With its enormous cities and towering skyscrapers brightly clad in neon lights, Japan is a fun country to visit, full of history and with a rich cultural heritage. Temples and shrines dot its streets, while world-class restaurants rub shoulders with ancient castles and imperial palaces, and its cities bustle with life and energy. Bordered by beautiful natural scenes, wandering around cities like Tokyo is akin to stepping into the future, such is the innovation and technological know-how on show. With something for everyone, the best cities in Japan are exhilarating to visit.
Matsue: Charming and full of cultural sights, this samurai city is steeped in history and has a lovely castle for visitors to explore. Lying on the shores of Lake Shinji, there is an old-time feel to the place, as fishermen cast their nets in the lake and the lazy river flows by. There are a few good museums to visit, and although the historic center is easily completed in half a day, Matsue´s peaceful ambiance means that visitors often end up staying longer than they intended.
Nagasaki: A picturesque place, Nagasaki´s lovely location nestled peacefully amidst hills overlooking a harbor, obscures the fact that the city was tragically devastated by an atomic bomb. While many visitors come to wander around the memorials and museums dedicated to the bombing, Nagasaki has much more to offer; it is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with lots to see and do. Once the only port open to foreign traders, this openness is still evident; there are a mix of Western and Eastern influences here, as demonstrated by the churches, temples and cuisine on offer.
Yokohama: Despite being less than half-an-hour away from Tokyo, Yokohama certainly has its own identity and, as Japan´s second largest city, it´s well worth checking out. Lying on a lovely bay, it is a cosmopolitan destination, as evidenced by its large foreign community, wealth of different architectural styles, and delicious cuisine from around the world. With a lively arts and jazz scene, it is pleasant to walk along its spacious streets – despite being a major port, Yokohama feels uncluttered and clean.
Kanazawa: With beautiful temples, ancient shrines and a range of fantastic museums, this charming city lying on the Sea of Japan is not to be missed. Wonderfully preserved, its ancient neighborhoods are lovely to wander around, with the old geisha and samurai districts being particularly delightful. In fact, Kanazawa rivals Kyoto in the number of historical and cultural attractions that it has on show. Although seldom visited by westerners, Japanese tourists flock to this city. The highlight is undoubtedly Kenroku-en, an impressive castle with idyllic gardens surrounding it.
Hiroshima: Lying in western Honshu, Hiroshima´s history will forever be linked to the atomic bomb which flattened the city on August 6th, 1945. Almost completely destroyed, Hiroshima has remarkably been reconstructed and is now a bustling modern city, full of life. While many visitors come to pay their respects at the Peace Memorial Park and Museum and visit the chilling A-Bomb Dome ruins, the city has many other sights for visitors to enjoy. It also serves as a gateway to some beautiful nearby islands including famous Miyajima (shrine island).
Kyoto: The former capital of Japan drips with history and is reputed to be the nation´s most beautiful city. Upon arriving, however, many visitors are surprised to see Kyoto´s urban sprawl, which hides away its fantastic historical sites and rich cultural heritage. With over two thousand temples and shrines, as well as numerous Zen gardens, winding cobbled alleys and traditional teahouses, Kyoto is both the spiritual and cultural capital of Japan. Home to a plethora of cool bars, atmospheric cafes and world-class restaurants, the city also has some fantastic palaces and villas for visitors to gaze upon. One of the best places to see the romantic cherry blossom trees, Kyoto is an amazing mix of modern and traditional influences.
Tokyo: Lying at the heart of the most populated place in the world, Tokyo has just under forty million people living within its metropolis. Consequently, there really is something for everyone to enjoy. Appearing as if out of a sci-fi film, the city´s dazzling array of neon-lit skyscrapers are mesmerizing to behold – at night, they look even more impressive. While Tokyo is definitely a modern, thriving city that sells a unique pop culture and fashion sense to the world, remnants of the historic city still remain. You can peacefully wander down cobbled alleys and find old-style atmospheric bars and food stands. In fact, the city is home to more Michelin star establishments than anywhere else in the world, and the food on offer is sumptuous. Whether it is strolling around its cavernous shopping malls or exploring the different neighborhoods – each with its own vibe and identity – it would take a lifetime to see all that Tokyo has to offer.