March 29, 2012

Osaka vs. Tokyo

I have finally made it to Osaka, so my adventures as 'The Only Blonde in Osaka' officially begin here. I would just like to provide a disclaimer before we go any further, and inform you from my experience here so far that I should technically be renaming this blog to 'One of Actually Quite a Few Blondes in Osaka'. But it's not as catchy, so please let me indulge in my own self-importance for a bit longer.

Anyway. I have been in Osaka for almost a week now, and after spending a week in Tokyo, it's been really hard not to compare the two major Japanese cities. But it actually turns out that by comparing the two cities, I am partaking in an ingrained tradition of Osakan-Tokyoite rivalry, that considers each city's culture and language to be completely different to - and better than - the other's. 'Osaka people are rude and unkempt,' say the Tokyoites. 'Tokyo people are rigid and pretentious,' say the Osakans. I guess it's sort of like the relationship between Australia and New Zealand. We just love to hate each other.

Well then, what are the differences between Tokyo and Osaka I've noticed so far?


Tokyo people are friendly, Osaka people are FRIENDLY. In Tokyo, I always felt a bit awkward if I had to ask anyone for help, or directions - mainly because everyone seems so tied up in their own worlds, and you got the impression you'd be disturbing them - even if they're too polite to say so. But on our first night in Osaka, we were reading a map in Namba station, probably looking quite tired and confused, and a random man just came right up to us and asked if we needed help finding anything. Maybe it's because of Osaka's history as a merchant city, you get the sense that people are more relaxed and open to dealing with outsiders.

This carefree attitude can be seen in the clothes Osaka people wear, too. In Tokyo, everyone is a slave to fashion. I would see girls freezing their arses off in miniskirts  and stumbling around in high-heels too big for them, while clutching Louis Vuitton handbags in their claw-like manicured hands. Osaka is way more casual. Understated clothes seem to be the norm, jackets, jeans, nothing too flashy. And you're more likely to hear someone bragging about a bargain than showing off a brand-name.


They say that Osakans like to break the rules, and when it comes to the road rules, I reckon that's a fair statement. It takes about half an hour to walk from our hotel in Esaka to Kansai University each day, and there are times in which I fear for my life. The streets are incredibly narrow, and footpaths don't seem to exist, so you have cars, trucks, scooters, cyclists and pedestrians all jostling for the same space. As one of my new Japanese friends said about Osakan drivers, 'if it's green - go. If it's yellow - go. If it's red - go carefully.' I laughed, until I realised he wasn't joking.

Another thing you should know if you're going from Tokyo to Osaka is that while most of Japan stands and waits on the left side of escalators (leaving room for people in a rush to get past on the right hand side), this is far too ordinary for Osaka, where the right side is the norm. This may sound like a minor detail, but trust me, you don't want to be the annoying foreigner holding everyone up by standing on the wrong side of the escalator during rush hour (yep, I was that guy).


One of the main reasons that I wanted to study here in Osaka was because of Osaka-ben, the regional dialect. It's hard to explain, but something about the style of Japanese they speak here just sounds nicer, for lack of a better linguistic term. Osaka-ben rolls off the tongue of the native speaker; it's musical, expressive and almost comical. In fact, most Japanese people associate Osaka-ben with comedians - and it's true, all the Osaka people I've met so far have had a wicked sense of humour.

So... it turns out I'm a bit of an Osaka Otaku. I really love it here. To the person who described Osaka-lovers like me as 'a new breed of Japan hipsters that don't like Tokyo because it's too mainsteam' - shut up, and come and experience the city for yourself. I bet you'd take takoyaki over Tokyo any day.

Takoyaki... one of the many things I love about Osaka.


  1. I loved this post, it was really cool to see the difference you saw between Osaka and Tokyo since I always hear the same thing too: "People from Osaka are nicer". So to actually see someone else who recently went to Tokyo and Osaka confirm it, it makes me think about maybe staying in Osaka for one of my trips.

  2. I teach in Tokyo, but I have a pet theory that I can tell within three minutes whether a student is from Osaka: eye contact, relaxed body language, a wicked sense of humour. I've always suspected I might enjoy Osaka. Maybe Osaka suits us laidback southern types (I'm from South Africa) a bit more? :D

    1. Haha, that's awesome you can tell the difference! Yeah, I really loved Tokyo... but Osaka is definitely more casual, and it's sort of a relief. I feel like if I make stupid gaijin mistakes people won't care as much. =D

  3. I've been in Osaka only for one day so far, but I could see the differences already - not as many men in suits as in tokyo, more graffiti, but most importantly, I could feel more personal connection with people, even when only passing by somebody - I was shocked, when after I subtly greet workers in cementery, they openly and loudly greet me back. And that personal feeling is a dealbreaker for me. ;)