top of page

This blog is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Tokyo vs Osaka: What are the Differences and Similarities? | Japan

When it comes to travelling in Japan, there's no doubt that two of the most popular destinations for foreign tourists are Tokyo and Osaka. Both cities offer a unique cultural experience, but there are some notable differences between the two. In this blog post, we'll explore some of the key differences and similarities between Tokyo and Osaka.

Before we get started, this is a quick reminder that if you plan to travel extensively in Japan on the shinkansen, we highly recommend buying Japan Rail Pass. The Japan Rail pass (also called the JR Pass) can be used on shinkansen and JR lines throughout Japan, and is available as a 7 day, 14 day or 21 day pass. Click here to buy your JR Pass online.

Location and size of Tokyo and Osaka

First and foremost, Tokyo is the capital of Japan and one of the largest cities in the world. The area in which Tokyo is located is called the Kanto region which is made up of seven prefectures in total. In contrast, Osaka is located in the Kansai region and is the third-largest city in Japan after Tokyo and Yokohama.

Tokyo is known for its bustling metropolitan atmosphere, while Osaka is more laid-back and relaxed. Osaka offers great connections to the popular tourist areas of Kyoto and Nara and is therefore often considered a great base for sightseeing.

A view of Tokyo from Shibuya Sky
A view of Tokyo from one of Tokyo's newest observation platforms - Shibuya Sky

Cultural differences between Tokyo and Osaka

When it comes to culture, both Tokyo and Osaka have a lot to offer. However, the two cities have distinct differences in their cultural offerings. For example, Tokyo is home to many of Japan's most famous landmarks, including Tokyo Skytree, Meiji Jingu Shrine, and the Instagrammable TeamLab exhibitions. It is also the center of the country's entertainment industry, with many famous anime and manga series originating from Tokyo.

Buy your tickets to Tokyo's top sights in advance to avoid long queues, and possibly even snag a discount!

Tokyo Skytree: Buy tickets now

TeamLab Planets: Buy tickets now

On the other hand, Osaka is known for its rich culinary culture, which includes famous dishes like takoyaki and okonomiyaki. The city is also home to many historic landmarks, such as Osaka Castle and Sumiyoshi Taisha shrine. Japan's tallest building, Abeno Harukas can also be found in Osaka.

Exploring Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo

Food differences between Tokyo and Osaka

As mentioned, Osaka is famous for its delicious food culture. One of the most popular dishes is takoyaki, which consists of small balls of batter filled with diced octopus, green onion, and pickled ginger. Another popular dish is okonomiyaki, a savory pancake filled with various ingredients like pork, seafood, and vegetables, although popular stores will often have a vegan option. Although takoyaki and okonomiyaki are said to have originated in Osaka, they can now be found and enjoyed all over Japan.

On the other hand, Tokyo is more well-known for its sushi and sashimi. Many high-end sushi restaurants can be found in Tokyo, and the city is also home to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, where visitors can sample fresh seafood from local vendors. Visitors planning on dining at a high-end sushi restaurant during their stay should be sure to reserve well in advance, as many don't accept walk-ins.

Not sure where to start?

Why not explore Tsukiji Fish Market with a local guide?

Differences and similarities in nightlife between Tokyo and Osaka

When it comes to nightlife, both cities are vibrant and bustling. Osaka and Tokyo are both home to many trendy bars and nightclubs, as well as countless izakayas (Japanese-style pubs) and karaoke bars, many of which stay open until 5am! Whether you're interested in partying all night or just looking for a chill bar for a few quiet drinks, you can certainly find exactly what you're looking for in both of these cities.

Osaka is also home to the well-known area of Dotonbori, a famous street lined with neon signs and restaurants that is a popular destination for both tourists and locals alike. It really comes to life at night when the neon lights are switched on along the Dotonbori river.

Dotonbori area night view showing neon lights including Glico Man sign in Osaka, Japan
Dotonbori area night view

Transportation and how to get around in Osaka and Tokyo

Both cities rely heavily on public transport. The subway in both cities is super efficient and can get you to most places you need to go while visiting Japan. Both cities also have good connections to nearby cities and prefectures, making it easy to explore outside the city areas.

I highly recommend purchasing a transportation card (I use an ICOCA card) to make using public transport a breeze. These cards can be purchased from large train stations, and can be easily reloaded with cash at all stations. Using a transportation card will save lots of time and effort when travelling, as the fare is automatically calculated for you and withdrawn from your card as you exit the station. Just remember to tap on and off each time!

We have a post that focuses exclusively on transport within Japan, so be sure to check that out if you still have questions about getting around.

Station platform with trains either side
A typical train station in Japan

Is Tokyo or Osaka more expensive?

While both Tokyo and Osaka can be visited fairly cheaply, there are some differences in cost that are worth noting. For example, Tokyo is generally more expensive than Osaka when it comes to accommodation, food, and transportation. However, Tokyo also offers many options for budget travelers, such as capsule hotels and budget-friendly restaurants. Osaka, on the other hand, is generally considered to be more affordable than Tokyo, with cheaper accommodation and food options.

Final thoughts on the differences and similarities between Tokyo and Osaka

Tokyo and Osaka are both popular destinations for travellers to Japan which offer unique experiences. Tokyo is known for its bustling metropolitan atmosphere, famous landmarks, and high-end dining, while Osaka offers a more laid-back experience with a rich culinary culture, historic landmarks, and a more affordable cost of living. Whether you're a first-time visitor to Japan or a seasoned traveller, living it up at the Hilton, or travelling on a budget, both Tokyo and Osaka are sure to leave a lasting impression!

Do you have anything to add to this post? Let us know in the comments!

Travelling to Japan soon? Learn some useful Japanese phrases before arriving to ensure your vacation gets off to a great start.

Click to find an online Japanese language teacher that fits your schedule.

Promo: Get $10 USD in italki Credits when you purchase more than $20.

Like this post? Save it on Pinterest!

Pinterest pin. Text: Tokyo vs Osaka. Which is best? Top: Image of Tokyo city from the top of Shibuya Sky observation deck in Tokyo, Japan. Bottom: Osaka Castle in Osaka, Japan.

Pinterest pin. Text: Tokyo vs Osaka. What are the main differences? Top: Image of Meiji Jingu Shrine torii gate in Tokyo, Japan. Bottom: Close-up of lion at Namba Yasaka Shrine in Osaka, Japan.


By posting a comment you automatically agree to and accept the terms of use of this site. 

bottom of page