Tokyo is the leading city in the Kanto area (Eastern Japan), and Osaka is the leading city in the Kansai area (Western Japan).
These two cities are also said to have some sort of city rivalries, like New York and Los Angeles, Paris and Marseille, or Delhi and Mumbai. There is a big difference between the cultures of Tokyo and Osaka, so it is not surprising. As someone who grew up in Osaka and now lives in Tokyo, here’s my take on the cultural differences between Tokyo and Osaka!
The so-called standard Japanese you study in your textbooks is mainly spoken in Tokyo. There are many dialects in Japan, and the most representative of them is the Osaka dialect. (Also known as Kansai-ben).
In many anime and TV dramas, there are characters who speak in the Osaka dialect. Do you know anyone below who speaks the Osaka dialect? Osaka dialect is commonly used by comedians, so characters with Osaka dialect in anime and dramas are often portrayed as cheerful, bright, and funny.
The first thing that struck me was the food! Let me share with you some of the differences in food that surprised me.
Niku-jaga (肉じゃが) “Japanese meat and potato stew”
Niku (meat) and Jaga (potatoes) are literally the main ingredients. In Osaka, beef is used. So when I ate at a restaurant in Tokyo, I was surprised to see that pork was used.
Pork is often used in home-style cooking in Tokyo, while beef is often used in Osaka.
Udon-noodle vs. Soba-noodle
In Osaka, there are many udon noodle shops when you walk around the city. On the other hand, when you come to Tokyo, the whole city is full of soba noodle shops.
The sweet rolled egg!???
In Osaka, rolled eggs are generally seasoned with salt, soy sauce, or other salty flavors. So, the first time I ate a rolled egg in Tokyo, it was so sweet it left me speechless.
I feel that a lot of sugar is used in cooking in Tokyo, not just in rolled eggs. My mother’s cooking in Osaka did not use much sugar, so I was very surprised at how much sugar my mother-in-law in Tokyo used!
Tokyo offers flavors from all over the world!
In Tokyo, there are so many restaurants with almost all countries’ cuisines, such as Peruvian, Afghan, and Ethiopian cuisine (which are hard to find in other parts of Japan). It is said that because Tokyo has many embassies, there are many restaurants near each embassy that serve the authentic tastes of each cuisine.
Kerosene containers for home use
There is a household kerosene container for when you use the stove at home. When I lived in Osaka, I only saw blue ones, but in Tokyo, I was surprised to see that only red ones were sold. It is said that red, the color representing danger, was used in Tokyo, while blue, which was a cheaper color pigment than red, was used in Osaka. This is an episode typical of Osaka, a city of merchants, where people are good at saving costs.
Which side of the escalator you should stand on
In Osaka, people stand on the right side of the escalator and leave the left side open for people walking up. In Tokyo, it’s the other way around. (By the way, it is dangerous to walk on the escalator!)
On the very first day I moved to Tokyo, I stood on the right side of the escalator with a heavy suitcase out of habit and caused a traffic jam behind me…
Having grown up in Osaka, now living in Tokyo, and being married to a Tokyo person, I now love both cities. When I was a child, I believed in city rivalry and thought that Tokyo and Osaka were opponents, but now I feel that their differences are what makes each city so special and attractive.
When the COVID-19 pandemic settles, I hope everyone can visit both cities and experience the cultural differences!