Japan’s Nuance : Tokyo vs Osaka Divide

Modern Japan is one of the most mono-ethnic countries in the world today. It is common misconception that the culture and people’s unision are also in sync. However, the land of the rising sun, has also been home to many unique deep-rooted culture, people and values.

The geographical spawn of Japan, is a unique one in the world somewhat similar to the British Isles. Isolated yet connected to the main continent. The Japanese home islands are an archipelago just off the Korean peninsular and the Asian mainland. Despite this, it has a massive impact on history and culture. This is examplified by the two main contrast of Kansai and Kanto region.

Tokyo vs Osaka Divide

To make this point of contrast, I’ll focus on its biggest cities which is Tokyo and Osaka. Whilst it is only a mere 500km apart and one can reach in just under 4 hours, the contrast seem to reflect countries apart. The way to go around Japan is definitely by train. It is connected to every corner and nook of the country. As an apparent example, you will notice that Tokyo will stand on the left, whilst Osaka will stand on the right side of the escalator. Subtle difference yet profound.

My brother with the Shinkansen Nozomi from Osaka to Tokyo

What better way to understand the culture other than through food and language. One would normally assume that all Japanese speak and talk in the same way. However, Tokyo tends to uphold the standard Japanese and spoken with a more flatter intonation. The Kansai-ben on the other hand, is spoken with a more lively and faster intonation. Another subtle yet profound difference.

  1. Environment

Even on the weekend, when you wish to stroll around , the stream of people constantly on the move, reflects the vibrant and fast paced metropolis that Tokyo is. Once you step out of the house, there is a sense of beeline that everyone has a place to go and do. And they are in a state of hurridness.

On the other hand, Osaka, having its root as traders, has a more laid-back and haggling culture. The rugged version of Tokyo I would say. There’s a more of an openness and its people are a bit more straightforward and carefree. It is as vibrant if not more.

2. Food

Japan in general loves seafood. Stemming from fish to seaweed, from crab to octopus. That in turn makes staple food for many people in Japan. Both have a strong culture, Tokyo can be traced back to the Edo era, it loves exquisite food and fine food culture. Tokyo boasts the most Micheline-rated restaurants than any othe cities in the world. Sushi, Ramen and Tempura are the pride of Kanto and have it presented rich in flavours and has a common phrase of Me de Taberu (Eat with the eyes) [目で食べる].

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)is a Japanese savory pancake consisting of various ingredients mixed into a wheat flour batter.

Where Tokyo loves its food being exquisite and nicely presented, Osaka has a preference of a lighter, sweeter and saltier taste. Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki springs to mind and is the go-to food for Osaka people any given time. Osaka has its Kuromon Market where hundreds of indoor stalls sells sweets and the Yaki [焼き]foods. You can refer to the link to know more of these type of foods. [Link]

3. Electricity

Picture credit : https://www.npr.org/

As I was studying Engineering many years back in Japan, I noticed that one of the main factors for the expensive electricity is due to the different grid systems it has. As a general rule, the bigger and interconnected the electrical grid, the cheaper and more consistent the energy and cost is. To this day, we still have not found a good way to store large amount of electricities. In other words, electricity is made and almost immediately has to be used. Osaka adopts its electrical components and system from the US whilst the Tokyo side from Europe. As you can see, this creates a divide and problem between West and East Japan. This has led to a many creations of East and West Japan such as JR East and JR West.


Different they may be, but that is part and parcel of the rich heritage the West and East Japan have. Japan is not a mono-culture but rather each location have their own history which has been influence by many other foreign cultures in the past. The rest as they say it, is history. Happy adventure.

Idris – 2021

Author: Idris Mahzan

Grew up in the UK. Studied in Japan. Malaysian at heart.

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