Many travellers to Japan will always have to face this age-old question: Tokyo or Osaka, which city is better?


Credit: giphy

For some, Tokyo is and will always be number 1 in their hearts – the bustling Japanese capital is home to famed sights like Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo Skytree and Disneyland. For others, their allegiance lies with Osaka – home to the Osaka Castle, Universal Studios and the famous Dotonbori food street. But for those of you who can’t decide, here’s a breakdown of things to do, shopping spots, halal Japanese food (and more!) in each destination so you’ll know which city is for you ☺️

1. Sightseeing spots & things to do

Tokyo

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that this sprawling city has no shortage of things to do. Here’s where you can tick Japan’s iconic spots like the Shibuya Crossing and Tokyo Skytree off your travel bucket list. If you want to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, there’s Senso-ji in Asakusa and Meiji Jingu Shrine among others.

senso-ji asakusa

Culture buffs will find comfort in the city’s many museums. The Tokyo National Museum, National Art Center and Mori Art Museum will give you an insight to traditional and contemporary Japanese art.

Visiting Tokyo with kids in tow? No problem! Tokyo’s Disney parks will keep you covered for a day or two. You can also get up-close and personal with the animals at Ueno Zoo, or spend a day in Odaiba, where you’ll find a life-sized statue of  the popular anime character, Gundam.

Shinjuku Gyoen Park

But for all its hustle and bustle, you can still find some respite in Tokyo’s stunning parks. Shinjuku Gyo-en, Yoyogi and Ueno parks are hot spots for the city’s seasonal blooms like cherry blossoms and autumn foliage 😍

Suffice to say, Tokyo has activities for every type of traveller out there and our 5D4N Muslim-friendly itinerary will help you cover the city’s top spots!

Osaka

Despite not having the size and population to match Tokyo, Osaka’s vibrant culture makes it stand out.

A visit to its most popular tourist spot, Dotonbori will awe you with its bright neon lights and here’s where you’ll also find the famous Glico Running Man! With a variety of restaurants, shopping and entertainment options, you’ll definitely visit Dotonbori more than once to soak in its lively atmosphere 😉

osaka castle

No visit to Osaka would be complete without heading to the Osaka Castle. Built in the 16th century, the castle was once the largest in Japan and today, it stands as a symbol of the city’s pride. If you’re looking for more cultural spots, Sumiyoshi Taisha and Shitennoji Temple are great places to start.

For families visiting Osaka, a visit to Universal Studios Japan makes for a perfect day out, and you’ll be guaranteed a magical time at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Osaka Bay area is also great for families where a visit to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is a must. With a wide range of marine life from the Pacific Rim and 15 tanks, it is one of the most impressive in Japan!

While Osaka might not have a wealth of activities like Tokyo, what’s great is its proximity to other cities in the Kansai region (like Kyoto and Nara) which are brimming with sightseeing spots. Check out our 5D4N Muslim-friendly Osaka itinerary for more things to do in Osaka 🤗

2. Shopping

Tokyo

Tokyo is widely known as one of the best places in Asia for shopping and it certainly comes as no surprise. The city has dozens of shopping spots, and if you’re looking to catch up with the latest fashion trends, Shibuya and Shinjuku are your best bets. With huge stores like Shibuya 109, Isetan, Tokyu Hands, Muji, Don Quijote and more, you’ll be able to get your shopping fix at these 2 areas!

shibuya crossing

Want something a little off the edge? Then head to Harajuku! Known as Kawaii capital, you’ll find hipster and vintage clothes and accessories here. If you’re looking for somewhere a little more upscale, Ginza is the place to go. Ginza is also home to the world’s largest Uniqlo store, where you can shop till you drop 😍 For Japanese souvenirs, snacks and trinkets, Asakusa’s Nakamise Dori will do just the trick.

Fans of Japanese manga, anime and cosplay will love Akihabara which is filled with arcades, themed cafes and bookstores. Here’s where you can also get hold of all kinds of electronic and lifestyle gadgets.

The best part is, Tokyo also has districts dedicated to independent boutique stores and secondhand finds like Shimo-kitazawa and Naka-meguro. With so many shopping options, Tokyo has definitely proven itself to be a shopping haven and if you’re feeling slightly overwhelmed, we’ve rounded up the city’s top shopping spots, so you don’t have to!

Osaka

As with Tokyo, Osaka’s shopping options are aplenty too. The 2 main areas you should know are Kita-Umeda and Minami-Namba. Kita-Umeda is home to big shopping malls and department stores where you can certainly find almost everything you need! Grand Front Osaka, Osaka Station City and the Hankyu Umeda Main Store are some of the places you can head to. You’ll also find Whity Umeda – one of Japan’s largest underground shopping malls in Umeda 😉

shinsaibashi osaka
Credit: Edmund Tan on Facebook

Another area which travellers often flock to is Minami-Namba. Other than the famous Dotonbori food street, this area is also where you’d find the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade. There are over 180 stores here ranging from international brands to Japanese department stores and even some good bargains.

Located just a short walk away from Shinsaibashi is Amerikamura (or American village), Osaka’s answer to Harajuku. There are hundreds of shops selling unique fashion items and secondhand goods. What’s great is that the items here are affordable too, so rest assured your wallet will thank you 😅

Osaka also has several outlet malls where you can shop for international brands at more affordable prices. Some of the spots we’d recommend are Osaka Nanko ATC Town Outlet Mare, Mitsui Outlet Park Osaka Tsurumi and Rinku Premium Outlets which are accessible from downtown Osaka.

Don’t know where to start your shopping spree? Our list of top 11 shopping spots in Osaka will help you out!

3. Halal Japanese food

Tokyo

Believe it or not, you can have halal authentic Japanese cuisine every day in Tokyo without having to eat Middle Eastern or Indian food 😱 Don’t get us wrong, these 2 cuisines are yummy but what’s a trip to Japan without savouring some authentic local eats? With our ultimate list of halal Japanese food in Tokyo, you’ll be amazed at just how easy it is to find halal food in the Japanese capital.

coco ichibanya halal curry tokyo

What’s great about Tokyo is that you can find the halal version of almost every type of Japanese cuisine! You can get your ramen fix at Shinjuku Gyoen Ramen Ouka or Ayam-ya, halal curry rice at CoCo Ichibanya Curry House and sushi at Sushiken. Or perhaps you want an authentic yakiniku experience at Gyu-mon or Gyu-Kaku, or have shabu-shabu at Hanasakaji-san. Whatever your palate is craving, you can definitely find something in Tokyo and our halal food guide will definitely be of help 😋

Osaka

Osaka is traditionally known as the food capital of Japan. But does it match up to Tokyo as a haven for halal food?

bulls halal shabu-shabu

For one, there’s definitely less variety of halal Japanese cuisine but that’s not to say that you can’t satisfy your tummy with scrumptious Japanese food. Have a go at Osaka specialties and Japanese festival food like takoyaki, okonomiyaki and yakisoba at Matsuri. You can also try making your own takoyaki here!

But if you feel like having something soupy, then indulge in a halal sukiyaki and shabu-shabu (meat in Japanese hot pot) at Bulls or slurp some ramen at Ayam-ya or Ramen Honolu instead.

If there’s something which Osaka does better than Tokyo, it’s street food! This can be found most commonly at Dotonbori. When walking through the street, you can’t help but catch a whiff of grilled lobsters and crabs as well as other street snacks. But as most of them aren’t halal-certified, it’s best to check with individual vendors on the ingredients used. If you’re wondering where to find halal food in Osaka, check out our guide!

4. Theme parks

Tokyo

Theme parks are undeniably one of the best ways to add some fun to your trip, even more so for those travelling with family.  Fortunately, Japan is also known for having awesome theme parks. One of the unmissable experiences in Tokyo are its Disney parks!

tokyo disneyland
Credit: Eugene Phoen on Flickr

With 2 parks – Disneyland and DisneySea – you’re guaranteed the best time at the “happiest place on Earth”🤗 Wondering how you can make full use of your time at these parks? Check our our list of top Muslim-friendly tips to help you conquer Disneyland and DisneySea.

But if you think that Tokyo’s theme parks are all about Disney, then think again! Fans of Hello Kitty will have the time of their lives at Sanrio Puroland, located about an hour from Central Tokyo. Not to mention that the train bringing you to the theme park is decked out in Hello Kitty prints too. If you’re looking for more virtual reality and arcade-based rides, then head to Japan’s largest indoor theme park, Joypolis in Odaiba.

For daredevils who are looking for an adrenaline rush, you’ll definitely enjoy Fuji-Q Highland. Located about 2 hours from Tokyo, Fuji-Q has record-breaking roller coasters which are some of world’s fastest and tallest 😱

Osaka

If Tokyo has Disneyland, then Osaka’s best contender for its theme parks is Universal Studios Japan (USJ). While the park has many different sections, a visit to Osaka won’t be complete without checking USJ’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter off your checklist.

usj harry potter

Have a magical time here by marvelling at Hogwarts Castle, practising your spells or downing a cup of frothy butterbeer (non-alcoholic). There’s also a ton of Harry Potter merchandise that you can bring home! Besides the Harry Potter world, you can catch a street show or grab a photo with the adorable minions. Our list of 16 USJ hacks will help you have a fun and fulfilling day at the park!

If you’re planning to visit another theme park during your trip, Hirakata Park is a more affordable alternative and it’s ideal for families. Choose from over 40 outdoor and indoor rides, which are definitely suitable for you and your kids 🤗

5. Travelling on a budget

Tokyo

Tokyo is always seen as an expensive city but contrary to popular belief, you can do many things in the city by spending a small amount of money or even for free.

Free things to do:

For one, visiting cultural sights like Senso-ji and Meiji Jingu Shrine will not cost you a single cent, although they might have some paid sections, which you don’t need to visit. Taking a stroll in one of the city’s breathtaking parks is also free unless you’re visiting during cherry blossoms season where you’d need to pay a small fee. Other free activities you can do are: catch the live tuna auction at Toyosu Fish Market (former Tsukiji Market), watch a sumo practice, walk on the Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba and more.

Museum pass:

If you’re planning on visiting museums, we recommend getting the Grutto Pass as you’d only need to pay JPY 2200 to get free or discounted access to over 80 museums, zoos and aquariums!

bunkyo civic center
Credit: Sara Tanessakul on Facebook

Finding alternatives:

It’s also possible to skip popular sights like the Tokyo Skytree and catch the Tokyo skyline for free! Places like the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Bunkyo Civic Center and SkyCarrot offer free viewing galleries. And don’t worry, the bird’s eye view of Tokyo from these spots are just as amazing 😍

Transport passes:

Of course, walking is still the cheapest way to get around Tokyo. But taking the subway doesn’t need to be an expensive experience too. One way to save on transport is to get the Tokyo Subway pass which is valid from 24-72 hours according to your preference. Starting from JPY 800, you’ll get unlimited access to all Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines. For those of you who have the JR Pass, you can stick to taking the JR Yamanote Line (no additional fee needed with JR Pass) which serves most of the popular tourist spots in Tokyo!


Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson on Flickr

Shopping:

Skip the department stores and head to Tokyo’s discount stores instead. Head over to Don Quijote, 100-yen or 300-yen stores to get some souvenirs or snacks. If you want some bargain fashion buys without cramping your style, we recommend snagging some quality secondhand items at Yoyogi Flea Market or thrift stores at Shimo-Kitazawa 😉

Go off the beaten path:

Who says you need to hang around Shibuya or Shinjuku all the time? Exploring lesser-known neighbourhoods in Tokyo will cost you nothing at all and you can witness how the locals live their lives. Here are some neighbourhoods we’d recommend: Shimo-Kitazawa, Naka-Meguro, Yanaka, Daikanyama.

Osaka

Like Tokyo, Osaka also plenty of things to do without burning a hole in your wallet!

Free things to do:

Taking a stroll down Dotonbori, wandering its alleys and soaking in the vibrant atmosphere is an experience you can get without having to pay anything. It’s always interesting to observe the locals and tourists at this popular spot!

If you’re visiting the Osaka Castle, save on the admission fees of JPY 600 by exploring the areas around the castle instead. The Nishinomaru Garden surrounding the castle becomes a sea of gorgeous blooms during cherry blossom and the autumn foliage season. What’s more, you’ll be able to get a good view of the castle from afar and mingle with locals having their picnics 😊

tenjin matsuri
Credit: @sodacamera on Instagram

Another activity that’s free in Osaka is participating in a festival. The city and its surrounds hold numerous festivals such as the Tenjin Matsuri, Himeji Yukata Matsuri and the Festival of the Light during Christmas season. This is definitely an experience you won’t want to miss!

Transport Passes:

One of the most value-for-money passes is the Osaka Amazing Pass which is valid for 1 or 2 days. From just JPY 2500, you can enjoy unlimited entry to 35 sightseeing spots plus unlimited travel for buses and trains 😱 The Kansai Thru Pass (2/3 days) is also great as it allows you unlimited travel around the Kansai Area – perfect for those of you who are exploring beyond Osaka. If these passes aren’t suitable for you, we recommend getting the One-day Eco Card instead. For just JPY 800, you’ll get unlimited access on trains and buses for a day.

Shopping:

Similar to Tokyo, you can always rely on its discount stores for bargain buys on souvenirs and snacks to bring home. But if you’re looking for clothes and accessories, head over to Tenjimbashisuji Shopping Street which is frequented by the locals. You can expect to find everything from wholesale stores to traditional clothes, snacks, souvenir shops – all at lower prices than elsewhere. Another place to get bargain buys is Kuromon Market – you won’t find any huge chain stores here except local vendors 😉

6. Day trips

Tokyo

If you ask us, we’d tell you that you won’t get bored spending a week in Tokyo as the city just has too many things to do! But of course, that’s not to say that you can’t go on amazing day trips from Tokyo. For those who have more time to spare, you can take the opportunity to head to the many stunning spots around Tokyo.

Mt Fuji: 

Japan’s tallest and most beautiful mountain, Mt Fuji is sight to behold and it’s only a 2-hour bus ride to get here from Tokyo. Head to the Mt Fuji 5th Station to get close to the mountain or spend some time at the picturesque Lake Kawaguchi. Be sure to check out our guide on visiting Mt Fuji!

Hakone:

Ever seen that famous photo of a torii gate overlooking a lake? That’s the Hakone Shrine! The gorgeous volcanic area of Hakone is another popular spot for a day trip from Tokyo. Take the Hakone cable car over scenic mountains, cruise down Lake Ashi or take a dip in one of the many natural hot springs in Hakone for a rejuvenating day trip!

Nikko:

About 2-3 hours up north from Tokyo is the beautiful mountain town of Nikko. Known for its enchanting waterfalls, breathtaking Lake Chuzenji and World Heritage sites, a trip to Nikko will leave you in awe 😍 If you’re planning a visit, we’ve got some essential tips you need to know!

#HHWT Tip: To help you plan your trip better, we’ve specially crafted this 6D5N Muslim-friendly day trips itinerary from Tokyo!

Osaka 

Unlike Tokyo, most travellers use Osaka as a base to explore the Kansai region and beyond which is full of amazing cities and towns. This comes as no surprise as it takes only 30 minutes to travel from Osaka to popular tourist cities like Kyoto and Nara.

Kyoto:

Kyoto will definitely be on any Japan traveller’s bucket list! Dubbed the “tourist capital” of Japan, Kyoto houses numerous nature and historic sights like the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Fushimi-Inari Taisha, Gion, and Kiyomizu-dera. It might be overwhelming to fit everything in one day but our 6D5N Osaka-Kyoto itinerary will help you out 😉

Nara:

Home to hundreds of free-roaming deers, Nara is another city that’s just a short train ride from Osaka, which makes it perfect for a day trip. The sacred deers are undoubtedly the main highlight of Nara and you can feed them too. Todai-ji, a significant Buddhist temple is also another landmark that’s not to be missed in Nara!

itsukushima

Hiroshima:

Although not in the Kansai region, travelling to Hiroshima from Osaka takes only 1h 20min by express train. Known for the famous Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island and the Atomic Bomb Dome, a visit to Hiroshima makes for a great respite from bustling Osaka.

P.S. Check out our 5D4N Muslim-friendly itinerary of Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima!

7. Accessibility

Tokyo

Tokyo is a huge city so getting familiar with the different areas can be a little confusing. The metropolis is split up into various wards. The popular districts like Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku are on the west side while Asakusa, Ginza and Ueno are on the eastern side.

Getting around:

There are a few different train systems connecting the city but the most important ones are the Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway and JR lines. Most Tokyo subway lines run from east to west while the JR Yamanote line is a loop line going around Tokyo’s main neighbourhoods. So, getting around is really convenient!

#HHWT Tip: To help you plan your route, use apps like Google Maps, Hyperdia, Navitime by Japan Travel and Tokyo Subway Navigation. They will calculate the fastest route and tell you where you’d need to transfer lines.

jr yamanote
Credit: Jan Pasman on Facebook

Getting to Tokyo:

There are a few ways of travelling from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo. The Keisei Skyliner brings you from Narita Airport to Ueno Station in about 40 minutes while the Narita Express brings you to Shinjuku and Shibuya in less than an hour. If you’re from Haneda Airport, you can get to downtown Tokyo by using the Keikyu Line or Tokyo Monorail.

For those of you who are travelling in and out of Tokyo using the shinkansen bullet train, do note that Tokyo Station is the only station where you can take the shinkansen.

Navigating Tokyo can be confusing and it might not be for everyone but if you’re up for the adventure, getting lost in the labyrinth of train lines and then finding your way out of it can be particularly rewarding!

Osaka

It’s definitely easier to get around Osaka as it’s smaller than Tokyo. Most of the city’s main areas are concentrated in the middle of the city in a straight line from Kita-Umeda in the north all the way to Namba in the south.

osaka metro
Credit: Jam Slowly on Facebook

Getting around Osaka and Kansai:

The Midosuji line is the most important line as it brings you through all of Osaka’s main tourist and shopping districts. While this is pretty straightforward, what’s confusing are the different lines that’ll bring you around the Kansai region. There are a total of 7 railway companies and it’s important to know where each railway system brings you:

To Kyoto: JR line from Osaka Station, shinkansen from Shin-Osaka station, Hankyu Railway from Umeda station, Keihan Railway from downtown Osaka, Kintetsu Railway from Namba/Tennoji

To Nara: JR line from Osaka Station, Kintetsu Railway from Namba/Tennoji station

To Kansai Airport: Nankai Railway from Namba station, JR Kansai Airport Rapid Service from Osaka station, JR Haruka Airport Express from Kyoto/Shin-Osaka station

If you’re travelling via shinkansen from other cities to Osaka, do note that the only station where you can get on the shinkansen is Shin-Osaka station.

While getting around Osaka city is easy, it might get confusing when you’re trying to navigate to other cities in the Kansai region as there are many parallel lines.

8. Seasons

Both Tokyo and Osaka have all 4 seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. For summer and winter, the weather is generally the same for both cities. But as Tokyo is located further up north, the weather is usually colder than in Osaka, especially during winter.

The difference in seasons is even more stark when the time comes for cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms tend to be earlier in Tokyo while it comes a few days later in Osaka (around late-Mar to early-Apr). For autumn foliage, the window for viewing the gorgeous leaves usually starts from mid to late November for both cities, so there’s really not much difference.

Now that we’ve broken down the differences and similarities between Japan’s 2 most popular cities, we hope you have a better idea of which city is more suited for you. Of course, we’d tell you to visit both as they are different in their own ways! While Tokyo is sprawling and has lots of things to do for a city vacation, Osaka’s proximity to the other cities in Kansai makes it perfect for an all-round vacation. Ultimately, both destinations will give you an experience you can’t find anywhere else in Japan 😍

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