Welcome to the land of the rising sun! Japan is rich in culture and history and boasts a remarkable blend of bustling cities, serene countryside, and scenic coastlines. With various living options tailored to suit diverse lifestyles, preferences, and requirements, finding the perfect place in Japan to call home may initially seem overwhelming.
Fret not! In this article, we delve into the top places to live in Japan and compare factors such as stage of life, personal interests, and professional needs in choosing where to live.
Whether you’re a family-oriented individual seeking tranquility or a young professional craving the vibrant energy of a metropolitan city, this guide will help you navigate through the beautiful tapestry of Japan’s living spaces.
Best Places to Live in Japan for Young Single Professionals
While one’s budget is critical for determining a good place to live, young single expats tend to like to live where the action is.
Given the job opportunities in the capital, that often means central Tokyo. It is, however, important not to rule out selected urban centers outside Tokyo that often provide almost as much excitement at a fraction of the cost.
While the cost of a studio apartment or 1LDK varies widely, most young urban professionals opt to live relatively close to their place of work to reduce or at least simplify their commute (e.g., limit the number of required transfers) while picking a neighborhood that won’t cost an arm and a leg for a late night taxi ride home after a pub crawl or night of clubbing.
Many foreigners who can afford it gravitate toward the greater Roppongi area in Minato-ku, famous for its nightlife and large population of expats.
Nearby neighborhoods include the perennial favorites of Azabujuban and Hiroo. Additionally, neighborhoods along both sides of the Yamanote Line from Harajuku Station to Meguro Station, including Shibuya and Ebisu, attract many expats.
A little further west of Ebisu, the neighborhoods near Daikan-Yama and Nakameguro Stations are also favored. Certain neighborhoods also exude a Bohemian vibe, which tends to attract young single professionals. Check out the following:
- Shimo-Kitazawa: Known as “Shimokita” to locals, this neighborhood is located in Setagaya Ward and is known for its narrow streets lined with vintage clothing stores, record shops, and live music venues. It has a laid-back, free-spirit atmosphere and is popular with young people and artists.
- Koenji: Located in Suginami Ward, Koenji is another neighborhood favored by iconoclasts. It is known for its independent boutiques, street art, and live music venues and has a strong sense of community. The area also hosts an annual Awa Odori dance festival in August, which attracts thousands of visitors.
- Yanaka: Located in Taito Ward, Yanaka is one of Tokyo’s few neighborhoods that has retained its old-fashioned charm. Its narrow streets are lined with traditional Japanese houses, temples, and small shops selling handmade crafts and snacks. The area has a relaxed, gypsy feel and is popular with artists and writers.
Selected Locations outside the Capital
Tokyo offers more job opportunities for young, urban professionals than any other city in Japan, but apartments in the nation’s capital also come with a price premium.
It is, therefore, worth considering other large cities, including the following:
Osaka is Japan’s third-largest city and a major center for commerce and industry. It is known for its lively nightlife, excellent food scene, and friendly locals.
Some of the more popular neighborhoods for young people include Namba, a bustling commercial district in the heart of Osaka, known for its shopping, dining, and entertainment. Umeda, a major commercial and transportation hub in Osaka, is also trendy due to its convenient location and proximity to major train and subway lines.
The upscale atmosphere attracts young singles to Kitahama, a historic district in central Osaka that’s home to many banks, law firms, and other professional services. Another popular spot is Shinsaibashi’s shopping and entertainment district, which is home to many trendy shops, cafes, and bars. It is a great place to socialize and meet new people.
Finally, there is Nakazakicho, a hipster enclave located just north of Umeda. It is known for its narrow streets, independent shops, and cafes and is a popular area for young creatives and entrepreneurs.
Kyoto is a historic city with a rich cultural heritage and many famous landmarks, including temples, shrines, and gardens. It also has a growing tech industry (think Nintendo) and a vibrant arts scene.
Popular neighborhoods include Gion, a historic district with many traditional wooden buildings, geisha culture, and many temples and shrines. It is also home to many trendy cafes, bars, and restaurants.
Nearby Kawaramachi is a bustling shopping and entertainment district in central Kyoto popular among young people. Alternatively, Shimogyo is a commercial district in southern Kyoto home to many office buildings, department stores, and restaurants.
Another option is Sanjo, a trendy neighborhood just west of downtown Kyoto. It is known for its independent shops, cafes, and bars and is a popular area for young creatives and entrepreneurs.
Fukuoka, a rapidly growing city in southern Japan, is becoming a major center for startups and technology. It’s also known for its delicious food, warm climate, and laid-back lifestyle. While relatively pricy, Tenjin is the central business district of Fukuoka, known for its shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Just south of Tenjin is the trendy neighborhood of Daimyo. It is known for its independent shops, cafes, and bars, and is a popular area for young creatives and entrepreneurs. The historic district of Fukuoka called Hakata is known for its traditional temples, shrines, and many other cultural attractions. Despite its central location (including Hakata Station, a bullet train stop), plenty of reasonably priced housing stock exists.
Sapporo is the largest city on the northern island of Hokkaido and a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts. It is also home to a thriving creative scene, with many independent shops, cafes, and galleries.
Most young people gravitate to Susukino and Nakajima Park, a large park just south of Susukino. Other popular neighborhoods include centrally located Odori and Chuo Ward, which have many shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions.
Best Places to Live in Japan for Couples with Young Children
When choosing a place to live for families, factors like safety, education, and access to parks and recreational facilities often become the top priorities. Japan offers numerous family-friendly neighborhoods within and outside Tokyo, catering to these needs.
Having been there and done that, I cannot emphasize just how critical it is to live near a park—preferably with playground equipment—when living with young children.
Keep in mind that public school grounds are often off limits, in general, and tend to be closed on the weekends. That is another reason living near a large public park is so important.
Most young families typically need the space of a 2LDK or 3LDK apartment. While such housing exists in the same trendy neighborhoods popular among singles, such apartments can be costly.
Making the tradeoff between a slightly longer or more complicated commute and apartment size makes it possible to find reasonably priced accommodations with enough room for a growing family.
Some of the popular places for families with young children to live include-
- Setagaya: A family-friendly neighborhood featuring Setagaya Park, with a miniature steam locomotive for children to ride with adult supervision; Komazawa Olympic Park, a historic site from the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games; and Kinuta Park, another popular park. Additionally, Tamagawa Futako Bridge Park is located near the Futako Tamagawa Rise Shopping Center and along the banks of the Tamagawa River, offering plenty of park space for families.
- Meguro: Home to Rinshi-no-Mori Park, which offers ample space to play and is surrounded by high-quality housing options. The neighborhood is close to the Musashi-Koyama shopping arcade, providing families with convenient shopping and entertainment options.
- Shibuya: Known for Yoyogi Park, one of the largest and most popular parks in Tokyo, the Shibuya neighborhood is an excellent choice for families seeking a mix of green spaces, shopping, and dining options.
- Minato: This neighborhood is the location of Shiba Koen Park, next to Tokyo Tower and Zojoji Temple, making it a popular area for families looking for cultural attractions and green spaces in a central location.
- Yokohama: For those who require more space, Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city, has many stand-alone homes in addition to apartments suitable for young families. The neighborhoods around Honmoku Sancho Park, a short walk to the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club (YC&AC), are popular with expats with young children. Mind your commute, however.
Selected Locations outside the Capital
The same criteria hold true outside the nation’s capital. Seek a home near a large accessible public park.
Tennoji Park has a zoo and other attractions that are popular with children.
Hirano is a residential neighborhood in eastern Osaka that is popular with families due to its relatively low cost of living and good schools.
Ikuno is another residential area popular with families due to its affordable housing and access to several parks and playgrounds.
Momochi is a residential area in western Fukuoka that’s becoming increasingly popular among young families and professionals.
It is known for its modern housing developments, parks, and proximity to the beach.
Kita Ward is a residential area in northern Sapporo that is becoming increasingly popular among young families and professionals.
It’s known for its modern housing developments, parks, and convenient access to major transportation hubs.
For couples with middle to high-school-age children, the key issue to consider is your children’s school and their commute. Unless you plan to send your children to a local Japanese school, you will likely choose to send them to an international school.
Picking a location near a convenient train station or within walking distance of a school bus stop is important. Most of the main international schools have a dedicated network of school bus routes.
Therefore, obtaining a list and/or map of each route would be ideal before any real estate search. The key is to make your children’s commute as safe, easy, and short as possible.
Best Places to Live in Japan for University Students
While some universities offer the opportunity to live on campus, for the most part, this type of dorm-like setting is not the norm in Japan.
As a result, most students typically rent a small apartment or private dormitory as close to campus as possible in neighborhoods where the landlords, restaurants, and local shops are used to serving the needs of college students.
The key is to find suitable accommodations as close to campus as possible to minimize the time and expense of commuting.
- Top-Rated Universities in Tokyo: In Tokyo the most famous universities in Japan include the top-rated national universities among public institutions such as Tokyo University in Hongo (and other locations depending upon the faculty) and the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Meguro as well as private schools such as Waseda University near Takadanobaba, Keio University in Mita, Meiji University in Kanda, Sophia University in Yotsuya and Hosei University in Ichigaya.
- Famous Universities outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Area: Although the rankings can change from year to year, and many other excellent universities in Japan are not included on this list, the top-rated national universities outside Tokyo include Kyoto University, Osaka University, Tohoku University in Sendai, Nagoya University, Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Hokkaido University in Sapporo, the University of Tsukuba, and Hiroshima University. The most famous private higher learning institutions outside Tokyo include Doshisha University in Kyoto, Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto (and other campuses around the country), and Kwansei Gakuin University near Kobe.
Please note that almost all of these large universities have satellite campuses in other locations nationwide.
Best Places to Live in Japan for Empty Nesters with Office-Based Jobs
While you are generally able to select from a wide range of options with few restrictions, the one vitally important issue to consider is your daily commute. It is recommended to reduce your commute’s time and complexity to the greatest extent possible.
Although it is often much easier said than done, having children go from full-time cohabitants to occasional visitors provides an opportunity to downsize. With a reduced footprint for your home, the range of opportunities to live in a smaller but more centrally located (at least closer to your office) location is a reality. At the same time, you may be able to transition to more of an upscale environment.
In Tokyo, this could mean relocating from a small single-family home or 4LDK apartment in Nakanobu to a 2LDK apartment on a high floor within walking distance of Toranomon Hills or the Tokyo American Club, for example.
Best Places to Live in Japan for Retirees and People with Remote Jobs
Anything goes! You have the freedom to choose to live anywhere in the country.
That said, it is generally recommended to pick somewhere with relatively easy access to Tokyo via a regional airport, a major train station accessible to the bullet train or other high-speed trains, or an expressway.
If you desire more of a resort-type of environment not too far from the nation’s capital, popular options include the following:
- Hakone: Located about 90 minutes from Tokyo by train, Hakone is a popular resort town known for its hot springs, scenic views of Mt. Fuji, and outdoor activities like hiking and boating.
- Karuizawa: About 1 hour from Tokyo by bullet train, Karuizawa is a mountain resort town offering a peaceful and relaxing escape. It has a range of luxury villas, vacation homes, and resorts.
- Atami and the Izu Peninsula: A seaside town about 50 minutes from Tokyo by train, Atami is known for its hot springs and ocean views. It has several resort hotels, spas, beaches, and other outdoor activities. Just beyond Atami is the Izu Peninsula, which offers a variety of second home options from beachfront properties to mountain retreats. It is known for its hot springs, scenic coastline, and outdoor activities like hiking and surfing.
- Chiba Prefecture: Located east of Tokyo, Chiba Prefecture offers a range of resort-style living options, including beachfront properties and golf course communities. Some popular areas include Kujukuri Beach, Tateyama City, and the Boso Peninsula.
- Nikko: About 2 hours from Tokyo by train, Nikko is a UNESCO World Heritage site that offers natural beauty and cultural attractions. It has several hot springs, resorts, temples, and shrines popular with tourists.
- Nasu: Located in Tochigi Prefecture, about 2 hours from Tokyo by train, Nasu is a mountain resort offering second home options. It is known for its natural beauty, hot springs, and outdoor activities like golf and skiing.
- Further Afield: Although Japan’s countryside continues to struggle with depopulation, its natural beauty, relatively low cost of living, and generally friendly people, provide plenty of options for more of a laid-back lifestyle. Popular choices include the following:
- Hokkaido: Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, is known for its natural beauty, outdoor activities, and ski resorts. It offers a variety of second-home options, from mountain lodges to luxury villas.
- Okinawa: Located in the southernmost part of Japan, Okinawa is a subtropical paradise with white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a unique culture. It offers a range of second home options, from beachfront properties to private island retreats. The only caveat is the presence of the U.S. Navy, which still occupies approximately 20% of the entire land area of this prefecture.
- Kyoto: Known for its traditional culture, historic temples and shrines, and beautiful gardens, Kyoto offers a range of second home options, from traditional machiya townhouses to modern luxury villas.
- Kyushu: Located in the far southwestern part of the country, Kyushu offers a range of second home options, from beachfront properties to mountain retreats.
Japan offers a diverse range of living environments to suit the needs and preferences of individuals at different stages of their lives. From bustling city centers to peaceful neighborhoods, there is something for everyone in this beautiful country.
For young professionals, thriving metropolitan areas with vibrant nightlife and job opportunities are highly appealing, while families often prioritize neighborhoods with green spaces, schools, and convenient amenities.
In the current scenario, Japan continues to blend its rich cultural heritage with modernity, providing unique and exciting living experiences for locals and expats. As you explore the possibilities, remember that finding the perfect place to call home is a personal journey, and the best choice will ultimately depend on your unique circumstances and priorities.