Every city in Japan has its own charm and attractions, but some are more popular than others. More people see them, more people love them, and more people share their experience in those cities on Instagram.
If you follow this list you'll know which Japanese cities are the most popular among Japanese people and foreign visitors alike. Whether you choose to go for the "less mainstream" or for the most popular ones to "see what all the fuss is about" this article will help you choose your itinerary.
So let's dive in and check out the 20 most popular cities in Japan on Instagram.
20. Beppu - 別府 (573k photos on Instagram)
A Paradise of Healing Waters
Beppu is a city located in the Southern Japanese Island of Kyushu. Beppu is a paradise of beautiful landscapes and Buddhist temples, but what it's mostly known for is its onsen (hot spring baths). Beppu is, in fact, the city in Japan with the highest concentration of baths and it offers an enormous variety, from regular ones, to mud baths, to hot sand dips. One of the most breathtaking sights is the boiling hot spring called the Hells of Beppu, composed of several fuming hot springs.
19. Naha -那覇 (906.9k photos on Instagram)
Crystalline waters, traditional food, and entertainment
Naha is the capital city of the famous Okinawa prefecture. Often compared to other tourist locations like the Bahamas and Hawaii, Naha enjoys similar weather, making it a pleasant destination all year round.
The city has a very metropolitan feel, similar to that of Tokyo, or Yokohama, albeit in a smaller scale, but it has just as much to offer in terms of entertainment and sights, including the UNESCO World Heritage site, Shuri Castle.
Naha is also a hub for unmissable traditional Okinawan food, and let's not forget the crystalline sea waters for which Okinawa is famous.
18. Himeji - 姫路 (1.1m photos on Instagram)
Thousands of years of history packed in one city
Himeji is one of the most famous cities of the Kansai region, known especially for its Himeji Castle, a stunning example of one of the few original Feudal-Japan castles still standing. Aside from this magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site, Himeji is also where you'll find Mount Shosha, the site of a temple complex over 1000 years old (and featured also in the blockbuster movie The Last Samurai).
Not far from Himeji Castle, you'll also find the truly spectacular Kokoen Garden, a recently build Japanese style garden with ponds, waterfalls, and a design inspired by the Edo period.
17. Hakone - 箱根 (1.5m photos on Instagram)
A famous retreat dipped in nature right next to Tokyo
Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Very close to Tokyo, is one of Tokyoites' favorite natural escapes from the bustling metropolis.
Hakone is known for its reinvigorating hot springs (particularly beautiful and worth visiting are the ones in the geothermal valley of Owakudani).
Hakone's lake Ashi can be toured by boat and its coasts offer one of the most spectacular views of Mt. Fuji.
With its museums, restaurants, entertainment, and temples, on top of the beautiful landscapes and natural beauty, Hakone never bores.
16. Saitama - 埼玉 (2m photos on Instagram)
Green tea, cherry blossoms, temples, and fun
Saitama is one of Japan's major cities, the homonymous prefecture is often referred to as "just north of Tokyo" or even "greater Tokyo area".
Saitama should be a must visit location for anyone who wants to see cherry blossoms in the amazing Omiya park, but also to try its famous green tea (for which its neighboring town of Sayama is renowned all over the country).
Saitama is also home of the Musashi Ichinomiya shrine, one of the most important Shinto shrines in the country, as well as the Hikawa shrine.
The large city of Saitama, though, has a lot to offer also in terms of food and entertainment, although it's often overshadowed by the gargantuan neighboring Tokyo.
15. Kanazawa - 金沢 (2.3m photos on Instagram)
Travel back in time to the Edo period in Japan
From the massive Japanese style garden Kenroku-en, to its beautiful and elegant Kanazawa Castle, from its art museums to its nation-famous markets, Kanazawa offers a world of experiences.
What makes the capital of Ishikawa prefecture even more noteworthy, though, is its architecture and perfectly preserved Edo period streets and buildings.
The bombings of WWII spared the city, allowing it to maintain its heritage of art and important cultural achievements that historically rival those of Kyoto and Tokyo.
14. Nagasaki - 長崎 (2.6m photos on Instagram)
Where time stops and gives way to beauty
Nagasaki is the capital of the homonymous prefecture. While known abroad mostly for during WWII having been the stage for the second atomic bombing in human history, Nagasaki is also one of the greatest cultural centers of Japan.
The famous Peace Park, erected to commemorate the nuclear bombing of the city, is only one of the many landmarks that populate the city. The Oura Cathedral might be one of the most interesting ones, as Catholic churches of that size and importance are very rare in Japan. If you happen to visit during the Chinese Lunar new year, don't miss the Nagasaki Lantern Festival, and definitely stop by the observation Platform on Mount Inasa, for breathtaking views of the city and the bay.
13. Sendai - 仙台 (3.2m photos on Instagram)
Honoring the history and culture of Japan
Sendai is the largest city in the Tohoku region. Like Himeji, Sendai is home of a perfectly preserved 17th century castle, the Sendai castle, that also includes a museum in which the actual original armor of the legendary Date Masamune is displayed.
The City Museum focuses on the culture and history of Japan, but the same could be said about the whole city. You'll be able to visit mausoleums of feudal lords (like the lavish Zuihouden), or head to nearby Matsushima to see the numerous beautiful, pine-covered islands, or relax in the famous Akiu onsen.
12. Nara - 奈良 (3.6m photos on Instagram)
Deer roaming the streets, hosts of temples, and the largest bronze Buddha in the world
The city of Nara, in Kansai hits Instagram mostly because it’s a deer park where animals roam free and interact with visitors in the city streets (but please pay attention. These are still wild animals), but the small town has a long history and a vast array of sites worth visiting.
Close to Kyoto and Osaka, Nara makes for a perfect day-trip, and it's particularly worth visiting for temple lovers. Nara has many beautiful ones, like the Kofoku-ji, and the Kasuga Taisha, but the most famous one is probably Toda-ji.
This vast temple, once part of the powerful Seven Great Temples, sitting right by the beautiful Nara Park, is home to the Daibutsu, the largest Buddha bronze statue in the world.
11. Kumamoto - 熊本 (3.6m photos on Instagram)
Edo castle, Samurai, and beautiful gardens
Kumamoto is one of the major cities in Kyushu, and the proud location of the largest and best preserved 17th century castle in Japan.
The Suizenji Garden is a large relaxing hub which reproduces the 53 post stations of the Tokaido, the road that connected Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. Those of you with a samurai fix will have, in Kumamoto, the rare opportunity to visit the Hosokawa residence, the former home of a high ranked samurai (note that after the powerful earthquake in 2016, the site was temporarily closed to the public. Make sure to contact the site before visiting).
10. Kamakura - 鎌倉 (3.7m photos on Instagram)
One of the cultural capitals of Japan, the city that withstood time and disasters
Kamakura used to be the de facto capital of Japan between the 1200's and 1300's. At that time it was a political and cultural powerhouse, and the most populated city in the country. Much of its heritage and history remains in today's Kamakura. Just 1 hour south of Tokyo, here you will find the Amida Buddha, the iconic statue that survived the 15th century tsunami that wiped the temple that used to house it and that remains to this day, one of the most iconic images of Japan.
Despite many of them being leveled by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1926, there are still many temples standing in Kamakura, including the Kamakura Gozan (The five Great Temples).
9. Hiroshima - 広島 (4.7m photos on Instagram)
A beacon of peace and unity surrounded by awesome landmarks and breathtaking sights
Another Japanese city famous also for its grim history, Hiroshima is today a monument to peace and an impossibly beautiful place to visit.
The famous Miyajima the torii gate sitting in the sea is probably the most iconic image of the city. Alongside it, though Hiroshima offers fantastic Japanese style gardens, the beautifully restructured Hiroshima Castle, museums, bustling nightlife, traditional amazing food, and, of course, the Atomic Bomb Dome (the only building that survived the blast despite being hit almost directly by the bomb), the Peace Memorial Museum and Memorial Park.
8. Kobe - 神戸 (5.7m photos on Instagram)
Best beef and oldest shrine in the country
You think beef, and you'll likely think Kobe beef. This city though, is known for more than its exceptionally tasty meat.
Its Ikuta Shrine, with its 1800 years of history is one of Japan's oldest shrines.
Kobe's Arima onsen are among the most popular in Japan, and Mount Rokko, connected to the city by cable cars, offers breathtaking aerial views. And if you want more of that, visit the Kobe Port Tower for a 360° view of the city and the bay.
7. Sapporo - 札幌 (5.8m photos on Instagram)
THE winter destination for snow lovers
Sapporo is a world-famous city for its food and sights, but especially popular in winter. Surrounded by many ski resorts, Sapporo becomes magical during the cold months of the year. Its beautiful Odori Park is stage of dozens of ice and snow sculptures, and the city winter festival is the major winter festival in Japan and one of the most important ones across the board.
Of course, some of you may recognize that Sapporo is also the namesake of a famous beer. Don't miss the Sapporo Beer Museum. Enjoy the city's many beer gardens, traditional food and winter sports, and if you ever feel like taking a break, you'll find some open air in-the-snow onsen as well!
6. Yokohama - 横浜 (8.4m photos on Instagram)
Where East meets West, and then more East
Yokohama, located close to Tokyo is the country's second largest city. Historically it was one of Japan's first ports to be opened to foreign trade.
Yokohama has the largest Chinatown in the country, a definitely fun change from the usual landscape, but also the traditional Japanese style garden Sankeien.
One of the most visited spots in the city is the Yokohama Hakkejima Sea Paradise, a water amusement park with aquariums, shopping malls, and rides.
Let's not forget that Yokohama is also one of the country's ramen capitals. Don't miss out on it!
5. Nagoya - 名古屋 (8.5m photos on Instagram)
A vast metropolis and cultural hub
Nagoya is a popular destination for those looking for a fun metropolitan vibe (Nagoya is Japan's 4th largest city), and for those with more of a "culture tooth".
Although its iconic castle had been destroyed, like many of its other buildings, during the WWII air raids, its faithful reproduction is still a sight to behold.
Nagoya is a particularly rich of museums (Railway Museum, Tokugawa Art Museum, and the Science Museum, to name a few).
Nagoya's Legoland amusement park is a fun experience for visitors of all ages, and its Korankei valley is hands down one of the most gorgeous spots in Japan to admire fall colors.
And if you're passionate about cars, the Toyota Headquarters are in Nagoya and offer exhibits, tours and museums almost all year round.
4. Fukuoka - 福岡 (11.2m photos on Instagram)
Traditional food, sightseeing, and nightlife entertainment
When asking people in Japan what the major cities here are, more often than not, you'll hear "Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Fukuoka". Fukuoka may not be one of the largest cities in Japan, but it's certainly one of the most popular.
It's particularly well known for its food (especially the so-called yatai, traditional street carts in Fukuoka). The city is also renowned for its active nightlife.
Fukuoka'a Ohori Park is one of the most suggestive and romantic sites in Japan, with its paths leading you around the lake, among beautiful flowers and trees.
The ruins of the 17th century Fukuoka castle are well preserved and sitting among many shrines and temples for which the city is also famous. Fukuoka also boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the country.
3. Kyoto - 京都 (23m photos on Instagram)
Once the capital, always the capital
The old capital of Japan, there's little that can be said that would increase its popularity.
Kyoto is the historical and cultural capital of Japan. It amazes literally at first glance, with its very unique skyline, buildings, and traditional vibe.
More than 800 between temples and shrines can be seen in Kyoto, including the Golden Pavilion, and the Instaworthy Fushimi Inari Taisha.
Even just by walking in its picture-perfect streets allows for a great experience, where you will see tradition at every corner, including real geisha and maiko (geisha in training) strolling the streets of the city.
In order to see these entertainers, Gion is possibly the most famous area in Kyoto, but if you have time, visit the MUCH less crowded and even more traditional area of Kamishichiken, where you'll find a number of geisha tea house, but also the Kitano Tenmangu, one of the most beautiful temples in the country, especially to admire plum and cherry blossoms between February and May.
And don't believe that Kyoto is void of nightlife... You just need to know where to go (try Kawaramachi and Kiyamachi after dark).
2. Osaka - 大阪 (24m photos on Instagram)
The land of Japanese comedians, entertainment, famous food, and nightlife
Osaka is a large port city and commercial city. Its nightlife, food (okonomiyaki and takoyaki in particular), architecture and attractions distinguish it from all other cities in Japan.
Very close to Kyoto, Osaka is worth visiting during the day for its Osaka Castle, the huge Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, its art and science museums, temples and shrines, and, of course USJ (Universal Studios Japan).
But the city really shines at night. Traditional restaurants, bars, clubs, and more, Osaka caters to any and all party animals, Japanese and foreigners alike. From the crowded and bustling streets of Namba to the more alternative and edgy neighborhood of Nipponbashi, and from the modern and cutting-edge Bay Area to the romantic roads by the Tenjin River, Osaka entertains and amazes at every step.
1. Tokyo - 東京 (57m photos on Instagram)
If someone thought about it, Tokyo has it
Probably not unexpectedly, Tokyo takes first place among the most popular Japanese cities on Instagram. The largest metropolis in the world, Tokyo is a place where almost everyone ends up visiting or living, if they are based in Japan.
Tokyo constantly reinvents itself, but in this city you can find a perfect marriage of old and new in its many neighborhoods, and hidden secrets.
If someone thought about it, chances are, someone opened a bar, restaurant, or store with that theme. Tokyo is particularly famous for some of its landmarks and famous areas, like Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, Shinjuku, or Shibuya.
We are used to reading articles and watching videos on the Japanese fashion district of Harajuku, or the fancy shopping of Ginza and Omotesando.
We know about the Robot Restaurant, Tokyo Disneyland, the festivals, the insane nightlife, but Tokyo is also a city with a lot of hidden treasures, if you take the time to discover them.
Perfectly preserved old districts, hole-in-the-wall bars with stories to tell, traditional streets sitting right next to some of the most technologically advanced architecture in the world.
Tokyo holds within itself both faces of the spirit of Japan: innovation and tradition.
About the method used to make this list
A location database was created using the popular Japanese travel site, Gurutabi, which contains a ranking of hundreds of popular attractions, locations, and cities across Japan. The first 100 cities nationwide were taken and cross-referenced with their corresponding hashtag on Instagram (both in Japanese and English), which allowed us to obtain the exact numbers of photos with that hashtag as of February 22, 2019; from this a list of the 25 most popular cities was compiled.
Lucio Maurizi is an Italian writer, photographer, and streamer. He spent 10 years in the United States and currently lives in Japan, focusing on creating articles and channels dedicated to the Land of the Rising Sun. He loves any form of storytelling, natto, and wasabi, and is desperately trying to make time to work on his novel. On Instagram @that_italian_guy_in_japan.