Kyoto and Osaka are both popular tourist hotspots in Japan’s Kansai area. Yet, despite being situated right next to each other, their atmospheres are completely different!
Kyoto Station and Shin-Osaka Station are only 13 minutes apart on the Shinkansen and are also close via the JR and private railways, therefore it is easy to visit both cities.
Whichever you visit, it’s always best to familiarize yourself with the characteristics of each place before setting off. So let’s compare the biggest differences: Kyoto vs. Osaka!
- Table of Contents
- Kyoto vs. Osaka: What's the Difference?
- Q. Which is Best for Seeing Temples?
- Q. Which Has More Power-Spot Shrines?
- Q. Which is Best for Seeing Castles?
- Q. Which is the Best for Cheap and Delicious Local Food?
- Q. Which is Best for Authentic Japanese Cuisine?
- Q. Which is Best for Japanese Souvenirs?
- Q. Which is Best for Shopping?
- Q. Kyoto vs. Osaka: Where is it Cheaper to Stay?
- Q. Which is Best to Stay at a Japanese-Style Ryokan Inn?
- Q. Which Has the Best Cafes with the Best Views?
- Q. Which is Best as a Base for Traveling Around Kansai?
- Cultured Kyoto or Lively Osaka: Which one will you choose?
Kyoto vs. Osaka: What's the Difference?
The town of Kyoto is one with great pride in its culture and traditions of old. In Osaka, people are known to be friendly, seem very close with each other, and to value laughter in their everyday lives.
Both places are former locations of the capital of Japan. Osaka was the center of politics back in the year 645. This was moved to Kyoto in 794. After the move, Osaka flourished as a business district, and Kyoto, the new center of politics, flourished with the culture of the aristocrats. Despite being neighboring towns, their cultural backgrounds are very different.
Q. Which is Best for Seeing Temples?
There are plenty of famous Buddhist temples to visit in Kyoto. For example, there's Kiyomizu Temple, which is a World Heritage Site, Toji Temple, with its symbolic five-story pagoda, and Ryoanji Temple, another World Heritage Site, known for its rock gardens. Many of these prominent temples offer tours and foreign language services, so tourists can enjoy them to their fullest.
There are actually more temples in Osaka than Kyoto, however as most of them are small local temples that serve as places of worship for those areas, they are not really suitable for touring, and less extravagant.
Q. Which Has More Power-Spot Shrines?
There are many large shrines in Kyoto, including Fushimi Inari Taisha, Heian Shrine, Kamigamo Shrine, Shimogamo Shrine, and Yasaka Shrine. Each shrine has its own special meaning and offers its own blessings. However, no matter which you visit, you will feel a certain calm wash over you, and a mysterious power once you walk through the torii gates. Check which sights and shrines are located near your hotel, and stop by to recharge your spiritual energy.
There are many shrines in Osaka as well, however many are smaller than the ones in Kyoto. Some of the most visited by tourists are Osaka Tenmangu and Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine. Both are conveniently located in the middle of the town, so be sure to stop by during your visit to Osaka.
Q. Which is Best for Seeing Castles?
There are many castles in Osaka, including Osaka Castle and the Kishiwada Castle Ruins, which have been restored into their current spectacular state. There is great historical value in their thick stone walls and moats, and both castles offer tours of the gardens and the interior. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through these castles, which served as the top bases during their own eras.
There is also a magnificent castle in Kyoto called Nijo Castle. However, it no longer has its castle tower today. Instead, there is the Ninomaru Palace, built in the Edo Period shoin-zukuri architectural style, as well as Honmaru Palace, where the castle tower was previously located. Both are beautiful Japanese-style structures different from those in Osaka.
Q. Which is the Best for Cheap and Delicious Local Food?
For people in Osaka, although expensive often means high quality, there is a deep appreciation for the cheap and delicious in this area. Shops located in commercial facilities and station buildings might be more pricey, however, there are plenty of cheap and tasty spots in the shopping streets of Tenma, Shinsaibashi, and Tennoji. Takoyaki, okonomiyaki, kushikatsu, and ramen dishes may all have a different taste depending on the restaurant, so why not try and compare different ones?
While there are many well-established, fancy places in Kyoto, there are also many universities, so there are also many student-friendly shops that offer large servings at reasonable prices. There are also plenty of ramen shops.
Q. Which is Best for Authentic Japanese Cuisine?
A. If we had to choose... probably Kyoto.
Kyoto has its own cuisine called Kyo-ryori, and Osaka has Naniwa Ryori. Both styles use seasonal ingredients, are made by skilled chefs, and are excellent in both taste and appearance. Naniwa dishes are Japanese-style cooked dishes which you can enjoy watching as the chefs prepare them behind the counter.
On the other hand, in Kyoto, there are many well-established shops and famous restaurants where you can enjoy your meal slowly in a great atmosphere. Kyoto is recommended for foreign tourists looking for a bite of something traditional. However, the ranks and prices of each shop may vary, so please be sure to check and make a reservation in advance.
Q. Which is Best for Japanese Souvenirs?
In Kyoto, there are many artisans of traditional crafts, and a number of shops that handle them. You can find such items near major stations such as Kyoto Station and Shijo-Kawaramachi, as well as souvenir shops in sightseeing attractions. We recommend the miscellaneous, Japanese-style goods, accessories with attraction names, and Japanese sweets that keep for a long time.
Although souvenir shops do offer many sweets and miscellaneous goods, you can also find plenty of small items that are unique to Osaka, such as gag gifts and accessories, so be sure to shop around for some cool and interesting souvenirs.
Q. Which is Best for Shopping?
In Kyoto, there are many fashion accessory shops in Shijo Kawaramachi and JR Kyoto Station. Osaka, however, has even more options! There’s the Kita area, centered around JR Osaka Station, the Minami area, centered around Osaka Metro Namba Station, and the neighborhood surrounding JR Tennoji Station. Each area and the number of shops it has in Osaka are vastly greater than in Kyoto.
Osaka is definitely recommended for shopping, with its large commercial facilities such as Leisure Land, specialty shops, drug stores, and even duty-free shops.
Q. Kyoto vs. Osaka: Where is it Cheaper to Stay?
Recently there has been a rise in affordable hostels in Osaka. Newer locations are nice and clean, with convenient bathrooms and kitchens. Staff members will gladly offer information and recommendations for nearby places, and you can meet travelers from other countries as well.
However, the number of hostels has been increasing in Kyoto as well, and some old houses have even been renovated. It might be a good idea to try both!
Q. Which is Best to Stay at a Japanese-Style Ryokan Inn?
Kyoto is recommended if you'd like to stay at a calm ryokan, or Japanese-style inn. There are a variety of types, from casual to luxury inns, so you can choose your accommodation depending on your budget. When staying at a ryokan, there is a good chance that you can enjoy a Japanese breakfast and sleep in a tatami room on a futon, for an experience of the Japanese lifestyle.
Compared to Kyoto, there are fewer ryokan in Osaka, though the number of small guest houses that have been renovated has increased in recent years. There, you can still experience sleeping in a futon in a Japanese-style home. There are many in the Tennoji area, which is also convenient in terms of transportation.
Q. Which Has the Best Cafes with the Best Views?
Kyoto is a city surrounded by mountains. Therefore many of the cafes also boast a beautiful view of the seasonally-changing mountain scenery, shrines, and temple forests. You can enjoy your time in style at the cafes along the Kamo and Takase Rivers, which flow near the downtown area of Shijo Kawaramachi, and have views of old townhouses and beautiful gardens.
But, if you're in Osaka, you can get a breathtaking view from the skyscraper cafe.
Q. Which is Best as a Base for Traveling Around Kansai?
The Kansai International Airport or Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport) is right there for those traveling by plane, and the Shinkansen stops in Shin-Osaka. Therefore, Osaka is a super convenient first-stop spot when visiting Kansai. You can also travel to Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, and Wakayama from there for an even more enjoyable Kansai stay.
Cultured Kyoto or Lively Osaka: Which one will you choose?
Both cities, each representative of the Kansai Area, have their own unique culture. Also, each has its own slightly different spoken dialects, though you might not be able to pick up on the different wording and intonations unless you are a Kansai local.
Yet it is the small cultural differences such as these, and the long histories, that make these places so interesting. If you are able to, we recommend visiting both!
*The above article is based on information from May 2020
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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