I must admit many of my bucket list destinations are in Asia. Amongst my top destinations is none other than Japan. I know enough to be dangerous, but I'm no expert. That's why I asked for some help from a peer writer and travel lover, Amanda Kendle. Having lived in Japan, Amanda is just the person to help us out with Japan travel tips.
Get ready to explore the Top 7 Cities to Visit in Japan with Amanda!
Back in my twenties, I spent two years living and working in Japan and it completely captivated me - I’ve been obsessed with all things Japanese ever since. There are so many ways to experience Japan, but I see many of my friends heading simply to Tokyo - a marvellous city, but not the only one in Japan - and to the ski slopes - also gorgeous, but some of the resorts are catering so effectively to western skiers that some of the Japanese-ness is lost. My recommendation? Check out some of my favourite Japanese cities.
The second largest city of Japan, Osaka, rarely rates a mention on the top lists because its attractions are not as instantly accessible at those from other parts of Japan, but I lived here for two years and it’s always my first choice to return to. The food and the extra-friendly people are the highlights of Osaka, and staying in the centre of the city near Namba and enjoying a stroll through the crazy shopping areas, along the Dotonbori Bridge under the famous Glico man advertising, and heading out to the Osaka Castle Park for a stroll are all perfect ways to discover Osaka, while others come here to spend the day at Universal Studios Japan.
Nara is Japan’s ancient capital and now it’s a compact city worth at least a day trip. Nara Park is at its heart, with its very special deer and the Todai-ji temple. The enormous bronze Buddha in here is well worth seeing and if you crawl through a hole in a wooden column in the temple, said to be the size of the Buddha’s nostril, then life is meant to bless you from then on.
Of course, Kyoto gets nearly as much attention as Tokyo these days, but with excellent reason. It’s also a former capital of Japan and is full of varied temples and historic alleyways. It’s almost a cliche these days to visit the golden temple (Kinkaku-ji) or the bright orange gates of the Fushimi Inari shrine, but they’re so amazing it’s well worth doing.
While Kobe might be slightly lower on the usual visiting list I simply love it, and it’s so close to Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara that it’s easy to spend some time here. It’s quite different to the other cities, partly because as a port it’s always had more exposure to western influence, and also because so much of it was rebuilt after the 1995 earthquake. I love all the quirky attractions up in the hills above Kobe - last time my visit included the Rokko International Musical Box Museum and there are many more to explore.
Famous for the wrong reasons, Hiroshima is a smaller city with a big heart and so very worth a visit. The Peace Park and ruins of Genbaku Dome are an important reminder of a horrid time in history, but the ever-present strings of paper cranes give some hope. A short ferry ride from Hiroshima is Miyajima island, a fantastic day trip though beware: like Nara, it’s home to a large number of deer but when I visited, one gobbled up my map and I was a little lost for the day!
Tokyo, even though it’s not my number one favourite, does still deserve a mention in the top seven. It’s an incredible global city, it’s assaulting to your senses on many levels, and you haven’t understood the population density of Japan unless you’ve taken a Tokyo train in peak hour. It’s full of famous shrines and temples, the Imperial Palace, lots of museums and of course all the interesting inner-city neighbourhoods like Harajuku, Ginza, and Akihabara.
Up in the northern island of Hokkaido, Sapporo feels very different to a typical Japanese city - and in fact, it was built on the advice of foreigners, so looks far more like a city out of North America than any other part of Japan - but that’s exactly why it’s worth a visit. My only visit was in summer but I’m definitely planning a return during their Snow Festival at some stage, and of course, it’s also famous for its Sapporo Beer.
**Post contributed by Amanda Kendle who is a travel lover and blogger at NotABallerina.com. She also hosts The Thoughtful Travel Podcast to encourage people to keep travelling and pondering all the benefits travel brings. She spent much of her twenties living and teaching in Japan, Slovakia, and Germany and she lives with her son in her hometown of Perth, Western Australia, where she is always dreaming of the next trip.**