Japan is ranked as the second-best country in the world to live in based on the US News world rankings of 2021. The country is made up of 4 major islands all of which a predominantly covered in mountains and forests but the people of Japan tend to stick to the major cities and live a far more urban lifestyle than a countryside one.
Japan is one of the world’s most technologically advanced and literate nations with a deep respect for its history and culture. Its economy is strong as it sees consistent growth across numerous markets and while living there you have access to beautiful surroundings, islands, and of course, the pacific ocean.
Join me as we take a deeper look into the 60th largest country in the world to root out the best city to live in Japan for you.
Tokyo, Japan’s capital is home to some 13 million people making it one of the most populated cities in the world. And it is a great spot to start any trip or place to live in Japan if you love the hustle and bustle of city life, taken to the max. Tokyo never switches off, this city is on 24/7 and is a great place to enjoy the best of what Japan has to offer.
Tokyo is Japan’s hub for everything including culture, food, and entertainment and its population is very diverse. You can find people from anywhere in the world in Toyko from locals to ex-pats and meeting and making new friends is a piece f cake.
Life is fast in Toyko and the streets hum with commuters moving their way around the city to enjoy all it has to offer from parks to temples, and of course, excellent sushi.
Being such a big city, the public transportation links are excellent but you’re going to have to be okay with dealing with cramped spaces but on the other hand, you couldn’t be better located to travel to other parts of the country for a weekend away of exploring.
Another interesting fact about Tokyo is that the property and rental prices are high compared to the rest of the country but there are far more job opportunities available than anywhere else in Japan and your earnings usually balance out with the high cost of living.
Another great plus of the capital city is that almost everyone can read and speak in English which makes getting around this fast-paced city a lot easier.
Kyoto sits in central Japan just next to Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. If Tokyo sounds a little too busy for you, then the city of Kyoto might be more up your street. It’s has a far slower pace than Toyko, is surrounded by mountains and countryside, plus it’s deeply invested in Japan’s history and culture.
Kyoto was the capital of Japan between 749 and 1896 before Toyko took over the reins. The emperor used to reside there and it’s home to the highest concentration of cultural treasures in all of the country. And now, it is now a popular tourist destination.
The city and area have their own dialect of Japanese that is far from rhythmical and a little slower than the Japanese spoke in Tokyo. As you wander around the city you’ll find connections to the ancient past including Shinto shrines, traditional inns, Buddhist temples, and geishas along with countless UNESCO world heritage sites. There are countless famous things you will see as you roam around the city.
Living costs in Kyoto are more reasonable than in Toyko, especially if you look outside of the city in the more rural areas but finding an apartment can be hard as there are strict zoning rules that stop development on or near to protected cultural sites, so looking on the outskirts is bar far the best option.
Kyoto is also home to most university students of any area in Japan, so if you work in education finding a job shouldn’t be difficult.
Life in Kyoto will be full of Japanese tradition with access to all the food and culture you could ask for and a huge bonus of having forests and mountains on your doorstep to explore. If you’re looking for a rich and peaceful life connected to nature, then Kyoto is one of the best city in Japan to live.
Osaka is the second-largest city in all of Japan and it sits just south of Kyoto at Osaka bay which joins the Pacific Ocean making it a large port that is Japan’s hub for import, exports, and trade.
Osaka has a much more affordable cost of living when compared to Toyko with all the same access to entertainment, food, and culture. The locals from Osaka boast that they are more down to heart and open than any other Japanese locals and strive to set themselves apart.
The culinary tradition in Osaka is also quite interesting and appealing to everyone. The food in Osaka is meant to be affordable, delicious, and filling – which are some great standards that are hard to disagree with.
The quality of life in Osaka is excellent and despite undergoing a lot of development, most of its historical sites and traditions are still intact. It’s home to the third-largest amount of foreign residents in all of Japan and job opportunities are pretty easy to come by. Most companies in Japan have an Osaka office and it’s also home to universal studios and many other international businesses.
Osaka is one of the best cities in terms of location. You’re not far from Kyoto, beautiful mountains, forests, and the traditional seaside villages of the east coast.
Fukuoka sits on the west coast of Japan’s southern main island Kyushu. It was the landing point of the Monogal invasion back in the 13th century thanks to its proximity to South Korea and Shanghai. This makes Fukuoka an important harbor and port city that connects Japan to the rest of Asia via shipping routes.
It is known as being one of Japan’s best cities for startups and has been the birthplace of a lot of new companies in Japan that has expanded their economy to no end.
As a city, it’s less crowded than most, especially Tokyo, and a lot more like a small town too. This means the public transportation is far less crowded, the journeys are much shorter and the living costs are far more affordable. The whole prefecture is home to just 5 million people and when compared to the 13 million residents of Tokyo, you get a sense of just how less busy and crowded it is.
There is a lot to do in Fukuoka ranging from great food to nightclubs, shops, and karaoke bars. There are also numerous parks to connect with nature in, the beach isn’t far away, there are islands to explore, and shrines and temples if you fancy a dip into Japanese culture.
Another great thing about Fukuoka is the weather. Being in southern Japan, the winters a lot milder, and the summers are warmer, but you still get a good sense of the changing seasons while you’re there.
The city has a solid ex-pat population that will take you no time at all to meet. Some of the locals can speak English but it’s certainly not the majority. In any case, they are very nice and welcoming people that will always try to help. It is best to learn some Japanese though if you want to cross the cultural barriers.
The most northern prefecture (district) in Japan is Hokkaido, and the capital city Sapporo has attracted a lot of ex-pats who planned to stay for a year or two but ended up living there forever. This shows just how great the city is and it’s hard to resist its charm from sucking you in and calling it home.
Hokkaido sits on its own island and from a climate perspective, is similar to that of the northern states of the US. You get every season in Sapporo from snowy winters to a vibrant spring, mild summers, and beautiful autumns.
So if you’re used to and love having all seasons, then Sapporo might be the place to live in Japan for you, especially if you like to ski. The city was the first in Asia to hold the Winter Olympics and they have a Winter Festival every year which is quite amazing to be a part of.
Not the largest city, Sapporo is quite young for Japan and was only founded in 1868. It was built in a rectangular block system similar to the cities of the US making it much easier for ex-pats to find their way around. It’s the 5th most populated city in Japan and home to a large community of ex-pats which makes finding friends quite easy.
If you do end up living in Sapporo you will probably want to learn some Japanese. Most of the locals do not speak any English and to break the cultural barriers, a little bit of Japanese will go a long way. This also gives rise to a lot of English teaching positions if that is your trade.
There is a lot to do in Sapporo – the food, culture, and entertainment options are endless plus you’re not far from nature either. There are beaches, lakes, mountains, forests, and national parks all within easy reach of the city center. And, cherry blossom viewing (hanami) is also something the city is known for.
The prefecture of Aichi has the sending largest amount of ex-pats living in it and is rated as one of the best places to live in Japan, so much so, that more and more ex-pats have been moving there in recent times.
The reason Aichi is so attractive is thanks to its slower pace of working life when compared to Japan’s largest cities of Osaka and Tokyo. There are also a lot of job opportunities in the region with companies like Toyota being based there which happily accept international residents.
Aichi has the fourth-highest lowest wage per person in all of Japan, and its living costs are far lower than the larger Japanese cities which leads to a much better quality of life.
The area is also famed for its Japanese language and cultural programs that support you to integrate with society, plus a lot of the locals speak English which makes settling in a lot easier.
Life in Aichi is full of great food and culture with a load of traditional Japanese sites to visit as well as forests, mountains, and access to a beautiful coastline with great beaches.
Kanagawa prefecture lies on the eastern coast of Japan and is just south of Tokyo. It’s one of the best places to live in Japan if you have to work in Tokyo but want to commute from and live in a more peaceful area.
The coastline is dotted with beautiful beaches which are very popular in the summer months. Some of them are great for surfing too, which is an added bonus if you’re into that.
There is also a lot of nature to explore making getting into the outdoors on a regular basis very easy, and there is Mt Tanzawa on the western side of the district if you love mountaineering, hiking, and climbing.
Kanagawa also has quite a few different cities to choose from, each with its own character. Yokohama, another big city, is full of restaurants, bars, and loads of entertainment. The buildings are tall and it’s pretty busy due to having one of the most highly trafficked train stations in the world. You’ll also find the world-famous Chinatown of Japan there.
Sakuragicho and Minatomirai are home to numerous shopping malls, parks, and quirky museums. It’s also far more connected to nature and the lifestyle is a lot slower and more peaceful. It fills up on the weekend as it’s a popular spot to visit for those living in the region which helps ith find the perfect balance between town life and spending time in the outdoors.
Down south you have the towns of Yokosuka and Ogawara. Ogawara is the best place to be if you love being in nature more than the dazzling lights of a city. It’s also extremely well-connected thanks to being a stop on the bullet train, making visiting other parts of Japan very easy.
Yokosuka is home to a large U.S military base. There are a ton of US citizens there and the area has far more English-speaking establishments than others.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.