10 Most Interesting Cities In Japan (Bucket List Ideas)

Being a top business hub and dream destination, most travelers have Japan squarely on Their bucket list. The common question about Japan that persists in people’s minds when they plan on visiting Japan is, what’s the best city to visit while in Japan?

Tokyo Skyline with a view of Tokyo Tower

There is no perfect answer to this question, as the best destination will be based on the particular traveler’s preferences. However, there are certain things each person will want to consider when planning such an epic adventure.

As a general rule, most visitors to Japan spend most of their time in one of three destinations. Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto. Those who prefer the fast pace and high technology of Japan prefer Tokyo. For those wanting to experience Japanese cuisine end up in Osaka and for history, it’s Kyoto.

Kyoto by Shinkansen
Ancient streets of Kyoto

You can choose to enjoy yourself in a city with a high technological urban atmosphere with futuristic skyscrapers full of activities and people. Alternatively, you can visit cities rich in cultural or historical sites and wild nature if you prefer fascinating urban centers.

Japan has megacities such as Tokyo to small destinations where tourists like to explore small-town life. This article provides a complete exploration guide that’ll help you choose the perfect city to enjoy yourself while in Japan.

Osaka’s neon Dotonbori area where a culinary adventure awaits

Tokyo

When most visitors travel to Japan, they usually land in Tokyo first before proceeding to other cities. Even if you’ve got a different vacation destination in mind, it’ll be good to explore Tokyo’s best attractions first before proceeding with your journey.

Most visited and top-rated sites in Tokyo:

  • Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple
  • Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine
  • Hamarikyu Gardens
  • Sumida Rive Boat Tours
  • Ginza Shopping District
  • Odaiba Area Rainbow Bridge
  • Jiyugaoka Restaurants and Shopping
  • Tokyo Skytree Citywide View
  • Tokyo Tower Observatory and dinning
  • City Tour Buses Near Tokyo Station
  • Akihabara Electronics Shopping

It’s the most modern and varied city in the country, offering a mix of old and new, from ancient alleyways to high-tech marvels of science and technology.

Yakatori alley(Omoide Yokocho) in the old Shinjuku district in Tokyo

You can explore the electric and technological sound town where you’ll get a geeky and your tech fix among the futuristic skyscrapers.

After which, you can head to the Shinto shrine or ancient Buddhist temple, where you can view the oldest temple in the city, the Sensoji Shrine.

Sensoji Shrine

The Museum of modern art and imperial place contrasting one another is also a place worth visiting.

If you love a city with unique tourist attractions and sites, then take time to explore Tokyo. Walk at the Kite Museum, the parasitology museum, or the Ghibli animation studio museum.

You can also play your favorite arcade games at many of central Tokyo’s gaming centers. Some of the world’s largest arcades offering multi floors of everything, such as the oldest retro arcade games and the latest virtual reality games.

Sega Game Center In Akihabara

Lastly, you can make a stop to view cherry blossom (Sakura) and one of Tokyo’s numerous parks, one of Japan’s centuries-old traditions.

Different people visit these locations to view the tree blossom with petals floating and falling like snowflakes. The trees also have incredibly soft pink colors that attract most mass crowds. However, the best time to enjoy Sakura is usually between March 24th and April 2nd.

Hanami Season In Japan

Best Places To See Hanami Near Tokyo

Hanami, which literally means “flower watching,” is an old Japanese custom of appreciating the lovely but brief (2-3 Weeks) flowering of cherry trees. This phrase refers to the blooms of various species or cultivars of Prunus genus ornamental cherries (sakura).  Hanami is normally enjoyed for a brief period in early spring or late winter.

Kyoto

For a long time, few individuals have known this city as the home of the most UNESCO World heritage sites. It’s a former capital city of historic Japan, you won’t miss during your trip to Japan.

Unesco Sites In Kyoto Official Site of UNESCO

The things you must see in this city include the Byodo-In Temple, which features in Japanese currency, the 10 yen coin. Additionally, you can visit the Samurai Nijo Castle, Golden Pavilion, or the iconic Kinkaku-Ji Temple with precious gold leaf walls.

Kyoto is both Japan’s cultural capital and a popular tourist destination. It is home to a myriad of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, castles, and gardens, many of which have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

You’ll be amazed by the quiet charm of Kyoto from the numerous sublime gardens and shrines. The city also has the most stunning sights in the country, the Arashiyama bamboo forest.

Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan bamboo forest

Top Attractions In Kyoto

  • Kinkakuji The Golden Pavillion
  • Ginkakuji The Silver Pavillion
  • Ryoanji Zen temple
  • Gion-Geisha’s And Teahouses
  • Tenryuji Buddhist Temple
  • Philosopher’s Path
  • Yasaka Shrine
  • Nishiki Market
  • Sagano Bamboo Forest
  • Higashiyama’s Antique Buildings
  • Kiyomizudera Temple
  • Fushimi Inari Taisha Torii Gates

Lastly, you can visit the entertaining Gion district in Kyoto, which presents an unusual sightseeing experience. In this district, you’ll find real-life geishas in the streets walking among ancient wooden folk houses.

Kaiseki ryori is traditional Japanese multi-course meals

You can wrap up your trip to Kyoto with a visit to teahouses such as Ochaya and the traditional Japanese cuisine style of Kaiseki Ryori (multi-course meals).

Kaiseki, which is often regarded as Japan’s haute cuisine, usually consists of nine courses although there are variations depending on the establishments or chef with anywhere from six to fifteen courses meals of this type are commonly served at Japanese inns called Ryokan.

Best Ryokans (Japanese Inns) Kyoto

Osaka

Among well-known tourists cities in Japan, Osaka city seems a very small destination for uninformed travelers. After the Second World War, the builders and designers rebuilt the city quickly and somewhat haphazardly. This town naturally lacks some historical features or sights present in other Japanese cities and towns.

Osaka Castle Museum

However, you find more excitement and adventure in Osaka from the rural to the urbane holding many Japanese charms and surprises.

In addition, you’ll get some of the best vintage wear or electronics shopping at a lower price than in most of the other cities, including Tokyo.

While in Osaka, you should never miss visiting the Bunraku theaters and Open Air Museum, which you’ll find old farmhouses. At these locations, you’ll enjoy the best of Japanese puppetry’s ancient art.

Lastly, the town has the Osaka castle the cities largest attraction outside of (Dotonbori), where you can explore by jumping on a Guzabone boat and exploring the 16-century fortress while in the water.

After all this Osaka is foremost known as the nation’s kitchen. No better foodie experience will you have in the entire country. Dotonbori is Osaka’s central hub for dining and exploring Japanese cuisine. Dishes are rarely found as expertly prepared as you will in this neighborhood.

Osaka’s famous crab restaurant display

Boat tours along Dotonbori’s canal are a must-see and the massive amount of neon is a photographer’s dream.

Osaka’s Top Attractions:

  • Osaka Castle
  • Shitennō-ji Temple
  • Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
  • The Tempozan Ferris Wheel
  • Kobe Port Tower
  • Tenmangu Shrine 
  • Universal Studios Japan
  • Umeda Sky Building
  • Osaka Science Museum
  • Osaka Tennōji Zoo
  • National Museum of Art
  • Tsūtenkaku Tower

Hiroshima

Most people know Hiroshima primarily because of its past during World War II. However, other areas and sites will be a memorable part of your stay apart from the Hiroshima peace memorial park found here. At the park, you see the skeletal ruins of the atomic bomb aftermath documenting the devastation of the cities center.

Hiroshima Peace Museum

After which you can travel to the heart of the city and enjoy your time at the feudal Hiroshima castle. Most of this castle has ornate wood and lacquer covering it. It houses a shrine and the samurai museum. Right outside the castle’s walls, there is often samurai performance every week.

“Aki Hiroshima Busho Tai”

revival of great samurai who was once renowned in Hiroshima.
Every Sunday, you may watch their performance at Hiroshima Castle for free.
The performances will take place in front of Hiroshima Castle at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

For car lovers, the Mazda museum is one of the most exciting sites to pay a visit to in Hiroshima.

It’d be great if you didn’t leave Hiroshima without tasting the Japanese pancake, i.e., Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. The pancake contains noodles, fried eggs, sweet sauce, bean sprouts, and cabbage.

Hiroshima’s Top Attractions:

  • Hiroshima Castle
  • Hiroshima City Asa Zoological Park
  • Mazda Museum
  • Hiroshima Museum of Art 
  • Fudoin Temple
  • Mitaki-dera Temple
  • Memorial Cathedral of World Peace
  • Shukkei-en Garden
  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
  • Island Shrine of Itsukushima
  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Then you can enjoy a trip to Miyajima Island via the picturesque ferry ride. During the ride, you’ll have the best view of the Itsukushima shrine and the floating torii gate.

This Torii gate is somewhat of an illusion that most visitors see during high tide, which makes the gate seemingly float on the ocean waters. However, in actuality, the gate sits on the seafloor, and at low tide, it’s possible to walk out the Torii gate and take a close-up look at it.

Nara

On a high-speed shinkansen, it takes less than one hour from Kyoto to Nara. However, you can take a day trip while driving slowly down the road via rental car. Traveling to this unique small town and having a few days of exploring will be the best way to finish your exploration of Japan.

This town houses Nara Park, which has more than 1000 curious and very friendly deer. All the deer roam freely and mostly approach people at close ranges in hope of a food treat.

Japanese man feeding the revered deer of Nara

After having time with nature ‘deer,’ you can proceed to the Todai-Ji Temple. It’s one of the oldest temples dating from AD 752, and the country recognizes it as one of the UNESCO world heritage sites. This shrine houses the largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan.

Near the entrance of this temple, you’ll get the Todaiji museum. This Museum has an impressive collection of various traditional artifacts, such as Buddhist art.

It’s also worth visiting the 8th-century Kasuga Taisha temple. Most tourists gain access to this temple by having a hike through the lantern lined-path. Additionally, if you’re an exercise lover, you can enjoy your day walking up to Mount Wakuka’s summit, which is approximately a 343-meters walk.

Then you can wind up your visit to Nara by having some sweet Yomogi mochi meal, a warm cake they make by sticking rice and filling it with sweet red bean paste.

Nara’s Top Attractions:

  • Ninja Museum of Igaryu
  • Nara Park and Tōdai-ji Temple
  • Kofuku-ji Temple
  • Isuien Garden
  • Tōshōdai-ji Temple
  • Yakushi-ji Temple
  • Kasuga Grand Shrine
  • Nara National Museum
  • Hōryū-ji Temple
  • Shin-Yakushi-ji Temple
  • Manyo Botanical Garden

Sapporo

If you travel to Japan during the winter, then Sapporo is a great destination for lovers of snow and winter. The town has numerous ski resorts, and at the beginning of every February, there is always a Sapporo snow festival that lights up the Sapporo.

It attracts ice sculptors coming from different parts of the country. These ice sculptures usually build numerous huge ice castles or statues that are illuminated with colorful lights during the night.

Sapporo hosted the world winter Olympics in 1972 due to the presence of perfect skiers areas. These slopes offer the perfect powdered snow conditions. You‘ll find 1000 kilometers of trails that have numerous skiing facilities you can use at night.

While at the heart of the town, you can visit the Ishiya Chocolate factory and have a taste of their yummy chocolate.
Then take a quick walk around Hokkaido; it’s a historical village and with over 60-period structures. Each structure is furnished completely and has illustrations of the ancient life in the town.

For the best view of Sapporo, you can have a guided tour up the observations deck, which is on the Sapporo TV Tower. Alternatively, you can take a cable car and travel up to the top Mount. Moiwayama is usually a great viewpoint and observation area of the surrounding natural environment the area is known for.

Sapporo’s Top Attractions:

  • Sapporo Science Center
  • Former Hokkaidō Government Office
  • Sapporo TV Tower
  • Moerenuma Park
  • Shikotsu-Tōya National Park
  • Maruyama Park
  • Jozankei Onsen Hot Spring
  • Mount Moiwa Ropeway cable cars
  • Hokkaidō Shrine
  • Odori Park

Fukuoka

The Mitama festival in this town makes it more exciting. The residents hold the festival at the Gokoku shrines, where they lit up 6000 lanterns to welcome the dead’s spirit with taiko drum rhythms. The main essence of the festival is to celebrate Japan’s war dead; thus, it attracts many people.

Mitama Matsuri festival in summer

While in this town, it’s essential to stop at the canal city. Japan’s largest shopping center has over 250 stores, cinemas, theaters, and gaming centers. If you love spending your time outdoors, you can explore the Momochi seaside, artificial beach, and park. It sits next to the Fukuoka city museum with many restaurants facing the sea.

After which, you can’t leave without visiting the largest reclining statue in Japan at the Tochoji temple. Lastly, you can finish your visit with a trip to various mountain hikes. For example, at Mt. Hiko, you can have a perfect hike on the mountain and enjoy its copper torii gates.

In addition, at Mt. Shiouji, you’ll enjoy the Ohno Castle ruins. At night, you enjoy your time at Mt. Sarakura by taking a cable car up the mountain and enjoying the stunning view of the lights below the city.

Fukuoka’s Top Attractions:

  • Fukuoka Castle
  • Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine
  • Fukuoka’s Food Markets
  • Fukuoka Tower
  • Fukuoka Art Museum
  • Marine World Uminonakamichi
  • Nanzoin Temple Reclining Buddha
  • Ōhori Park
  • Dazaifu Tenman-gū
  • Hakata Machiya Folk Museum
  • Kushida-jinja Shrine
  • Kyūshū National Museum

Kanazawa

This city has the best ancient architecture as it wasn’t affected by World War II’s firebombing. If you travel to the city, you’ll enjoy the beautiful gardens throughout it and the famous Kanazawa castle. The Nagamachi Samurai districts sit at the base of the castle.

In these districts, you find traces of the samurai’s and their family’s ancient lifestyles.

Tea room with painted screen doors in Nomura Samurai House in Kanazawa. This house is the only samurai house open to the public in Nagamachi district.

When you take a ride to the opposite side of the town, you’ll see the remains of the teahouses or Chaya at the Higashi Geisha. To understand the lifestyle of the geisha, having a stop at the Ochaya Shima Museum will be essential.

Wagashi Traditional Japanese Sweets

Then, if you love ornaments, you can get a traditionally decorated gold leaf from the famous Gold leaf Sakuda shop. Lastly, you can finish up your time in this city with a sip of hot green tea and traditional wagashi sweets at one of the teahouses.

Kanazawa’s Top Attractions:

  • Kenrokuen Garden
  • Kanazawa Castle Park
  • Nagamachi Samurai District
  • Myoryu-Ji Temple
  • 21st Century Museum Of Contemporary Art
  • Kurando Terashima House
  • Hakusan National Park
  • Kaga Onsen
  • Historic Takayama
  • Nagano Ski Resorts
  • Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

Kobe

Most Japanese residents refer to Kobe as the port city. It’s the perfect location for photographers amateurs and professionals alike, as it is between the Rokko Mountains and the sea, providing the perfect background for your photos.

Mount Rokko cable car near Kobe

A few meters from the town, you can enjoy your hike in the Rokko Mountains. The Nunobiki falls are the best destination to help you cool off during the hot summer afternoons.

Tourists also visit the all-marble Jain temple for a quiet escape and climb up on the Kobe tower. During this time, the sun usually goes down, giving panoramic views over the city’s lights. The city has Japan’s first fashion museum, the Kobe museum, and the maritime Museum.

Kobe Maritime Museum structures symbolizing fishing nets

The Maritime Museum highlights the benefits of the sea for the growth and development of the city.

Kobe’s Top Attractions:

  • Kobe Port Tower
  • Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Arts
  • Ikuta Shrine
  • Fruit Flower Park
  • Rokko Island
  • Mount Rokko
  • Kitano-cho
  • Earthquake Memorial Museum
  • Oji Zoo
  • Shin-Kobe Ropeway
  • Nunobiki Falls
  • Motomachi Shopping Street
  • Kobe Chinatown

Nagasaki

Most people worldwide understand the history of this city from the bombing during World War II. If you walk the city, you can visit the Nagasaki Atomic bomb museum and learn about historical happenings. Then proceed to the peace park, where there are numerous memorials and monuments.

The city has more international flair than many other cities in Japan due to its traditional and historic status as a port city with influences from hundreds of years of trading.

Nagasaki provides delicious Japanese traditional foods at the tiny eateries and restaurants. You can enjoy the Fujian- influenced champion noodles and the okoze fish dishes.

After having your meals, you can take a cable car up to Mt. Inasa to have a view of the famous 10 million dollar view. At this point, you’ll have a 360 view of Nagasaki port and city both during the day and at night.

Called The Ten Million Dollar Views of Nagasaki city From Mount Inasa

Then off Nagasaki Bay, you’ll find the Battleship (Hakima Island.). The island seems abandoned; during the ancient days, the residents used it as a manually forced labor camp. The residents also used this island as their main access site towards the undersea coal mine locations.

Nagasaki Bay Bridge

When filming the James Bond movie, the directors used shots of decaying buildings from this island. It’ll be the best place you can learn about the city past and take tours to ensure you’ve got the best experience on the island

Nagasaki’s Top Attractions:

  • Mount Inasa
  • Gunkanjima (Battleship Island)
  • Dejima 
  • Nagasaki Peace Park
  • Huis Ten Bosch
  • Glover Garden
  • Kofukuji Temple
  • Nagasaki Chinatown
  • Nagasaki Dutch Slope


Being one of the top cultural, business, and high technological countries, Japan is a country most tourists plan to travel to as their once-in-a-lifetime dream vacation destinations. It offers a lot in terms of cultural heritage, highly technological advancements in its cities, towns, and suburbs.

The Japanese cities may seem similar to the other cities of the world. However, they have a lot to offer as the best destinations for your vacation destinations. Starting from dazzling Tokyo, Delicious Osaka to friendly Nara, you’re sure of getting lifetime experiences even if it’s only for a short time.

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.