Beyond Tokyo: A Study Abroad Guide to Cities in Japan | Top Universities

Beyond Tokyo: A Study Abroad Guide to Cities in Japan

By Casey Newman

Updated August 7, 2018 Updated August 7, 2018

Want to study in Japan but not sure where to go? Everyone automatically thinks of Tokyo, but is that really the right Japanese city for you? In fact, Tokyo is but one of many excellent options for international students heading to Japan. Wherever you go will offer a look into Japanese culture, but the experiences you have can vary a lot depending on your location. Here’s a look at some alternative cities in Japan which could turn out to be your perfect introduction to the country.


I admit to being a bit biased. My study in Japan experience was  at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Osaka. Fondness for my experience notwithstanding, I do think Osaka is one of the best cities in Japan for international students. It is a bustling metropolis known for its bolder and more vivacious people. This makes it a good choice for Western students in order to feel less alienated by the culture. Osaka is also the comedy capital of Japan. Beyond all Osaka has to offer on its own, it is less than an hour from Kyoto, the cultural and historic capital of Japan. It is just as close to Kobe, another cosmopolitan port city which is popular with visitors. Overall, it is hard to think of a better place to be in the thick of all Japan has to offer.


Just like Osaka, Kyoto is among the largest cities in Japan, and is close to two others of similar size and scope. Kyoto is known as Japan’s “old capital”, having served as the country’s chief city for more than a thousand years – and it’s packed with history. There are 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto alone. Despite being a major city, Kyoto has beautiful nature strewn throughout, and I would say it’s the best place to study in Japan if you really want to learn about traditional Japanese arts and culture.


Located on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, Sapporo is less talked-about as a destination for tourists or international students. But that should in no way keep you from choosing it. It is not just known for its annual snow festival, but for the weather that makes this event possible; it has an average of 248 inches (630cm) of snow annually. Despite the cold, Sapporo is one of the few major cities in Japan where central heating is common, making the temperatures much more bearable. Hokkaido, in general, is known for its amazing food. In particular, ramen, crab, corn, butter, milk, meat and melon are enjoyed there. So if you like cold weather, winter sports and spectacular food, Sapporo may be the place for you.


A large city with a relaxed, open feel, Fukuoka is the biggest city in Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost main island. Fukuoka has the amenities of a metropolis, but is easily navigated. It is close to Japan’s main island, Honshu, as well as South Korea. Moreover, it boasts excellent food, shopping and mild weather. Nothing bad can be said about Fukuoka.


Okinawa is known as Japan’s Hawaii. If you are allergic to cold weather, you may find a home in its tropical shores. It’s close to Taiwan, so you will also find influences of that neighboring country, as well as an American presence due to the military base. Okinawa is the birthplace of karate, and is also known for blown glass and pineapple. The city’s Shuri Castle is unique because it is not a Japanese castle, but that of the Ryukuan Kingdom which became Okinawa.

These are just a few options, for now. I hope this gets you excited about studying abroad in Japan!

This article was originally published in April 2014 . It was last updated in August 2018

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