at a higher cost than other cities offer. There are though many attractions that are free and offer total fulfillment, whatever the reason for your visit.
Considering a whole other country perhaps? Read this comparison between Seoul and Tokyo.
Variety of Attractions
Starting outside the city and included in this article more for its iconic value, it is possible to enjoy a day trip to Mount Fuji from Tokyo. Day trips depart from various places and it’s best to check with the operator for details and availability,
Within Ueno Park you’ll find several historic temples and museums, most notably the Tokyo National Museum. Visit the park in spring and you’ll be treated to a cascade of cherry blossom, or autumn which brings with it an explosion of deep orange and glorious shades of red.
Tsukiji fish market, kaiyukan aquarium, Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Skytree are also places of interest.
No visit to Tokyo would be complete without witnessing the spectacle that is the famous Shibuya Crossing, just a three minute walk from Shibuya Station. A cultural symbol of the dynamic urban feel that Tokyo exudes, the ‘Shibuya scramble’ is an iconic local phenomenon and one of Tokyo’s must-do must-do activities. In rush hour particularly, it is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
After the sun sets Tokyo bursts into nocturnal overload. There is something for every taste, age and persuasion within the buzzing scene of the legendary Tokyo nightlife life. An authentic drinking culture bleeds throughout various complexes packed with bars and nightclubs.
With an electrifying blend of Japanese tradition and diverse modernity, Tokyo by night is a multifaceted explosion of the senses.
Themed bars and cafes align Night alleyways and narrow streets in the Golden Gai and Omoide Yokocho areas of the city, creating a setting that is both intimate and cozy lantern-illuminated. Karaoke, a pastime that is deeply ingrained into Japanese culture, fills the streets with fun.
Tokyo is a global hub for Electronic Dance Music (EDM) and famous international DJs, the best in the business, come from far and wide to play to energetic crowds of young people (and older). The more sophisticated visitor should explore the jazz bars of Ginza, where intimate settings give a nod to Tokyo’s love of classy settings and live music.
Rich Food Culture
Osaka is known as ‘the nation’s kitchen’, but there is a tapestry of flavors that highlight the diverse and rich food culture of Tokyo, and derive from across the Kansai region. These range from authentic Japanese flavors to international Michelin-star restaurant cuisine.
Starting with the familiar establishments like the plethora of conveyor belt sushi restuarants to top-end eateries, you can be sure that if it is sushi and sashimi cravings you have, then you will be spoiled for choice.
There is a vibrant street food scene that beats throughout the heart of Tokyo. The districts of Harajuku and Asakusa showcase street food markets and fresh seafood stalls like nowhere else.
As one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, Tokyo as you would expect, is a melting pot of international flavor. Explore Shibuya and Roppongi for a range of diverse global cuisines from Asia, Europe and the Americas.
Being the capital city of Japan you would imagine, without ever visiting, Tokyo being a haven for shoppers. Well, never a truer word be told.
A world fashion capital, Tokyo is known globally for its distinctive youth trends and avant-garde style that attract fashion enthusiasts from far and wide. Shibuya, Harajuku (especially Takeshita Street) and Ginza are all at the center of cutting-edge creativity and trendsetting innovation. This is one of the main differences you’ll experience between shopping in Tokyo and Osaka.
Iconic department stores stretch far, wide and high. Innovative high-tech, cutting-edge design and technology stores in places such as Akihabara are where you’ll find the latest gadgets and anime merchandise.
Tokyo’s mix of diverse shopping choices will ensure there is something for every taste. Tokyo has a well-deserved reputation as a retail paradise that delivers an unforgettable shopping experience.
So Tokyo Or Osaka For Holiday?
This really depends on your individual preference and the type of experience you are looking for. As well as being a massive city with neighborhoods ranging from the eclectic to the outrageously diverse, Tokyo can offer unique traditional characters coexisting with modern neon clad skyscrapers and a youth culture unlike nowhere else.
A myriad of cultural attractions, its size and diversity, rich history and cutting-edge technology. Legendary nightlife attractions and entertainment. Numerous theatres and live shows. Tokyo is a cosmopolitan environment that attracts visitors and multi-national businesses from around the globe.
A Reminder of Some Main Differences
Although both cities share many similarities, there are some key differences that will shape your thought process when deciding which city gets your vote between Tokyo vs Osaka.
Tokyo is the financial and economic hub of Japan, hosting major global corporations, government and financial institutions and of course the famous Tokyo Stock Exchange. Osaka itself is also considered a major economic hub, but despite being a center for commerce and industry that attracts global entrepreneurship, it is not a capital city.
We mentioned local language and phrases previously, particularly the local Osaka tongue that is ‘Osaka Ben’, a unique playful dialect with phrases and intonation that add a distinct and playful flavor to any conversation. Residents of Tokyo use neutral Japanese with no accent at all.
Each city comes with its own character and charm and these differences contribute to unique distinctions between both when it comes to Tokyo vs Osaka.
So there you have all the evidence laid out before you. Osaka Vs Tokyo – A battle between the big guns. Two powerhouses of Japan that no other city can come close to matching.
Choose Tokyo for massive cosmopolitan city chaos, where day and night never sleep and no two times of the day ever meet.
Choose Osaka for its rich historical culture, friendly locals and fun foodie vibes, where a more compact casual ambiance fills the air.
Both Tokyo and Osaka offer a wide range of incredible experiences. Most visitors to Japan find the time to visit both cities, rewarding them with a well-rounded experience of the diversity of Japanese lifestyle and culture.