When you think of urban Japan, you think of Tokyo—and maybe Osaka, or perhaps even Hiroshima. Regardless of the Japanese city in question, you probably imagine a sprawling metropolis filled with millions of people
Aomori, Fukuoka, Hakodate, Himeji, Kochi, Takayama, Tottori, Yokohama
When you think of urban Japan, you think of Tokyo—and maybe Osaka, or perhaps even Hiroshima. Regardless of the Japanese city in question, you probably imagine a sprawling metropolis filled with millions of people, serpentine rail lines and blaring neon signs that light busy thoroughfares all through the night.
In fact, many of Japan’s most incredible cities bear little resemblance to this stereotype—Kyoto is perhaps the best-known counterexample. While you probably won’t recognise the names of these unsung Japanese cities, from Hokkaido’s Hakodate to Shikoku’s Kochi, you’ll definitely want to visit them by the time you finish reading.
Located at the northern tip of Honshu island, underrated Aomori ticks culinary and culinary boxes. At A-Factory, an impressive array of apple-flavoured products (and a self-serve cider bar) highlight the importance of apple crops to the economy of Aomori prefecture. If you can’t visit Aomori in August for the annual Nebuta Matsuri Festival, make sure to visit Nebuta House Warasse, where the massive paper lanterns are on display the rest of the year.
Popular excursions from Aomori include charming Hirosaki Castle and massive Lake Towada, while understated luxury of Hotel Aomori (HotelAomori.co.jp, rooms from S$129) makes you feel at home in the heart of the city.
Getting there: Ride the Shinkansen Hayabusa (currently, the fastest train in Japan) from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori, then take a local train to Aomori Station. Or, hop one of several daily flights to Aomori from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.
Fukuoka is the largest city in Kyushu island and serves as the gateway to all its incredible attractions. Walk up to the little-known Atago Jinja Shrine for a panorama of Fukuoka’s sparkling skyline, or cool off during the humid summer months with a swim at Momochi Seaside Park. A day trip to the reclining Buddha at Nanzo-in will work up an appetite, which any of the 43 Michelin-starred restaurant in Fukuoka (TIP: If you want to dine at Sagano, which has earned three stars, make reservations far in advance) will deliciously take care of. Grand Hyatt Fukuoka (Fukuoka.Grand.Hyatt.com, rooms from S$248) is arguably the most luxurious hotel in the city, though the ocean views you get at Hilton Fukuoka Seahawk (Hilton.com, rooms from S$200) are hard to beat.
Getting there: The Shinkansen Nozomi takes you directly from Tokyo to Hakata station (Fukuoka’s bullet train hub) in about six hours; otherwise, take one of the nearly 50 daily flights from either of Tokyo’s airports to Fukuoka’s.
© This article was first published in Aug-Sept 2018 edition of World Travel Magazine.
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