The 7 Best Places to Live in Japan
Thinking of moving to Japan but not sure where in the Land of the Rising Sun to call home? Our guide will help make your decision easier.
With the sprawling city of Tokyo, iconic cherry blossoms in spring, and an ancient culture dating back thousands of years, Japan is like nowhere else on earth. It’s little wonder so many expats choose to live here.
And with relocating to a new country finally getting easier, now is the perfect time to make your move.
If you want to join the 2.6 million foreigners (around 390,000 English speakers) living in Japan, read our guide to find out where to live according to work opportunities, food and drink, climate, and more.
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Best places to live at a glance
Want to cut the reading and just see our picks of the best places to live in Japan? Take a look at the table below:
|Osaka||Food and drink|
Read our guide on moving to Japan for more about relocating to this fascinating country.
Best for food and drink:
Trying Takoyaki (fried octopus balls) in Osaka is almost a right of passage
Home to 2.6 million people, Osaka is the culinary capital of Japan. Basically any dish you would find in other Japanese cities is elevated to a new level in Osaka.
Okonomiyaki, a thick savoury pancake, is particularly brilliant. The best part? Okonomiyaki, which literally translates to “whatever you like, cooked”, is one of Japan’s most versatile dishes. Each restaurant seems to do it differently, so whilst you’ll never be 100% sure what they’ll do, it’ll always be delicious.
Okonomiyaki originated in the post-war period, when food was scarce and mixing a simple pancake batter with whatever was available went a long way.
Another must-try dish in Osaka is Takoyaki, a street food made from octopus. It’s fried in batter and topped with dark and sweet takoyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and pickled ginger. Biting into one is truly a ‘chef’s kiss’ moment.
|More welcoming than Tokyo||Not cheap|
|Less crowded than Tokyo||There are better looking cities|
|Easy to travel to other locations in Japan|
Best for work opportunities
Home to 14 million people, Tokyo's electric atmosphere is intoxicating at times
When it comes to work opportunities as an expat, you’d struggle to pick anywhere else other than Tokyo. As the world’s largest urban sprawl, Tokyo is home to an astonishing 14 million people, and a tonne of globally recognised businesses.
Also, most importantly, Tokyo is more welcoming to foreigners than other cities in Japan. You’ll find English-speaking people in low numbers wherever you go in Japan, but there are definitely more in Tokyo.
This is especially true in business – many of the big companies operating in Tokyo can accommodate English speakers. Even so, learning just a small amount of Japanese will go a long way.
By far the most common job for expats in Tokyo is teaching English. A key advantage here is that all your lessons will be in English, so you won’t need to learn Japanese. Monthly salaries are reasonable too, averaging between 200,000 and 600,000 yen (£1,300–£3,840).
You can also make a living as a tour guide. With around 31 million people visiting Japan each year, the opportunities in this line of work are numerous.
Highly skilled jobs (typically for foreign companies) in Tokyo are desirable too, though the downside is that you’ll often be isolated from the local community. The pay for these roles is good, but lower when compared to the top salaries in places like London or New York.
If you happen to be fluent in Japanese, translation jobs are always going to be in high demand – especially within the entertainment industry. Japan is home to some of the biggest video game companies in the world, and these companies create products for vast audiences across the globe.
As such there’ll always be a need for people who can translate a game for foreign customers.
|High standard of living||Japan’s most expensive city by far|
|Excellent transport system||Can feel overwhelmingly crowded|
|Near endless amount of things to do||Most accommodation is cramped|
Best for climate
Kyoto experiences the best of Japanese weather – neither too hot, nor too cold
Japan’s climate ranges from subarctic in the north, to subtropical in the south. As such, there isn’t really any ‘best’ city for climate – it’s all down to personal preference.
Kyoto, in the middle of the country, lets you experience the best of both worlds.
Kyoto is the best place in Japan to witness the iconic cherry blossom season (April 5th – 14th). In particular, the Kyoto botanical gardens (the largest of its kind in Japan) becomes completely overwhelmed by the flowering trees, with hundreds of thousands of visitors all flocking to see the sight.
In the summer, the mercury can easily climb to 35°C and above, but this period of intense heat is mercifully short (lasting only from late July to the end of August). Be prepared to deal with the deluge of rain in the monsoon season too, from June until around mid-July.
Autumn brings about another botanical treat – momijigari, the hunt for the red maple leaves. Like the cherry blossoms in spring, the flourish of brilliant red leaves in autumn makes for a breathtaking sight. Kyoto is, once again, one of the best places in Japan for this natural wonder.
When winter hits, Kyoto is spared the extremes of the north and usually only sees a smattering of light snow. Frost is possible as well, but generally only to a mild level, and it’s certainly not an everyday occurrence.
|Traditional feel||Expensive to live in|
|Plenty of temples, green space, and parks to explore||Can be overwhelmed by tourists during peak season|
|Close proximity to Osaka|
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Best for rural escapes
Beaches in Okinawa are thankfully underdeveloped, keeping a sense of tranquillity
Japan might be better known for the neon lights of Tokyo, but the country’s natural landscapes are some of the world's most beautiful. The best city to experience these in is Okinawa, an island city in the southernmost part of Japan.
It’s blessed with beaches boasting postcard-perfect white sand and blue seas, making the city a top holiday destination for Japanese citizens. Thankfully, many of these beaches also remain underdeveloped, maintaining a tranquillity in spite of their popularity.
If beaches aren’t really your thing, Okinawa still has you covered. Yanbaru Park is a vast expanse of untamed nature, featuring forests, mangroves, waterfalls, and a huge number of exotic animals.
The only downside is that due to its density and rugged terrain, trekking there is ill advised. Your best bet is to organise either a day or weekend excursion with a proper guide, because it is very easy to get lost amidst the subtropical canopy.
|Proximity to nature||Being on an island makes travel to mainland Japan more difficult|
|Very friendly population||Very low numbers of English speakers|
|Loads of excellent festivals to enjoy||Typhoons are all but guaranteed throughout the year|
Best for affordable properties
Sapporo might be one of Japan's coldest cities, but it is beautiful in the winter
As Japan’s northernmost city, Sapporo experiences the colder end of Japan’s diverse climate, regularly dropping below freezing in the winter months. It’s also one of Japan's most affordable cities to live in, but that’s in no way a reflection of the quality of life here.
On the contrary, Sapporo offers a dizzying array of activities for outdoors and sports enthusiasts, great bars, and an annual snow festival that attracts two million visitors. The mountainous backdrop of Sapporo is a sight to behold too, offering residents a breathtaking place to go hiking on the weekends.
It’s also remarkably cheap when compared to bigger cities such as Tokyo. A three-bedroom apartment in the city centre costs around £515 per month (as opposed to Tokyo’s £1,912), and a meal for two is typically just £24.
|Small-town vibe||Winters are very cold|
|Loads of outdoor activities|
Best for families
Tokyo is packed full of fun things to do as a family, plus plenty of top international schools
Tokyo again? Picking Japan’s capital twice might seem like cheating, but the reality is that Tokyo is the best city for families. Not only is there near-unlimited access to family friendly entertainment, but some of the best education options can also be found here.
Two districts in Tokyo stand out for education in particular – Azuba and Chōfu. Here, you’ll find excellent international schools offering American-style curriculums. The international school in Chōfu is considered the best in Japan, though Azuba’s Nishimachi International School (NIS) is still an excellent choice.
For entertainment, there’s an almost overwhelming amount of things to do in Tokyo. Disneyland Tokyo is the obvious choice, but consider throwing the net a little wider and giving the Ghibli Museum a shot.
It’s home to the iconic creations of Hayao Miyazaki, easily Japan’s most famous creator of animated films. It features eye-popping exhibitions focusing on his most famous films (Spirited Away, Ponyo, My Neighbour Totoro, and more) that kids are sure to love.
Best for culture
Nagoya's ancient history can be found in its many shrines, temples, and castles
Nagoya is Japan’s third largest city, with around 2.3 million people calling it home. It’s known as a centre of modern industry and production, so choosing it as the best place for culture might come as a surprise. But it offers a plethora of excellent museums, temples, castles, art galleries, and so much more.
The city (or at least where the city now stands) can be traced back to ancient times, having first been settled all the way back in Japan’s ‘Jomon’ period (14,000–300 BC).
Although the area was settled, it wasn’t until around 300 AD that the city of Nagoya was actually built. Relics from that period exist to this day, including the famous Atsuta Shrine, a place said to have been built during the time of Emperor Keikō (71–130 AD). Within the shrine is the legendary ‘Kusanagi no Tsurugi’, an ancient sword often called the Excalibur of Japan.
You can also check out the Cultural Path, which is a stretch of protected historical buildings and structures. And don’t miss the imposing Nagoya Castle, a stunning example of Edo architecture that dominates the Nagoya skyline.
If you’re an art and history lover, the Tokugawa Art Museum is an absolute must-visit destination. It contains ornate pieces of samurai armour and a selection of Japan’s National Treasures (国宝, kokuhō), the country’s most important cultural artefacts.
|Good education options||Learning some Japanese is almost essential|
|Very easy to get around||There are better looking cities|
Best places to live in Japan: the verdict
Japan is one of the most fascinating countries in the world, with each of the above cities offering something unique for those choosing to live there. To recap, here are our best cities to live in Japan:
- Osaka: best for food and drink
- Tokyo: best for work opportunities
- Kyoto: best for climate
- Sapporo: best for affordability
- Tokyo: best for families
- Nagoya: best for culture
If you’ve made your mind up about where in Japan you’re moving to, you can get the ball rolling with this simple form. You’ll get free quotes from our trusted suppliers to ship your belongings, helping take care of one of the most challenging parts of moving abroad.