Neon-lit Dotonburi district at night

Photo:Reginald Pentinio

Osaka vs. Tokyo: Major Differences Between the Cities and What to Do in Each

People who come to Japan often focus on visiting one of two cities, Tokyo (the capital) and Osaka (another of the biggest cities in Japan), with some people lucky enough to visit both. Whilst both cities are on the Honshu Island they are located in different regions, with Tokyo located in the Kanto and Osaka located in the Kansai region. These cities are quite different from one another and each offers things that the other doesn’t (although of course they do also share some similarities). So what is it about these cities that makes them the “crème de la crème” of Japanese cities and which one is for you?



The appearance of the city is pretty much as you would expect just like in the mass media. The city is big, modern and surprisingly conservative, which gives it a sense of class and even superiority. Whilst this is nice, for me it means it is very similar to other capital cities purely on an appearance level. Along with modernity, Tokyo wonderfully shows off its technology background in areas like Akihabara whilst also having some more traditional areas like Asakusa to contrast it.


Osaka's appearance wise is in stark contrast to Tokyo. It is often known as the “messy city”, a little rough around the surfaces but with more edge than other cities in Japan. The city is full of character, with colorful buildings, street art and old/modern architecture alongside each other. This makes for an interesting appearance and is something that Osaka locals take pride in. Particularly characteristic areas of Osaka are America Village/Kitahorie area, Dotonbori, and if you’re looking for something more modern but still with character, Umeda.



Atmosphere wise Tokyo is very much a hustle and bustle city with everyone on the move and wrapped up in their own business. As stated before, it is pretty conservative which is why people keep to themselves and at least appear to be more reserved. With many people working in companies/businesses in Tokyo it’s not surprising that the atmosphere is like this. As well as businessmen, Tokyo, being the capital of Japan, is always full of tourists. This means the locals are used to foreigners and so are less likely to stare at anyone not Japanese! It also means that the city has lots of English signs/people who can assist you in English.


Again the atmosphere is the opposite of that in Tokyo. The city is less busy (although still busy) and more relaxed. There is a much more carefree attitude to life in Osaka and the overall vibe is to just have fun. There are also many quirkily dressed people and lots of different fashion and make up trends to be seen in the city. So the sense is you can pretty much express yourself how you want, no matter how crazy it may look/seem. This city is still popular with tourists but not as much as Tokyo, therefore though there is English guidance it is less than in Tokyo. This doesn’t, however, stop the friendly locals from offering assistance or simply making conversation!



As the capital city Tokyo of course caters to tourists and thus offers plenty of things to do. So whether you want to go to the zoo, museums, shrines, shopping, arcades etc.. you name it you can probably do it there. In fact the city offers so much to do that it's hard to decide how to spend your time, especially if you're not there for particularly long.

Some Top Attractions in Tokyo:

Tokyo Skytree: Situated in the North of the city close to Asakusa, this famous landmark is the tallest structure in Japan. From either of the two observation decks a spectacular view of Tokyo can be seen. Whilst at the base is an aquarium, planetarium, shops, restaurants and more!

Shibuya district: Where the famous Shibuya Crossing is located, great hangout for young people and plenty of shops/ malls. Found in the West of the city.

Ueno Park: In central Tokyo Ueno Park offers many things to do with a zoo, museums, shrines and gardens!

Harajuku: Located in the West Harajuku is a cool and quirky area of Tokyo filled with trendy boutiques, shops, street food and interesting people.

Imperial Palace: A short walk from Tokyo station, where the Imperial family reside and where visitors can view the grounds.

Roppongi Hills: In the South is Roppongi Hills, a large complex that features great shopping, restaurants and views. You can also enjoy the nightlife nearby in Roppongi.


Osaka offers slightly less touristy things to do and is better suited for those who like to explore. There are still of course many interesting things to do and there are also many great restaurants and bars.

Some Top Attractions in Osaka:

Osaka Castle: Near central Osaka the castle shows the more traditional side of Japan. It is also surrounded by a moat and park area where street food can be purchased. Inside the castle is a museum and observation deck at the top.

Umeda Sky Building: Near Osaka station the building consists of two towers connected by a “Floating Garden Observatory” and offers great views of the city.

Shinsekai: A colourful area in the East of the city with a downtown atmosphere. The area has many good low cost restaurants and features the Tsutenkaku tower.

Shinsaibashi/Namba area: In the South of Osaka and where you will find plenty of entertainment, shopping, food and bars. Included in these areas is Dotonbori, America-Mura (American village), Namba Parks and Shinsaibashi shopping arcade.

Osaka Aquarium: Located near the bay area in the West is one of Japan’s best aquariums, featuring lots of marine life including its speciality, the whale shark.

Universal Studios: In the West of the city is Japan’s second best amusement park, with rides, characters, and entertainment for all ages.

So both of these cities have lots to offer and whilst they differ they are both definitely must see places in Japan! Whether you prefer the more conservative, clean cut Tokyo, the more rugged, colourful Osaka or just like both, between the two there’s something for everyone!

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