Is Osaka dangerous? My experience living in Osaka’s “Minami.”

Is Osaka dangerous? Osaka locals and Tokyo natives love to give their opinions on this one all the time.

Osaka was the first place I ever lived in Japan. Over 5 years I lived in the 3 different areas, 2 of which were pretty seedy areas in Osaka, with 1 being a safe suburb in between Kobe and Osaka. So I think I have a pretty well-rounded view regarding this question. So, is Osaka dangerous? If you were to ask Japanese people outside of Osaka, they would probably tell you that Osaka is infamously dangerous, dirty…and all-around weird, in both a good and bad way. So, what is the truth? In this article, I thought I would cover this while reflecting on my 5 years of living in the Osaka area.

How dangerous is Tennoji, Osaka? – The first area I ever lived in Japan was…unique…

The first place i ever lived in Japan was Osaka’s Tennoji area, an area infamous for having some of the most seedy areas in Japan. It’s also famous for having one of Japan’s most family friendly malls!…Right outside one of Tsuttenkaku (通天閣), one of Japan’s most seedy drinking neighborhoods. It has delicious foods, beer, is famous for my favorite Osaka food kushikatsu (串カツ) , and is an all around wretched hive of scum, villainy, and elderly drunk Japanese men. Directly in front of this wretched hive is an old dilapidated zoo, which has become famous in recent years for being a popular meeting spot for the local Yakuza. Directly to the East of this park is a series of love hotels dawning such romantic names as the “Little Chapel Coconuts” and “Hotel Shrimp Love Wedding”; Words can conjure feelings of romance and flood the mind with images of happy thoughts, after all. It’s important to consider safety, in more meaning than one apparently.

Yakuza, drunk elderly Japanese men, a dirt hole in the ground, and love hotels. So…Osaka is dangerous after all?

Wow! What a title. While the area in front of the zoo has been renovated in recent years into one of the nicer outer terrace areas in the Osaka area, complete with cafe’s, bookstores, and a reasonably sized park, when I lived here in early 2015 this area little more than an expansive and undeniably visually unappealing dirt hole in the ground, a Stark contrast to what it would eventually become, and an obvious contrast in terms of danger or safety. Old men would meet in this dirt crater daily to play shogi, which can be described as a Japanese version of chess. I think they may have played go on occasion too. I know this because I would glance over at the old people out of the corner of my eye daily as I passed to make my way passed the love hotels to the family friendly amusement area. (That was my favorite sentence in this post so far.)

The triangle of strange and dangerous things in this corner of Osaka

This is where all of the strange (and often dangerous) elements of this area of Osaka would converge together into some kind of strange “weird Japan” Bermuda triangle. With the mall, yazuka meeting area, zoo, dirt shogi patch, and love hotels all within viewing distance, families would walk past gangsters. Drunk old Japanese men would waddle their way passed “soap lands” and Mr. donuts. Little kids would play in the grass patches next to the shogi hole. It was truly a site to behold. I never saw anything happen during my 8 months of living in this area, but I did question the safety of little kids playing in front of the street in a dirt hole, right next to a prominent yakuza rendezvous spot. I don’t know, was this just me being overly paranoid? Hmm…

The golden landmark that watches over it all. Abeno Harukas: The fun of watching the danger from a distance!

But, wait! There is one major landmark overlooking all of this madness that i’ve yet to mention: Abenoharukas, which is the tallest building in Osaka and all of Japan. Abeno Harukas itself has become somewhat of a tourist attraction, especially in recent years, with a viewing deck and elevator to the roof that proudly displays the number of floors to reach the roof of the building, which is also open to visitors. Abeno Harukas towers over the entire area, visible of course from both love hotel and family-friendly donut shops. To be honest, I’ll let you in on a secret: Osaka locals, and especially people in the area don’t really care about Abeno Harukas. It’s a landmark for sure, but Mio is where all of the action is at. Mio has shopping and great restaurant options right above the station, and is where most people in the area will go to hang out with friends when they hang out in Tennoji.

Osaka isn’t dangerous, it just has bad “治安!”

Hanging out at Mio and observing the surrounding chaos from one of the top floor’s windows really drives home how much of an enigma this particular area of Osaka really is. Mio (and Abeno Harukas to an even greater extent) has some high-end shopping, great restaurants, and is clean and modern. A clean and modern oasis right across the street from all of this chaos…and Q’s mall! In this mind this encompasses the feeling of living in Osaka, and whether or not this city is safe or not. In comparison, my experience is Tokyo has been that areas are much more sectioned off. There are clear rich areas, poor areas, safe and dangerous areas in Tokyo. In Osaka, there isn’t nearly as much segmentation. You can be on the 20th floor of a high-end and luxurious skyscraper eating delicious foods in comfort, only to watch kids and old people playing games in the dirt a block away. Families walk down the street enjoying the lively and local street foods, with grungy businessman holding a cigarettes’ 2 inches in front of their kid’s face as they walk down the street. This is why, in terms of this question, I don’t know if the question is really of safety or not. A Japanese person would likely describe Osaka as having a bad “Chian” (治安), meaning something like “A sense of public order.” Osaka may not be dangerous per say, especially by the standards of what I was used to in America, but nearly every area in Osaka could be described as having a comparably bad sense of public order. People generally don’t follow the rules, and often times, there are comparatively fewer rules when compared to other areas in Japan.

Is Tokyo safer than Osaka? My experience living in both cities.

If one were to compare Tokyo and Osaka, I don’t think it is a bad analogy to say that Tokyo feels much more “cold” in comparison. Things are clean, efficient, high-tech, and rules are enforced heavily in every corner of the city. This of course has it’s advantages and disadvantages. While Osaka may be less safe, and certainly has a worse sense of public order, I do miss the amount of street musicians I would see walking around in Osaka. As a musician myself, I made more than a few spontaneous friends by just walking around and being friendly. People hang out on the street much more often in Osaka, where there just wouldn’t be enough space in most places in Tokyo. In this way, many of the things that make Osaka less safe are the things that also make Osaka one of the more fun places to live in Japan. There is a sense of spontaneity on the streets which is always interesting if nothing else, although I can definitely understand how it could be intimidating for newcomers. Especially for Japanese natives who have heard the rumors of how dangerous and low-“chian” Osaka is for their entire lives.

Tokyo can be more dangerous than Osaka depending on who you are.

I will say that there are certainly areas in Tokyo that were even more seedy than any of the areas I had seen living in Osaka…from a different point of view? Perhaps as a result of Tokyo’s different infrastructure and much larger scope, walking even in close proximity of many of the more infamous seedy areas in Tokyo will result in constant harassing and “catching”. Tokyo, in comparison to Osaka, has a much higher number of “catchers”, at least in my own personal experience. What is a catcher? You may be asking. A catcher is somebody who tries to get you to go to their restaurant, club, or … let’s call them “establishments” by “cathing” you in the street and trying to convince (harass) you into coming to their restaurant. Many of these establishments are targeting foreigners, so areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku are just TEEMING with scammers ready to prey on the first innocent-eyed foreigner that wanders into their cone of vision. It can be relentless.

Why Tokyo has a lot of catchers, and why this can lead to dangerous situations for foreigners.

In a lot of ways it makes sense why “catchers” are more common in Tokyo. If you’ve ever been to Tokyo, you know that most buildings are between 5 to 10 stories tall, and most of these buildings are filled with restaurants, cafes, bars, karaoke parlors, shooting bars, owl bars…etc etc, you name it. The only street exposure most of these places get is a tiny side that juts out from the side of the building. This is why Shinjuku and Shibuya has some of the highest amounts of neon lights in the world. For a lot of these places to survive, they need people on the street flagging people down, trying to get people to head up to the 7th floor of this building, or the 9th floor of this building, etc. So, not all “catchers” are scams, but MANY of them are. It can be difficult identifying these scams if you’re new to Japan, which is exactly why those kinds of places target tourists so often. So if this is your first time visiting Japan, and you don’t know the language, or how much money things generally cost, you should be extremely careful. Many restaurants may seem legitimate on the outside, but will have a $100 “cover charge” (called “otoshi” お通し) in Japanese. This is NOT normal, obviously. Typically an otoshi will cost between $3-$5 on average (¥300 – ¥500), but many people fresh off the plane may not know any better. It’s not uncommon for foreigners to get caught up in scams like this, especially on their first night in Tokyo.

Is Osaka or Tokyo safer for women?

I can imagine that Osaka (and Tokyo, as well as other Japanese cities, but especially Osaka) are dangerous places to live as a single woman. Japan’s most common crimes are often targeted towards women, and are of the…creepy variety. As I had mentioned before, Osaka’s police force is much more vigilant (I friend I had who joined the police force mentioned the Osaka police is the hardest to join), but are generally focused to specific areas in the city. I feel that in the smaller neighborhoods of Osaka I noticed fewer police, but this may have just been my imagination. That being said, If you have your wits about you, I think you will be okay. The worst stories I have heard are creepy guys trying to…make a move on the train. It’s weird, but people here are very aware of it. I try to always report these things when I notice them, because it is pretty common. I did notice this happening more often in Osaka, but that is likely because of the lower population density making it easier to notice. I don’t know. I’m a guy and that’s as far as I can comment on that, but I think this is a problem that persists throughout all of Japan’s big cities.

If you are interested in visiting Tokyo or Osaka, here’s how you can safely travel in both cities.

I think I may have scared off some people with what I wrote about Tokyo, but rest assured if you are smart about it you should be absolutely fine. I actually wrote up my personal recommendations for what you should do on your first night in Tokyo, which you can read here.

This book has some great recommendations for Tokyo eats you can trust.

However, I only covered specific areas of Tokyo, so if you would like city-wide recommendations for great Tokyo eats I recommend the book Only In Tokyo: Two Chefs, 24 Hours, The Ultimate Food City if you are planning on visiting Tokyo. The book highlights some of Tokyo’s best chefs, their personal stories, and their restaurants, so it should make a great tool if you coordinate it with your trips itinerary. I’m an Amazon affiliate, so I will receive a percentage of your purchase if you use the link above, as well! It’s a great way to support what I do, and plan for your inevitable trip to Japan at the same time! As for how to use the book, what I like to do personally when I read books like this is save locations on google maps. That way you always know when you’re near something worth trying.

Is Osaka safe to visit, and is Osaka safe at night?

As for Osaka eats, Osaka is known for it’s street food, so heading to the Dotonbori area is your best bet! While I would normally recommend against eating at chain restaurants, in Dotonbori, Ganko is a particularly great restaurant if you’re looking for a place to try some delicious Japanese sashimi or sushi in a traditional environment. Ganko means stubborn in Japanese, so you can just look for the angry looking Japanese man on the sign. As far as staying safe in Osaka, I don’t think you have anything to worry about, especially if you stick near one of the major stations. Just like with any major city in the world, at night avoid unlit areas and unknown alleys. Honestly, this is funny, but I get the impression that most Japanese criminals are afraid of foreigners anyways. If someone starts intimidating you just scream at them in English (lol). Things might look shady, but based on my own personal experience, you should be fine. I wandered around for years and never had any problems. Remember, any city in Japan is likely safer than wherever you’re coming from. This IS Japan after all. Have fun!

In conclusion

So, is Osaka more dangerous, or is Tokyo more dangerous? I would say both. While Osaka is more traditionally dangerous, Tokyo is probably more dangerous for tourists and foreigners who are new to Japan, and are more susceptible to be being the victim of a scam or aforementioned “catcher” schemes. Especially within Japan, Osaka has this image of being a very dangerous city with bad “chian”, meaning a bad sense public order and community cohesion. While this may be true, this is what I believe. Osaka may be more dangerous to long term residents and locals, but I get the impression that Tokyo is more dangerous for tourists.

If you’re interested in reading more about my experiences living in Japan, the Japanese culture, or the Japanese language.

Click here if you are interested in reading about my experience studying at a Japanese university. Or, why not check out one of the articles below? My goal is to provide the most realistic picture of life in Japan based on my experiences living here for the last 7 years.

If you’re interested in learning Japanese outside of Japan, here’s how I recommend you start!

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