Want to take the plunge into a totally different culture? Hungry for a new lifestyle and even hungrier for some of the world’s most interesting and delicious food? Think of Japan and most will think of Tokyo when it comes to moving there, but the cultural city of Osaka definitely shouldn’t be overlooked.
With over 19 million citizens – one of the world’s most populous cities – it’s surprising that Osaka is often so overshadowed by Tokyo. But if you want somewhere a little cheaper than Tokyo with more of Japan’s unique cultural curiosities, Osaka could be the perfect place.
Keep in mind though, Japan is an expensive place to live and Osaka is its second biggest city. Unless you’re willing to live outside the main city area, you should be prepared to spend some money. The amazing food is affordable though, so perhaps those high rental prices are worth it …
Japanese traditional cuisine is unique. Furthermore it is known to be one of the healthiest diets in the world – often being toted as the secret to the long lifespan of Japanese citizens. So for many, just hearing that Osaka is commonly called ‘Japan’s Kitchen’ is enough to make mouths water.
Osaka is home to several unique Japanese dishes, including okonomiyaki (a type of savoury pancake) and takoyaki (battered balls with diced octopus filling). What’s more, desserts like dorayaki (a pancake filled with red-bean paste), and taiyaki (a fish-shaped cake also filled with red-bean paste) are heavily associated with the city.
A bit of Osaka trivia: while you can now buy packets of instant ramen noodles all over the world, instant noodles were actually invented in Osaka by businessman Momofuku Ando – so it’s perhaps fitting that Osaka is home to a Japan’s famous instant noodle museum.
For foodies, trying these delicious snacks and dishes is a must – so be sure to visit the Dotonbori area where so much of the food magic happens. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and when you factor in exciting street food and world-renowned Kobe beef too you’ll feel spoilt for choice.
Living in the central part of Osaka, if that’s where you want to be, will certainly be pricey. A good job can help, but otherwise you’ll need a decent pile of savings to tide you over.
Luckily though, Japan’s public transport system is so good that you don’t need to live in the centre, and can instead head for the more affordable suburbs and dormitory communities. Below we have a rundown of the different areas you might consider calling home, both inside and outside of the main city.
Chūō-ku (中央区) – Osaka’s Historic Core
The Chuo ward is Osaka’s central business and cultural core and includes the main entertainment and tourist district of Namba.
Definitely not the most affordable place to live in Osaka, Chuo-ku puts you right among some of Osaka’s most celebrated food and cultural highlights. It’s home to the entertainment area of Dōtonbori, considered the best place in Osaka for offbeat restaurants and delicious street food. Dotonbori also serves as one of the city’s liveliest night life zones.
While you are there you might want to check out the famous Osaka Castle, which is within walking distance, or quick public transport ride, from Chuo-ku. This beautiful castle is significant to Japanese history, and in the spring time the area is transformed by a sea of beautiful cherry blossom trees – a sight that should probably be on everyone’s bucket list.
Regardless of whether or not you live in this area, it’s definitely somewhere you’ll want to visit.
Typical monthly cost to rent an apartment: £2,000
Kita-ku (北区) – Osaka’s Modern Centre
Contrasting the more historic and touristy Chuo ward, the Kita ward in the north of the city is Osaka’s more up-to-date city centre, with the Umeda area as the principal travel terminal and commercial district. It’s easy to get from the Umeda area to most other places in Osaka, as well as take trips to other parts of Japan.
If you like high rise cityscapes, Umeda is the place where you’ll find the most skyscrapers, and many of Osaka’s largest department stores and shops are located here. The city also has a large network of underground shopping malls.
Of course, while a different kind of experience to Chuo-ku’s Dotonbori, the Kita area similarly boasts many great eateries and entertainment areas, and you can expect to find many theatres and museums here.
Career high-fliers tend to end up in Kita as it serves as Osaka’s main business and finance district – and it’s a hive of activity on weekdays.
Typical monthly cost to rent an apartment: £1,100
Toyonaka-shi (豊中市) – The Popular Residential City
Just north of the bustling city of Osaka is the residential dormitory town of Toyonaka. Still within the larger Osaka prefecture, Toyonaka is the perfect place for families or those seeking a quieter lifestyle. Nevertheless, with a sizeable population of around 400,000, there is still plenty of bustle and activity for those looking for it.
Thanks to the far-reaching Osaka subway system you’ll only be around 30 minutes away from the city itself – and Toyonaka also puts you close to Osaka International Airport.
For those who appreciate a bit of green, Toyonaka has an abundance of parks, including the Hattori Ryokuchi Park, which is famed for its bamboo gardens, ornamental ponds and an open-air museum of old Japanese farm houses. What’s more, Toyonaka City is a great place for education as it is home to the Osaka International School, as well as a campus of Osaka University.
Typical monthly cost to rent an apartment: £800
The central and northern parts of Osaka City are more expensive places to live in, while neighbouring cities are likely to be both cheaper and safer. As well as Toyonaka, it’s worth considering nearby cities like Moriguchi, which is also popular with expats, as well as Suita.
Most cities near Osaka proper will have the transport links necessary to get you into the city in an hour or less. This means that your only real aim is living near a train station.
Japan is considered to be one of the safest nations in the world, but in large cities like Osaka some due caution is always to be advised.
While Japanese citizens are typically hospitable and friendly despite the language barrier, it is wise to avoid going places with strangers at night. Getting around is a breeze as public transport is very reliable and affordable across Japan, with regular and cheap buses and trains. There are often female-only train carriages which can limit potential risks to women travelling alone.
Generally though, Japanese people value politeness and manners – and expats should make efforts to respect those values and adapt to them. You’ll rarely see people blocking the pavements, littering, or eating and drinking while walking, for example. You’re encouraged to not talk loudly or on the phone while riding public transport, and people working in hospitality industries would much rather hear your simple thanks than receive a tip.
If you plan to move to Japan, Osaka is a great city to consider. Regardless of whether you wish to go central and upmarket or settle for a more family-suitable location, it’s always best to be careful when transferring money to purchase property abroad. A trusted currency broker can help you make the most of your savings when transferring your funds into Yen – you’ll save a bundle too.
Some culture shock is inevitable when you move to Japan, but finding an area that’s right for you is a significant step in making this amazing country your home.
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