When most people first start researching Japan as a place to live, they tend to gravitate towards Tokyo. Even living in Japan, there is definitely a certain bias towards Tokyo in all things. The news, TV shows, new products and shops always tend to have Tokyo as their focus. And why not? Tokyo is the largest city in the country by a huge margin. But if you’re thinking of moving to Japan, why not consider one of Japan’s other hugely famous metropolises: Osaka.
As Japan’s third most populated city, Osaka has a very distinct culture from Tokyo (and sometimes from the rest of Japan) but it’s famous for its more outgoing nature and has some unique charms of its own. Let’s look at some of the unique points that Osaka has to offer to people living in Japan.
It’s a big city, but not overwhelmingly so.
For someone who might be intimidated by Tokyo’s massive sprawl, Osaka, while still a very large city, is the perfect alternative. The internet is a sometimes confusing source for Osaka’s actual size given that a lot of websites mix up the entire Keihanshin Metropolitan region (which includes Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka) with Osaka city itself. Osaka city on its own has a population of around 2.7 million. While it’s certainly a big, dense city, it’s not as huge as you may think. In fact, Osaka has placed very highly on various most liveable city lists, often ranking ahead of Tokyo. This is due to the city’s excellent infrastructure and healthcare options.
There are two main downtown areas in Osaka: Umeda, which is centred around Osaka station, and Namba, which contains the famous Dotombori area. Aside from these, there are plenty of other major shopping areas spread throughout the city, each with its distinctive character. There are so many areas to get out and explore that you will never run out of things to do, while still feeling relatively comfortable.
Like Tokyo, Osaka has a complete and very well connected public transport system so getting to any part of the city is a breeze. There are a few different transport operators in the city, including Osaka Metro (the subway) and JR services. It also goes without saying that it has a good distribution of reliable bus services as well.
Being Japan’s third largest city, Osaka also has access to many of the same benefits of living in Tokyo. Food options are plentiful. You can find restaurants serving any kind of cuisine that you could wish for (though this being Japan, it is sometimes tuned to Japanese tastes). For big, international brands, Osaka tends to be a priority location for presence as they expand throughout Japan. Usually, something will open in Tokyo first and Osaka will quickly follow. That means most things you can get in Tokyo do eventually come to Osaka.
A Little More Relaxed
This is something you’ll find most people say about Osaka, even casual visitors: people are a little more relaxed. The Kansai region as a whole has long been characterised as more friendly and outgoing than Tokyo and this is somewhat true. People in Osaka tend to be a bit more open and generally won’t hesitate to speak to you even if you’re a foreigner. It’s a place famous for its sense of humour and Osaka people love to joke around and laugh.
Osaka is also very well known for its nightlife. At night, its otherwise gritty cityscape can transform into a wonder of neon and noise. Restaurants, izakayas and bars are plentiful and the locals are generally friendly and welcoming, though Kansai-ben can sometimes be a little confusing if you’re more used to standard Tokyo Japanese.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Osaka is much lower than Tokyo’s in terms of rent and utilities. There are of course expensive and cheaper areas but if you have a certain budget for a place to live, you will probably find something easily within that range here.
Food is also generally at a reasonable cost, in particular eating out. Osaka was historically known as the nation’s breadbasket for a very long time, a fact that is sometimes misinterpreted in the West as it being particularly famous as a gourmet destination. The nickname actually comes from Osaka’s position as the predominant port city distributing food around the country rather than from the actual quality of the cuisine. That said, Osaka is definitely very famous for its cheap, filling and hearty dishes like Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki and Kushikatsu and you can find almost any other kind of food, Japanese or otherwise at great quality and at very reasonable prices. Osaka has always had a very distinct food culture with lots of street food and surprising finds around every corner.
For everyday shopping, there are also plenty of discount supermarkets in Osaka, the most famous being Super Tamade. With its gaudy neon decorations and confusing interiors, Super Tamade is a haven for bargains and known for putting items on sale for as little as 1 yen. There are plenty of other supermarkets that have tried to follow in Super Tamade’s footsteps in general so there are plenty of options, even down to vending machines hidden in backstreets that sometimes have drinks available for 10 yen.
Easy access to the Kansai region
For me, personally, this is the best thing about living in Osaka. Its central location means you have very easy access to the cities and prefectures around it including Kyoto, Kobe, Nara and Wakayama. These are all extremely distinctive cities with very different characteristics and vibes. Being able to take a quick day trip out to one of these on a weekend is great. For people who love to travel, you can never run out of things to explore just with these destinations alone. There is very easy access by train to all of these and depending on where in Osaka you live, it can sometimes be possible to commute too, opening up your job markets.
While Osaka city itself lags a little behind Tokyo in terms of green spaces and parks inside the city itself, it does offer fairly easy access to nature in its northern areas and out towards its edges. If you’re craving some time in nature, it’s simply a matter of jumping on a train to Hyogo or Nara and you can be out in the forests and mountains in less than an hour.
So What are the Downsides?
There are very few downsides to choosing Osaka over Tokyo but the biggest one as an expat is that there are fewer job opportunities specifically for foreigners in Osaka than Tokyo. Because of this, it can definitely take longer to find work. This is gradually starting to change and it still offers far more opportunities compared to other cities in more regional areas of Japan.
Another disadvantage you might hear from other Japanese people is the crime rate. While it’s true that Osaka does have the highest crime rate in Japan, it is still very safe compared to other major cities around the world with violent crime being extremely rare.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, Osaka can feel a little bereft of green spaces in the city. Though there are definitely a handful of big parks, it is very much a dense, urban landscape. That said, the easy and convenient access to nature outside the city itself more than makes up for it.
Living in Osaka
For many people, living in Japan automatically means living in Tokyo but Osaka has so much to offer that isn’t found in the nation’s capital. Easy access to different sides of Japan, a rich food culture and affordable living should put it near the top of anyone’s list when choosing a place to live in Japan.