With the global spotlight due to be shone over the next 12 months on the Japanese capital as both the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics, there’s no getting around the fact that Tokyo remains the epicenter of the nation.
The only city to constantly see year-on-year population growth, the nation’s capital is a global metropolis that needs little introduction with its vast array of employment opportunities, entertainment options, accommodation choices, and cultural activities.
Intriguingly though, there are several other cities and regions across the nation that continue to attract a range of new residents for various reasons including economic, cultural, and environmental.
However, if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the ‘big city’, it’s well worth considering many other unique cities in this fascinating nation that stretches far beyond the capital.
There’s no doubt that one of the major buzz locations in Japan right now is the southern port city of Fukuoka.
Just a short hop across from South Korea – and taking the high-speed ‘Beetle’ hydrofoil there is a wild ride – Fukuoka is currently home to around one and a half million people but is making increasing efforts to grow that population.
Blessed with a warmer climate than most of the nation, there’s no need to shiver through a snowy winter whilst the summer months are perfect for a range of outdoor activities.
More importantly, the city has positioned itself as one of the most innovative in the country under a youthful mayor (who was elected at the age of 36) and has a range of incentives to attract investment as they look to become Japan’s answer to the entrepreneurial US city of Seattle.
Located on the southern island of Kyushu, Fukuoka is Japan’s fastest-growing city outside of the capital and home to one of the nation’s youngest populations. Nestled between the water and the mountains and blessed with excellent local cuisine and a laid-back nature, there’s plenty to draw people to the area.
Another city that’s fast earning a reputation for ‘smart living’ is Toyama – the capital of the prefecture with the same name that’s located around 250 kilometers north-west of Tokyo.
In a bid to promote sustainable living, the city of barely 400,000 people implemented a bicycle-sharing program more than a decade ago and has earned international praise for its commitment to building a compact and sustainable city.
It’s also one of Japan’s 11 ‘future cities’ that are built on ideals that are helping to try and solve issues around global warming and dwindling natural resources.
With a compact tram network, the city is easy to navigate and is also home to an attractive local castle as well as the futuristic Glass Art Museum. Being positioned neatly on a vast bay and also surrounded by mountains, the city offers a range of ways to get in touch with nature.
For those who enjoy the colder winter months, there’s a major appeal to the bustling northern city of Sapporo.
Home to the internationally renowned ‘Ice Festival’ that’s held every February, it’s Japan’s fifth-largest city with a population of just under 2 million but is right on the doorstep of some of the nation’s wildest natural elements.
Sapporo is a paradise for those who love winter sports, and the summers are also far milder with less heat and humidity than the rest of the country and also offer some superb hiking and outdoor activities. Renowned for its regional cuisine, especially ramen, beer lovers will be right at home in the city that lends its name to one of the most popular brews in Japan but there’s also plenty of unique buildings, gardens, and even the country’s largest zoo!
Closer to the action in the capital, there’s plenty of cities on the fringes of Tokyo that are also seeing a population boom and make ideal choices for those who want to be close but not right in the thick of the Tokyo rush.
Located to the west of the central Tokyo wards is Chofu – known as part of the Tokyo Metropolis – but being barely 20 minutes by train from downtown Shinjuku – it’s an ideal location for those looking for cheaper accommodation options yet still with all the convenience of the big city.
Given its location on the outer edge of the capital, the city is also within touching distance of plenty of nature options (including the Jindai Botanical Gardens) as well as being home to Tokyo’s two professional soccer clubs in FC Tokyo and Tokyo Verdy.
In the opposite direction, Chiba is one of the few cities outside the capital to see noticeable population growth for many of the same reasons – the accommodation options are much more affordable yet it’s still an easy commute for those who work in Tokyo.
For those who are into water sports, it’s also an easy trip to the beaches on the Pacific coast but the city of almost a million people has more than enough entertainment, dining and drinking options to keep you satisfied – and it is home to the world’s largest suspended monorail!
Finally, for those with a more academic or scientific interest, Tsukuba is also booming.
Located an hour north of Tokyo in Ibaraki Prefecture, Tsukuba is known as Japan’s ‘Science City’ and is centered around the famed Tsukuba University (which has produced two Nobel Prize winners) and also features a ‘Space Center’ with a large rocket out the front and all sorts of information on Japan’s space program.
Given it’s more rural location, the city of 250,000 is also home to plenty of parks and wide-open spaces – as well as a ropeway that can whisk you to the top of Mt. Tsukuba – and provides a far more relaxed alternative to the capital but is still within a commutable distance. If you’ve set your mind on living in Tokyo then you’ll certainly not be lacking any kind of lifestyle or entertainment options, but if it’s nature, smart cities or those with a milder climate then there’s plenty of other fantastic choices to look at right across the nation.