Technology advancement, towering skyscrapers, temples, and ramen — these are some of the things that spring to mind about Japan. If it’s your first time visiting the country, which cities in Japan are a must-visit? Lying off the eastern coast of Asia, Japan is brimming with things to explore and sights to see.
Here are 12 amazing cities that you shouldn’t skip in the Land of the Rising Sun:
Considered one of the most vibrant and largest cities in Japan, Kobe has many to offer. Located on Honshu Island, Kobe has sweeping views of the region. Here, you can enjoy the scenic mountains, lush gardens, magnificent waterfalls, and of course its food.
Highlights Of Kobe
Mount Rokko: Mount Rokko is one of the famous attractions in Kobe. Also known as Rokko-san, you can either walk up or take a cable car to reach the top. To make the most out of your experience, visit Mount Rokko at night. It is said to be one of the great night views in Japan.
Kobe Beef: Kobe is famous for its Kobe beef. It may be pricey, but this beef is worth every yen. What makes Kobe beef very delicious is how it’s marbled with fat, making it juicy and tender. While you’re at it, grab some sobameshi (a mix of rice and fried noodles).
Sake Brewery: Another highlight in Kobe you shouldn’t miss is their sake. Take a tour of the many breweries that dot around the town. Some of the best ones include Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewery Company, Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum, and Sawa-no-Tsuru Museum.
Yokohama is also among the largest cities in Japan. With just a 30-minute train ride from Tokyo, a visit to this city is well worth the trip. The city is most famous for its wonderful sightseeing spots, architectural styles, and art scene. Aside from that, Yokohoma houses the first modern international Japanese trading port. Being a Japanese port city, this means hopping to other tourist destinations is quick and easy.
Highlights Of Yokohama
Minato Mirai: Found in the center of the city, Minato Mirai is a sprawling seaside urban area. It’s one of the tourist spots in Yokohama with its numbers of shops, restaurants, and gorgeous view at night. Another famous spot here is the Cosmo World where one of the tallest Ferris wheels in the world stands.
Sankeien Garden: If you want a taste of a traditional Japanese-style garden, head to Sankeien. The authenticity and architectural treasures are a sight to behold. The 175,000-square meter garden is known for its seasonal beauty. Visit in late March or early April to witness the gorgeous cherry blossoms in full bloom. In July and August, meanwhile, thousands of Japanese pink lotus fill a pond near the entrance. If you visit in late autumn, you’ll be greeted by the changing color of the leaves. The winter cold isn’t an excuse as this is when plum blossoms start to bloom.
Yokohama Chinatown: You shouldn’t miss the largest Chinatown in all of Japan. With its hundreds of inviting shops and restaurants, prepare to leave with a full stomach and some shopping bags. The popular food here is Chin Sen Bi (shark fin’s deep-fried bao), nikuman (meat buns), and geppei (mooncakes) among others.
Fukuoka is among the largest cities in Japan and the biggest one on Kyushu Island. It’s a welcoming place where you can explore temples, shrines, and delicious food. Another lure of this city is its location next to the sea.
Highlights Of Fukuoka
Nagahama Ramen: Fukuoka is known for its delicious food, and it’s worth emphasizing that it’s also a ramen mecca. Among the many styles, Fukuoka is famous for making the best Nagahama ramen. The tonkatsu-based soup is made from pork meat and bones. It’s served with some ramen sauce, pepper, and red pickled ginger that you can mix to your taste.
Ohori Park: Considered one of the prettiest and popular parks in Fukuoka, Ohori Park offers shelter to travelers who want to relax and unwind. During summer, it’s home to firework displays that add more color and life to the park. Meanwhile, if you visit in March and April, don’t forget to take in the beauty of the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Fukuoka Tower: Soaring 243 meters in height, Fukuoka Tower is one of the best places to visit in Japan. Ascending the tower gives you the best view of the city, especially at night. Aside from the glittering view of the city, the tower has a restaurant to enjoy lunch or dinner.
While Nagasaki may be associated with the World War bombings, there’s more to learn and appreciate about this. Nagasaki is one of the best places to visit in Japan for its picturesque beauty. Nestling among hills overlooking a harbor, it gives you a peaceful and relaxing ambiance.
Highlights Of Nagasaki
Atomic Bomb Museum: Immerse yourself in Nagasaki history by visiting the Atomic Bomb Museum. Here, you’ll find items from the period, such as artifacts, clothes, furniture, and photos that will turn back time. Take time to visit the stories of survivors compiled in galleries.
Iojima Island: If you need a little time off from the city, head to the Nagasaki’s secret beach — Iojima Island. The island is home to pristine beaches and onsen (hot spring). Aside from that, you can indulge in several massage parlors and spas around the hot spring resort.
Mount Inasa: Soaring 333 meters high near the city center, Mount Inasa is another great escape from the city destination. Travelers can reach the summit via ropeway, bus, or car. The view from the top is worth the climb and every effort. In fact, it’s ranked among Japan’s three best night views, aside from those from Mount Rokko and Mount Hakodate.
The capital city of the island of Hokkaido, Sapporo is also one of the largest cities in Japan worth exploring. Sapporo is most popular for its Snow Festival, making it a favorite place to visit in Japan for winter-related activities.
Highlights Of Sapporo
Skiing: While the Snow Festival is very popular in mighty Sapporo, skiing is one of the sports you can best enjoy here. For the best experience, head to Mount Teine, the most famous ski mountain in Sapporo. Aside from skiing, you can also enjoy snowboarding and tobogganing.
Ice cream: Aside from the Snow Festival, Hokkaido is also known for its dairy industry providing delicious ice cream. You have a long list to choose from as Sapporo is home to a range of ice cream parlors. For first-timers, head to Milk Mura to sample Sapporo’s signature ice cream. Aside from trying that, Milk Mura offers free ice cream refill. Now that’s a treat!
Sapporo Beer Museum: The Beer Museum in Sapporo is one of the main attractions in the city. Take a tour here and learn about the history of beer and the facility. The galleries are helpful in providing visitors with information on how beer is made and how it all started. You can also end your tour with a beer sample.
Sendai is the biggest city in the Tohoku part of Honshu Island and has a lot to offer. From gardens, castles, food to nightlife, Sendai is among the best places to visit in Japan. In addition, just like with other cities in Japan, Sendai is known for its festivals. For a more relaxing activity, there are nearby hot springs you can head to.
Highlights Of Sendai
Tanabata: Among the most important festivals held in Sendai is Tanabata. It happens every August 5 and continues from August 6 to 8. During this festival, the whole of Sendai is decorated and adorned with paper balls styled as flowers. Aside from the opulent decorations, there are impressive fireworks that welcome the festival.
Local Food: Sendai is home to many delicious foods, and one of their specialties is the grilled beef tongue. A standard menu of this famous dish comes with tail soup and mugimeshi (rice cooked with barley). You can also feast on their sasakamaboko (fish sausage) or zundamochi (green soybean paste made with rice balls).
Nightlife: Sendai is one of the cities in Japan that is known for its clubs and bars. Head to Chuo-dori where several dance clubs and bars fill the area. Meanwhile, if you want to experience the main entertainment spot, find your way to Kokubunchō.
Nara is considered ancient among the cities in Japan because it used to be the country’s capital. With that, it’s not a surprise that Nara has a wealth of cultural and historical sites to visit and explore. Undoubtedly, the most important highlight in Nara is the Great Buddha statue in Todai-ji temple. This is the largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan.
Highlights Of Nara
Todai-ji: Also known as the Great Eastern Temple, Todai-ji is one of the most famous places to visit in Japan. As mentioned, the temple houses the biggest seated Buddha in the world. With that alone, Todai-ji has become a landmark of Nara. Aside from the mighty Buddha statue, Todai-ji’s main hall, the Daibutsuden, holds the record as the largest wooden building in the world. Boasting 15 meters in height and 500 tons in weight, the Buddha Hall is a sight to behold.
Nara Park: Another highlight in Nara is the Nara Park where you can encounter tame deer ranging freely. Just about 45 minutes away from Kyoto, Nara Park allows you to connect with nature and its over 1,000 sacred deer. The free-roaming animals are considered as national natural treasures.
Hōryū-ji Temple: Another titleholder, Hōryū-ji Temple is the oldest wooden building in the world. Studies say the temple might have been built as early as 670 AD. Through the years, despite time, fire, and weather, about 20% of the original materials still remain intact. Hōryū-ji Temple is an ancient beauty that travelers should not miss.
With a strong Osaka population of 19,222,665, it ranks as one of the largest cities in Japan. Although it’s renowned for its culinary expertise, there’s more to Osaka than its delicious food. The bustling city is home to lively art, music, and cultural scenes. Being a commercial center amid some historical sites, Osaka offers a great mix of modernity and tradition.
Highlights Of Osaka
Osaka-jo: Also known as Osaka Castle, Osaka-jo is one of the most attractive buildings in Osaka. Nestled in a leafy park, the walk from the gate to the castle offers a relaxing view. Inside the castle, visitors are treated to a variety of weaponry and artwork. There’s also an observation deck for your panoramic photos.
Dotonbori: Dotonbori is known as the heart of Osaka. It’s a lively and vibrant place at night where people come together to eat, drink, and have fun. Dotonbori is home to cafes, bars, restaurants, and rows and rows of stalls that offer local food. Most of the restaurants also have terraces so you can sit out and enjoy the view of the Dotonbori canal.
Local Food: If you love food, Osaka is not one to disappoint. Travelers come here to explore, have fun, and fill their bellies. Some of the highlights include ramen, okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake), and takoyaki (ball-shaped Japanese snack stuffed with octopus and vegetables). You can also try the kushikatsu, which consists of deep-fried skewered vegetables and meat.
Most often called “Little Kyoto,” Kanazawa rivals Kyoto when it comes to historical and cultural attractions. From beautiful temples, breathtaking gardens, museums, Kanazawa is one of the best cities in Japan to visit. This charming city may not rank among the most famous but its beauty deserves more attention.
Highlights Of Kanazawa
Kenroku-en Garden: Stretching 12 hectares in size, Kenroku-en Garden is the main highlight in Kanazawa. In fact, it’s ranked as one of the top three gardens in Japan for its beauty and serenity. You can simply walk around and take in all the beauty or discover traditional tea houses around the garden.
Omicho Market: Omicho Market offers a wide variety of goods to enjoy, try, and bring home. It’s less-crowded, giving you enough space to move around and explore. Rows of stalls offer fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood. There is also local food you can sample in between shopping.
Higashi Chaya Area: This area allows you to witness a neighborhood of traditional geisha houses. These houses are beautifully preserved, with most of them converted into restaurants or tea houses. Higashi Area is just an easy walk east of Omicho Market, so after a little shopping head over here to relax, dine, and enjoy the scene.
Hiroshima may always be associated with the World War bombings, but there’s more to this city than its history. Hiroshima is now a vibrant and modern city. Contrary to its tragic history, Hiroshima today is dubbed as the city of peace. This is evident in the international conferences on nuclear power that take place here from time to time.
Highlights Of Hiroshima
Atomic Bomb Dome: The Dome is perhaps the most important symbol of Hiroshima as it commemorates the history of the city. The Atomic Bomb Dome is monumental as it still stands the same even after the bombing. The surrounding is also well-preserved. The Dome is among the most-visited sites in Hiroshima for its historical significance. Make sure to put this on your list next time you visit the city.
Miyajima Island: This island is one of the most scenic in Hiroshima, especially in autumn. Regarded as an Island of Gods, Miyajima is home to lush forests and beautiful temples from ancient times. For the best experience, visit here during sunrise or sunset to witness the incredible beauty of the island.
Itsukushima Shrine: Mostly known for its stunning beauty and architecture, Itsukushima Shrine is a favorite attraction for many tourists. This shrine stands on an island that’s considered sacred and is thus a protected area. In 1996, it was declared a World Heritage Site.
Kyoto is among the largest cities in Japan worth visiting. It’s not reputed to be the country’s most beautiful city for nothing. From cultural and historical sites, over two thousand amazing temples, gardens, and villas, Kyoto is perfect for hungry explorers. Aside from traditional influence, Kyoto is also home to some modern attractions. Enjoy dining in world-class restaurants, cool bars, and cafes.
Highlights Of Kyoto
Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine: Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is Kyoto’s most iconic site. The shrine is at the end of a crimson-colored walkway framed by thousands of torii gates. Visitors flock here to have their photos taken and explore the vast area surrounding the shrine. Halfway up the mountain where the shrine is, you’ll find a breathtaking view of Kyoto.
Nishiki Market: Another famous place to visit in Kyoto is the Nishiki Market. Spend a day here and treat yourself to some local foods, freshly roasted tea, yakitori, and more. You can shop for some textiles, ceramics, traditional crafts, and more. They say a day in this market is never enough.
Gion District: For your entertainment needs, Gion is the place to be. The district houses cafes, food stalls, and scenic views. The streets are lined with traditional Japanese architecture, giving you an authentic Japanese ambiance. Artists will be happy to know that Gion hosts the Minamiza Theater, which is famous for featuring kabuki shows.
No trip to Japan is complete without visiting its capital Tokyo. The city boasts a dazzling array of skyscrapers, modern architecture, and historical sites. You can feast on world-class cuisine, shop ‘til you drop, and simply get lost in the scenery. With endless things to experience, they say it would take a lifetime to see everything in the capital of Japan.
Highlights Of Tokyo
Toyosu Fish Market: Tokyo is known for serving the best sushi, and one place that won’t disappoint is Toyosu Fish Market. This is one of the largest fish markets in the world, with two whole buildings solely for seafood. There’s another building dedicated to fruits and vegetables.
Shibuya: When one thinks of Tokyo, Shibuya is one of the first words that come to mind. How can it not be when it’s the major business and commercial center of the city. Shibuya is also home to the two busiest railway stations in the world — Shinjuku, and Shibuya. Another spot not to miss in Shibuya is the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing, the Shibuya Crossing. This crossing remains unrivaled when it comes to foot traffic. Photographers of all levels take pride in taking the best shots at this famous pedestrian.
Harajuku, Omotesandō, and Aoyama: For all things fashion and trendy, don’t miss Harajuku, Omotesandō, and Aoyama. These areas are bustling with colors, art, and beauty. Harajuku is mostly known for its colorful streets, cosplay shops, and vintage clothing. Meanwhile, Omotesandō is the heart of premier shopping in Tokyo. It’s also known for its architecture. Aoyama is another area that’s famous among young people for high-end shopping and entertainment. Treat yourself to world-class fashion houses, spas, restaurants, and cafes.
Visit Northern Japan
If you want a little break from the hustle and bustle of Japan city life, then head north. Northern Japan is home to natural beauties and cultural treasures. What makes Northern Japan special is how it still remains unspoiled by major tourism, giving you raw beauty and serenity. Some of the best cities here worth visiting Akita, Aomori, and Iwate.
Small Towns In Japan
While Japan has hundreds of cities to visit, it also has over a thousand small towns worth a trip, too. They may be small but these towns are packed with excitement and hidden treasures. The small towns in Japan are where you can find the best beaches, onsen, and nature — raw and perfect. Kamakura is among the small towns worth visiting. It’s a beach town south of Tokyo.
Aside from its beautiful beach, it’s known for its temples and shrines. An excellent accommodation choice is the Kamakura Guest House. Meanwhile, if you’re into landscapes and hot springs, head to Nikko, north of Tokyo. Book a night or two at Stay Nikko Guesthouse and stay like a local.
Rise And Shine In The Land Of The Rising Sun
Japan is arguably one of the favorite countries to visit among travelers. How can it not be, with its rich history, culture, and delicious food? It may be daunting for first-time visitors, but find comfort that Japanese people are incredibly friendly. This alone makes a trip to this country easier. And with hundreds of cities in Japan, there’s always one that will make your first visit memorable.