Osaka or Tokyo: Which Japanese City to Visit?

Osaka or Tokyo
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Osaka or Tokyo is a decision between two of the three largest cities in beautiful Japan. It’s not going to be an easy choice, because both places have plenty to offer, from some of the best restaurants in the world to oodles of cool districts to explore, great day trip opportunities, and great nightlife on top.

On one hand, there is Tokyo, a huge urban jungle under snowy Mount Fuji. The capital city attracts millions of visitors that are eager to enjoy the modern architecture mixed with ancient temples, busy, colorful streets, and amazing food. On the other, there is Osaka, a slightly smaller metropolis with different culinary experiences and a great location for day trips.

This guide to Osaka or Tokyo will talk about different things about these two places, helping you decide where to visit next. There’s information on basic things like how to get there, along with an in-depth guide to nightlife, sights, prices, and food.

Osaka or Tokyo for the ease of travel?

Trains in Tokyo
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Osaka is the third-largest city in Japan, which means you shouldn’t find it hard to get there, whether you’re traveling domestically or from overseas. The main gateway for international visitors is Kansai International Airport, which you can easily get to by train from the center. If you’re coming from other Japanese destinations, though, you will probably either land at Osaka International (Itami) Airport, or come overland by train, bus, or ferry.

Getting around this large city isn’t difficult, either. The most convenient and efficient way to travel is the subway and JR West Loop Line. Getting a taxi can be pricy, so make sure to check the rates beforehand and share your ride where possible. But, if you’re traveling shorter distances, you can take advantage of the fact that Osaka is mostly flat and rent a bike.

The fact is that people that visit this wonderful country will start their journey in the capital, Tokyo. There are two major gateways into that city: Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. Both offer a range of international connections with plenty of long-haul options, but the latter also has lots of domestic routes. Tokyo is also the heart of Japan’s railway network, which means you can get high-speed trains from most major cities in the country to here. Although the bullet trains aren’t the cheapest, they’re super quick, so it’s well worth it for the experience.

Finally, there aren’t many cities in the world that can compete with Tokyo’s super-efficient and extensive transport system. You can get virtually everywhere by subway or train. We don’t recommend opting for taxis or cars, though. They’re expensive, and you might be stuck in traffic for hours!

Winner: Tokyo.

Osaka or Tokyo for sights and attractions?

Street in Osaka
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Tokyo is a huge city with mighty Mount Fuji in the background. We recommend spending at least 3-5 days there to make the most of what it has to offer. From the busy Shibuya Crossing to the ancient Buddhist temple of Sensō-Ji, you won’t have much trouble filling your itinerary in the capital.

Enjoy the panoramic views from Tokyo Skytree or Tokyo Tower and wander around the Meiji Jingu shrine. Spend a day shopping in one of the bustling districts of Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Harajuku – where high fashion meets youthful trends. Ah, and if you happen to visit in spring, take some snaps of the beautiful cherry blossoms at Ueno Park.

But there is no shortage of sights and attractions in Osaka, either. One of the most famous landmarks in all of Japan, Osaka Castle is an architectural gem nestled in the heart of the city. Base yourself in Dotonbori, the vibrant, entertainment district that runs along the Dotonbori Canal, or the colorful Namba area that’s dotted with busy izakaya (traditional Japanese beer bars), shopping centers, and restaurants. Movie buffs will enjoy the Universal Studios that are here, while those looking to soak up some of the local past can hit the Osaka Museum of History.

Winner: Tokyo.

Osaka or Tokyo for nightlife?

Japanese drinks
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If you’re looking for the best nightlife in Japan, look no further than Tokyo and Osaka – two of the country’s party meccas. Some people say that Osaka might win this one for the atmosphere, but others think that Tokyo has better clubs. Well, it’s a tough one. Let’s start with the capital…

Tokyo is up there with some of the top nightlife destinations in the world and there is a good reason for that. There is no shortage of cool nightclubs, hip bars, karaoke joints, and izakaya – Japanese bars that serve snacks and alcoholic drinks until late hours. The closing times are somewhat dictated by the trains, though, and you will see two different groups of partygoers – those that take the last train at 11 pm and those that take the first train at 5 am! If you want to sample Tokyo’s famous nightlife scene, you’ll want to stay in either Shibuya, Roppongi, Shinjuku, or Ginza districts. We doubt you’ll be disappointed with any of those.

But Osaka is the biggest rival to the capital’s wild nightlife scene there is. Locals living there are said to be more friendly and welcoming than those in Tokyo. Plus, drinks tend to be cheaper in Osaka’s bars and clubs, although we still wouldn’t call them cheap. Head to the business district of Umeda in the northern part or stay in the touristy areas of Dotonbori or Shinsaibashi in the south if you’re looking for the best night out in the city.

Winner: Draw. Osaka for atmosphere. Tokyo for the thrills.

Osaka or Tokyo for accommodation?

Hotel in Osaka
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Being two of the three largest cities in the country, both Osaka and Tokyo have no shortage of cool places to stay. You won’t have much trouble finding a suitable pad whatever your budget is since both offer plenty of lodges, from 5-star luxury hotels to wallet-friendly pod hostels.

In Osaka, Konjaku-So Dotonbori Garden SPA Stay ($$$) is a great option if you’re not short on cash. It’s located in the popular Dotonbori district, offering beautifully decorated, Kanso-style rooms with spa baths. If you’re on a tighter budget, though, IMANO OSAKA SHINSAIBASHI HOSTEL ($) is a good choice with stylish, modern rooms in a convenient location. For families with children, we recommend Universal Point House ($$), close to the Universal Studios theme park.

While in Tokyo, stay at Azabu Ten Tokyo ($$$) if you’re looking for a luxurious option. They offer beautifully decorated Japandi-style rooms in a central location. Be prepared to pay a premium for this awesome spot, however. For budget stays, you can hardly find better than B:CONTE Asakusa ($), with modern rooms at a great price. Tokyo Bay Maihama Hotel First Resort ($$) is a perfect option for families that want to visit Disneyland.

Winner: Draw – both have plenty of great options.

Osaka or Tokyo for food?

Sushi chef in Tokyo
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Japan is a food lovers’ paradise, and the capital city is the cherry on top. Tokyo has the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, so it’s no wonder that it’s considered a culinary hotspot. From high-end sushi joints in Ginza to noodle street stalls in Harajuku, there is plenty of food for all budgets. Dine in one of the three-starred restaurants, Sushi Yoshitake or Azabu Kadowaki for some of the best Japanese innovative cooking on the globe. That, of course, if you can afford it. Alternatively, head to Omoide Yokocho for some inexpensive roadside treats.

But Osaka is not far behind Tokyo when it comes to world-class restaurants. The town has nearly 100 spots that have been awarded Michelin stars. Kansai food dominates Osaka’s culinary scene is slightly different from the stuff available in and around the capital. Many dishes are based on kombu dashi, a seaweed broth, and usukuchi, a light soy sauce, opposed to Tokyo’s katsuo-dashi, fish flake stock, and koikuchi, a dark soy sauce. Head to Koryu for some tasty Asian delicacies and visit Takama for some of the best noodle dishes out there.

Winner: Tokyo.

Osaka or Tokyo for day trips?

Historic Kyoto
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Day trips are great ways to make the most of your time in Osaka, as there’s lots to see within a short distance away from the city. Take advantage of the Kansai Thru Pass that lets you use transport in the cities within the Kansai region. That includes the cultural capital of Japan, Kyoto, with a number of picturesque gardens, temples, and shrines. You can also use it to visit ancient Nara, a town with a population of deer roaming around. Other places include Nagoya, Mie, and Kobe. You can also take a three-hour train to the historic blast site of Hiroshima.

When it comes to the capital, there are plenty of places you can see in one day. The good news is that Tokyo is well connected by the super-quick bullet trains, so you will even be able to go to spots that might far away. For starters, you can take the Fuji Excursion train from Shinjuku Station to Mount Fuji. There are some fantastic panoramic vistas along the way. Other popular places worth visiting when staying in Tokyo include Kamakura, a seaside town with a giant Buddha statue, Odawara City with its beautiful castle, and the beaches of Enoshima.

Winner: Osaka for the proximity to Kyoto.

Osaka or Tokyo for the prices?

Shibuya crossing
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Whether you go to Osaka or Tokyo, you will have to budget a lot more than you would for most Asian destinations. That said, Japan isn’t as pricy as the likes of Singapore, the UK, or Scandinavia, but some parts are not far off…

Osaka is much cheaper than the capital city, so if cost is your main priority, don’t spend too long in Tokyo. You will need around $82 a day in Japan’s third-largest town, but that will heavily depend on the sort of accommodation you go for. The cheapest rooms start at around $15-$20 a night, but the most luxurious suites in the center can cost hundreds of dollars, so choose your bed wisely. You also don’t need the big bucks for dining out here – a meal for two usually costs around $10 per person.

When it comes to Tokyo, it’s a different story. Although it isn’t the number one on the list, it’s up there with the most expensive cities to visit anywhere. Pretty much everything will cost more in the capital than in Osaka, from hotels to transport, from food to drink. In fact, the average daily budget sits at around $160 per person, which is nearly double what it is in Osaka. Similarly, the cost of your trip can go up and down a lot depending on your accommodation, as prices range from $25 to up to $500 a night!

Winner: Osaka.

Osaka or Tokyo: the conclusion

If you’re trying to decide which Japanese city you should visit then you might be wondering which is better, Osaka or Tokyo. The good news is that both places have plenty to offer in terms of sights, fantastic food, and nightlife. There’s generally more to do and see in the capital, and Tokyo is known to have the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Impressive, right? But then Osaka is cheaper, and the people there tend to be friendlier. Plus, you’re right next to the historic city of Kyoto. 

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