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Robert Schrader in Hakodate

Cities to Visit in Japan (Besides the Usual Suspects)

One of the most common questions I get is “What are the best cities to visit in Japan?” (apart from the usual suspects). Many travelers are surprised to learn that there are as many urban wonderlands in Japan as there are natural ones, even if Takayama isn’t quite as cosmopolitan as Tokyo, for example, and although Kochi doesn’t have near as many temples as Kyoto.

The fact is that many of the best cities in Japan are small and poorly-known—or at least they were, until now. Are you ready to add a few more lines to your Japan bucket list?

Need help planning your trip to underrated Japanese cities? Hire me as your Travel Coach!


Fukuoka Japan

When it comes to Kyushu, it seems that Nagasaki city gets all the love, and not just because of its post-World War II ubiquity. For me, however, the most dynamic city in Kyushu is Fukuoka, the island’s largest and also the closest one to Honshu. Whether you stick to city-center attractions like the ruins of Fukuoka Castle, make a day trip to Nanzo-in Temple or take advantage of convenient Hakata Station, Fukuoka is a fantastic choice if you’re looking for where to go in Japan besides Tokyo and Kyoto.


Hakodate Japan

Some people are surprised I list Hokkaido’s Hakodate among the best cities Japan has to offer, but mainly because they’ve never heard of it. That’s a shame since Hakodate, which is less than an hour from Honshu via the newly-opened Hokkaido Shinkansen, has so much to offer, even when compared directly to other underrated cities in Japan. Discover Japan’s lesser-told history at the star-shaped Goryokaku Fort, dine on “dancing” squid at Hakodate Morning Market or enjoy one of the world’s best night views from Mt. Hakodate.


Himeji Japan

It might seem somewhat disingenuous for me to list Himeji among the best cities in Japan, since I mostly value it for a single attraction: Himeji Castle, which is possible the most beautiful castle in Japan. On the other hand, Himeji is easily accessible—located in Hyogo prefecture, it’s around an hour from Osaka by bullet train—which means that it’s perhaps the most fulfilling half-day trip from the Kansai region, particularly if you can see the castle flanked by cherry blossoms. It’s among my top Osaka day trips, in fact.


Kochi Japan

When people think of the best Japanese cities in the south, their minds rarely wonder off Honshu, and if they do it’s to aforementioned Kyushu. This is a shame, since underrated Shikoku is not only a paradise for nature lovers, but boasts some of Japan’s most interesting small- and medium-sized cities. The first one of note is Kochi, which boasts impressive Kochi Castle, lively Hirome Market and mysterious Chikurin-ji Temple, whose garden is filled with statues that honor the memories of stillborn babies.


Matsuyama Japan

Another Shikoku city you shouldn’t miss is Matsuyama, located on the north shore of the island—Kochi, by comparison, sits along the southern coast. I’ll leave it up to you whether Matsuyama’s castle is “better” than Kochi’s (it definitely offers a superior view), but one advantage of choosing Matsuyama over Kochi is nearby Dogo Onsen, one of the most beautiful public bath houses in all of Japan, and among the top underrated places in Japan in general. If you have time, adding both of these places to your list of Japan cities to visit is the best option.


Naha Japan

It’s probably surprising to see the capital of Okinawa listed among the most popular cities in Japan, considering how few travelers make it to the chain of islands at all. But Naha shocked me in the best possible way—and not just because it was the only place in Okinawa I ever saw the sun. Whether you enjoy the panorama from Shuri Castle, marvel at whale sharks in Churaumi Aquarium or eat taco rice along Kokusai Street, Naha is among the best underrated Japanese cities, and is definitely worth a visit.


Takayama Japan

Takayama, in Gifu prefecture a few hours north and west of Tokyo by train, rounds out this list of cities to visit in Japan. Quaint and understated, Takayama’s all about subtle beauty, from the way Nakabashi Bridge looks flanked by spring sakura and autumn leaves, to the historical houses of Sanmachi, to the nearby village of Shirakawa-go, which is one of the most beautiful destinations in all of Japan. TIP: Takayama makes a great onward destination from Matsumoto and the Nakasendo Way.

The Bottom Line

These might not be the top cities to visit in Japan based on famous attractions or high visitor numbers, but they’ve been among the highlights of my nine (and counting!) visits to the country. Whether you add one or two to each of your Japan trips, or build an entire itinerary around them, visiting even a few of these underrated Japanese cities will broaden and deepen your knowledge of—and your love for—the Land of the Rising Sun.

Leave Your Daily Hell   Filed under: Japan

About The Author

is the author of 1206 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!


informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!


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Upcoming Trips

  • I plan to spend the first half of 2021 in Kyoto, Japan, where I'll be taking a Japanese course. While I intend to publish some posts about my travels around Japan here, I encourage you to visit Japan Starts Here for my most up-to-date and in-depth Japan travelogues.

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