Planning a trip to Japan can be overwhelming with the number of places to go and things to do. One of the best ways to organize your trip is to collate the information and narrow down your choices. And so, that is what we have helped you do! With the top ten cities to visit in Japan, you can plan your ideal trip.
Tokyo is Japan's capital city and is the top of the must-visit lists of many visitors to Japan. Tokyo was the capital during the Meiji Restoration and throughout Japan's modernization, and so has seen some of the most significant and fastest changes in Japanese history. This also makes it home to several architectural and cultural feats, like the Tokyo Skytree tower. Many locations are symbolic of modern Japan. A typical example of this is the Shibuya Scramble Crossing.
If you visit Tokyo in summer, tsukemen is a great way to cool down. Tsukemen is a cold ramen noodle dish first invented in Tokyo. It is considered very refreshing in summer, especially when typical ramen can be too rich and too hot. Tokyo is a vast city, bustling with life and energy. Even a short visit to Tokyo clearly shows the fast-paced flow of modern Japanese life.
Osaka has long been the home of subcultures in Japan. There is a niche for everyone, which has led to Osaka producing several top Japanese musicians and comedians. Osaka is the cool and quirky aunt to Tokyo's hardworking businessman. One of the best things about Osaka is the people. Osakan people are quite proud of their city's collective personality, in that they are often more outgoing, more fun, and more talkative than most of Japan. They also pride themselves on their hospitality.
There are many top foods from Osaka also (the city is known as the 'kitchen of Japan.') One of the best Osaka foods to try is Okonomiyaki. This is a savory pancake with a base similar to an omelet. It can be highly customized and usually contains cabbage, your choice of meat, and two or three extra fillings. These could be cheese, spring onion, another meat, nori, and more. Osaka is a rough patchwork of different sub-cultures coming together and ending up with a vibrant mix of people, places, and food.
Kyoto is well-known as the traditional and cultural capital of Japan. With well over 1000 shrines and temples and 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Kyoto is a hotspot for experiencing Japan's rich culture. Kyoto was Japan's capital for more than a thousand years and homed some of the most influential emperors in the country's history. The Japanese-style gardens that accompany the temples, shrines, and Kyoto castles are designed to be beautiful regardless of the season. However, Kyoto is swelteringly hot and humid in summer, so spring and autumn are generally regarded as the best times to visit.
To the south of Kyoto is a small area called Uji, which is famous for its matcha tea production. This has led to the proliferation of a wide variety of matcha-flavored desserts, sweets, drinks, and meals. There are many matcha cafes in Kyoto where all or most items are matcha-themed. Some of the most popular things include matcha cake, matcha pancakes, and matcha ice-cream. Kyoto is home to some of Japan's most famous locations, from the gold-leaf-covered temple of Kinkaku-Ji to the many torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine. So it is an experience worth having for any visitor to Japan.
When talking of former capitals of Japan, Nara can't be missed. As the first real capital of Japan, Nara holds a lot of history. A popular day trip from Osaka or Kyoto, Nara is commonly known for its deer. The city is populated by wild deer, mostly concentrated in Nara Park. The deer are wild but are accustomed to humans. There are several stalls in Nara Park to buy 'Shika senbei' or deer crackers, a thin cracker biscuit to feed the deer. However, Nara Park isn't only known for being the home of deer. It is also surrounded by many historically significant temples, museums, and shrines.
Nara is also the birthplace of Manju, a Japanese steamed bun with red bean paste inside. While these are now enjoyed all across the country, it is a popular souvenir from Nara. Nara is an excellent blend of nature and history in a laidback and relaxed city. It is a great day trip for those staying in some of Kyoto or Osaka's big cities.
Kobe is an exciting city located on the west side of Japan. It has one of the main ports in Japan, and one of the first ports to open to the world after seclusion in Japan. This has led to a full and varied international influence on the city. There are areas of Kobe built in a European style, regions that look like an American residential suburb and one of the largest Chinatown areas in Japan.
This multicultural atmosphere makes Kobe a fun and inviting city. Kobe is known in Japan as being "between the mountains and the sea," meaning there is an abundance of nature surrounding the city. Strolling around the port side is an excellent leisurely activity while hiking the nearby mountains can be a great way to see Japan's landscape. Kobe is also famous for the aptly-named Kobe beef, one of Wagyu beef's top 3 types. It is a delicacy and can be prepared in many ways. Wagyu beef is a must-try in Japan, and Kobe beef is one of the best. Kobe is a city that is often skipped by tourists, but it is a charming place to visit.
Hiroshima is often known to the Western world as the first atomic bomb site, and that was a significant part of its history, but nowadays, it is a city that commemorates peace and hope. Hiroshima has several memorial locations around the city, including the Peace Park, the Peace Museum, the Flame of Peace, and the Atomic Bomb Dome. Some of these are quite harrowing to view, notably the Peace Museum, with its re-creations of the bomb and items collected from the bomb site. However, they are a good reminder of our history and the future we should be hoping for.
Previously Osaka was touted as the place for okonomiyaki. However, this was not entirely true. Hiroshima also has its own okonomiyaki style, and there is a fierce rivalry dividing the country over which method is better. To participate in this debate, try both and decide: which is the ultimate okonomiyaki? Hiroshima is a city with a sombre past, but it has used this past to create solemn reminders mixed with calming and peaceful areas to look towards the future.
Sapporo is the capital city of the prefecture of Hokkaido, in the far north of Japan. Hokkaido is the largest prefecture in Japan and is often seen as remote and snowy. However, Sapporo is a vibrant and lively city. It is famous for the Sapporo Snow Festival, held in February, which showcases hundreds of snow and ice statues. There are often many stage shows, and food stands to enhance the festival atmosphere.
The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the few winter festivals in Japan, as summer is generally regarded as the festival season. Due to this, Sapporo is often visited in February. However, summer is also a great time to visit as Sapporo manages to escape the Japanese summer's heat and humidity. Hokkaido is famous for the Genghis Khan (pronounced Jingisukan) dish. This is one of the few popular lamb dishes in Japan. It is made with grilled lamb and vegetables and often served with several dipping sauces. Sapporo is a great way to experience the snow north of Japan and a different food style to the mainland.
In contrast to snowy Sapporo, we now have Fukuoka in the south of Japan. Fukuoka is the largest city on the island of Kyushu, the most southern island before reaching Okinawa. Fukuoka has long been hailed as the home of tonkotsu ramen, one of Japan's most famous ramen types. Tonkotsu ramen is a pork bone broth ramen, famous for its thick, creamy broth and delicious char siu pork. Tonkotsu ramen was first developed in 1937, and Fukuoka hasn't looked back since. While ramen is delicious and easy to find all over Japan, the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen truly serves the best. Fukuoka is best to visit during winter as the more tropical atmosphere makes the winter quite mild and enjoyable. For a foodie in Japan, Fukuoka is a necessary experience.
Kanazawa is a smaller city in the prefecture of Ishikawa. It is home to Kenroku-en, one of the top 3 landscape gardens in Japan. Kenroku-en is a beautifully-designed, multi-faceted garden. It is vast, and it is easy to spend a few hours just wandering the grounds of Kenroku-en. Kanazawa is often referred to as 'little Kyoto' due to the abundance of traditional buildings and areas. It has all the traditional charm of Kyoto without the crowds. It is ideal for visiting in spring, as Kenroku-en gardens spring to life with the blooming flowers. Kanazawa is also famous for its fresh and delicious seafood. A great way to experience this is with Kaisendon. Kaisendon, or seafood bowl, is a rice bowl topped with an array of fresh, raw seafood. This is an excellent alternative to the more famous Japanese sushi, as you can experience various different seafood altogether. Kanazawa is a beautifully traditional, culturally rich city with a range of things to see and do. It is one of the lesser-known beauties of Japan.
Yokohama is about a half-hour train ride from Tokyo, making for a great day trip location. It is another port city and is home to the largest Chinatown in Japan. During the large intake of Japanese culture, it can help have a small break for some Chinese food, Chinese culture, and Chinese markets. Yokohama is also home to Sankeien Gardens – a large traditional Japanese garden. While there are traditional gardens all across Japan, Sankeien also has several historic buildings moved and reconstructed from areas such as Kyoto and Kamakura. This means a stroll through Sankeien gardens is also a journey through history. As previously mentioned, Yokohama is a great place to try Chinese food. However, for something more Japanese, there is gyunabe. This is one of Japan's first meat-based dishes and is a beef hotpot dish served with several Japanese seasonings. Yokohama is a fun cultural experience, just a short train ride outside of Tokyo.
Japan is a land of contrast, from the bustling pop culture of Tokyo to the traditional history of Kyoto, the cold north of Sapporo to the hot south of Fukuoka. With this list we have covered a number of the main cities in Japan and helped to narrow down the choices for your next Japan trip.