Updated March 13, 2023
Osaka vs. Tokyo: Which City Is Better for You?
Moving to Japan is undoubtedly a dream come true for many.
But deciding where to move can be trickier than you may think. After all, each city in Japan offers something unique for both its residents and visitors alike.
In this article: 📝
While both Tokyo and Osaka are major cities and highly urbanized, they still have many differences. Understanding these differences is critical if you’re unsure which of the two is a better fit for you.
So, when it comes to Osaka vs. Tokyo, which one should you choose? Learn more about these two cities and what makes them great in this detailed comparison.
A Brief Overview of Tokyo
Tokyo is Japan’s capital city and by far the largest urban area of the country. Tokyo itself is home to approximately 13.51 million people, which is roughly more than 10% of Japan’s entire population. And depending on how you draw the lines, Tokyo's "metropolitan area" has over 37 million residents.
Located in the Kanto region, Tokyo is considered the country’s commercial, financial, and industrial center. In fact, you’ll find many of Japan’s most prominent companies conducting most of their business activities in the city. These even include international brands like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.
Aside from this, Tokyo also serves as Japan’s central transportation hub. Most of Japan’s main train lines pass through the city, so going to and from Tokyo is generally convenient. Haneda and Narita, the country’s two main international airports, are also close and easily accessible via train or bus.
In terms of tourism, you’ll also find some famous tourist attractions here. These include the following:
- Tokyo Skytree
- Shibuya Crossing
- Tokyo Disneyland
- Meiji Jingu
- Asakusa Sensoji
Besides these, Ueno Park is another famous spot in the city, especially when the cherry blossom trees are in full bloom during springtime.
This park is also home to many of the city’s museums, such as the Tokyo National Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. You’ll also find the Tokyo University of the Arts in Ueno Park.
Osaka: A Quick Look
Osaka is another one of Japan’s major cities located on the main island of Honshu.
Much like Tokyo, it’s a bustling and thriving metropolis with around 2.7 million residents. Getting to and from the city is also convenient, thanks to the accessible mass transportation options available.
As a major city and port, Osaka served as one of the country’s primary gateways to international trade and commerce back in the day. It was even once known as Japan’s “Merchant Capital,” thanks to its economic and trading prowess.
This positive reputation carries over to today. It’s now renowned for being one of Japan’s major financial centers. For example, it’s home to the Osaka Exchange, which is one of the biggest derivatives exchanges in the country.
Of course, besides its economic and financial prowess, Osaka is also well-known for its extensive array of iconic tourist sites. Some examples of these include the following:
- Osaka Castle
- Universal Studios Japan
- Tsutenkaku Tower
- Shitenno-ji Temple
Osaka is also known for being one of the country’s most prominent media centers. Many national media-related companies have regional headquarters in the city. Some examples are NHK and the Asahi Broadcasting Corporation.
Osaka vs Tokyo: Their Main Differences
Even though they’re both bustling metropolises, Tokyo and Osaka still have notable differences that you’ll need to consider. This is especially true if you’re undecided about which city you should move to.
In general, Osaka and Tokyo differ in the following aspects:
- Local Culture and Atmosphere
- Cost of Living
- Work Opportunities
Local Culture and Atmosphere
When it comes to Osaka vs. Tokyo, one of their primary differences lies in the local culture. Both are sprawling metropolises, but Osaka has a more welcoming and laid-back atmosphere than Tokyo.
The former also has a smaller population. This means it’s still less crowded and claustrophobic, even during peak travel seasons. In fact, some people have likened Tokyo’s vibe to New York’s. On the other hand, Osaka is closer to what you’ll find in California.
Aside from that, people in Osaka are typically friendlier and more outgoing than their counterparts in Tokyo.
They also like to joke around and chat, opting to start conversations rather than stay silent when they’re among others. This can make them appear more aggressive and “louder” than the people in Tokyo.
In comparison, people in Tokyo are usually more polite and reserved, preferring to keep a certain distance from others. Because of this, others tend to see them as “colder” and less welcoming than their Kansai counterparts.
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s true. People in Tokyo are just generally shier and less outgoing than the people in Osaka. They might also be unsure of what to talk about when strangers strike up a conversation.
Cost of Living
It’s no secret that Japan typically has a relatively high cost of living. This is especially true if you’re planning to move to and live in one of the country’s major cities.
However, when comparing Osaka vs. Tokyo, living in the latter tends to be even more expensive. Renting an apartment, for example, will usually cost you over 20% more in Tokyo than in Osaka.
Plus, even though Tokyo is bigger than Osaka in terms of area, Tokyo has a higher population. Because of this, finding an apartment in Tokyo’s city center can become more competitive, driving up the rent prices even more.
This also means that you’re more likely to find a bigger apartment at a lower price in Osaka than in Tokyo. You can learn more about finding an apartment in Japan in this article.
Besides the rent, some other regular expenses, like groceries and utilities, are more affordable in Osaka than in Tokyo. Clothes and shoes are also less expensive in Osaka than in Tokyo.
When it comes to job opportunities, you’ll have a much higher chance of finding work in Tokyo than in Osaka. Again, Tokyo is Japan’s capital city and commercial, industrial, and financial center. Because of this, you’ll find many companies and organizations located in the city.
In particular, modern startups and tech companies tend to be based in Tokyo, so you'll have many more options if you're looking to work in tech.
Many international brands have offices in the city as well. So, foreign job seekers are more likely to find work in Tokyo, even if they aren’t fluent in Japanese yet. You can check out this article for more information about your options.
The average salary in Tokyo is also generally higher than in Osaka, although this varies from industry to industry. Of course, living in Tokyo can also be more expensive than living in Osaka due to the higher cost of living. You can learn more about it in detail here.
Language is another significant difference you should be aware of when deciding between Tokyo vs. Osaka. Like other countries, Japan has many different dialects. Each one is distinct and unique to the region it comes from.
However, some regions don’t use their local dialects as frequently these days or even at all. Instead, they opt to use “standard Japanese” or hyojungo. This is especially true in Tokyo since you’ll encounter people from different regions and countries here.
In contrast, Osaka still widely uses its local dialect, the Osaka-ben. It’s significantly different from the language you’ll usually encounter in Tokyo, particularly in terms of tone and accent. This dialect also has a more casual and faster quality than standard Japanese.
The terms they use in Osaka-ben also differ from what you’re more familiar with in standard Japanese. For example, people in Osaka tend to say ookini instead of arigatou when expressing their gratitude.
Of course, this doesn’t mean people in Osaka won’t understand you if you don’t speak their dialect. Speaking standard Japanese would be just fine, but you’ll need to get used to Osaka-ben if you plan to move to this city.
Japanese cuisine is distinct in itself, and moving to Japan means you can enjoy authentic Japanese food wherever you choose to move. Still, every region has its own unique specialties, and Tokyo and Osaka are no different.
For example, traditional specialty dishes in the Kanto region, where Tokyo is located, typically go for darker and stronger flavors. In comparison, specialty dishes in the Kansai region, where Osaka is, usually opt for saltier and lighter flavors.
Some of the most famous dishes in the Kanto region are tempura, nigiri sushi, ramen, and monjayaki. Meanwhile, Osaka is well-known for its okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and teppanyaki.
Why Choose Tokyo Over Osaka
Moving to a new place is never easy, but finding the right city to move to can make all the difference. That said, it can be a good idea to move to Tokyo if you value the following:
Being Japan’s capital means that Tokyo has almost everything you’ll need while living in Japan. You’ll have endless options in this city when it comes to shopping, dining, entertainment, and more. You can also access almost everything, even the major tourist attractions, just by taking the train.
Still, life in Tokyo can be pretty hectic, with most people always seemingly in a rush. The higher number of people working and living in the city also means that the streets, trains, and buses can be quite crowded, especially during rush hour.
More Job Opportunities
If you’re looking for career opportunities in Japan, there’s no better city to move to than Tokyo. More than 600,000 businesses operate in the city, including international firms. So, it can be easier to find a job that suits your skills and experience.
Tokyo is also more English-friendly than other cities, making it easier for you to find a job if you’re not yet fluent in Japanese. Also, the average salary for most industries is higher in Tokyo. However, the cost of living tends to be higher in this city.
Larger Expat Community
Tokyo also has a larger expat community than Osaka, so it can be a better choice if you want to meet and connect with other foreigners living in the city. Connecting with other foreigners can make the transition period more manageable and bearable for you.
Why Choose Osaka Over Tokyo
While living in Tokyo can be more convenient, it might not be the best choice for everyone. Osaka can be an excellent alternative, especially if you want the following:
Lower Cost of Living
Living in a city tends to be expensive, especially in countries like Japan. So, if you want to enjoy the convenience of living in a major city without burning through your finances, Osaka can be the best choice.
While the average salaries tend to be lower than in Tokyo, living in Osaka is still considered more affordable since the prices for goods and services tend to be lower as well.
Warm and Friendly Community
People in Tokyo tend to be more aloof and distant, so it might be tougher to connect with your neighbors and other locals. If you’re more outgoing and prefer getting to know your neighbors, it might be better to move to Osaka.
The people in Osaka are known for being friendlier and approachable than those you might encounter in Tokyo, even if it’s a highly urbanized area. Its past as a “merchant city” also means that the communities here are typically more open and inviting.
Rich Food Culture
If you’re a foodie or just appreciate good food, Osaka is also the place to be. Called “Japan’s Kitchen,” this city has a robust food culture that anyone who loves to eat will surely appreciate. You’ll find many restaurants and street food stalls in the city, especially in Dotonbori.
Osaka vs Tokyo: The Pros and Cons of Each
Here’s a quick overview of the advantages and disadvantages of living in each city:
|Everything’s close and easily accessible.
|The cost of living is lower.
|There are plenty of job opportunities.
|Locals are usually friendlier and more inviting.
|You can easily connect with other foreigners living in the city.
|It has a robust food culture.
|Most things are more expensive.
|The average salary is lower than in Tokyo.
|It can often get crowded.
|There are smaller expat communities.
|Locals are more distant and aloof.
|There are fewer job opportunities for foreigners.
Osaka vs Tokyo: The Bottom Line
When it comes to choosing between Osaka vs. Tokyo, there’s really no one-size-fits-all answer. You’ll need to consider many factors before deciding, such as your financial capacity, line of work, and preferences.
If you want to be at the heart of everything, Tokyo can be your best bet. But, if you want to enjoy a lower cost of living and friendlier neighbors, Osaka can be the better choice.
Both cities have something unique to offer, and living in either city can be a fantastic experience. So, which city you should choose ultimately depends on your specific needs and preferences.
P.S If you want to work in tech in Japan? Check out our list of software developer jobs in Japan.
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