The Top 10 Cities in Japan That Every Tourist Should Visit
While Japan is a largely homogeneous nation, you will be pleasantly surprised to find out how every city still boasts a unique blend of local gourmet options, funky festivals, and amazing landmarks. Japan's amazing cities have much to offer to visitors, so regardless of whether you are a history buff or shopaholic, you will definitely find some cities that will tug at your heartstrings. Introducing the 10 best Japanese cities you ought not to miss, chosen by the tsunagu Japan team.
Aug 27 2019 (Apr 24 2020)
1. Tokyo: The City That Has Something For Everyone!
As the nation's bustling capital, Tokyo leads the world in fashion trends, so it is truly a shoppers' paradise where you can purchase anything you fancy - at your desired budget. Fashionistas can source for quality designs at trendy stores littered all over Tokyo. Shibuya and Shinjuku appeal to youthful shopaholics who wish to revamp their wardrobe with famous Japanese brands while teenagers can enjoy shopping at the many characterful shops at Takeshita Street, just a street across from JR Harajuku Station. More well-heeled consumers will enjoy indulging in retail therapy at the sophisticated boutique stores in Omotesando.
Or if you prefer to shop for bargains at neighbourhood haunts and chat with local proprietors, try your luck at shotengai (shopping streets) like Tenjin-dori Shotengai. Shimokitazawa is also another area you should check out if you are into vintage secondhand clothing; these clothes look unbelievably chic, which will showcase your fashion style at a steal of a price. To aid you in your planning, we have compiled a list of the 10 shopping streets you ought to visit.
Tokyo also tops global charts when it comes to the world's best liveable cities - and no wonder. It is an excellent place for families as it offers interesting indoor attractions and outdoor spaces for them to spend quality time together.
If you love amusement parks, you can bring your family to great theme parks like Sanrio Puroland and Yomiuri Land. If you wish to inculcate a budding love of science in your children, you may want to help them broaden their science knowledge at Miraikan - The National Museum of Emerging Science and Technology. For families who would ike to spend some time with Mother Nature, they can look to parks like Asukayama Park and Yoyogi Park where they can have leisurely walks and scrumptious picnics.
There are many other things you can do in Tokyo, so here's a great article to inspire some ideas: 50 Things To Do In Tokyo. Alternatively, if you don't have a lot of time to look around the city, consider checking out our 1-day Tokyo travel itinerary.
2. Kanazawa: The City That Seamlessly Blends The Old And New
Bestowed with the name of "Little Kyoto", Kanazawa is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture and attracts throngs of tourists every year as it straddles comfortably between the old and new, truly evoking unique atmospheric vibes. Moreover, it is easily accessible as one can reach it via a 2.5 hour bullet train ride from Tokyo.
Particularly, architecture and urban planning enthusiasts will have their breath taken away by the magnificent sight of JR Kanazawa Station. Boasting a towering wooden torii gate that is integrated with steel beams and interweaving glass, it pays homage to its past while looking forward to the future. You will be also intrigued at how new life has been breathed into the traditional tea houses in the Higashi Chaya District as they have been remarkably preserved and now feature local shops that sell Kanazawa's signature desserts and souvenirs.
Also, architecture enthusiasts will enjoy the visual feast that is offered by the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa. Its circular, glass-walled building gives rise to a sense of openness, and its iconic exhibits like Leandro Erlich’s "Swimming Pool" invite you to immerse yourself in the creative space. Experts seem to approve; after all, it was conferred an award in the 9th Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition in 2004.
Are you pumped to visit Kanazawa? We have consolidated 11 of the best tourist spots in Kanazawa for you.
3. Kyoto: The Ancient City That Never Sleeps
If Tokyo is the pulsating fashion hub of Japan, Kyoto is then endowed with its ancient soul. Cultural buffs who are keen to understand Japan's rich, vibrant history will do well to visit this old cultural capital as it showcases 17 shrines and temples that are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Admire the scale of the magnificent Kiyomizu-dera Temple from afar. Gaze in awe at the splendor of Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) and Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion). Stare into the mystical world of Ryoan-ji Temple's dry rock garden. For all this and other great sightseeing spots, why not check out our carefully curated travel guide to enjoying Kyoto in all its glory and splendor?
After a long day of sightseeing, you will be pleased to know that Kyoto offers a distinctive mood at night. Night goers will definitely have an exciting time exploring the energetic nightlife scene, said to be one of the hippest in the whole of Japan. Lose yourself in music and dance your troubles away at established night clubs like Club Metro and World. If dancing isn't quite your thing, fret not. You can have an equally boisterous night by eating it up at one of the many izakaya (Japanese-style bars) at Ponto-cho, the night hub of Kyoto.
Indeed, a refined city by day, a happening city by night!
4. Osaka: The City That Lets You Eat And Play!
Located in the heart of the Kansai region and easily reached from Kansai International Airport, Osaka City attracts travellers who love the dynamism of big cities. Foodies, in particular, should not miss it out as Osaka gives your tastebuds a gastronomic treat with its wide range of scrumptious food, including kushiage (deep fried skewers), takoyaki (flour-based batter with octopus), okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), and more. Be sure to check out the Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi areas whose dizzying range of eateries leaves you spoiled for choice.
Aside from eateries, Osaka showcases plenty of leisure spots that will enable couples to create precious memories together. For example, you can have a romantic moment with your loved one at the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel as you share things with each other while taking in the panoramic view of the Osaka Bay. Or you can try out the various fun water attractions at Spa World that will help you soak your worries away.
Another great option for couples, as well as families, is to enjoy the various Hollywood-themed attractions at Universal Studios Japan (USJ). You can lose yourself in the mystical world of Harry Potter or unleash your inner child in the world of Minions. Your partner will thank you for adding USJ into the itinerary!
In fact, there is tons to do in Osaka, so let our article 50 Things to Do in Osaka be your guide.
5. Hiroshima: The City That Appeals To Both History and Sports Fans
Renowned worldwide as an international city of peace, Hiroshima City was the first city (and one of only two cities in history) to be devastated by a nuclear bomb. The history buffs among you must be intrigued to find out how Hiroshima got back on its feet after World War II.
A landmark not to be missed then is the Atomic Bomb Dome, as it is a stark visual reminder of the immediate aftermath of the bomb explosion. After battling to recover from this tragedy, Hiroshima is now an advocate of peace as it advocates the abolition of nuclear weapons. Such determination can be felt inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum as actual survivors bring visitors on guided tours to give compelling real-person accounts.
After taking in the horrors of the nuclear devastation, it will be good to rejuvenate your spirits. Hence, watching a live sports event may just be the antidote for that. Baseball attracts a large following in Hiroshima, so sporting fans will be giddy with excitement to watch the local team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, play at the MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium. Soak in the sheer exuberance of die-hard fans as they erupt in rapturous cheers and motivate the Hiroshima Toyo Carp players. Being one with the crowd will help you experience the passionate side of Japanese people!
If you hope to spend a few days in Hiroshima, make them count with our article on 25 Amazing Things To Do In Hiroshima!
6. Kobe: The Multicultural City That Brightens Up Your Night
History lovers will naturally gravitate towards Kobe City as its identity as a port city helped facilitate its development as a melting pot of diverse cultures. Even as early as 1887, many foreigner merchants settled down in Kobe, bringing with them their unique way of life. You could expose your family to these foreign cultures by visiting the Kitano Foreign Residences. It's like travelling around the world in 80 minutes, as you get to visit England House, France House and Italian House, among others!
Also not to be missed is Nankinmachi, which is a bustling Chinatown area. You will have an amazing time soaking up Chinese vibes by tucking into delectable Chinese dishes and watching lion dances during festive occasions.
If you can't make it to the cultural events in Nankinmachi, don't be too disappointed. After all, you can come to Kobe during the first half of December and view the spellbinding spectacle that is Kobe Luminarie. Couples, especially, will rejoice at the chance to take Instaworthy photographs in front of the colorful installations erected in the Higashi Yuenchi Park in the city center. It's a great way to usher in the festive season with other citizens of the world!
While you are in Kobe, check out our dining guide: Top 10 Places to Dine in Kobe.
7. Kumamoto: The Castle City That Doesn't Give Up
Located in the heart of Kyushu Island, Kumamoto Prefecture offers an illustrious past in the form of Kumamoto Castle, which is located in its capital. One of Japan's top 3 castles, Kumamoto Castle struck awe in the hearts of many visitors, especially castle fans, with its unique curved mushakaeshi (literally means "samurai return") stone walls that were aimed to deter incoming invaders.
Unfortunately, earthquakes in 2016 resulted in significant damage to Kumamoto Castle, but this may just add to its charm. Kumamoto people are determined to restore the castle to its former glory, so it is still a great idea to visit it and see the massive fortress from outside. Let's feel its indomitable spirit!
Kumamoto City also has a festival that's just out there. Does Drunken Horse Festival pique your curiosity? Festival-goers will be thrilled to witness how the city comes alive with people from each neighborhood decked out in elaborate costumes and dancing to the systematic beat of drums. What's more, burly men from each contingent will guide one horse which tramps along the noisy streets. If you are lucky, you may even spot a foal or two!
Other tourist attractions in Kumamoto City include Suizenji Park and Sakuranobaba Josaien. Read our "7 Must-Visit Kumamoto Tourist Spots Recovering from the 2016 Earthquake" for more details.
8. Beppu: The Mountainous Onsen City
One of the definitive Japanese experiences is dipping in a hot spring and letting its warmth refresh you. Onsen lovers will do well to check out Beppu in Oita Prefecture, as it boasts more than a hundred hot springs, each of them offering serene views of the quiet countryside. Some onsen even reach legendary status because of their gorgeousness; you must make time for the eight legendary jikoku (hells) for instance. Umi Jikoku will soothe your spirits with its calm cobalt-blue waters while Chinoike Jigoku will set your adrenaline pumping with its fiery red waters.
The other hells are tantalizingly described in our article "What's Hell? The Abundant Hot Springs in Beppu Meant Only to be Seen".
Nature lovers and outdoorsy people will relish the chance to hike up Mt. Tsurumi, where they will be rewarded with an unparalleled panoramic view of the mountainscape. If you would rather not sweat, well you can take the Kintetsu Beppu Ropeway up and enjoy the feeling of being one with nature!
9. Sapporo: The City With The Million-Dollar Night View
Located in the northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido Prefecture, Sapporo City radiates its elegance at night. Use the ropeway at Mt. Moiwa Sanroku Railway Station to get to the summit of Mt. Moiwa where you will be rewarded with a stunning overhead view of the city. It's definitely a great spot for couples and families as they can enjoy one another's company while enjoying how Sapporo City dazzles much like resplendent jewels.
In fact, here are other great views in Sapporo as well as the rest of Hokkaido Prefecture. Do read our Best 5 Night Views in Hokkaido That You Won't Want to Miss! article for travel inspiration.
On the other hand, winter aficionados will surely take to the idea of skiing in Sapporo as it is home to many luxurious, yet reasonably-priced ski resorts that enable them to take in its spectacular scenery. Some of these resorts even open at night, so you can literally ski from morning till night! Moreover, every February, Sapporo will host the Sapporo Snow Festival at Odori Park for one whole week. Gallivant from site to site (there are three sites in total) and get up close and personal with awe-inspiring snow statues and ice sculptures!
10. Naha, Okinawa: The City For Slow Eating and Shopping!
Located in the south of Japan, Okinawa Prefecture is on the radar of many travellers' lists. For one, it functions on island time, where things just slow down and Okinawans engage you in delightful small talk, thus evoking a relaxed atmosphere. For another, it charms visitors with its original culture, which sets it apart from the rest of Japan. So Naha City is surely the best city for you to cast away your worries and absorb the island aura leisurely.
Makishi Public Market could be a stop on your to-do list as you can try out a yummy mish-mash of influences of Western comfort and signature local dishes, including goya champuru (stir-fried bitter melon with tofu, pork, and eggs) and taco rice (taco fillings served on a rice bowl). You must also visit Kokusai Street, where you can continue to eat up a feast by trying out umibudo (sea grapes) and soki soba (noodle soup with pork spare ribs), among other dishes. Then, spend a lazy afternoon patronizing the many stores and buying quirky fashion items and other souvenirs. In other words, time to shop till you drop.
Because we know that your curiosity has been piqued, we have prepared a comprehensive list of 50 Things to Do in Okinawa for you.
You may be introverted or extroverted; you may embrace the buzz of the big cities or retreat into the comfort of the countryside; you may like to shop until you drop or seek solace in Mother Nature. One thing's for sure: you will definitely find a city that appeals to you. Come to Japan and have a whale of a time!
Header image: Richie Chan/Shutterstock.com
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.