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Moving to Osaka

Stretching along Osaka Bay, the prefecture of Osaka lies in the heart of the Kansai area, with its borders flowing into neighbouring Hyogo, Kyoto, Nara and Wakayama. The greater Osaka area, which also includes Kobe and Kyoto, is one of Japan's most important economic centres.

Living in Osaka as an expat

As Japan’s primary area of business and commerce until the 20th century, Osaka and its port, Naniwa, connected Japan with other countries such as Korea and China. Despite briefly being the country's capital, Osaka has been shaped most by its merchants. Their influence has inspired the metropolis to become a cultural centre, especially in terms of entertainment, arts and food. Known as a source of much of Japan's most delicious fresh produce, Osaka is also often referred to as the 'nation’s kitchen'.

As the city has always been in touch with the world outside of Japan, most Osakians welcome foreigners and will eagerly help whenever a foreigner gets lost. Orientation can be challenging in Osaka since the city is divided into numerical areas. It's advisable to note a few landmarks for reference, such as hotels, supermarkets and parks, to help when asking for directions or directing a taxi. On the other hand, using Osaka’s extensive public transportation system, which consists of subways, railways, buses and one tram line, is easy and convenient.

Cost of living in Osaka

While Osaka is noticeably cheaper than Tokyo, expats will still likely need to keep a sharp eye on their budget, particularly when it comes to accommodation and utilities. Public transport is priced reasonably but using taxis can become expensive fast. Eating out is fairly cheap as long as one sticks to local fare, and single expats may even find this is more cost effective than buying ingredients to cook for one person.

Expat families and children

For many families, education and healthcare are priorities, and Osaka offers a good standard of both. Public schools are largely excellent, although this can come at the price of a high-pressure academic environment. Getting to grips with Japanese, the language of instruction, is another hurdle to overcome. For many families, international schools are an ideal solution to these issues, allowing children to be taught a familiar curriculum in their home language.

When it comes to family fun, parents will be pleased to know that getting bored in this thriving city is virtually impossible. There are plenty of kid-friendly activities throughout Osaka, including the thrilling rides at the Universal Studios theme park, one of only five in the world.

Climate in Osaka

Expats moving to Osaka will need to get used to the ever-present rain in the city. Downpours are most common in June – the height of summer – but rain falls regularly for most of the year. While the resulting humidity during this time can be uncomfortable, winters are more pleasantly mild.

While the city's weather can be damp, the spirit of Osaka is anything but. Expats will soon feel at home in this humming metropolis full of opportunities for career progression, new friends and a high quality of life.

Weather in Osaka

Though Osaka's climate isn't necessarily its main draw, the weather in the city is temperate and fairly pleasant through most of the year. Winter is mild and doesn't bring extreme cold, although summer's hot, humid and rainy days can be uncomfortable.

In June, temperatures can reach 95°F (35°C), with the heat compounded by high humidity. Rain falls year-round in Osaka, with June not only being the city's hottest month, but also its wettest. December and January offer a short respite from the rain, which begins to ramp up again in February. Winters, from December to February, are mild with the mercury tending to remain comfortably above 50°F (10°C).

 

Cost of Living in Osaka

Japan is infamous for its high cost of living, especially in big cities such as Osaka and Tokyo. It's best to budget according to income earned in Osaka, rather than continually converting back to one's familiar home currency. Depending on where expats come from, they can be overwhelmed by the difference in costs, but local purchasing power is likely to be much stronger. It's important to estimate whether an expat's expected income will cover all the necessary costs as well as disposable income, and negotiate their employment contract accordingly.


Cost of transport in Osaka

While taking public transport is efficient and pretty affordable, expats should consider the various options of transport and driving in Japan before deciding on their preference. Getting a monthly pass and public transport card lowers the cost significantly. Taxis and ride-hailing services are pricey and not a sustainable way to travel every day, although they are popular and convenient. Bicycles are also common in Osaka and another cost-effective, not to mention healthy, way to travel.


Cost of accommodation in Osaka

Accommodation costs are likely to take up a sizeable portion of expat income. In Osaka, the larger properties with more rooms charge higher rents, even outside the city centre. That said, expats moving to Osaka will be relieved to see significantly lower rental costs than in Tokyo. The cost of utilities is expensive and will also have to be accounted for.


Cost of food in Osaka

In Osaka, the cost of eating out may work out cheaper than buying groceries, but this depends on the quality of food and the cuisine that expats prefer. While vegetables and fruit might seem rather expensive at first, expats should bear in mind that they are always top quality, super fresh and usually locally grown. Seafood and fish can be found at reasonable prices and many supermarkets offer evening discounts to get rid of that day’s stock.


Cost of living in Osaka chart

Note that prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Osaka in June 2021.

Accommodation (monthly)

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

JPY 130,000

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

JPY 250,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

JPY 55,000

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

JPY 90,000

Groceries

Dozen eggs

JPY 240

Milk (1 litre)

JPY 200

Loaf of white bread

JPY 190

Rice (1kg)

JPY 595

Chicken breasts (1kg)

JPY 820

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

JPY 500

Utilities (monthly)

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

JYP 30

Internet (average per month)

JYP 4,300

Utilities (average per month for standard household)

JYP 19,000

Eating out and entertainment

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two

JYP 5,000

Big Mac Meal

JYP 650

Cappuccino

JYP 360

Coca-Cola (330ml)

JYP 130

Local beer (500ml)

JYP 480

Transport

Taxi rate per km

JYP 400

City-centre public transport

JYP 205

Petrol (per litre)

JYP 140

Accommodation in Osaka

Osaka is Japan's third-most populous city after Tokyo and Yokohama, and space comes at a premium. Expats looking for accommodation in Osaka will need to have a clear idea of their needs and wants. Proximity to work and schools, transport links and budget are a few of the main aspects to consider when renting in Osaka.


Types of accommodation in Osaka

In Osaka, apartments are the most easily found type of accommodation and are a common choice among expats. Generally, the closer apartments are to public transport and the city centre, the more expensive they become. Newer housing is also pricier than older builds.

Most apartments fall into one of two categories: apato and mansions. Older buildings, usually no higher than two storeys and made of wood or light steel, are known as apato. Though cheaper, they are less comfortable than mansions, which are newer builds made of more hardy materials, such as concrete.

Some expats, especially young expats on a budget, opt to live in a gaijin house. This is a large house shared by a number of inhabitants, usually foreigners. Set-ups can differ from house to house but are usually made up of small individual flatlets or large rooms with shared common areas.


Finding accommodation in Osaka

As is the case throughout Japan, the rental market in Osaka is competitive. Doing research beforehand on the local housing market, including typical costs and desirable areas, can help expats to get a jump-start on the process before moving. Online property portals and expat forums can be useful sources of information.

When the time comes to begin the search, expats should go through a real-estate agent as landlords are often hesitant to rent to foreigners. In addition, good agents will be able to speak both English and Japanese well and will have a comprehensive knowledge of the local areas.


Renting accommodation in Osaka

Furnished vs unfurnished

Accommodation in Osaka is unlikely to be furnished, and most apartments come without appliances such as fridges and washing machines. Apartments advertised as furnished are more expensive, and the quality and quantity of furnishings varies widely.

Guarantors

To rent property in Japan, expats will need a local guarantor to vouch for them and take responsibility for any outstanding rent or fees. This role is usually taken on by an expat's employer. There are also companies that will act as a guarantor for a fee.

Deposits

Setting up a home in Japan is expensive, and expats might need to pay the equivalent of up to six months' rent upfront to cover various fees.

Estate agents typically charge one month's rent, while the landlord will expect a security deposit of two or three months' rent. Traditionally, the tenant also gives the landlord a gift of two or three months' rent as thanks for the lease. Known as 'key money' (reikin), this is an old practice that is becoming less common, but expats should be prepared to pay this non-refundable fee nonetheless.

Leases

The usual lease length in Japan is 12 or 24 months. If the lease is renewed, a fee may apply. Rental contracts are usually in Japanese, although an English translation may be available. If not, it's a good idea to ask a Japanese friend or colleague to go over the contract with them

Utilities

Usually, utilities are a separate cost on top of rent. However, in some cases, the landlord might arrange utilities and include them in the rental price. It's therefore important to carefully read the terms of the lease to see what is and isn't included.

Areas and suburbs in Osaka

With two major city centres, Osaka's unusual layout lends the city an interesting structure. Progressively quieter areas fan out from this vibrant centres. Thanks to Osaka's excellent transport system, it isn't necessary to live right on the doorstep of major employment sectors to get to work within a reasonable commute time.

Osaka holds plenty of fantastic areas and suburbs for expats looking for a new place to call home, each with its own personality and quirks.


Recommended expat areas in Osaka

Osaka

Umeda and Namba

Umeda and Namba, Osaka's two city centres, are 15 minutes apart, but both are high-energy business and entertainment areas buzzing with activity. Most accommodation in both areas is in the form of high-rise apartments, with the result that these areas are especially popular with young professionals or couples. Shopping and dining opportunities abound. Umeda and Namba are both major transport hubs, making travelling around the rest of Osaka a breeze.

Toyonaka

Close to the airport and conveniently located just a short train trip away from Umeda, Toyonaka is often referred to as the 'gate to Osaka'. High-quality accommodation in the form of houses and apartments, along with plenty of amenities like shopping malls, make this a popular choice among expats. Much of Toyonaka's population is made up of foreigners.

Home to Toyonaka International Center, this area is an excellent place for expats to begin their journey as new arrivals in Osaka. Here, numerous resources are available to meet the needs of foreigners. This includes adult Japanese classes, multilingual consultation services and child-centred programmes for all age groups that teach Japanese in a fun and social setting.

Ashiya

Ashiya is a wealthy area known for its stunning view over Osaka Bay. For those who can afford it, this is a lovely place to settle down and has been home to numerous big names over the years, from Nobel prize winners to revered writers.

Wide, tree-lined streets, hillside homes and large properties with amenities such as tennis courts and swimming pools create a sense of luxury. Expat families, in particular, favour Ashiya for its location midway between Osaka and Kobe, both of which have prestigious international schools easily reachable by bus.

Healthcare in Osaka

Throughout Japan, healthcare is of a high standard, and the same is true of Osaka. In Japan, public health insurance contributions are mandatory and are determined according to income level.

Expats are likely to fall under one of two nationalised healthcare schemes: Employees' Health Insurance (EHI) or National Health Insurance (NHI). Those working in Japan have coverage under EHI, while NHI is for those who don't fall under EHI, such as the self-employed and the unemployed. Both of these schemes fund 70 percent of medical expenses. The patient pays for the balance. Some purchase private health insurance to cover this as well as any procedures that may not qualify for funding.

Below is a list of prominent hospitals in Osaka.


Hospitals in Osaka

NHO Osaka National Hospital

Website: osaka.hosp.go.jp
Address: 2 Chome-1-14 Hoenzaka, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 540-0006

Osaka Central Hospital

Website: www.osaka-centralhp.jp
Address: 3 Chome-3-30 Umeda, Kita Ward, Osaka, 530-0001

Osaka University Hospital

Website: www.hosp.med.osaka-u.ac.jp
Address: 2-15 Yamadaoka, Suita, Osaka 565-0871

Education and schools in Osaka

The standard of education and schools in Osaka is high. While there are good public schools available here, the language of instruction is Japanese. Most expats find this an impractical option unless they plan on staying in Japan long term or if their children are young enough to pick up the language quickly.


Public and private schools in Osaka

Public elementary and junior high schools in Japan are assigned according to where the family lives. Compulsory schooling lasts for nine years, from the beginning of elementary school to the last year of junior high. During this period, education is free of charge for locals and foreigners alike, apart from contributions for teaching aids and the cost of school lunches.

Once a child graduates from junior high, they continue to high school. Admission is usually determined by an entry test. Junior high and high school can quickly become overwhelming and stressful to students, and potentially more so for foreign children who have not grown up in the system and are unfamiliar with the language.

Due to the high standard of public schools, most Japanese children attend them up to the end of junior high. When the time comes for making high school applications, there are generally more students than places available at the best public schools. Private schools generally have the space to accommodate students who aren't accepted to their public high school of choice.


International schools in Osaka

Most expat families in Japan opt to send their children to one of the city's international schools. These schools teach a foreign curriculum in the language of the school's country of origin. Most commonly, these schools offer the US, UK or International Baccalaureate curriculum and teach in English, but there are also schools catering to other nationalities.

Admission requirements vary widely from school to school. Applications often involve academic and language-proficiency testing. At the most prestigious schools, interviews may also be required. The best schools can quickly become oversubscribed, so it's always best to start applications as far in advance as possible.

Fees at international schools worldwide have a reputation for being extremely high, and Osaka is no exception. Tuition alone can be pricey, but there are often extra fees, some of which are compulsory, including fees for building maintenance, technology, bus service, lunches and extra-curriculars.


Homeschooling in Osaka

Homeschooling in Japan is a grey area for expats. While not technically illegal, there also aren't any specific legal provisions in favour of homeschooling.

As elementary and junior high school are compulsory in Japan, these years are more difficult for homeschoolers to navigate than the optional high-school years, during which school is no longer compulsory. Families are assigned a school based on their home address and will need to request permission from this school in order to homeschool. In most cases, schools are understanding of the situation, especially in cases where English support is limited at the school.


Special-needs education in Osaka

The government of Japan operates on the principle of inclusivity when it comes to special-needs students. In most cases, these children attend public schools alongside the general student body wherever possible. Depending on the nature and severity of the child's disabilities, extra support is offered whether in the form of attending special resource rooms a few times a week or attending special-needs classes within the school.

In the case of acute disabilities, children may attend a dedicated special-needs school. The curriculum at these schools is the same as that taught in public schools, with added activities that teach day-to-day living skills.

International schools often have support programmes for certain conditions or disabilities, though some offer more comprehensive assistance than others. This usually comes at an extra fee.


Tutoring in Osaka

As schooling is competitive in Japan, students often have multiple tutors for various subjects. Expat children in particular can benefit from tutoring, whether for language purposes or to catch up with an unfamiliar curriculum.

Japan has a booming tutoring industry and there are seemingly endless tutoring companies constantly popping up. Not all offer equally good service, so it's best to do thorough research before deciding on a particular company. Recommendations from schools and fellow expats are usually the best place to start.

International schools in Osaka

For many expats moving to Japan, finding a good international school is an essential part of relocating, allowing expat children to learn a familiar curriculum in their home language. There are a few international schools for expats in and around Osaka, though Tokyo has a much larger selection available. Some of the most popular curricula are those of the UK, the US and the globally respected International Baccalaureate. Other countries such as Germany, France and India also have schools in the greater Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe area.

Below is a list of recommended international schools for expat families in Osaka.


International schools in Osaka

Chandra Sekhar Academy International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Indian
Ages: 4 to 11
Website: www.csais-kyoto.jp

Deutsche Schule Kobe International

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: German and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 11
Website: www.dskobe.org

Lycée Français International de Kyoto

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.lfikyoto.org

Marist Brothers International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American, Montessori and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.marist.ac.jp

Osaka International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 4 to 18
Website: www.senri.ed.jp

Lifestyle in Osaka

Built on a rich history and thriving with innovation, Osaka offers a lively and varied lifestyle. There's something for everyone to enjoy in this vast metropolis, with shopping, eating out, entertainment and outdoor activities galore.


Shopping in Osaka

Historically a merchant city, it's no stretch to say that Osaka is packed with some of Japan's best shopping opportunities. There are two main shopping areas: Namba (Minami) in the south and Umeda (also known as Kita) in the north.

Osaka is also dotted with speciality shopping areas, from the electronics-and-gaming hub Den Den Town to Doguya-suji, which sells all manner of kitchen and cooking goods for amateur cooks and pro chefs alike.

For a unique experience, Namba Parks Shopping Complex is not to be missed. The complex is designed to bring an outside feel to the urban shopping experience. Hanging gardens, waterfalls and rock formations can be found throughout all eight floors of the complex, which then culminate in a sprawling open-air rooftop garden. A manmade canyon-like structure carves its way through the centre of the building, giving those on the rooftop a breathtaking view right down to ground level.


Eating out in Osaka

Osaka is nicknamed 'the kitchen of Japan' for good reason, and it won't take expats long to find out why. The city is bursting with fine-dining restaurants, cheap-as-chips street food and everything in between. Be sure to try the wide variety of authentic Japanese food on offer, like sushi and ramen, not to mention takoyaki, Osaka's trademark dish of batter balls stuffed with octopus.


Nightlife in Osaka

Shinsaibashi and Namba are Osaka's nightlife hotspots, home to all forms of entertainment. These easily walkable areas are perfect for bar hopping. Expect to find swish cocktail bars, down-to-earth Irish pubs and izikaya – casual Japanese bars that serve drinks and snacks. 'All-you-can-eat' and 'all-you-can-drink' specials are common in izikaya, making them an excellent budget option.


Outdoor activities in Osaka

Outdoorsy types will be spoilt for choice in Osaka with plenty of green spaces and parks in which to escape from the hustle-and-bustle of the city. Tennoji Park is a lovely place to picnic, take a stroll or enjoy a bike ride. The park is especially beautiful in spring, when the cherry blossoms bloom. Hikers are sure to enjoy Minoo Park and its well known trails such as Takimichi. Just a short way into the park is a beautiful waterfall, while Ryuanji Temple can be found further along the trail.

See and do in Osaka

From breathtaking historical sites to thrilling theme parks, there's plenty to see and do in Osaka. Families, culture vultures, foodies and adrenaline junkies alike are all well catered for. For expats, taking some time to visit Osaka's famed attractions is a great way to get to know the city.

Here are some of our favourite things to see and do in Osaka.


Recommended attractions in Osaka

Kuroman Market

For the city's best street food, head to Kuroman Market. Fondly known as 'Osaka's Kitchen', this bustling market is bursting with fresh produce and top-grade meat from all over Japan and is a favourite with locals and foreigners alike. After stocking up, be sure to indulge in the mouthwatering seafood dishes and traditional sweet treats that can be found throughout the market.

Osaka Castle

Completed in 1586, this iconic castle has a fascinating history. Its construction was ordered by Toytomi Hideyoshi, a lauded Japanese warrior and politician. When it was built, Osaka Castle was the largest castle in Japan. Over the centuries, this stunning castle has been destroyed twice and rebuilt twice, enduring the test of time, and is well worth a visit. The museum on site is a great way to learn more about this historical building.

Tempozan Ferris Wheel

For a spectacular view over Osaka, the Tempozan Ferris Wheel is a must. The 17-minute ride over the bay is especially dazzling at night-time as the wheel brings riders up to 112m (368 feet) above the sparkling city. The wheel itself is lit up at night in different colours according to the weather forecast: yellow for sunny, green for cloudy and blue for rainy.

Universal Studios Japan

For a memorable day out, Universal Studios Japan is hard to beat. One of the latest additions is Super Nintendo World, featuring beloved characters from the infamous Mario video games. Another highlight is undoubtedly The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Here, visitors can enjoy Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, an exhilarating 360-degree rollercoaster ride that engages all the senses, including temperature changes ranging from the Dementor's chill to the heat of dragon breath.

What's on in Osaka

From mouthwatering food festivals to centuries-old traditional celebrations, Osaka's annual events calendar is packed to the brim. There always seems to be something to look forward to in this buzzing city, which expats often find to be an easy way to bond with locals and settle into the community.

Here are some recommended annual events in Osaka.


Annual events in Osaka

Tenjin Festival (July)

This beloved summer festival is more than a thousand years old, having first taken place at Tenmangu Shrine in the year 951. The festival honours Sugawara Michizane, the god of learning. Portable shrines are carried through the city to the Okawa River and loaded onto boats. As the boats travel down the river, they are brightly illuminated, with some even lit up by bonfires. There are also floating stages where traditional noh and bunraku plays are performed. The celebration is capped off with a grand fireworks show.

Halloween Horror Nights (September–November)

Held yearly by Universal Studios Japan, this fun-filled celebration of all things that go bump in the night is a real treat. Haunted houses, horror mazes and murder mystery parties open up after dark, while zombies can be found wandering the streets. At the Zombie de Dance event, monsters and zombies perform a step-by-step dance routine. Attendees are welcome to join the dance or can merely be amused spectators if they prefer.

Osaka Ramen Expo (December)

Each December, ramen restaurants from all over the country descend on the Expo ’70 Commemorative Park for the Osaka Ramen Expo. Ten of Japan's finest ramen purveyors set up shop each week, offering every permutation of ramen one could possibly wish for. Every week brings a new set of ramen vendors, so there's a good excuse to indulge throughout the month.

Osaka Festival of Lights (December)

The annual Festival of Lights is made up of two beautiful light displays taking place in Osaka throughout December. Attracting millions each year, the main event is Midosuji Illumination, which sees hundreds of trees lit up along 4km (2.5 miles) of Midosuji Avenue. Also not to be missed is Osaka Hikari-Renaissance, where local landmarks throughout the Nakanoshima area are lit up in a beautiful display. Breathtaking light shows are projected onto historical buildings like the Central Public Hall and Nakanoshima Library.

Getting around in Osaka

Thanks to plenty of options, getting around in Osaka is fairly easy, despite the city's large size. Trains and subways are the best and most comprehensive forms of public transport, though the sheer number of routes available can be dizzying. While taxis are fast and reliable, they are expensive.


Public transport in Osaka

Subway

Nine colour-coded lines make up the subway system in Osaka. Each station has a name as well as an alphanumeric code. This can significantly ease pronunciation issues. It's easy to see that 'M14', for example, is much less of a tongue-twister than 'Nishinakajimaminamigata'. The subway runs from 5am to midnight every day of the week. Taking the subway at peak travel times can be chaotic due to overcrowding. 

Trains

There are five train lines in use in Osaka, including a shinkasen (bullet-train) line. These connect Osaka to surrounding regions, and are a good way to travel around the greater Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area.

Buses

The bus service in Osaka is comprehensive and convenient. Many bus stops are adjacent to railway stations, making transferring easy. The bus is boarded in the rear or centre and passengers exit through the front of the bus, paying the fare as they leave. Each trip is charged at a flat rate.


Taxis in Osaka

All taxis in Osaka are regulated and use meters with standardised pricing. Though expensive, taxis are a useful option to have, especially when the subway is closed for the night or if one's destination isn't close to a train station or bus stop. Taxis can be found in taxi ranks around the city or can be hailed from the street. An occupied taxi will display a red light on the windscreen.

Ride-hailing apps such as Uber are available in Osaka and are a useful alternative to regular taxis.


Driving in Osaka

Expats wanting to drive in Osaka will initially need an international driver's permit. This allows them to start driving on arrival in Japan. To get a local licence, residents must first have their licence from home officially translated into Japanese. After making an appointment at the nearest Japanese Driving Centre, the licence translation is submitted along with a number of other documents, such as proof of residence. Once these documents have been processed, expats from certain countries will be granted a local licence immediately, while others will have to first pass written and practical tests before their licence is issued.


Cycling and walking in Osaka

Though Osaka is large, the landscape is generally flat, making walking and cycling a pleasant way to get around within certain areas. Both are popular pursuits among locals. For longer distances, alternative modes of transport like the subway or bus are recommended.