15 Best Cities to Visit in Japan

by Takumi Hiroshi

Japan is a one-of-a-kind destination that offers a unique blend of modern metropolises, ancient temples, picturesque landscapes, delectable cuisine, and intriguing pop culture. This vast island country is home to a fascinating mix of old and new attractions, from ancient temples and futuristic buildings to delightful customs and state-of-the-art technology.

Japan is located in the Pacific Ocean and comprises 6,852 islands. Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu are the four most significant islands, covering nearly all of Japan’s land area. Due to its mountainous terrain and virgin forests, most of the country’s population is concentrated in densely populated cities along the coast.

Tokyo, the capital city, is the world’s most populous city and the country’s largest. Toyosu Market, Sensoji Temple, and Tokyo Tower are just a few of the must-visit attractions in this bustling metropolis. Other fascinating areas to explore include the quirky neighborhoods of Harajuku and Akihabara, the trendy Shibuya district, and the serene Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.

Kyoto is a cultural mecca, boasting beautiful castles, gardens, and temples. Kamakura, located on the coast, is home to a massive bronze Buddha and picturesque beaches. Inland, Nikko and Nara are both packed with impressive structures and mausoleums to explore. Hiroshima, with its moving museums and monuments, and vibrant Osaka, known for its fantastic food, drinks, and nightlife, are also popular destinations.

While exploring Japan’s neon-lit cities and religious sites is a must, visitors should also venture outside the cities and experience the country’s breathtaking natural beauty. Soak in hot springs, ski in Hokkaido’s snowy highlands, or hike along ancient pilgrimage pathways. Alternatively, enjoy the stunning beaches of Okinawa.

Japan is a captivating and culturally diverse destination, with vibrant and exciting cities brimming with neon-lit skyscrapers. From the temples and shrines lining the streets to the world-class restaurants and imperial palaces, the cities offer a diverse range of attractions to suit all tastes. With an abundance of cutting-edge technology and innovative design, cities like Tokyo provide a glimpse into the future. In short, Japan’s top cities are a thrilling destination that has something to offer everyone.

15. Matsue

Matsue Castle in Matsue, Shimane prefecture, Japan.

A view of the iconic Matsue Castle surrounded by vibrant cherry blossoms. Image source: Vladimir Zhoga/Shutterstock.com

This city of samurai is attractive and rich in historical and cultural attractions, including a beautiful castle. Situated on the banks of Lake Shinji, the area has a nostalgic air thanks to the presence of the lake and the slow flow of the river.

Even though the historic core can be seen in half a day, many people choose to spend more time in Matsue than they had originally planned because of how relaxing the city is.

14. Himeji

Himeji, Japan at Himeji Castle in spring season

Himeji Castle adorned with cherry blossoms during the vibrant spring season. Image source: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Himeji-jo, a mighty castle from Japan’s feudal period, is the city’s main attraction for good reason. Some beautiful samurai houses with beautiful traditional gardens can be seen in the area.

Himeji is not very exciting, with just a few museums and the usual assortment of shrines, temples, and restaurants seen in each major Japanese city. Himeji is a popular day-trip destination for people all around Japan who like history.

13. Beppu

Small red hot spring in Beppu, Oita, Japan

A tranquil moment at a small red hot spring in the picturesque town of Beppu. Image source: sieghartatelier/Shutterstock.com

People from all over the world visit Beppu for its warm hospitality and to bathe in the city’s many hot springs. Beppu is a famous “onsen” (Japanese hot spring) resort since it is home to more than three thousand springs.

This coastal town, surrounded by mountains, takes on an enchanted aspect thanks to the steam and mist that waft through the streets. Beppu is a great spot to kick back and relax thanks to its picturesque atmosphere and stunning architecture.

12. Kobe

Kobe, Japan skyline at the port and tower.

A stunning view of Kobe’s skyline, featuring the port and iconic tower. Image source: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Kobe is a beautiful city that sits on a slope near the sea, and it is framed by the ocean on one side and Mount Rokko on the other. Although relatively modest in size, this ancient port city exudes a vibrant sense of internationalism. While out and about, you’ll come across temples and mosques representing every major faith.

Kobe is a ton of fun to wander about because of its abundance of superb restaurants, cool cafés, and exciting nightlife. Using the city as a jumping-off point, you can easily reach many more amazing locations by train.

11. Nagasaki

Nagasaki, Japan skyline at dusk.

A tranquil evening view of Nagasaki’s skyline during the magical twilight hours. Image source: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Nagasaki is a beautiful city with a serene setting among hills overlooking a harbor, yet its idyllic appearance belies the city’s devastating destruction by an atomic bomb. Nagasaki is a lively, cosmopolitan city with a lot to see and do, and although many tourists visit the city to view the museums and memorials devoted to the bombing, they will find much more to enjoy.

There is a blend of Western and Eastern influences, as shown in the availability of churches, temples, and food in this city, which was formerly the sole port available to international merchants.

10. Yokohama

Yokohama, Japan city skyline from the bay at twilight

A mesmerizing view of Yokohama’s city skyline as seen from the bay during twilight. Image source: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Yokohama is the second-largest city in Japan and is well worth seeing because of its unique culture and proximity to Tokyo (less than half an hour). A huge international population, a wide variety of architectural styles, and delectable cuisine from across the globe all point to its status as a cosmopolitan destination, and the fact that it is situated on a beautiful bay just adds to the impression.

Despite its status as a major port, Yokohama maintains a pleasant, uncluttered atmosphere thanks to its vibrant arts and jazz culture and wide, clean avenues.

9. Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Japan downtown city skyline

A panoramic view of Fukuoka’s downtown city skyline. Image source: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Fukuoka, the biggest city on Kyushu, was originally composed of two separate towns that later merged to become the modern metropolis it is today. Fukuoka is a warm and inviting city, and what it may lack in terms of tourist attractions, it makes up for in friendliness and warmth. Fukuoka has a lot to offer: excellent museums, beautiful buildings, tasty ramen, and a chance to witness the city’s renowned baseball team play.

Several beautiful temples can be seen in and around the city; many of them are situated on the banks of the river that runs through it. Fukuoka serves as a starting point for many tourists who want to go across Kyushu.

8. Sendai

Scenery of the Jyogisan Saihoji temple in Sendai.

A serene scene at the picturesque Jyogisan Saihoji temple in Sendai. Image source: mTaira/Shutterstock.com

Tanabata Matsuri, one of the most well-known festivals in Japan, is held annually in Sendai, and the city’s tree-lined streets are always packed with festivalgoers. As the major city in the Tohuko region, it attracts many sightseers en route to the nearby wilderness areas in order to have a taste of the local culture.

Sendai is a great destination to visit and an even better place to call home, thanks to its vibrant nightlife scene and charming crumbling castle with exquisite gardens. It is also convenient to Matsushima, which boasts one of Japan’s most breathtaking vistas, and the local hot springs.

7. Sapporo

Cityscape of Sapporo, Japan at Odori Park

A panoramic view of Sapporo’s cityscape with the iconic Odori Park in the foreground. Image source: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, is a laid-back city with all the hallmarks of a Japanese metropolis. Although most visitors use it as a jumping-off point to explore the island’s beautiful mountains and soothing hot springs, there’s much to do in the city itself, from eating to shopping to partying.

Sapporo has a variety of fantastic events during the summer, but the highlight of the year is undoubtedly the world-famous Snow Festival, when hordes of visitors come to marvel at the incredible snow sculptures.

6. Osaka

Dotonbori shopping street, Osaka, Japan.

The lively and colorful Dotonbori shopping street in Osaka, Japan. Image source: f11photo/Shutterstock.com

When compared to other cities, Osaka’s unending concrete buildings aren’t exactly eye-catching. However, the city’s abundance of neon lights makes up for this in spades. Osaka is a great city to visit because of its vibrant local arts and music scene and its status as a busy metropolis with a magnificent river winding through its core.

Famous for its amazing restaurants and food culture, this place has a broad selection of delicious street food as well.

5. Nara

Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan

The iconic Todaiji Temple, nestled in the serene surroundings of Nara, Japan. Image source: Blue Sky Studio/Shutterstock.com

As the proverbial “cradle of Japanese culture,” this once-capital city is packed with fascinating historical attractions. The city’s undeniable high point is the magnificent Great Buddha statue housed in the beautiful Todai-ji temple, which can be easily explored on foot.

The surrounding hills, which contribute to Nara’s idyllic atmosphere, are home to many more shrines and temples worth seeing, while other temples display exquisite examples of Japanese art and architecture.

4. Kanazawa

Kanazawa, Japan street scene at Higashichaya district

A charming street scene in the historic Higashichaya district of Kanazawa. Image source: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

This picturesque city on the Sea of Japan is home to a wide variety of amazing museums, as well as stunning temples and ancient shrines. The historic geisha and samurai areas, in particular, are fascinating places to stroll because of how well they have been conserved. In reality, when compared to Kyoto, Kanazawa offers just as many opportunities to learn about Japan’s rich cultural history.

Visitors from Japan come to this city despite its low profile among foreigners. The crowning glory is Kenroku-en, a magnificent castle surrounded by beautiful gardens.

3. Hiroshima

Hiroshima, located in western Honshu, is synonymous with the atomic bomb that destroyed the city on August 6, 1945. Hiroshima was almost annihilated, yet the city has been miraculously rebuilt and is today a thriving metropolis.

Peace Memorial Park and Museum and the terrifying A-Bomb Dome ruins draw many people, although they are far from the only attractions in the city. It is also a jumping-off point for trips to other surrounding islands, such as the world-famous Miyajima (shrine island).

2. Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan in Spring in the Higashiyama District.

A picturesque view of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district during the enchanting spring season. Image source: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

The city formerly known as Japan’s capital is rich in history and is considered to be among the most beautiful in the country. But when they get there, many are taken aback by the city’s sprawling metropolitan nature, which obscures the city’s wonderful historical landmarks and rich cultural legacy. Kyoto is the spiritual and cultural center of Japan, home to more than two thousand temples and shrines, in addition to countless Zen gardens, meandering cobblestone streets, and traditional teahouses.

It’s not only the amazing palaces and villas that draw tourists to this city; there are also plenty of cool bars, cozy cafés, and top-notch restaurants. In Kyoto, you can find a beautiful blend of contemporary and traditional architecture, making it one of the most interesting destinations to visit if you want to view the romantic cherry blossom trees.

1. Tokyo

Tokyo Tower, Japan

Tokyo Tower, a symbol of modernity and architectural marvel, standing tall in the vibrant cityscape of Tokyo, Japan. Image source: Blue Planet Studio/Shutterstock.com

Tokyo, the world’s most populous city, is home to around 40 million people. As a result, everyone can find something they like. The city’s collection of neon-lit buildings is amazing to see during the day, but at night, they take on an otherworldly appearance.

Tokyo is unquestionably a cutting-edge metropolis that exports its own brand of pop culture and fashion to the rest of the globe, yet the city’s ancient roots are still palpable. The quiet, cobblestone streets are lined with charming restaurants and bars that harken back to a bygone era. The city has the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, and the cuisine served there is unparalleled.

It would take a lifetime to see all that Tokyo has to offer, whether it’s meandering through its vast retail malls or visiting the many neighborhoods, each of which has its own mood and personality.

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