Tokyo Station

When it comes to visiting Japan, most first time itineraries omit Osaka in favor of more time in Tokyo. This is completely understandable for those short on time, but when it comes whether it’s better to live in Tokyo or Osaka, the choice may not be so easy. Tokyo has more of an international vibe and is intensely urban. Osaka has a distinctly different personality and is just a bit more low key. What’s best for you?

Our picture above of Tokyo Station makes for a fantastic illustration of many things this great city is. While greatly expanded now, this well preserved, historic façade was designed by a Japanese architect that was clearly influenced by Western styles. Completed in 1914, the station is often said to be a spitting image of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station (which is, incidentally, significantly older).

Osaka is, even more than Tokyo, about eating, shopping, and living life to its fullest. Osaka people are a little too boisterous for some. Osaka people love to laugh, and do so noisily. Sometimes they even get visibly angry. The scandal of it all!

Your busy life awaits

A busy, local part of Tokyo.

Sure, we could talk about Shinjuku or Shibuya, but living in Tokyo means your “local” will probably be somewhere else. There are innumerable moderately busy neighborhoods around Tokyo, including Ikebukuro, pictured above. Wherever you live in Tokyo, you’re going to find that space is at a premium. In terms of personal space, plan on that being severely curtailed – especially on trains. As for your home, it’s not uncommon at all for single people to live in units as small as 30m² (323 ft²). You’re really living large if, as a couple, you have 45m² (484 ft²).

Living in Tokyo, however, has lots and lots of perks. The best jobs are here. There is a never a lack of things to do. The best restaurants. The best museums. The best night scene. It’s a city of extremes and superlatives, so if you’ve got the cash, get splashing.

A link to the past – and to Osaka

old steam train in Tokyo
Those were the leisurely days.

Just outside Shinbashi Station, you’ll find this old steam train. Back in the late 1800s, a trip from Tokyo to Osaka via steam train took about 19 hours. Now it takes 2 1/2 hours. Naturally, with Tokyo being the capital and largest city in Japan, rail connections to just about anywhere are superb. But bear in mind that long distance rail travel in Japan is not particularly cheap. That 2 1/2 hour (bullet) train trip will cost around $125 today.

How about a potentially boozy walk down memory lane?

Osaka backstreets
Old style entertainment areas abound in Osaka.

The question of whether it’s better to live in Tokyo or Osaka really comes down what vibe resonates with you. Osaka has the big entertainment and shopping districts like Tokyo, but they’re not quite as big and grand. Osaka shines when it comes to the more traditional restaurant, entertainment, and shopping districts. Pictured above is an area known as “ura-namba” (Namba backstreets). Here you’ll find an abundance of friendly people. Maybe too friendly if you’re from Tokyo! Osaka people are notoriously talkative even with strangers, whereas in Tokyo the striking up of a random conversation seems to be almost illegal.

You should know that most people who like Osaka people, live in Osaka. In fact, they are Osaka people. Osaka people will tell you they are warm, have a great sense of humor, and a zest for life. Tokyo people will often say that Osaka people are obnoxious, pushy, and not as funny as they think. There’s a palpable pressure to be funny in Osaka, and some just aren’t up to the task. The bottom line is that it’s way easier to live anonymously in Tokyo than Osaka.

It’s all about the eating

chicken meatball with raw egg on top
“Tsukune” with accompanying raw egg.

Osaka people are famous for their gluttony, and luckily they have lots and lots of great food there to assist with this joy/road to demise. Pictured above is a staple at yakitori places. It’s essentially a large chicken meatball that includes bits of cartilage in the mix. Trust us, you’ll like the tweak it does to the consistency. Or you won’t like it, but eventually will come around to liking it. As for the raw egg, you should immediately burst that yolk and get slathering. You’ll find that, in general, Japanese prefer their eggs somewhere between “raw” and “barely cooked”. Admittedly, this is immaterial to the question of whether it’s better to live in Tokyo or Osaka, but it’s a helpful tip nonetheless.

It’s all about the eating (part 2)

Thinly sliced wagyu beef
Apologies to the less carnivorous types out there.

The Japanese sometimes call beef like this “shimofuri” because it looks like it’s frosted. If you’re a meat lover, this is going to be a frosting you’re going to love. The beef pictured here is sliced thinly for sukiyaki or shabu shabu. It’s a sin to overcook beef as amazing as this. When sliced this thinly, it takes mere seconds to cook.

Japanese like their beef, pork, chicken, and even much of their fish to be fatty. No fat? That must mean no flavor, or so goes the thinking. In fact, in many supermarkets you’ll find that chicken breast meat is often around half as expensive as chicken thigh meat (you’ll learn about all this and more on our super fun Osaka night tour) – quite the opposite from most “Western” counties. Yet Japanese are on the whole not an overweight society. This is probably because of all the walking most people living in big city Japan do, plus the fact that portion sizes of these rich items tend to be much smaller than places like the US.

Something about Osaka that has nothing to do with eating

Osaka’s cost of living is significantly lower than Tokyo’s. Lower enough that you’re still ahead of the game even after for accounting for the slightly lower salaries. Commutes are shorter, and on trains and subways that are generally much less crowded. People in Osaka are also much friendlier. It’s often said that Tokyo is a great place to visit, but not such a great place to try and make a living. Osaka may not have Tokyo’s level of sophistication, but it’s still a city of many millions of people, and there’s quite a bit to do.

Have you decided if it’s better to live in Tokyo or Osaka?

At the end of the day, there are Tokyo people and there are Osaka people. You’ve just got to figure out which one you are. Many people only planning on spending a year or so in Japan will find Tokyo to be the epitome of hyper urban Japanese living, and love it. For those looking for a bit more balance, Osaka may be the answer. As long as you like lots of people talking to you all the time and acting just a big crazy.

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