Coming to Japan for the first time comes with a difficult decision: where exactly in this amazing country do you go first? People who come to Japan often focus on visiting one of two cities, Tokyo (the capital) and Osaka (the second biggest city in Japan), with some people lucky enough to visit both. Let’s look at some of the similarities and differences between these two mega cities, so that you can choose your dream destination.
Tokyo is home to some of Japan’s most iconic landmarks, including the Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo Skytree. If you want to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, there's Senso-ji in Asakusa and Meiji Jingu Shrine among others.
Osaka is slightly less touristy and more catered towards those who want to explore. If it’s cultural history you’re interested in, you’ll find hundreds of sacred temples and shrines in Osaka, including the ancient Osaka Castle. Abeno Harukas, the tallest building in Japan, is eleven floors of shops, restaurants, museums and an observatory deck with the best view of Osaka in the city.
With neighbouring cities like Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe just a short train ride away, there’s much to see around Osaka as well. Not to be outdone, cities around Tokyo such as Yokohama and Kamakura also offer alternative experiences if a break is needed from the big city.
Tokyo is known for its dynamic modern culture. This is where you’ll find the technology forward mentality of the Japanese people. An example is the famous Akihabara, the electronics and manga/anime centre of Tokyo. Here you’ll find anything manga/anime related and get your dose of electronics as well.
Tokyo is very fashion-forward as well, with people expressing their unique fashion culture. In Harajuku specifically in Takeshita Street, you’ll see Japanese youth dressed to express, embodying the Harajuku style.
For Osaka, the culture is more laidback and the youth are very energetic. Osaka has a unique vibe and community spirit. There is less attachment to the modern especially with so many traditional attractions surrounding the city. The vibrance of the people is embodied in the way they express themselves through the Kansai dialect. People are more open and direct in the dialect.
Tokyo is widely known as one of the best places in Asia for shopping and it certainly comes as no surprise. The city has dozens of shopping spots, and if you're looking to catch up with the latest fashion trends, Shibuya and Shinjuku are your best bets. Harajuku, known as Kawaii capital, you'll find hipster and vintage clothes and accessories here. If you're looking for somewhere a little more upscale, Ginza is the place to go. For Japanese souvenirs, snacks and trinkets, go visit Asakusa's Nakamise Dori.
Fans of Japanese manga, anime and cosplay will love Akihabara which is filled with arcades, themed cafes and bookstores. Here's where you can also get hold of all kinds of electronic and lifestyle gadgets.
The best part is, Tokyo also has districts dedicated to independent boutique stores and secondhand finds like Shimo-kitazawa and Naka-meguro. With so many shopping options, Tokyo has definitely proven itself to be a shopping haven!
As with Tokyo, Osaka's shopping options are aplenty too. The 2 main areas you should know are Kita-Umeda and Minami-Namba. Kita-Umeda is home to big shopping malls and department stores where you can certainly find almost everything you need! Grand Front Osaka, Osaka Station City and the Hankyu Umeda Main Store are some of the places you can head to. You'll also find Whity Umeda - one of Japan's largest underground shopping malls in Umeda .
Another area which travellers often flock to is Minami-Namba. Other than the famous Dotonbori food street, this area is also where you'd find the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade. There are over 180 stores here ranging from international brands to Japanese department stores and even some good bargains.
Osaka and Tokyo each have their own unique styles of cooking and signature dishes. Osaka tends to favor light and salty flavors, with many dishes featuring seaweed broth and soy sauce. The Kanto region, on the other hand, leans towards strong, dark flavors that feature bonito fish flake broths and koikuchi soy sauce.
Other differences to note between Tokyo and Osaka is that the Kansai region favors takoyaki, funazushi, okonomiyaki, oshi-sushi, fugu nabe, and beef, while the Kanto region favors yaki manju, namero, monjayaki, nigiri-sushi, anko nabe, and pork. Along with their preferences for certain ingredients being used dishes, each region also has their own traditional methods to preparing daily foods, such as which knives they use and what their starting ingredients are.
Apart from their cooking methods, Osaka is also known to have famous street food available in many places around the city, while Tokyo is known to have some of the finest restaurants in the entire country. Tokyo also boasts some of the best international cuisine restaurants, and as such can give homesick expats a little taste of home. If you prefer to immerse yourself in the local cuisine of the area you’re living in, Osaka’s got you covered.
Both cities are absolute dreams when it comes to shopping and food, as well as the experience of old and new, interweaving seamlessly to one. Tokyo is known for its liveliness and dynamism, while Osaka is considered to be more carefree and relaxed.
Hopefully, this article should help you choose which of Japan’s biggest cities is more suited to you. While Tokyo is the perfect place for a city vacation, Osaka’s proximity to surrounding Kansai regions means it ideal for a more well-rounded trip. Regardless of which city you choose, you’re guaranteed to have an experience you won’t forget.