Japan Destinations – 10 Cities You Should Visit First!

Japan Destinations - Chureito Pagoda Kawaguchiko

If Japan is on your list of destinations for a future travel adventure, you’ll probably want to know where to go and what to see while you’re there. To help you decide which city to visit first, here is a list of the top ten cities to visit while in Japan. Stating with the country’s capital, each city on this list is highly recommended as a city that should be visited early in your trip to get a real sense of what Japan is really like.

If you only have time during your trip to visit a few cities around the country, please consider choosing from this list – you won’t regret it.

1. Tokyo

Japan Destinations Shibuya Tokyo - Shibuya Crossing

Tokyo, the nation’s capital, consists of 23 individual central city wards. There are over 39 million residents currently living and working in Tokyo, making it the world’s most populous metropolitan area. Although it is referred to as a city, Tokyo is officially known as a metropolitan prefecture, which gives it the unique characteristic of having both city and prefectural elements.

As it’s the most well-known city in Japan, Tokyo starts off the list due to all the amazing sights and  authentic Japanese experiences it has to offer. Combining the old with the new, you can immerse yourself in the cultural history of Japan and experience ultramodern technological advancements all in one day. With such a convenient public transportation system in place, it’s easier than ever to explore Tokyo’s parks, shops, and entertainment areas.

Some of the more notable places to visit within the city are: Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, Roppongi Hills, Ueno Zoo, Tokyo National Museum, Ghibli Museum, Shibuya Crossing, Rainbow Bridge, Kabukicho in Shinjuku, video arcades, sumo trainings, onsen, and themed restaurants like the Kawaii Monster Cafe, the Robot Restaurant 

For even more information about Japan’s capital, you can read all about it here: Tokyo Travel Blog.

2. Kyoto

Japan Destinations Kyoto Kinkakuji Golden Pavillon

Known for its beautiful and historical temples, Kyoto is better known amongst citizens as being the previous Imperial capital of Japan; a title which lasted for well over a thousand years. The city, which is located in the valley of the Yamashiro Basin, experiences extremely hot summers and very cold winters due to its geography. Temperatures in July through September have reached upwards of 39ºC (103ºF), and -11ºC (10ºF) in January in February. Plan your trip accordingly to beat the summer heat and stave off the winter chills.

Due to the incredibly large amount of historic shrines and temples, most people often visit the city for a more spiritual experience of Japan. Along with many priceless buildings, Kyoto also offers a plethora of shops, restaurants, gardens, museums, onsen, and special events to keep tourists entertained.

A couple of great places to visit are: Nijo Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Kyoto National Museum, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Ryoanji Temple, Gion, Katsura Village, and the Nishiki Market.

There’s so much more to know about this amazing city! Read all about it here: Kyoto Travel Blog.

3. Osaka

Japan Destinations Osaka Shinsekai Street and Tsutentaku Tower

Weighing in at the second largest metropolitan area in Japan with more than 19 million residents, Osaka is one of the larger cities many tourist flock to when adventuring through Japan. Just like Tokyo, Osaka also has its own network of railways that make navigating the large city easy and affordable. 

Along with being known as the second largest city in Japan, Osaka is also popular amongst natives and tourists for having a bustling nightlife scene, delectable foods, refreshing drinks, and gorgeous architecture. Many say that the personality of the city is almost the complete opposite of Tokyo’s, though both are great enough to make this list.

Main attractions worth taking a look at are: Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, Univeral Studios Japan, Osaka Castle, Tennoji Park, Tamatsukuri Inari Shrine, Dotonbori area, Umeda Sky Building, Nakanoshima, and Tsutenkaku. 

If you think Osaka is a good fit for your travel plans, learn more about the city here: Things to do in Osaka Japan.

4. Nara

Nara Japan Destinations Todaiii Temple

Best known for the many deer that run around freely through various parts of the city, Nara is full of history and Japanese traditions. Before the emperor moved to Kyoto, Nara was the capital of Japan from the year 710 to 794. As Nara shares a border with Kyoto, it’s very easy to go between the two cities and enjoy them both during shorter stays in the area.

Nara holds several traditional festivals every year that people from all over the country – and a few from around the world – travel to watch and participate in. By preserving Japan’s oldest history, Nara allows anyone to learn about Japan’s timeline of culture and religion, as well as how they cultivated their civilization.

Some of the best places to visit in Nara are: Kofukuji Temple, Nara National Museum, Heijo Palace, Wakakusayama, Todaiji Temple, Omizutori, Horyuji Temple, Nara Park, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Wakakusa Yamayaki, Yakushiji Temple, and Yoshikien Garden. 

For an in-depth look at the city of deer, read on here: Nara Japan.

5. Hakone

Japan Destinations Hakone

Located in the Kanagawa Prefecture, Hakone is a lovely place for people who want to rest and relax during their trip to Japan. Full of numerous onsen hot spring resorts, Hakone attracts tourists who are looking to dip their toe – and eventually the rest of their body – into the natural spring waters Japan is famous for.

As its got a lot less hustle and bustle than the nation’s capital, Hakone is a slow-paced place that allows people to unwind and enjoy the wondrous beauty of Japan. One of the best sights to behold in the entire area is the breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji, which can be seen in its best light across Lake Ashinoko.

If you find yourself in Hakone, be sure to visit some of the best spots like: Hakone Open Air Museum, Hakone Shrine, Pola Museum, Komagatake Ropeway, Okada Museum of Art, Lake Ashinoko, Hakone Tozan Railway, Odawara Castle, Hakone Glass no Mori, Hakone Botanical Garden, and Gora Park.

If Hakone sounds like fun to visit, you can learn more about it here: Hakone Japan.

6. Kamakura

Kamakura Japan Destinations Sasuke Inari Shrine

The seaside city of Kamakura is located just below Tokyo on the map, and was also once the capital of the country in the distant past. Many tourist prefer the less crowded area of the city to that of Tokyo’s hustle and bustle, which brings in a large amount of visitors each year. People enjoy the city’s rich history and amazing sights, all of which are just a short distance away from the capital of the country.

Famous for the many Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in the area, Kamakura is filled with historical buildings, many of which are over 1,200 years old. Thankfully, many historical sites survived the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, and those that were severely damaged have been carefully restored to their former glory.

Some of the best places to visit in Kamakura are: Great Buddha Statue, Enoshima, Zeniarai Benten Shrine, Engakuji Temple, Kamakura Hiking Trails, Hasedera Temple,  Jufukuji Temple, Tokeiji Temple, and Kenchoji Temple.

For even more travel information about visiting Kamakura, click here: Kamakura Japan.

7. Kawaguchiko

Japan Destinations Kawaguchiko Mount Fuji

Kawaguchiko, also called Fujikawaguchiko, is a wonderful place to visit for those who enjoy the great outdoors. Located in the Yamanashi Prefecture, this gorgeous paradise features one of the Fuji Five Lakes. If you’re a fan of heights, you’ll be pleased to know that Kawaguchiko has the highest elevation in all of japan.

The main attraction to see at Kawaguchiko is, of course, Lake Kawaguchiko. This natural body of water is one of the easiest to get to out of the five lakes, with both buses and trains running to it straight from Tokyo. Kawaguchiko borders one end of the lake, and has become one of the most popular hot spring resort areas in Japan.

If you’re looking for other places to see in Kawaguchiko, check out: Chureito Pagoda (in the cover of this article), Kachi Kachi Ropeway, Kawaguchiko Museum of Art, Herb Hall, Tensui Kawaguchiko, Kaiun no Yu, and Kawaguchiko Music Forest.

To find out more about Kawaguchiko and why it’s such a great city, you can read about it here: Kawaguchiko Japan.

8. Nikko

Japan Destinations Nikko Kegon Falls

There’s a famous phrase for the small city of Nikko in the Tochigi Prefecture: “Never say ‘kekko’ until you’ve seen Nikko.” ‘Kekko’ means beautiful or magnificent in Japanese, so many people consider Nikko to be one of the most beautiful places to see in Japan that’s worth visiting. Along with beautiful sights, the weather is generally very nice all year round, with highs of 22ºC (72ºF) and lows of -8ºC (17ºF).

Nikko is at the entrance of Nikko National Park, which houses Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine, Toshogu. Due to its elevation, Nikko has some of the better views for seasonal changes of surrounding foliage, specifically the spectacular autumn colors. The Nikko National Park is a great place to see such beauty, and has mountain landscapes, waterfalls, lakes, hot springs, curious monkeys, and more.

There’s plenty of places to visit in Nikko, such as: Kegon Falls, Rinnoji Temple, Futarasan Shrine, Kirifuri Waterfall, Nikko Botanical Garden, Shinkyo Bridge, Kanmangafuchi Abyss, Tamozawa Villa, and Toshogu Shrine.

There’s plenty to discover about this awesome city; for more information, click here: Nikko Japan.

9. Hiroshima

Best Things to do in Hiroshima Japan - Atomic Bomb Peace Park

Hiroshima, which shares its name with the prefecture its situated in, is the largest city in the Chugoku region of Honshu. Many people around the world know of Hiroshima because it was targeted for nuclear attack during World War II, but the city has since flourished after being rebuilt from war attacks and damages from the Makurazaki Typhoon.

Over one million people call Hiroshima their home, and both visitors and locals enjoy the yearly festivals held around the city. The city also has a rich history of music and art, and is home to a professional symphony orchestra and many different museums. The best known cuisine to come out of Hiroshima is okonomiyaki, which is a type of savory pancake that’s usually cooked right in front of diners. If you’re a fan of great places with great food, Hiroshima is definitely a good city to visit.

Some of the best places to visit in Hiroshima are: Hiroshima Zero Gate, Peace Park, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, The Atomic Bomb Dome, Shukkeien Garden, Hiroshima Castle, Mazda Museum, Mitakidera Temple, Hiroshima Gogoku Shrine, Hiroshima Big Arch, and Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima.

More info here: Things to do in Hiroshima Japan.

10. Takayama

Takayama Japan Countryside

Due to the fact that the city is so elevated and isolated from other areas nearby, it is said that Takayama has produced its own unique culture over the past few centuries. The name Takayama itself means ‘tall mountain’, and as such many lovers of mountain scenery and hiking flock to the city every year. Takayama is located directly in the heart of the Japanese Alps, which provides breathtaking views and extreme temperatures.

Aimed towards travelers who want to experience a truly rural area of Japan, Takayama is bursting with traditional Japanese culture and history. Sights such as a 1,200 year-old ginko tree, ancient Japanese homes and structures, and remnants of a culture that have survived for over three centuries are common within the city. Takayama is best known for its local foods – beef, soba, ramen, and sake – and impressive carpentry. 

When visiting Takayama, the most recommended places to take a look at are: Yatai Kaikan, Higashiyama Walk, Old Town, Hida Minzoku Mura Folk Village, Matsuri no Mori, Hida Kokubun Temple, Hida Takayama Spa Land, Shin-Hotaka Ropeway, and World Shrine. You will also find amazing Ryokan in Takayama.

Curious about Takayama? Satisfy your curiosity by reading more about it here: Takayama Japan.

These cities represent the very best of what Japan has to offer travelers. There’s history, culture, food, technology, entertainment, sights, sounds, and so much more to explore in the land of the rising sun. Even if your travel plans don’t include all the cities on this list, you’re sure to have a great time no matter where you decide to visit in Japan.

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