But Osaka has another side. It has a reputation for being a crime-ridden, yakuza-infested dump, a place where you should be careful going out at night. And there is something to this reputation. Asahi Shimbun published some comparative crime statistics recently, but the statistics they printed are pretty useless - they don't adjust for population for instance, and they only look at the largest cities in Japan. The printed table is also quite sparse, with only the first two cities and Tokyo listed (it seems Tokyo uses a different basis for their statistics so comparisons are dificult) so it's difficult to adjust the data. Osaka is certainly among the top cities for crime in Japan, but it's clearly not as bad as popular sentiment would make you believe; most statistics I've seen place it only third or fourth for violent crime, for instance.
But how unsafe is it actually? Anecdotally, I have never felt threatened or unsafe anywhere I've gone in Osaka, day or night. Being a scruffy-looking foreigner does have something to do with it of course; there's easier- and wealthier-looking targets out there if you want to rob or harass somebody, and targeting a western foreigner tends to bring a lot of police scrutiny. It doesn't help that I have the situational and social awareness of a half-brick. So, let's do a quick comparison of Osaka and the largest Swedish cities.
Below is the yearly rates per 100,000 people for Osaka compared to Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, the three largest cities of Sweden. I took only the statistics for a few crimes that seem comparable (we just don't have enough vending machines in Sweden to even record vandalism of them as a separate crime), that are relevant for the feeling of safety on the street, and that I had readily available figures for. The last column is the percentage of occurrence for Osaka as compared to the highest incidence in Sweden.
The street robbery column does look pretty incredible. It is quite possible that Sweden and Japan have different definitions of street robbery (some snatchings in Japan could be counted as robberies in Sweden for instance), but even the most skewed interpretation I could make will not make much of a difference. Street robbery and street violence in general just isn't very common in Osaka compared to Swedish cities.
To get a fuller picture we'd have to look at more crimes (assaults, rape and so on) and we'd have to be much more careful about interpreting the statistics so we know we are counting the same thing, That's quite a bit of work, however, and this quick comparison already shows what I suspected: the feeling I have that Osaka is a very safe city is fully justified, and spending time out on the streets here poses very little danger.