After two years of pandemic, the Land of the Rising Sun is gradually reopening its borders. Finally, you've got to book your plane ticket! A dream come true... However, you are still not sure which cities in Japan to visit to fully enjoy your trip?
With its history, its cultural richness, its breathtaking landscapes and its gastronomy, the archipelago attracts many visitors from Asia, America, Europe or Oceania. The Kansai and Kanto regions are the main destinations for foreign tourists. Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka... discover the top 10 Japanese cities to visit!
1. 🗼 Tokyo: the extravagant megalopolis
Located on the island of Honshu, the capital of Japan is an unmissable destination as it shines by its modernity. However, the megalopolis has not abandoned its traditions. Shopping malls, kawai phenomenon, manga and cosplay culture, ... Tokyo is full of activities. On the other hand, the most populated city in the world has also managed to preserve Japanese traditions with its places of worship, its handicraft stores, its kabuki theater and its popular festivals (matsuri).
💙 What to do in Tokyo?
- Shopping in Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Akihabara. These buzzing districts will impress you with their time to spare. Lovers of high technology and Japanese pop culture will be delighted!
- Strolling around in the old districts (Ueno, Nezu, Asuka...) which will transport you to the Edo period
- Visit the famous Ueno Park, the Nezu-jinja shrine, and the Senso-ji temple
Taste Tokyo's culinary specialties
2. 🎎 Kyoto, the cultural capital
Toji temple, Kyoto
Dreaming of reliving the Japan of yesteryear and its traditions? Former capital of Japan from the beginning of the Heian period until the Meiji restoration (1868), Kyoto is full of cultural treasures. It has many points of interest with its Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, palaces, Zen gardens and other wonders classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. Located in the center of Honshu in the Kansai region, this large city will take you back to the time of traditional Japan, far from the skyscrapers of Tokyo. In this touristy and authentic city you can enjoy the atmosphere of traditional festivals while discovering ancestral Japanese arts.
💙 What to do in Kyoto?
- Visit the Golden Pavilion and its Zen garden
- Take a walk in the Arashyama bamboo forest
- Visit the Fushimi Inari temple and its tori
- Walk in the bustling Gion district to spot the geishas
- Visit the International Manga Museum
3. 🍘 Osaka, the cosmopolitan city
Famous for its gastronomy, its lively streets and its castle, the economic capital of Japan is full of beautiful sites to visit. The third largest city of the country will be the ideal destination for party people and good-living people who might want to visit the famous Dotonbori street (Namba district). Apart from the bustling corners, the metropolis has more of a village feel and remains quite relaxing. Surrounded by canals, "The City with its feet in the water" is sure to charm you. Osaka is the perfect destination to fulfill all desires.
💙 What to do in Osaka?
- Visit the beautiful Osaka Castle
- Visit the Shitenno-ji, the largest Buddhist temple in Japan
- Admire the gigantic Osaka Kaiyukan aquarium
- Go on a trip to the Tennoji Zoo
- Go to the ramen museum for a unique outing
4. 🦌 Nara, the spiritual city
Nara, with the same name as the prefecture, is a popular destination for tourists. Only one hour away from Tokyo and Osaka, Nara is a city not to be missed during your trip in the archipelago. The ancient Japanese capital of the 8th century is known for its beautiful park, their free roaming deer and the oldest Buddhist temples in the country.
💙 What to do in Nara?
- Walk in Nara Park in the middle of deer (exceptional during the cherry blossom season)
- See the Kasuga-taisha shrine nestled in the heart of the forest and its thousands of lanterns
- Visit the Kofuku-ji temple and its big pagoda
- Go to the museum to discover the history of Buddhism
- Take a walk in the beautiful Isuien garden
- Without forgetting the Todai-ji temple and its 15m high Buddha statue
5. 🗻 Hakone: the fairy-tale panorama
In Kanagawa Prefecture, not far from the capital, Hakone is a very popular destination for Tokyoites. Nestled in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park between the 5 lakes and the beaches of the Izu Peninsula, Hakone offers enchanting landscapes and lush nature worthy of the most beautiful places to visit in Japan. Set in the heart of volcanoes, the spa is a famous tourist destination because of its hot springs, its lake and its mythical view on Mount Fuji.
💙 What to do in Hakone?
- Admire Mount Fuji
- Relax in the hot springs (onsen)
- Visit the shinto shrine of Hakone
- Take a boat to see tori in the water of Hakone-jinja
- Have lunch on the shores of Ashi Lake
6. 🏄♀️ Kamakura: the Zen coastal city
The Great Buddha of Kamakura
Situated 1 hour from Tokyo, on the Sagami Bay, Kamakura is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Japan. In Kanagawa prefecture, the small coastal town is known for its Zen spirit, its beaches and its huge bronze Buddha. Besides being a surfing spot, Kamakura has preserved the traditional Japanese culture. This ancient fishermen's town was proclaimed capital of Japan thanks to Minamoto Yoritomo under the Kamakura shogunate. It offers a beautiful historical and religious heritage with numerous monuments. Looking for a combination of hiking and cultural visits while enjoying the beach? In Kamakura you will be well served!
💙 What to do in Kamakura?
- Admire the Great Buddha of Kamakura
- Visit the Hokoku-ji temple and its bamboo grove
- Visit the Hasedera Buddhist temple
- Hike along the historical trails full of treasures
- Visit the shrines Zeniarai Benten, Sasuke Inari and Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū
- Taste a potato ice cream
7. 🏚 Takayama: little Kyoto
In the heart of the Japanese Alps, in Gifu Prefecture, Takayama is an 18th century city that has preserved all of its traditions. At two and a half hours from Nagoya by the JR Hida Limited express, this city is known for its wooden handicraft and its famous festival. Also known as "the little Kyoto of the Japanese Alps", it has many attractions. In this corner of paradise lost in the middle of the mountains, the nature is particularly splendid. Moreover, the old town and its historical district (main attraction) will carry you straight back to the Edo period.
💙 What to do in Takayama?
- Take a walk through the alleys of the old town
- Pass by the unmissable Sannomachi Street to see traditional houses, craft
- stores and sake breweries
- Visit the Takayama-jinja temple
- Attend the fabulous Takayama festival
- Go to the Hida no sako open air museum
- Visit the famous tourist village of Shirakawago
- Relaxing in an onsen in Okuhida
8. 🏌♂ Karuizawa the posh resort
Karuizawa, located one hour from Tokyo, is a true bubble of oxygen with its nature and its invigorating hot springs. Known by many sports enthusiasts, this exclusive resort hosted the Nagano Olympic Games in 1998. Karuizawa is a favorite destination for Tokyoites to cool off in the summer, or to admire the colorful leaves in fall. Moreover, it was also a favorite vacation spot for celebrities. John Lennon used to spend his vacations here. In this medieval town nestled at the foot of the mountains, you can go to the museum or enjoy great hikes through the most beautiful natural sites of Nagano.
💙 What to do in Karuizawa?
- Recharge your batteries at Shiraito Falls
- Admire the view on the mountains at the Usui Pass Observatory
- Take a walk in the Onioshidashi Volcanic Park
- Relaxing in an onsen
- Stroll along the Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza shopping street
- Shopping at Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza
- Cycling around
9. ⛷ Sapporo, gastronomy in the north of Japan
Do you like seafood, ramen and beer? Fond of snow? Sapporo is the perfect destination to enjoy excellent local specialties and snow sports. Sapporo is the capital of the island of Hokkaido and is located in the far north of Japan. The temperatures are very cold except in summer. Known for its beer, its incredible festival and its Winter Olympics in 1972, it is nowadays a popular destination taken by tourists from all over the world.
💙 What to do in Sapporo?
- Admire the panoramic view of the city from the top of Mount Moiwa
- Visit the historical village
- Discover the local gastronomy
- Visit the Sapporo Beer Museum
- Go to Odori Park
- Enjoy the Snow Festival
- Skiing in Niseko
10. 🦢 Hiroshima the pacifist
Although its name is known due to the atomic bomb that traumatized the whole of Japan in 1945, today the city has been rebuilt under the symbol of peace. Located in the heart of nature, near the sea and the mountains, Hiroshima is part of the Chugoku region. You will enjoy its peaceful parks, the kindness of its inhabitants and its delicious food. Don't miss Miyajima, nicknamed "the island of gods" which offers splendid scenery and many tourist attractions.
💙 What to do in Hiroshima?
- Visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
- Learn about the history of the city by visiting Hiroshima Castle
- Take a walk in the Shukkei-en garden
- Visit the Mitaki-dera temple
- Taste Hiroshima's Okonomyaki
The above list is not exhaustive, as Japan is full of beautiful cities and picturesque villages. Other places are particularly pleasant such as Nikko, Nagoya, Kobe, the Ogasawara archipelago and other places that are among the most beautiful places to visit in Japan. Finally, the island of Okinawa nicknamed the little Hawaii is a dream destination for tourists.
With this top 10 cities to visit in Japan, you will definitely have an unforgettable stay. Which cities will you choose?