Top 11 Japan prefectures you shouldn’t miss

Japan is truly a splendid country. It’s a nation with vibrant cultural heritage, old traditions carried over to the modern era, and globally renowned history. The country may appear small on the map but being there made us feel that it’s bigger than we expected. There are 47 Japan prefectures, which are districts that are under the government of a prefect.

We’ve only been to Japan once, but we stayed there for quite a long time. Despite that, we felt that we haven’t had enough of the country. In fact, among the countries we’ve visited, Japan is one of the countries we’d love to go back to, always.

If you’re planning to visit Japan, there are prefectures that you shouldn’t miss.  To make it easy for you, we ranked the top 11 prefectures of the Land of the Rising Sun. Our bases for this ranking are the prefecture’s historical significance, iconic landmarks, number of travel activities, and, of course, our personal perspective.

The top 11 Japan prefectures

11. Fukuoka – Its capital, which is also called as Fukuoka, is one of the top ten most populated cities in Japan. The prefecture as a whole offers a good mix of cultural destinations, traditional food experiences, and modern city life. Fukuoka is also famous for yatai stalls, or street-side food stalls, that sell ramen and other goodies. One of the biggest bronze statues of Buddha in the world can also be found in Sasaguri, Fukuoka. 

Reclining-Buddha-Sasaguri-Fukuoka - The top 11 Japan prefectures

Top destinations/activities:  Nanzoin Temple (photo above); Fukuoka Castle; Hakata Canal City; Fukuoka Kawachi Fuji Garden

Ideal length of stay in the prefecture: 2 – 3 days

Where to book your accommodation: Hakata or Tenjin, Fukuoka

Tip: This prefecture is located at Kyushu (southernmost) region of  Japan and is approximately just an hour away from Hiroshima.

10. Ibaraki – This prefecture is located northeast of Tokyo. It may not have a lot of landmarks as compared to other prefectures but it is where you could find Hitachi Seaside Park. A theme park and flower garden in one that is open all year round. The Park’s flowers change depending on the season. But of course, it’s during springtime that you could fully witness its true beauty.

Hitachi-Seaside-Park-Ibaraki - The top 11 Japan prefectures

Top destinations/activities:  Hitachi Seaside Park (photo above)

Ideal length of stay in the prefecture: 1 day

Where to book your accommodation: Tokyo, Tokyo

Tip: Since you only need a day in Ibaraki, you could get there coming from Tokyo.  Take the Japan Limited Train Express to Katsuta Station, Ibaraki, then take a bus to Hitachi Seaside Park.

9. Hyogo – A prefecture located in Kansai Region, just an hour away from Osaka. The Himeji Castle, Japan’s biggest feudal castle which is also a UNESCO Heritage Site, is located in Hyogo. The Castle known as the White Heron is also one of the best places to see the Cherry Blossoms during the spring season.

Himeji-Castle-Harv-Travel - The top 11 Japan prefectures

Top destinations/activities:  Himeji Castle (photo above); Takeda Castle Ruins

Ideal length of stay in the prefecture: 1 – 2 days

Where to book your accommodation: Himeji, Hyogo or Dotonbori, Osaka

Tip: If you are planning to visit the Himeji Castle, then you will need a day in Hyogo and you can visit the prefecture coming from Osaka. However, if you’re planning to go to Takeda Castle Ruins, it may be best to stay in Himeji and spend 2 days in Hyogo.

8. Kanagawa – Located just at the south of Tokyo, this prefecture is home to two of the famous cities in Japan — Hakone and Yokohama. Wanting to see Mt. Fuji? Then you can view the majestic mountain in Hakone. Kanagawa is also home to several colourful parks with fields of different flowers depending on the season.

mt-fuji-2582263_1920 - The top 11 Japan prefecturesPhoto by c7corvette1327

Top destinations/activities: Lake Ashinoko, Hakone; Yokohama

Ideal length of stay in the prefecture: 1 day

Where to book your accommodation: Tokyo

Tip: The best way to go to Kanagawa is by taking a Shinkansen. It will only take an hour to get there.

7. Osaka – It is, in our opinion, the second busiest city in Japan. Osaka, like Tokyo, offers a fusion of modern and traditional culture. One of the most intricate castles is also located here — the Osaka Castle. Plus, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, then you’ll get a chance to enter the wizarding world for a day in Universal Studios located at Osaka Waterfront.

Osaka-Castle - The top 11 Japan prefectures

Top destinations/activitiesOsaka Castle (Photo above), Dotonburi, Universal Studios

Ideal length of stay in the prefecture: 2 – 4 days

Where to book your accommodation: Dotonburi, Osaka

Tip: Osaka is one of the major prefectures in Japan and is the best place to stay if you are planning to visit Kyoto, Nara, and Hyogo. Not only because of its proximity but because of its bustling city life.

6. Hokkaido – The name literally means Northern Sea Circuit.  It is the second largest island in Japan located in the northernmost part of the country. It’s a famous destination for both foreigners and local tourists for being one of the go-to winter destinations. It also has some of the most beautiful flower gardens and famous Onsen (hot spring) towns.

flower-garden-250016_1920 - The top 11 Japan prefecturesPhoto by Deltaworks | Furano Flower Park

Top destinations/activities:  Furano Flower Park; Sapporo; Cherry Blossom Viewing; Hokkaido Onsens

Ideal length of stay in the prefecture: 2 – 3 days

Where to book your accommodation: Sapporo

Tip: There are only a few trains heading to Hokkaido on a daily basis. Also, since it is on the northernmost part of the country, expect chilly weather almost all year round.

5. Nara – Formerly known as Heijo and is the first permanent capital of Japan. It is also the home to the country’s most iconic temples. One of which is Todaiji, the world’s largest wooden building which houses one of Japan’s biggest bronze Buddha statues. Nara also offers a unique experience to interact with deer freely roaming around the city.

nara - The top 11 Japan prefectures

Top destinations/activities:  Todaiji Temple (photo above); Kasuga Taisha; Nara Park; Kōfuku-ji

Ideal length of stay in the prefecture: 1 day

Where to book your accommodation: Dotonbori, Osaka (or anywhere in Osaka that is near the city)

Tip: The destinations in Nara are close to each other. However, be prepared to walk a lot. There’s a city bus roaming around that you could take if you don’t feel like walking.

The deer are freely roaming in the wild and they could be a bit aggressive. They do bite at times (which could hurt a bit), just be extra careful, especially when feeding them.

4. Kyoto – The former capital of Japan boasts so many iconic destinations that will definitely transport you back to the era where ancient Japanese emperors, feudal lords, or even samurais once ruled the country. The city was plagued by wars and fires but it’s spared from the attack during World War II. 

Fushimi-inari-shrine - The top 11 Japan prefectures

Top destinations/activities:  Fushimi Inari Shrine (photo above), Kinkaku-ji, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Ideal length of stay in the prefecture: 1 day

Where to book your accommodation: Dotonbori, Osaka (or anywhere in Osaka that is near the city)

Tip: A lot of tourists are flocking to Kyoto on a daily basis. If you really want to enjoy the destinations without too much crowd, it would be best to head there the earliest possible time. Try not to linger in one destination for too long as well.

3. Yamanashi – You may not have frequently heard of Yamanashi yet, but this prefecture is the closest and one of the best places to see Japan’s pride — Mt. Fuji. It has five famous lakes that could reflect Fuji-san itself. Seeing the majestic mountain from this vantage point is one of the most picturesque places to marvel at the world-famous mountain.

mt-fuji-801604 - The top 11 Japan prefecturesPhoto by K2-Kaji

Top destinations/activities:  Lake Kawaguchi

Ideal length of stay in the prefecture: 1 – 2 days

Best cities/district to stay in: Anywhere near Lake Kawaguchi

Tip: Mt. Fuji, like any majestic mountain, could be covered with clouds. Make sure to check the weather forecast and make it your primary consideration when heading to Yamanashi. The best months to see the mountain is between October and February.

2. Tokyo –  Japan’s current capital is definitely a must-visit. Tokyo has a buzzing city life that is not on par with the rest of prefectures. It is also the centre of the country’s pop and traditional culture, shopping,  biggest parks, and the world’s busiest intersection — Shibuya Crossing.

Tokyo- The top 11 Japan prefectures

Top destinations/activities:  Shibuya (photo above); Shinjuku; Odaiba; Akihabara; Ginza

Ideal length of stay in the prefecture: 3 – 5 days

Best cities/district to stay in: Anywhere near the Yamanote Line

Helpful information: The longer you stay in Tokyo, the better. Tokyo has so much to offer depending on what kind of experience you are looking for. The prefecture could also be your accommodation hub when you visit some of the nearby prefectures such as Ibaraki, Kanagawa, or even Yamanashi.

1. Hiroshima – This prefecture needs no introduction since it has been a topic in several history classes worldwide. You may not be thrilled to visit Hiroshima but trust us that a day or two in it will enlighten you in so many ways. A visit here will totally change your perspective about war and may even wrench your heart after immersing yourself in its dark past once you visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial. However, you’ll be amazed by how this prefecture has risen from the ashes, how people remain humble and have embraced peace, and how they look at life with so much hope and faith. [Read: Why you must visit Hiroshima]

Hiroshima-Peace-Memorial

Top destinations/activities:  Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (Photo above); Hiroshima-Jo; Miyajima Island

Ideal length of stay in the prefecture: 1 – 2 days

Best cities/district to stay in: Hiroshima or Fukuoka

Helpful information: One of the highlights of our trip is when we went to the small museum right at the Peace Memorial and seen one of the animated feature films showing the prefecture’s dark history. We suggest that you take the time to watch it. It may cause tears to roll your cheeks but it would also open your eyes to the reality that will help you learn a lesson or two from their experience. Also note that most establishments close around 7:00PM and the only way to roam around the city is to ride the tram-trains.

 

 

Map of the top Japan prefectures

Here’s a map to show the proximity of each prefecture to each other. Note that the dark blue pins are what we considered as a possible accommodation hub. Accommodation hubs are districts, provinces, or in this case, prefectures, where you could stay at when visiting neighbouring areas.

Our ranking is definitely not etched in stone. Your perspective and experiences may be different from ours. However, regardless of your top destinations and prefectures, Japan is without a doubt a country that every traveler should visit at least once.

Stay tuned for more of our Japan adventures in the coming weeks as we go into the details of our experiences in each prefecture that we’ve visited.

 

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