Must see cities in Japan

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Many visitors flock to these cities during their travels in Japan: the bustling metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka, the vast landscapes of Hokkaido, the historic shrines of Kyoto and the sandy beaches of Okinawa. Indeed, these cities always top the chart in an annual ranking of “Most Appealing Prefectures” by Japanese people themselves. These cities are well deserving because they espouse a certain je ne sais quoi quality. However, there are many other cities that will also grab a hold on your heart due to their distinctive charm and dynamic feel. Here are five cities you ought to visit in Japan:


Fukuoka City

by Yoshikazu TAKADA, CC BY

Ranked 7th this year in a survey of “Top 25 liveable cities” by prominent magazine Monocle, Fukuoka City differentiates itself from other cities by two cities: its groundbreaking eco-friendly initiatives and lively yatai (open air food stalls). Such exciting plans include the development of a facility that produces hydrogen gas from sewage, thus imbuing it with an invigorating ‘can-do’ vibe! As for yatai – a rare sight in other parts of Japan – you can enjoy a cool evening breeze while slurping up a bowl of delicious tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen and listening to the chatter of locals around you.

by mdid, CC BY

This is about as authentic as it gets! Not only that, it is home to Tenjin Underground Shopping Mall, Canal City Hakata and Kushida Shrine, so both shopping fanatics and culture buffs will enjoy themselves here!


Kanazawa City

by DozoDomo, CC BY-SA

Kanazawa City strikes a lasting first impression when you step out of JR Kanazawa Station. Its towering wooden torii gate integrated with steel beams and interweaving glass, proudly showcasing how Kanazawa City is enlivened by a pulsing synergy between tradition and modernity. The highlights here are many: Omi-cho Market, which offers fresh succulent seafood from the Sea of Japan; Higashi Chaya District, which transports you to the Edo era with its wonderfully preserved tea houses; and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, whose circular facade is an artwork in itself.

by DozoDomo, CC BY-SA

And of course, how can one forget Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s top three gardens where you can while away an afternoon sipping tea and gazing at exquisitely manicured plants?


Yufuin City

by RachelH_, CC BY

Located in Oita prefecture also known as the onsen prefecture, Yufuin City provides you a soul-affirming respite from the hustle and bustle of big cities. Take a leisurely stroll down long stretches of shops that will tempt your wallet with their impressive selection of unique made-in-Oita products. Think artisanal jams, attention-grabbing bowls and funky household products! Don’t get so engrossed in shopping that you forget to take in the clear blue skies and lush mountains.

by othree, CC BY

In fact, grab an onsen tamago (hot spring egg) and/or korokke (potato and meat croquette) and sit down somewhere to admire the idyllic beauty. Round up your trip with a refreshing dip at one of the many onsen hotels here. Guaranteed to rejuvenate you and give you power for the rest of your trip!


Takamatsu City

Food lovers should make their way to Takamatsu City, for Kagawa prefecture is famously known as the “udon prefecture”. Teeming with characterful udon shops, Takamatsu city offers you the fun, immersive experience of making your own sanuki udon! Also not to be missed is the Shikoku-mura, where you can see 33 intriguing houses and buildings that have been reassembled from all over Shikoku. Housing fishermen’s huts, residences of lighthouse keepers, a sugar cane processing facility and even a kabuki theatre, it enables you to gain a wealth of insight into Japanese architecture and lifestyle of ancient people.


Hiroshima City

by rileyroxx, CC BY

Hiroshima City
The city that suffered the world’s first nuclear attack, Hiroshima City needs no further introduction; Barack Obama recently personally visited Hiroshima City to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, a move that generated greater attention on this city. The World Heritage-listed A-bomb Dome is a sobering reminder of this tragedy while the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time as aged volunteers amiably explain to you the exhibits comprising personal artifacts of schoolchildren killed in the bombing.

by nickboos, CC BY-ND

On a less solemn note, gourmet enthusiasts will live it up here, what with the sampling of okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), spicy tsukemen noodles and big, juicy oysters!

Japan truly has a multitude of appeals that will fit every budget and travelling preferences. I hope that this article has given you new inspiration for your next trip to Japan. Do include one (or more) of these five must-see cities so as to gain an experience that is refreshingly different from those that you will derive from the tourist-trodden cities of Tokyo/Osaka/Kyoto/Hokkaido/Okinawa!



Kai Le likes nothing better than exploring a foreign city and meeting fellow travelers along the way. He hopes to write about cross-cultural commonalities and differences.