If you get a chance to visit a Japanese city, don’t think twice. Have you ever seen a vending machine dispensing t-shirts or bananas or visit an animal café where you can spend hours surrounded by puppies or cats? From Love Hotels to shrines, hot springs resorts to amusement parks, Japan’s cities offer a range of experiences.
Cities in Japan are well-connected by public transportation and road infrastructure. Riding on a Japanese Bullet Train or Shinkansen might be on your bucket list but there are many other interesting train experiences like luxurious sightseeing trains, limited express trains, seasonal trains, rapid trains, the newer and faster Hayabusa trains. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the designs, models and amenities trains have to offer in Japan.
Japan has a unique geography as it’s an archipelago of islands that stretches for more than 2000 kilometres, a long and slender country with thousands of miles of beautiful coastline. The farthest point from the sea in Japan is just 115 km (71.5 miles), near the city of Saku in Nagano. Japan’s climates range from sub-tropical climates in the southern islands to sub-arctic climates in the far north. The weather also varies with the region: tropical and sunshine in the south, while the north has abundant snowfall. Wherever you are in Japan, the spring season is when the country comes alive with cherry blossoms.
The most memorable revolves around understanding and appreciating Japanese culture. An island nation with an incredible history, interesting and enjoyable customs, and unique aesthetics, the first thing you will notice when interacting with the locals is the politeness and respectfulness shown. If you hear your name being called along with -san in the end, know that it’s a respectful suffix.
Japanese culture also values harmony with nature and tranquillity, or the idea of “shizen”, which zen gardens are famous for. Art is highly regarded and almost everything you see has an artistic flair to it, including traditional Japanese art forms like a tea ceremony (chado), Japanese theatre (kabuki or noh), paper folding (origami), calligraphy (shodo), flower arrangement (ikebana) and black-ink painting (sumi-e.). For those who love Japanese pop culture like anime, manga, video games, samurais and ninjas, you’ll have a great time visiting the stores, museums and art galleries based on those themes.
Cities In Japan
20 Japanese Cities
Tokyo, earlier known as the city of Edo, is by far the most well-connected city in Japan and a natural entry point to Japan.
Even if you are travelling to some other city, plan to spend a few days in Tokyo to lap up its culture.
With the best mix of old and new, Tokyo is packed with modern skyscrapers, neon-lit shopping streets, interesting and quirky museums, temples, and traditional neighbourhoods where you can find Japanese street food.
Head to the top of the Tokyo Tower or the dizzying Skytree and you’ll be rewarded with nice views and memories of Tokyo.
Cross the road, Japanese style, at the Shibuya crossing or try a quirky cafe in Harajuku where you can have an artistic coffee in Cafe Reissue or spend time with owls in an Owl Cafe.
If you like museums, you’ll be able to spend days lost in thought in the many amazing traditional museums Tokyo offers.
Go further and visit an eccentric Tokyo museum like the yummy Cup Noodles Museum, the grisly Meguro Parasitological Museum the 3-D Tokyo Trick Art Museum.
The city has plenty of gardens and parks to escape the hustle and bustle, like the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and Yoyogi Park.
Few cities in Japan are as iconic as Kyoto, and justifiably so.
Once the imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto carries forward the traditions and legacies of Japanese culture through hundreds of temples, unspoilt centuries-old buildings and gardens, traditional houses and historical streets.
One of the things to do in Kyoto is a stroll through the Gion entertainment district and visit to the Yasaka Shrine.
While you’re here, stop at a traditional teahouse (ochaya) and relax at one of the many public hot water springs (onsen).
Kyoto has several famous Shinto shrines and zen gardens, like the Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion) and the highly photographed Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine.
If you visit Kyoto in spring, the city’s parks are filled with pink-coloured cherry blossoms and attract visitors and photographers from around the world.
Sapporo is the wild, snowy but lovely city on Japan’s northernmost island Hokkaido.
If you want to experience great food, winter sports, snow sculptures and beer festivals in Japan, Sapporo is a fantastic city in Japan to visit.
Being far from Japan’s southern cities, you can taste Sapporo’s own delicious versions of Japanese dishes, including ramen, Jingisukan (grilled mutton) and Hokkaido-style curries in Tanukikoji Shopping Street or Nijo Market.
The Sapporo Snow Festival is a great time to enjoy outdoor activities like ice skating, sledding, skiing and snowboarding.
Odori Park is a great place to enjoy the summer and snow festivals and appreciate the views from Sapporo TV Tower.
If you are intrigued by polar bears, seals, penguins and other fauna that live in a snowy habitat, visit the Asahiyama Zoo in nearby Asahikawa City.
Top tour: Sapporo Full-Day Private Tour with Government Licensed Guide.
For foodies who love street food, Osaka is a street food haven and a top place to party too.
With streets lined with bars, restaurants and shopping avenues, such as Dotonbori or the old-school retro atmosphere in Shinsekai, you’ll not be short of entertainment options here.
For a blend of old and new, try visiting the Osaka Castle and the Umeda Sky Building together, and you’ll be amazed at how much Japan has changed over the centuries.
A walking tour with an experienced guide will help you get the lay of the land.
If you are with kids, include a trip to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan and Universal Studios Japan. And plan your trip around the Yodogawa Fireworks Festival or the famous Tenjin Matsuri Festival.
Japan is not short of port cities; the most famous one is Nagoya.
Being one of the busiest ports in Japan, Nagoya is also a place that has many things to do.
Castles are an important part of Japanese history, and one of the most significant is Nagoya Castle.
The castle’s beautifully walled interiors and picturesque exteriors will surely make you take out your camera.
Nagoya is also the headquarters of The Toyota Motor Corporation, and if you love cars, you’ll enjoy the factory tour.
Talking about vehicles, the Railway Museum in Nagoya is quite popular for its displays of steam locomotive engines to bullet trains.
Children will love a visit to the Nagoya City Science Museum, Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium and the fun rides in Nagashima Spa Land.
Nagoya is famous for its unique dishes like the hitsumabushi (grilled eel on rice), miso katsu (breaded pork cutlet with miso sauce).
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Fukuoka is closer to Seoul in South Korea than Tokyo.
The city is on the Tokyo-Kagoshima Shinkansen line and is a good base to stay and explore Nagasaki, Beppu, Dazaifu and the scenic coastline of Karatsu.
The city has an interesting history dating back to the BC era, being the closest point of entry from continental Asia to Japan.
Check out the Fukuoka City Museum, Fukuoka Castle and Shofujuki temple for a good understanding of history related to Fukuoka’s role in Japanese history.
For a more modern perspective of the city, visit the Fukuoka Tower, Canal City Hakata, and the Nakasu District.
Marine World Uminonakamichi, a large aquarium and amusement park, will be a good break for kids.
Top tour: Private Fukuoka Tour with a Local, Highlights and Hidden Gems (100% Personalised).
A city that became famous for the wrong reason after WWII, Hiroshima’s recovery from destruction has transformed it into one of the most modern cities in Japan.
You can remember the city’s troubled history at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum and the Memorial ceremony on August 6th.
Today, you see a city that has been completely rebuilt, like the Hiroshima Castle and Shukkeien Gardens and the many reconstructed neighbourhoods that were destroyed during the atomic bombing. Find out more here.
The covered Hondori Street in Hiroshima Downtown is a great place to shop and taste Okonomiyaki and a glass of beer or sake.
Everyone remembers the disastrous tsunami that inundated parts of Sendai with 40m waves and the subsequent nuclear accident in 2011.
The city and its people bounced back admirably after the disaster, with tourism activities returning in just two months after the tsunami, welcoming visitors again.
Although some regions close to the nuclear reactor are still off-limits, the city is completely back on its feet.
The intricate carvings of the Zuihoden Temple and the restored Aoba Castle are worth visiting if you have a taste for Japanese history.
Take a short train ride from Sendai to Matsushima Bay and taking a circular cruise around the bay would give you many opportunities to take photographs of the thousands of pine-clad islands that dot the bay.
While in Sendai, don’t forget to try the famous beef tongue Gyutan.
There are so many landscapes around Matsue that you’ll be spoilt for choice between lakes, mountains, rivers, forests, waterfalls and hot springs.
You have many choices to enjoy your break in Matsue – like taking a hike or driving to Mt.
Daisen, pedalling a boat on Lake Shinji, taking a trip to the Kirara beach, or even relaxing in a hot spring at Tamatsukuri Onsen.
Japan’s oldest shrine, Izumo Taisha, is just a short distance from Matsue and a great place to calm the soul.
Visit the Adachi Museum of Art, which has an extensive collection of Japanese art, and also has a lovely photo-worthy garden.
The well-preserved historical Matsue Castle Town is a must-visit in Matsue, where you can experience the narrow streets and old alleyways reminiscent of Japan’s past.
Top tour: Matsue Half-Day Private Trip with Government-Licensed Guide.
The farthest you can reach on the Japanese bullet train towards the South of Japan is Kagoshima, where you’ll enter the uniquely designed Kagoshima Chuo Station.
With mild weather and a volcanic mountain Sakurajima in the vicinity, Kagoshima easily reminds you of the city of Naples in Italy.
Sakurajima has an interesting past.
Just 100 years ago, the mountain was on an island, but an eruption in 1914 connected this volcanic island to the Osumi peninsula.
The volcano has beautiful viewing points from many parts of Kagoshima, like the famous Senganen Garden and Shiroyama Park.
If you are with kids, plan a trip to the Kagoshima Aquarium, or take a ferry to the beautiful Yakushima Island or Tanegashima Island down south.
Top tour: Kagoshima Full-Day Private Tour with Government-Licensed Guide.
Okayama is an important transport hub from where you can travel to Takamatsu, Kochi and Matsuyama on the busy Shikoku island off the coast or to Matsue on the northern coast.
Perfect for a short stay, Okayama has the beautifully restored Okayama castle and the nearby Korakuen Garden, and the Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art, where you can find works of Picasso and Monet.
If you want to do souvenir shopping, visit the Bizen Pottery Museum, where can watch how the Japanese make pottery and purchase a few pieces as souvenirs.
The Ohara Museum of Art, Japan Rural Toy Museum and The Archaeological Museum, along with a boat cruise in the city centre in the nearby city of Kurashiki, is worth the visit for those who like exploring smaller cities.
Top tour: Okayama Custom Full Day Tour.
Famous for its rice fields, historical monuments and museums, and beautiful natural scenery of beaches, rivers and mountains, Niigata is a destination you must not miss.
Niigata’s abundance of rice fields and its wintry climate make it one of Japan’s top producers of quality sake.
If you are a museum enthusiast, Niigata also has several interesting museums.
Check out the Niigata City History Museum, famous for its display of samurai swords, the open-air Northern Culture Museum, and the Tsubame-Sanjo Area, known for its traditional craftsmanship, which is not exactly a museum but interesting nevertheless.
The museum you’ll love visiting is the Ponshukan Sake Museum, famous for, you guessed it-sake!
You can view the various varieties of sake and purchase unique and popular flavours here.
Nagaoka Fireworks Festival in August is a great time to be in the city to see thousands of fireworks launched over two days and enjoy a carnival atmosphere with food stalls, music and other entertainment.
Popular nearby destinations include Sado Island, Myoko and Yuzawa ski resorts. You can take a Full Day Ski Lesson (6 hours) in Yuzawa for an experience to remember.
Top tour: Private Historical Walking Tour of Niigata Port Town.
If you want to visit a Japanese city with a rich cultural heritage that wasn’t affected by WWII and has well-preserved relics, temples and neighbourhoods reminiscent of Japan’s Edo-era, Kanazawa is the place.
The city also has famous gardens and traditional crafts like the Kutani-yaki, gold leaf making and Kaga Mizuhiki.
Don’t miss visiting the amazing Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan’s best landscaped gardens.
A tour of the Myouryuji temple, with its hidden rooms, trapdoors, and secret passageways, will make you realise why it is named the Ninja temple, as it served as a defensive outpost.
Like many old Japanese cities, Kanazawa also has a Geisha district called Higashi Chaya District which is the best place to enjoy tea, sweets, and traditional Japanese entertainment.
If you want to sample more street food, head to the Omicho Market close to the Kanazawa Castle Park.
Top tour: Kanazawa Full Day Tour (Private Guide).
After visiting Aomori, you can proudly say you have visited one of the snowiest cities on Earth.
The city is on Japan’s main island, Honshu, and you can reach it in a few hours on the bullet train.
Aomori was the main departure point for ferries to the northern island of Hokkaido, but nowadays, travelling to Hokkaido by train through the underwater Seikan tunnel or by taking a flight is faster.
While winter brings heaps of powdery snow to the city, summer is when the amazing Nebuta Matsuri festival happens, when painted and illuminated lanterns and a creative team of musicians and dancers, parade on the city streets.
If you are adventurous, you can borrow a dancing costume and participate in the parade.
You can also learn more about this festival and watch past performances by visiting the Nebuta Warasse Museum.
Top tour: Aomori Full-Day Private Trip with Government-Licensed Guide.
If you are in Osaka or Kyoto or travelling to Hiroshima, visit Himeji, home of the famous Himeji Castle.
Topping the list of most visited castles in Japan, Himeji Castle is a well-preserved defensive feudal castle that is mesmerising, especially in the cherry blossom season.
The castle grounds include more than eighty buildings and intricate centuries-old alleyways, and the castle itself would take more than a couple of hours to explore fully.
Even the old samurai houses with traditional Japanese gardens and the cobblestoned streets are photo-worthy.
If you like the traditional vibe of Kyoto, you must visit the nearby town of Nara as it’s only an hour’s ride from Kyoto and Osaka. You can join a day tour here.
Nara’s main attraction is Nara Park.
Children will love the park with its hundreds of friendly, adorable deer roaming around and looking at you curiously.
The Tōdai-ji Temple, constructed in 752 CE, is worth spending an afternoon exploring the temple grounds and buildings, like Japan’s largest bronze Buddha statue at 15 meters tall.
Explore the Todaiji Museum for its impressive collection of Buddhist art dating back many centuries ago.
Deeper in the park, the 8th-century Kasuga Taisha Shrine can be reached by walking on a lantern-lined path surrounded by friendly deer.
The shrine is famous for conducting more than 2200 rituals annually, held for Japan and for world peace and prosperity.
If you’re up for a small hike, walk up to the summit of Mount Wakakusa, and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views.
It’s also the city’s top spot for spring sakura/cherry blossom viewing.
Located between Taiwan and mainland Japan, Okinawa islands are Japan’s version of tropical island getaways with white sand beaches and a unique culture.
To reach the islands, you’ll first have to take a flight to Naha, the capital of Okinawa, on the main island.
Although many resorts are on the main island, you can also travel to Ishigaki, Miyako and other islands for a relaxing island holiday.
You can do all the usual water-based activities like snorkelling, scuba diving, island hopping and others in the beautiful clear waters of the main island.
Owing to its long history, Okinawa also has a deep cultural vibe.
Visit the Shuri castle, Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum and experience the island’s native Ryukyuan culture, which is completely different from that of the rest of Japan in terms of language, cuisine, architecture and arts.
Spending a weekend at an onsen (hot springs) resort is perfect for a break from Tokyo.
On the Tokyo-Kyoto route, Hakone is a mountainous region with abundant hot springs.
Enjoy scenic cable car rides, the healing warm waters of Owakudani, and even pedalling across Lake Ashinoko in a swan boat.
Hakone offers some of the best views of Mount Fuji and you can take a full-day tour from Tokyo.
South of Tokyo, Yokohama is a laid-back cousin of the fast-paced Tokyo.
The Minato Mirai district is Yokohama’s city centre, with scenic waterfront views, especially from the Yokohama Landmark Tower.
Yokohama Chinatown and the nearby Isazaki Mall are the places to go for delicious local, Chinese and international street food.
When visiting Yokohama, leave time to explore Kamakura, Enoshima and Sankeien Garden.
If you are with kids, visiting Hakkajima amusement park, Zoorasia Zoo, Cup Noodles Museum, or a ride on the Cosmo Clock wheel will keep them busy.
It’s worth booking a day tour with a local to explore the sights.
For those of you who love winter sports activities like skiing and snowboarding or want to spend time in a snowy winter resort, look no further than Nagano.
Just a few hours from Tokyo, you’ll be treated to a completely different scenery of the snow-capped Japanese Alps and wide-open lush forests.
In one of the onsen resorts here, you can experience the warmth of a natural hot spring in cold weather.
If you’re keen on a hike, visit the Yamanouchi or the Snow Monkey Park, where you can watch monkeys enjoy the warmth of the hot springs in snowy surroundings. Find out more here.
Nagano is famous for apples and apple-based dishes, which you can bring back as a souvenir and try the mouth-watering Shinshu beef.