If you’ve lived in Japan, you know how fierce the Tokyo vs. Osaka debate can get between both cities. Well, I have experience myself living in both cities, so I thought I would write a short post on some of the little things that really stand out to me personally when comparing my time spent living in Osaka and then Tokyo. I’m not going to cover everything, but just some minor points that I wanted to discuss. Let’s get started!
How Long I lived in Osaka and Tokyo
There is admittedly a bit of a bias here, since Osaka was not only the first place I lived in Japan, I also lived there for far longer. From early 2015 to early 2020 I lived first in Osaka, and then the general Osaka area. Actually, I wrote a pretty detailed account of the…strange but hilarious experiences I had living in Osaka’s south “minami” areas, which you can read here. After graduating from university in early 2020, I moved to Tokyo for work, where I’m currently living now.
People from Osaka are open and kind, while people from Tokyo are polite and cold? The personalities of people from Tokyo and Osaka compared.
This is probably the most common stereotype either side slings at each other when debating whether Osaka or Tokyo are better cities. When I was living in Osaka, if I brought out going to Tokyo people would always say how Tokyo people are “cold”, and how Tokyo is “overcrowded”. From a certain point of view these things…are maybe true? That being said, the way people from Osaka are kind is not the same way people in Western countries are kind. I would describe Osaka kindness as being more similar to an openness to poke fun at each other, based heavily on the boke / tsukkomi communication culture that made the region’s comedy (owarai) so famous. Tokyo, on the other hand, I have noticed feels much more like a steady progression. In Osaka, you may be expected to participate more heavily in group dynamics, while in Tokyo people tend to respect your space a little bit more. This is mostly because tsukkomi culture doesn’t really exist in Tokyo.
The unique communication style of Osaka that is distinct from Tokyo: What does boke and tsukkomi mean?
In Osaka’s unique manzai style comedy duos, there is always a boke, and there is always a tsukkomi. The boke can be thought of as the funny man. They’re the one’s who explain some crazy thing in their life, or set up the tsukkomi for a joke. The tsukkomi can be thought of as the straight man. They critique and build jokes based on the tension of poking fun of the boke. This dynamic can be seen often in normal everyday conversations in Osaka, based on my experience. People in Osaka will often reenact this dynamic by teasing each other on some tiny insignificant thing, like the color of their shirt, or the amount of food they’re ordering at a restaurant, etc. As soon as somebody teases someone, the person being teased is expected to play along and immediately play up the joke. They kind of volunteer to take on the role of the boke. It’s really subtle, but this is a dynamic that I would see ALL OF THE TIME when I would go out drinking with my main zemi class in university. I wrote a bit more about why these kinds of drinking parties are so prevalent in Japanese society in a separate article which you can read here.
To be completely honest, as much as I love Osaka, I would eventually get a little sick of this dynamic popping up so often in conversations. It is funny, but it does get a little…tiring? Constantly expected to play along with some bit about how you “Always wear blue shirts! OH MY GOD”, and “Wow, you poured way too much soy sauce! What’s up with that?!? (Please read in Jerry Seinfeld voice.) It’s just…sometimes you just want to talk about things…you know? (lol) Don’t get me wrong, I usually had a great time at all of these drinking parties, but this boke and tsukkomi style of communication would wear on me after a number of years. When I mentioned this to my friend she said “Yeah, a lot of people in the class are super Kansai people.”, so I took her word that it was a Kansai thing (Kansai is the whole region of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Wakayama, etc.), and I haven’t really seen this happen in Tokyo so far. It must be! Maybe? If there is one thing I do prefer in Kansai, and in Osaka especially, it’s the food culture!
Why I prefer the food culture in Osaka, even though Tokyo probably has better restaurants as a whole.
There is a different vibe to the restaurants in Osaka and Tokyo. In Osaka, everything is about the venue, and everything is about the izakaya. An izakaya is often translated as a “Japanese pub”, but it’s really a place to eat and drink a variety of foods with friends or family for hours at a time. Night life in Osaka revolves around the Izakaya, for the most part. Tokyo also has a ton of izakaya (Tokyo has everything), but I noticed that there is a much higher ratio of specialty shop to izakaya. This is likely because of the extremely high standards and fierce competition people have in Tokyo. In Tokyo, so many shops are known for their “thing”, be it a restaurant that specializes in avocado dishes, or a restaurant that specializes in dishes that feature a ton of garlic. This kind of variety can be really fun. and all of the food I’ve had in Tokyo has been fantastic, but I do feel that things tend to be a bit more trendy down here than they were in Osaka. In Osaka, the attention was on the food, the immediate atmosphere, and the people around you. In Tokyo, it feels like every shop is in a fierce battle for your attention, and like every place has some new gimmick around the corner for you to try. It’s all great. All food in Japan is almost always great. But I do think I prefer the more chill and minimalist experience of Osaka’s food culture than I do to the trendiness and posh of Tokyo. That’s just me, and I’m sure many people have the opposite opinion, but Osaka is called the “kitchen of Japan” for a reason, after all.
These were a few small things I noticed that I wanted to talk about, so I decided to do a short write-up. Of course, this wasn’t an extensive comparison by any means, but these are the main factors that stick out in my mind whenever I think of this Tokyo vs. Osaka debate. I hope you got something out of it, and feel free to check out on of the articles below if you want to read more about my experiences living in Osaka and Tokyo.