Discover the 6 Largest Cities in Japan

Written by Alan Lemus
Published: September 27, 2022
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What comes to mind when you think about Japan? A steaming hot ramen dish? Karaoke? Sushi? Anime? Your favorite car brand? Japan has all of these and more. The Land of the Rising Sun has a variety of attractions, from serene shrines and breathtaking scenery to high-tech buildings and futuristic advancements. 

Japan is organized into nine regions, each of which is further subdivided into 47 smaller prefectures. The governor is the elected head of government for each prefecture. Prefectures are divided into cities and districts, which are subdivided further into towns and villages.

The Japanese economy is the world’s third-largest. Its GDP topped the $5 trillion mark in 2018. Japan’s manufacturing and export-oriented economy are built on government-industry solid cooperation and cutting-edge technological know-how. As a result of its multiple socio-economic challenges, such as an aging population, a declining birth rate, and regional inequality, the country acknowledges a crucial need for digital innovation and diverse industries. Despite that, Japan earned approximately 24.65 billion dollars in Foreign Direct Investment in 2021.

The economic might of Japan extends beyond Tokyo. Regional economies in Japan have GDPs that are comparable to those of nations in Europe and Asia. For example, the GDP of the Hokkaido/Tohoku area was $569.1 billion in 2021, compared to $555.5 billion in Sweden. Similarly, the Chubu area of Japan had a GDP of $791.7 billion in 2021 compared to 778.4 billion in Turkey. 

Japan is home to about 127 million people, most of whom live in cities — more than 80%. More than a dozen Japanese cities have populations greater than one million and are frequently far more significant than their European counterparts. Yokohama (3.8 million), Osaka (2.8 million), Nagoya (2.3 million), Sapporo (2 million), and Fukuoka are among these cities (1.6 million).

Whether your reason for visiting Japan is to learn the language, see every temple, or fill up on Yakitori, here are the five largest cities. All population figures cited are from 2020.

Tokyo – 847 Square Miles

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 1, 2015: Crowds pass below colorful signs in Akihabara. The historic electronics district has evolved into a shopping area for video games, anime, manga, and computer goods.

Tokyo is the largest city in and capital of Japan, covering a sprawling 847 square miles.

©ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com

We begin with Tokyo, Japan’s capital city. The city is one of the world’s most significant and economically viable. It’s located on Honshu, the country’s largest island on the Pacific coast. Tokyo is also the most famous Japanese metropolis in terms of land area. With a total area of 2,194 square kilometers (847 square miles), the bustling city accounts for around 0.58% of Japan’s total area.

The 1600s and 1700s saw the development of Tokyo, then known as Edo, around the fishing industry. By the 1800s, Tokyo had become a significant political hub in Japan. In 1868, it took Kyoto’s place as the capital.

Despite the city’s constant emergence of new trends and cultural phenomena, Tokyo has a modern appearance with a lasting coating of tradition with an estimated population of 9.7 million. Although Tokyo is the most expensive city in Japan (and fifth most in the world) in terms of living costs, it has excellent rail and metro networks that make it easy to navigate.

It serves as the residence of the national government, together with the Emperor of Japan. In addition, many Japanese agencies and institutions, notably the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, have offices in Tokyo because of their economic importance.

Since World War II, Tokyo has played an important role in Japan’s economic recovery. It has become a prominent global center for trade and finance. The Tokyo Stock Exchange is one of the top stock exchanges in the world in terms of market capitalization. 

In addition, the city is home to the headquarters of 37 Fortune Global 500 firms, including Sony, Canon, Casio, Hitachi, and Rakuten. Other industries that thrive in Tokyo include forestry and wood products, tourism, fishing, retail, and logistics.

The city has an excellent international reputation for research and development due to its several universities.

Renowned is Tokyo’s artistic side for its wide range of activities and top attractions. These include museums, festivals, internationally acclaimed cuisine, professional sports like baseball, football, and traditional Japanese activities like sumo wrestling. 

Furthermore, the city has a vibrant performing arts scene, with several venues hosting anything from pop and rock concerts to symphony orchestras and modern Japanese dramas.

The top places to visit in Tokyo include the Meiji Shrine, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Ueno Park, Sensō-Ji Temple, Tokyo National Museum, and Ginza District.

Hamamatsu – 602 Square Miles

City scape at Hamamatsu-cho, Minato City, Tokyo

Hamamatsu covers an area of 602 square miles.

©ti1993/Shutterstock.com

On the Pacific Ocean coast, at the mouth of the Tenryū River, lies Japan’s second largest city by land size. Hamamatsu covers an area of 1,558 square kilometers (about 602 square miles) and is located halfway between Tokyo and Kyoto in the southwestern Shizuoka Prefecture.

It is a significant industrial hub with close economic linkages to Nagoya. Further, it produces consumer products, motorcycles, pianos, and other musical instruments and weaving and dyeing cotton. The city also serves as the marketing hub for western Shizuoka.

Hamamatsu’s top sights include the Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments, Hamamatsu Garden Park, Hamamatsu Flower Park, Lake Hamana, and Hamamatsu Castle.

Shizuoka  – 545 Square Miles

Shimoda, Shizuoka, Japan town skyline at twilight.

The city of Shizuoka has a land area of 545 square miles.

©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Regarding population and size, Shizuoka, the capital of Shizuoka Prefecture, is the prefecture’s second-largest city after Hamamatsu. It’s situated nearly midway between Tokyo and Nagoya along the Tokaido Corridor, between Suruga Bay to the south and the Minami Alps to the north. The city has a land area of 1,412 square kilometers (545 square miles).

Shizuoka Prefecture is an extended region that follows the coast of the Pacific Ocean. It is home to Mt. Fuji, the worldwide recognized symbol of Japan, inscribed on the World Heritage List as a Cultural Site in 2013.

Shizuoka-based businesses dominate not only the Japanese market but also various global industrial sectors. For example, Shizuoka was the birthplace of the Honda, Yamaha, and Suzuki motorcycle brands. It is also home to local production, contributing 28% of all Japanese motorcycle exports. Yamaha and Kawai pianos, which had their beginnings in Shizuoka in the early 20th century, are both recognized worldwide brands.

Mt.Fuji, Fuji Safari Park, Shiraito Falls, Atami, and Shimoda beach are among the best tourist attractions in Shizuoka.

Toyama – 480 Square Miles

Imizu, Toyama, Japan – September, 21, 2021 – Small fishing harbour on the Hōjōzuuchi River in Hachiman town.

While not as well known as other Japanese cities, Toyama is still very large, at 480 square miles.

©Mkaz328/Shutterstock.com

Toyama may not be as well known as the other cities on the list, but its land area of 1,242 square kilometers (about 480 square miles) ranks it fourth. It is located on the shore of the Sea of Japan in central Honshu. This is about 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Nagoya and 300 kilometers (190 miles) northwest of Tokyo.

With its many scenic, cultural, and artistic attractions, Toyama is an alluring tourist destination. It opens doors to activities like skiing, snowboarding, and hiking in the Japanese Alps.

Toyama Glass Art Museum is a must-see in the city because of its long history of glass ornaments. In addition, Mount Yakushi, Kansui Park, Toyama Castle Park, Iwase Canal Hall Boarding Dock of Fugan Suijo Line, and Matsukawa River Cruises are some fun places to visit Toyama.

Sapporo – 433 Square Miles

Cityscape of Sapporo, Japan at odori Park.

The city of Sapporo covers an area of 433 square miles.

©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

This city is the central political, economic, and cultural hub of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Despite Japan’s fifth largest city with a population of 2 million, Sapporo also has the country’s fifth-greatest land area at 1,121 square kilometers (433 square miles). The city experiences some of the lowest temperatures in all of Japan because it faces Vladivostok in Russia, just over the Sea of Japan. Wintertime lows of -4C and summertime highs of mid-20C aren’t uncommon in the city. 

The city’s frigid temperature allowed it to host the Winter Olympics in 1972, and the Sapporo Snow Festival and other winter sports events continue to draw tourists today. If you prefer winter activities like skiing, then we’re glad to tell you that Hokkaido and Sapporo are reputed to have some of the top skiing slopes in the world.

Outside of tourism, Sapporo’s economy is centered on information technology, retail, steel, machinery, drinks, pulp and paper, and manufacturing. 

Odori Park, Hokkaidō Shrine, Mount Moiwa Ropeway, Jozankei Onsen Hot Springs, and Maruyama Park are some touristy sites you should visit while on a trip to Sapporo.

Hiroshima – 350 Square Miles

Miyajima Island, Hiroshima, Japan in spring.

Home to many government buildings, public utility hubs, schools, and universities, Hiroshima covers about 350 square miles.

©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Hiroshima is a city in southwest Honshu located at the head of the Inland Sea’s Hiroshima Bay. It has a total land size of 907 square kilometers (350 square miles) and a population of 1.2 million people. On August 6, 1945, it became the first city in the world to be attacked by an atomic bomb. However, with the reconstruction of the Inari Bridge in 1950, post-war recovery under a comprehensive city planning scheme started. Today, Hiroshima is the largest industrial city in that part of Japan. It comprised the Chugoku (western Honshu) and Shikoku areas.

The city is home to many government buildings, public utility hubs, schools, and universities. Steel, vehicles, rubber, chemicals, ships, and transport machinery are all produced by various industries, and the Mazda Motor Corporation’s headquarters are located in Hiroshima. The city is well-connected by road and rail, including a station on the western Honshu Shinkansen (bullet train) line and an international airport.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Itsukushima shrine, Hiroshima Castle, Shukkei-en Garden, and Mitaki-Dera Temple are some of the iconic places to check out in Hiroshima. 

Up Next…

Check out some of our other articles on Japan!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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