Where to live in Japan? My, and your, top ten list

A post on the worst cities to travel to at ComingAnarchy developed into a comment discussion on the worst and best cities, with many regular MF commenters quickly joining the thread and turning the topic into a list of best and worst places to live or visit in Japan. Which gave me an idea—for those of you who live in Japan, or who are familiar with Japan, where would you want to live, and why?

This post covers my top ten, but I must preface this with an important disclaimer—my life in Japan will always be centered in Tokyo, for family, professional, and personal reasons. But I have long fantasized about acquiring a secondary residence outside the capital, for use as a vacation retreat, a place to escape from the city, or to settle for retirement. This list is covering top ten candidates for that second residence.

Biei, together with its more popular neighbor Furano, has some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in Japan. Situated in the center of Hokkaido and closer to Asahikawa airport than Asahikawa city itself and thus a rural area that is very convenient to the rest of Japan, it is a popular place for Tokyoites to escape the city in the summer and has gorgeous, rolling hills covered in fields and farms. It would be a great place to launch into my favorite pasttime, cycling around Japan. Land is also relatively cheap—you can get a house with a backyard for the same price as a tiny apartment in Tokyo. The one disadvantage would be poor access to fresh seafood.

Kagoshima is a fun place for me because of its pride in its local history and easy boat access to the Okinawan islands. And I have never seen a town in Japan promote its own history so well, with biographies of famous Meiji military, political and business figures peppered over the city marking the places where they were born. Add to that the fun gardens, quaint trollycar, and Sakurajima just across the bay, and it really is a beautiful city with personality.

Tsushima is a beautiful island with countless hills and inlet bays situated between Kyushu and Korea. It has a tiny population of less than 40,000 people, and land in Tsushima can be had for a real bargain, and for a brief moment, I thought of buying some when I was there in 2007—but unfortunately, the airport no longer has direct flights to Tokyo, only Nagasaki and Fukuoka (and Korea).

A number of places along the Izu peninsula, or even out in the Izu islands, would be a wonderful place to be, with beautiful beaches in summer and very mild winters, delicious fresh food from the sea, and convenience to Tokyo that would make it almost possible to commute.

Kawagoe has always struck me as perhaps the nicest old neighborhood in the greater Tokyo area, with its clock tower and many old temples (some people complain that the buildings are not genuine, but that doesn’t bother me—even if it’s not genuine, it’s authentic, and it’s the effort and thought that counts). It is also a cheap train ticket away to Tokyo, just an hour away on the Seibu Shinjuku line. Kawagoe would be a great place to live if you were working in Tokyo but wanted to hold on to a town with history and personality.

Rebun is the northernmost island of Japan after Hokkaido, and sits a short ferry ride away from Wakkanai. This remote island truly feels like the most remote area of Japan, when you cross the stubby mountains to its west side and look down over dramatic cliffs that drop into the sea, tiny huts in a small village, and water empty of any ships except the occasional fishing boat.

Karuizawa is a hoity-toity mountain retreat for Japan’s old school elite, and one of the few places outside Tokyo where land prices are absurdly high. But it is truly beautiful in the winter

Practically part of the capital, Yokohama is one of those places that makes me reevaluate my life in Tokyo everytime I visit. It has a feel of being much more modern (read: futuristic) and clean, consumer good prices feel much cheaper, and land prices and housing prices give you much more bang for your buck than Tokyo.

Wakayama holds a certain special place in my heart because it was the first place I lived in Japan as a teenager. I have lots of friends there, and land prices keep on getting cheaper, although the economy is notably awful.

Fukuoka boasts the most convenient airport in the world, right in the heart of the city, great food, fun history and things to see, and is the one place on this list next to Yokohama that just could be a permanent home outside of Tokyo for an eager professional doing business with the rest of Asia. And it also boasts great cuisine—first class seafood, nabe, ramen, and much more.

This list is long, but how about you, readers? Bonus points if you can come up with a graphic as AWESOME as mine above.

  1. I lived in Kawagoe and didn’t really like. Granted I didn’t live right in the historical district, but I don’t think many people do. Moved to Tokyo proper as soon as a I could.

  2. Curz.Is that photo really from Izu? It looks like Mexico ore somewhere.

    1.Kichijoji,Tokyo
    2.Kamuakura,Kanagawa
    3.Fukuoka,Fukuoka
    4.Naha,Okinawa
    5.Obuchizawa,Yamanashi
    6.Kyoto,Kyoto
    7.Kobe,Gyoho
    8.Kumamoto,Kumamoto
    9.Hakuba,Nagano
    10.Yufuin,Oita.

  3. So what kind of life style are we talking about? Commute or work at home? Ski slopes or singles bars? High brow or cheap? Family or single/DINKS? Walk or drive? For me, though, the only question is, What part of Kichijoji is the best?
    Kawasaki, by the way, has both awful factory areas and green, highly liveable residential areas. Yokohama also has a variety of areas with vastly different characters. This is another reason why “neighborhoods” are more relevant than “cities.”

  4. I have to agree with Wataru. Neighbourhoods are the key. And while I love visiting friends in Kichijoji I think if I lived there my liver would suffer serious damage from exploring all the tachinomis.

    Since I just bought a house in Kawagoe I think I should spread some love for my neighbourhood. Kawagoe is a really spread out city with two main areas. There is Kawagoe station with Honkawagoe station also close by. Alas these areas are plagued by the typical Japanese urban blight of pachinko parlours and general ugliness.

    The second area is the historical district. I live 5 min. from the bell tower. It is a nice place to spend a day during the week (we are overrun with tourists every Sat. and Sun. and it is a bit of a zoo). But there are also lots of traditional shops and restaurants to explore for people who live in the neighbourhood as well.

    I won’t go into all the reasons I like Kawagoe (or what I don’t) but the best part of living around the historical district is all the zoning regulations. Kawagoe is actually trying to preserve things so there are strict height restrictions on buildings and all new houses that are built need to have the exterior plans looked over by bureaucrats to make sure you don’t try to build some monstrosity.

    However, I must say that my favourite place in Japan to live was Nishinomiya near Kwansei Gakuin. A cool neighbourhood, lots of nature, mountains and the sea both close by, 15 min. to Osaka, 15 min. to Kobe, Kyoto a hop, skip and jump away. What’s not to love?

  5. Aaa, links gobbled so no pics.

    Nice Fukuoka pic Curzon. I’m really glad that I go there at least once a year. Add Dazaifu and the new(ish) national museum and apart from being a great, great place to live, it is an amazing 2-3 day vacation. For those who have not been, Curzon ain’t kidding about the convenience of the airport.

    As for me, I’d like to live in a regional city and have a “vacation home” in Jinbocho….

    Having a serious bookstore (250,000 titles plus) nearby as well as at least two decent libraries and 3-4 Bookoffs is an unshakable condition for a place to live for me. Luckily, I already have a Japan spot that meets those conditions (my wife’s hometown in northern Kyushu, total fluke). “Nature” is just a short train ride away and I quite enjoy day trips to Yufuin – #10 on Aceface’s list which has some amazing cafes, great walks, etc. The seafood in that area of the country, different than Tokyo because it is mainly Inland Sea stuff, can be flat out amazing.

    About the same distance in the other direction is the fantastic area around Mt. Aso – hiking and beef.

  6. I love the post idea, Curzon. But…I must say:

    Kawagoe fooled you. That sliver of KoEdo/clocktower/wagashi vendors/Tōryanse schnizz schnozz is but a mere fraction of the city. The rest of it either smells like Higashi-Matsuyama or Ageo, which would never make your list. Saitama has much nicer cities out by the Chichibu mountains that to me have always been more charming than Kawagoe.

    Sorry to hate on it, but I lived nearby for three years, and it just doesn’t seem to fit in with the other cities in the list.

    Why wouldn’t you want to live in Kamakura? (That’s where I call home here, and I LOVE it.) I see Aceface has it in his list. I also like that he included a neighborhood in Tokyo.

  7. 1. Kamakura
    2. Kobe
    3. Biei/Furano
    4. Kurashiki
    5. Karuizawa
    6. Fukuoka
    7. Kanazawa
    8. Ogawa, Saitama
    9. Yanaka, Tokyo
    10. Yamate, Yokohama

    This is totally back of the envelope, and admittedly, I am not well traveled and know nothing of how wonderful places like Nagoya are.

  8. Homeless wanderer FTW. In Japan it could actually be a more comfortable existence than whatever home you could own/rent for the same price.

  9. ”I see Aceface has it in his list. I also like that he included a neighborhood in Tokyo.”

    Well.Peter.I lived in Tokorozawa for more than 16 years and still don’t like it.
    Currently I reside in Nagoya,and it’s alright.But not exactly a tourist site.

    I have to agree about Wataru since most of the places I’ve mentioned are would-be-great-if-I-could places.I’m sure I have little to do had I lived in Hakuba,but working in pensions.

    “What part of Kichijoji is the best?”

    I used to live pretty close to Seikei Gakuen and really liked it.However,I also loved Mitakadai of which I’ve lived way back in the 80’s.

    Neighborhood Tokyo.
    Yanaka isn’t bad.But then,It’s fairly away from subway stations and all that.Either Nezu nor Ueno Sakuragi would be better place to live.
    Nishi-Ogikubo is cheaper than Kichijoji and has Kichi-feel of the 70’s I knew.Ekoda on Seibu-Ikebukuro is basically poor man’s Kichijoji and that’s not bad either.Ikegami Monzencho is also great neighborhood(Lived there for three years).
    Another place I really want to live is Tsukishima,an artificial island built in Tokyo bay during Taisho era.

    As a guy who was born in Chiba,I recommend Urayasu.It’s close to the center of Tokyo and has greatest public library in the country.There’s also nice area in Boso Peninsula live Kamogawa,Katusura and Wada.All of which I would have lived if I retire.

  10. A little place called Takeno in Toyooka city, near Kinosaki Onsen. It would be cool to work four days in Kyoto and retire to the beach each week for the long weekend. Nice crabs in winter too, apparently. And Curz, there is an old clock tower nearby.

    I liked living in Minoh-shi at the foot of a mountain with nice hiking trails, wild monkeys, and a loop road into the mountains which makes a great biking excursion. Not the best place in Japan, but it has a nice balance. Nice apartments on the hillside if you can afford them, and not too far from Umeda if you need the excitement of the city. However, I preferred the shitamachi shotengai nearby in Ishibashi. It’s crammed with students from nearby Osaka University, so there is quite a vibrant nightlife for a backwater. They have friendly and really REALLY cheap pubs there.

    For Kamakura, Kita-kamakura or Kamakura proper? The town never much appealed to me. Kinda reminds me of Himeji, that is, the town is secondary to the tourist attractions.

  11. Sad to say that I haven’t traveled enough in Japan to even make a reasonable top 10 list of places. In fact, I’ve basically not even been to any of the places on Curzon’s list, aside from a couple of visits to Yokohama and Wakayama. I like Kyoto pretty well, but I’m entering my 6th year and think that this will be quite enough for the foreseeable future.

    Let me hijack the thread a little and ask, what are some of the places that I MUST visit in Japan?

  12. I generally hate cities, and so does Mrs. Cheeserocket. It’s not a convenient bias. We have been thinking of moving to the Toyama/Ishikawa area, or maybe farther north/east along that coast. Both of us have a lot of flexibility in where we can work, though. Without that… well, there’s not much to do in Wajima, for example, outside of selling lacquerware to tourists or gutting fish. But what delicious fish! I’m kind of in love with the Noto Peninsula after a few road trips up that way.

    The Japan Sea side is where it’s at, for me, although I am completely ignorant of everything that is not Honshu.

    Oh, and one must visit that springs to my mind would be Gokayama.

  13. “Let me hijack the thread a little and ask, what are some of the places that I MUST visit in Japan?”

    In no particular order (and leaving off things like Hiroshima and Nagasaki because they are not “fun”, but you really should go; Okinawa also a blast, but you don’t need me to tell you that) –
    Yasukuni Shrine on August 15 – you know you wanna
    Nikko
    Himeji Castle (although I’m pretty sure that you have gone)
    Eat nothing but ramen and gyoza and drink nothing but beer in Fukuoka for 3 days
    Kita Kamakura plus the tourist stuff
    One of the big shrines (Meiji, Ise, Izumo-taisha) just after the new year
    Dewa sanzan
    Takayama and Shirakawa in winter
    Kanazawa and the Noto Peninsula (go for it Blue Cheese Rocket!)
    Kagoshima and Sakurajima
    Open-topped train trip through the southern part of Shikoku is fantastic
    Matsumoto in Nagano

    In addition, it might be a good idea to come up with a list of a dozen or so things that you have not yet seen in Kyoto (Koke-dera, Katsura Palace, Shin Yakushiji, Hiei-zan or something that you’ve been putting off?) and do them in a weekend.

    Finally, you might want to do a photographic pilgrimage around the usual sites of Kyoto and Nara if you haven’t already. Will help you big time when you are teaching Japanese History 101 in a few years…. Students love it when profs have their own photographs.

  14. You know, that last one is a pretty good idea. I also definitely plan on going to Nara some time this year (of course I’ve been a few times before) so I can see what they’re doing for the 1300th anniversary, including the scale reconstruction of Heijokyo.

  15. Two days and a night up on Mt. Koya is a good idea along those lines, too. The older sections of the necropolis alone are worth the trip, and it’s easy to do from Kyoto or Nara.

  16. here’s some reccomendations:

    :go an spend a night out in Sapporo during mid-winter. it’s the best night out in Japan with amazing seafood, beer, girls, and lots of snow !

    : go to Tokyo for a day – that’s about enough

    : Kamakura has a good energy about it – lots of old places, trees, views, the sea – it can be a nice place to go and recharge

    : Nagano – is underated as a city – has an awesome temple, and is surrounded by great onsens and nature

    : Shimanto in Kochi – an incredible river that even flows uphill in some places !
    beaches free from rubbish, great seafood, whale-watching, temples, awesome

    : Kamogawa in Chiba – great surf a lot of the time, alternative people, beautiful ocean

  17. I also have a list of places but first that comes to my mind is Nikko(日光). Its beautiful in every season.

  18. Roy: I’d add Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture to a list of places to visit.

    Also, having lived about halfway down the east side of the Izu peninsula for a few years in the past, I am pleased to see it on Curzon’s list because I think it would be a great place to purchase a bessou.

    A car is a must – the busses are few and far between. JR East extends to Atami on the Tokkaido line and to Ito on the Ito line, so you can use Suica up to these points. Beyond Ito, where the most beautiful places are, the Izukyu private line is EXPENSIVE and runs to Shimoda. You could get by without a car if you had a place near a station, but without a car, you won’t have access to the most beautiful places (that few tourists visit).

    Speaking of tourists, weekends in the summer are absolutely horrendous. Route 135 is jam packed. It is a real pain to get anywhere. Before the proliferation of GPS in cars, only the locals knew of the short cuts, but now even those roads are packed on peak days.

    My personal favorite locations in Izu (biased to the east) are:
    1) Higashi-izu machi: Basically up the mountains anywhere between Shirata and Ookawa
    2) Inatori: Must less touristy than say Jogasaki or Izu-kougen. Pretty much a fishing village, though it obviously has it’s share of tourists.
    3) Minami-izu: On of the most beautiful coast lines I’ve ever seen and much less frequented by tourists.

    I probably wouldn’t recommend buying on one of the islands simply due to the time it takes to get there. Jogasaki and Izu-Kougen are basically bubble-era remnants of what was considered cute western stuff and is full of “museums” on any cute theme from cats to teddy bears.

    Diving is good and ranges from beginner (Izu Ocean Park in Jogasaki) to fairly advanced (mikomoto 神子元島 off Yumigahama – I call it the washing machine due to the currents that basically come from just about any direction including up and down).

    Sea kayaking is good. fishing, sailing, power boating… wasabi Ice cream from the 道の駅 just beyond Inatori (or inland on route 414) is awesome – cool yet spicy.

  19. I’m very much enjoying living in Yokohama. It’s got everything you need from a big city without being as crowded and expensive as Tokyo.

    My fantasy “if I was rich and could buy a vacation home anywhere” location is definitely Onomichi. It’s an incredibly beautiful city with easy access to Shikoku via the Shimanami Sea Route (which is amazing to bike across; I highly recommend it).

  20. Forgot to mention,with respect to neighborhoods in Tokyo:

    My favorite Shitamachi is Nakanobu, where Mrs. stevicus used to live. The cost of daily living items is surprising reasonable. There are also a large number of cool bars, tachinomi, and restaurants. There are also a number of stations in the area with various lines by Tobu and Toei, and ones that connect directly into the metro.

    My favorite not-Shitamachi is Kagurazaka, where I used to live. I’ve run into a lot of mixed opinion about Kagurazaka. It does have a large ex-pat community of mainly transient French people, which turns off some of longer-term Tokyo residents (due to “transient” not “French”). That never bothered me at all, though. And, being “fashionable, it is expensive for just about everything. BUT, if you’ve never been there, spend an afternoon exploring the winding back streets, which contain a mixture of Europe and Edo-era Japan.

    Not to mention there are three stations, four subway lines and the JR within a 10 min. walking radius.

  21. Tornado,
    Nikko is lovely, but it’s gotten awfully shabby lately (I’m typing this from a wifi parking lot in Imaichi right now). I actually much prefer living in Utsunomiya. It’s still close enough to Tokyo and Narita, has all the conveniences, it’s relatively cheap, and there’s plenty of nature nearby.

  22. guys, isn´t a bit early to think about nice and quite places to spend your retirement?
    Hard to work and party outside the big cities methinks.

  23. I’ve always liked Kanazawa—a smaller, more laid-back version of Kyoto, but with decent transport links to Tokyo (which will improve once the Hokuriku Shinkansen opens). If there was better public transport it would be perfect, but I suppose needing a car to get around is worth living in such a historic city.

  24. Oh, and in terms of cost-of-living and quality-of-life, I think Fukui is highly underrated. It’s not a very beautiful city, but there are plenty of sights, land/goods prices are cheap, and you’re just a 90-minute train ride to Kyoto or Nagoya.

  25. Also, having lived about halfway down the east side of the Izu peninsula for a few years in the past, I am pleased to see it on Curzon’s list because I think it would be a great place to purchase a bessou.

    On a related note, I’ve heard good things about Manazuru, just northeast of Atami, as a quieter Enoshima (read: the bay views and the beach without the day trippers). Any truth to that?

  26. dunno but went to Numazu recently
    and was shocked by the amazing seafood on sale everywhere.

    Everyone has always known that Izu is the place to be – Shimoda has world-class surfing, beautiful beaches,
    but that is where the big earthquake will hit and this
    is what is driving down besso prices.

    It is already being called the “Tokai Earthquake”
    with an epicentre in izu.

    In Tokyo I like the Mitaka / Chofu area – lots of green around there, nogawa park,
    koganei park, near to Kichijoji,
    easy to get into Shimokitazawa and Shibuya,
    Tamagawa etc. – it’s a good neighbourhood.

  27. “I’ve heard good things about Manazuru”

    I don’t really know either – have only passed through.

    “but that is where the big earthquake will hit and this is what is driving down besso prices.

    It is already being called the “Tokai Earthquake” with an epicentre in izu.”

    In the geologic past (up to about 2 million years ago), Izu was an island. It rides on the Philippine Sea Plate, while the rest of Honshu is split between the Eurasian (Amur?) and North American Plates (actually, the Okhotsk Plate, I guess). So basically, Izu is pretty much on a triple junction (of a very unique type – 3 trenches (TTT)). I had always thought that the presence of Mt. Fuji was due to the collision and subduction of the Philippine Sea Plate, but it seems that is evidence for a hotspot under the volcano.

    Aizawa, K. et al. (2004), Splitting of the Philippine Sea Plate and a magma chamber beneath Mt. Fuji, Geophysical Research Letters, 31, L09603, doi:10.1029/2004GL019477.

    S. Xia et al. (2008), The 2007 Niigata earthquake: Effect of arc magma and fluids, Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors 166, 153–166, doi:10.1016/j.pepi.2007.12.001.

    So, yeah, Izu and also the nankai trough plate boundary are going to produce one helluva earth quake – at some point. But then again, look at Japan’s position relative to three tectonic plates. As everyone here knows, all of Japan is susceptible to earth quakes, the 2007 Niigata earthquake occurred along the other limb of the triple junction, but some places (like Izu) are more susceptible.

  28. very interesting stevicus.
    so basically you never know what your chances are
    do you, wherever you are.

    I love Izu – we had our honeymoon there – but wifey isn’t too keen on moving down.

  29. My top ten places…

    1. Hirado / Firando “island” near Sasebo (Nice historical island)
    2. Iriomote jima (Hiking)
    3. Kagochima, near Chuo eki for the great Kagoshima beef
    4. Somewhers in Kiso-ji (Maybe Magome)
    5. Fukuoka (For the great handmade Gyouza)
    6. Sapporo
    7. Yufuin (Great surroundings, nice atmosphere)
    8. Hitoyoshi (Near Yatsushiro, Kyushu) Onsen…
    9. Kanazawa (big city, but with a quiet feel to it)
    10. A small seccond home in Osaka, because the people there I can relate to much more so then in the Kanto area. And Osakan’s are usually a friendly lot.
    And of course, Tigers…

  30. Discussions about the best place to live are as much fantasies about who you want to be as much as they are fantasies about money. Every time I imagine being lord of the manor in some area of outstanding natural beauty, that always goes hand in hand with a vision of great relationships with the locals rather than weekly friction with a neighbour who thinks my unmanaged, overgrown garden is bringing down the tone.

    Of course, the local medical facilities will be staffed by high quality professionals, who have all decided to give up their careers elsewhere, and the hospitals would have state-of-the-art facilities. The eccentric inventor down the road would share his matter transporter with me so any children I have could go pop off to international school in Tokyo while I would use it for occasional barhops back there too.

    I had a besso in Izu for a while and enjoyed the area enormously. However, my work was in Tokyo and I couldn’t get down there regularly enough. Mobile coverage has probably improved since then which, added to internet access, would make it easier to slip away from the city these days.

    Fukuoka has always seemed attractive. It seems cosmopolitan and has a great music scene which I am undoubtedly too old for these days. Sendai has always appealed too but perhaps I was just overwhelmed at being able to see so much sky from the centre of town after so long in Tokyo.

    In the end, though, my friends are in Tokyo. If they would also care to decamp, along with various restaurant and bar owners, then that would make tany transition smoother.

    The pianist Glenn Gould once chose his desert island discs for BBC radio. Many were challenging, complex works but Gould himself said he couldn’t shake of the nagging suspicion that if someone administered a truth serum, he might have ended up with the likes of the 1812 Overture. I’d like to think I’d choose a well-appointed house in a traditional, neigbourly district of Tokyo but also wonder whether a truth serum wouldn’t have me blabbing about a penthouse in Roppongi Hills.

  31. This is an interesting thread for me. Personally I’ve only lived in Osaka and Kyoto (the latter being at present), and while I’ve traveled a tremendous amount within Nara, Mie, Wakayama, Osaka, and Kyoto prefectures (I know my towns and villages), any travel outside of Kansai has been major cities and well-known destinations exclusively.

    Kamakura (as some people mentioned) is wonderful, and I went there a long time ago on a trip up to Tokyo. That’s the kind of place that I think would make anyone want to live in Japan.

    Nara city is beautiful, quiet, and has lots of interesting small stores and cafes. The surrounding cities and residential areas are also extremely serene, if a bit inconvenient. I also love getting out for hikes on the various mountains spattered across the prefecture. I don’t live there now, and likely won’t in the near future, but with family out there (Mrs. Mashu’s) I find myself spending a decent amount of time in Nara.

    There are also some really nice towns towards Osaka/Hyogo. Ikeda-shi is surprisingly great, and even just a few stops down the JR line towards Osaka from Sannomiya (Kobe), there are great urban living environments with the ocean and mountains right nearby.

    I haven’t been in Kyoto as long as Roy, but in terms of the way I spend my weekends, and the general environment and atmosphere that I find suits me and allows me to work hard and feel consistently mentally fresh, there’s no place like Kyoto. I would never recommend living close to the central downtown area, anything south of Imedegawa or north of Kujo is bound to be sprawling with tourists all year long. That said, I live just a bit further south, towards Fujinomori, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white person besides myself here! Keihan, JR, Kintetsu, Kyoto city subway all easily accessible, tough to beat that.

  32. I live in Hokkaido and to say about Biei….”The one disadvantage would be poor access to fresh seafood.” is really funny & ridiculous because nowhere in Hokkaido has poor access to seafood.

  33. These discussions are kind of fun, but also sort of stupid, empty calory discussions. There are ususally bigger differences between which neighborhood you live an an area than between cities or regions. And they tend to ignore the fact that most people have to somehow make a living in an area, enough to pay the rent or mortgage! I’ve been to lots of beautiful places that I knew would be hopeless to try to live there because I could never get a job.

    Then you have the issue that different places are good for different stages of life.

    You could talk about the best places to retire too, since retirees on some sort of pension have the most real choice about where to live. But then retirees are considering issues such as availability of medical care that may be less pressing for younger people. Retirees usually want to be near their extended families, for young adults, its often the opposite.

    If I was an American living in Japan, which areas were most gaijin friendly would be an important consideration. If I were Japanese, I wouldn’t care about this.

  34. A thousand names, a thousand places, lived in Fuchu, Tachikawa, Fukuoka, & southwest of Nagasaki. Vacation spot/living, I’d take Hakone area over any in Tokyo. In the south it would have to be Fukuoka, or better yet Nomosaki, (S.W. of Nagasaki), for its beautiful beach. It is a fishing village, but not to country!!

  35. @Ed

    For me, in most places I guess I’d start a Dutch restaurant.
    In Hirado that would be quite fitting and probably the hit of the town.

  36. As an American living in Japan, I actively seek out the least gaijin friendly places, because foreigners totally screw up any neighborhood.

  37. Joe,

    Amen.

    Mulboyne,

    Funny, in my list of desert island discs, there are at least one or two Glenn Gould recordings. However, his comment on truth serum may also mean more to him, considering he was fairly hopped up on goofballs and other colored pills. Give me the polygraph—I know for sure that I don’t want to live in some penthouse in Roppongi, especially if there’s a dead body in the next room.

  38. Joe, in Tokyo that can end up being a very middle-class thing to say. On average, you’ll find foreigners in Tokyo more prevalent in poor areas and rich areas. Both of those have their attractions.

    My idea of Tokyo hell is something like Tokugawamura in Mejiro:

    http://www.yakumo.co.jp/village/

    People who live there seem to love it as an oasis of calm in the city. The website refers to it as a “compound” which strikes me as very appropriate.

    Mejiro has some nice neighbourhoods elsewhere but, if you are going to live on or inside the Yamanote, it isn’t the most convenient place unless you are French.

  39. Another Glenn Gould fan here. For a desert island, I’d probably just take movies, but I’m sure the lie detector list would look quite different than what I tell people.

    “Joe, Amen.”

    I’ll third that. At this rate we’ll fill up this mythical place with gaijin pretty quickly, however.

  40. “I would never recommend living close to the central downtown area, anything south of Imedegawa or north of Kujo is bound to be sprawling with tourists all year long.”

    That’s only true in the Eastern half of Kyoto. I lived in Ukyoku for two years and basically never saw a white person I didn’t know from school outside of the immediate vicinity of a couple of major temples.

  41. “As an American living in Japan, I actively seek out the least gaijin friendly places, because foreigners totally screw up any neighborhood.”

    erm..what do you mean by that ?

    In my neighbourhood that are plenty of foreigners, some who have lived here over 30 years.

  42. Exactly, Martin. Joe is talking about YOU.

    I think Joe is making a half-serious note about the disruptive effect that ferrel foreigners can have on domesticated Japanese neighborhoods, and a half-funny self-deprecating joke at his and our expense.

    Regarding the practicality of living in these places, do note my original line—I want somewhere that can be my escape from Tokyo. Tokyo will always be my HQ in Japan, but I need somewhere else to unplug from the city.

  43. I want an 11 bedroom condo in the Diet Library but I’d settle for a Zeppelin or a Hills penthouse.

  44. First thing I thought of when I saw that Tokugawa-mura page was “Dejima.”

    Best cities in Japan? Anywhere outside Tokyo, for a start. I suppose central Tokyo (Yamanote Loop area) is interesting, but sod being out in the ‘burbs. The endless, featureless nightmares of places like Adachi-ku….. Yokohama – in the south – is nice. Yamate to Honmoku. Also add in the Shonan coast – Chigasaki to Hayama to Kamakura. Nice area. Best part of Kanto (haven’t been to Kawagoe mind you, but that is miles away).

    What do we look for? Needs to be a decent size so all the amenties Mulboyne mentioned are there, so I’ll scratch the Miomote area of northern Niigata for the moment, even though the scenery there (or over the hills in southern Yamagata) is really nice. So let’s look for a population base of about half a million, for the shopping, etc. as well. But not too much more or else housing ends up being too expensive.

    Also I like to be not too insanely far from a decent international airport. As in “it won’t take longer to get to the airport than it does to get to the final destination.” Where I live at the moment Narita is like that, but Kansai is acceptable, if not ideal.

    History and culture – sod living in a soulless bedtown that was paddy fields forty years ago. Somewhere where I can sense, however dimly, that Japan has a history before 1960. And somewhere you can get out of the city and be reminded that the colour green is not in fact just in your imagination.

    A good train system and/or subways would be nice if you don’t use a car, but I do.

    So with that in mind, here are my Top Cities:

    1. Kanazawa. The best city in Japan as a city. Elegant, cultured, historical, no shortage of bars and shopping, easy access to some very nice scenery including Hakusan, Shirakawa (which must be seen in mid-winter for optimum effect), Tateyama, Noto, etc. Just over two hours from Kyoto and three to KIX. Four hours to Tokyo (less in 2014 when the Hokuriku White Elephant is completed as far as Kanazawa). Drawbacks = shitty weather. There’s a reason Kanazawa girls have great skin – no chance to get it ruined by UV. So maybe that is a plus instead….

    2. Fukuoka. Basically for the reasons M-Bone gave. It was the first city in Japan I visited that I actually thought would be a nice place to live. Good ramen. Never used the airport though.

    3. Kamakura area. Small-town feel but easy access to the Big City.

    4. Kumamoto. Great ramen too. Spectacular castle site. Easy access to Aso etc.

    5. Sendai. An under-rated city, nothing spectacular about it, but nice and pleasant. Works well, and is nicely done up downtown.

    6. Kobe. Might depend just where. Seems to be a mix of Kamakura and Yokohama for the Kansai region.

    7. Now it gets tricky. There are a lot of other nice places, but many are too small to be practical. Like all those remote country villages. Hokkaido strikes me as defeating the point of living in Japan, at least for me. It’s a colony. Some of the inland cities are nice.

    Note that Kyoto is conspicuous by its absence. One of the most over-rated cities on Earth, I believe. Apologies to all those that live there and love it. And now having insulted all those board member who love and live in Tokyo and Kyoto, I shall stop here….

  45. I will be heading to Japan in May to teach English and am looking for a more alternative town with a cool music/art scene… By the sounds of it, Kamogawa might be what I’m looking for but I’m not sure. I am of Tamil descent but was born in Canada so I’m not sure how it will be for me in rural areas… any advice?

    My ideal place would be smaller community near mountains/ocean with a cool music/art scene that has also maintained Japanese culture…

    I’m not sure if this place exists but any advice would be much appreciated!

  46. Interesting. If you are here for the long term, in my mind you have to seek out foreign friendly populated areas. Unless you are looking to change passports and want to completely immerse yourself, it’s probably the best way to go. Just a couple of thoughts.

    1. One person before mentioned Kyoto and how much he liked it, and also said he lived in Fujinomori and had never seen a foreigner around. I lived there for 5 years and burned out on it for that exact reason. The area is the armpit of Kyoto and if you find yourself living there, I feel sorry for you.

    2. As for Kyoto, there is a certain type of person who would like Kyoto. The hiker, mountainbiker, single, into the arts, can’t get enough of a good temple kind of person. A lot of outdoors around but most of the good stuff you would need a car to get there. There isn’t a tight gaijin community here so it is very tough if you are looking for things to do with other people.

    3. I personally enjoy the mix of foreigners and japanese mixing it up and having a bbq and some cocktails. One place that hasn’t been mentioned is Hamamatsu in Shizuoka. Huge foreign population that has sort of become integrated into the community. Near the ocean so if your a surfer or like to chill at the beach…great place. Not good swimming water however, more of a chilling on the beach area.

    4.

  47. So my question is this…....how many of you out there have been here for awhile, have kids, and really like where you are at? I have been living in kyoto for the last 7 years and am thinking about relocating to Chigasaki. Great beaches, near Tokyo, Yokohama, Izu, Hakone, and Kamakura. Good foreign communities always a plus. Any thoughts???

  48. “There isn’t a tight gaijin community here so it is very tough if you are looking for things to do with other people.”

    Are Japanese not people?

  49. I just pricked my wife to see and they don’t just bleed, they beat you with a broom!

  50. RonRon wrote: “There isn’t a tight gaijin community here so it is very tough if you are looking for things to do with other people.”

    M-Bone replied “Are Japanese not people?”

    M-Bone, I’m curious. Whether you approve of his opinion or not, can you really not see the point RonRon was making, given the context he provided with his other paragraphs?

  51. I see the point quite clearly. No matter where you are in the world, it’s nice to have people nearby who appreciate the likes of Stephen Colbert and Samuel Jackson.

  52. Yeah, I see the point.

    Too snarky in retrospect – another reason to keep in mind that tone doesn’t come off in these posts.

    Beaches plus foreign community = Okinawa.

  53. No offense,but what exactly is the point of living in Japan if one finds it “very tough if you are looking for things to do with other people”?

    Beach plus foreign community plus slightly bit of Japanese presence.I’d say Guam.

  54. “So my question is this…....how many of you out there have been here for awhile, have kids, and really like where you are at?”
    Been here since 1978, have three grown-up kids, and love living in Kichijoji, Tokyo. I’m not a beach person, though, and don’t really care what nationality my friends are.

  55. Aceface,

    There are many Japanese for whom it is tough when they are looking for things to do with other people. That phenomenon is not unique to foreigners…

  56. Well,here’s the thing.

    The Japanese version rather stay at home with the people they belong to instead of going overseas.And foreigners describe the situation sometimes as symptom of “Japanese insularity” and I tend to agree with that.

    The foreigner version does that by living thousand miles away from their native country and foreigners describe the situation sometimes as product of “Japanese xenophobia”.This too,I tend to agree with.

  57. I’m thinking of someday returning to Japan to teach English once more, and I’m interested in your opinions about the best towns to live in and work. I’m now middle-aged and a single woman, so I’m not after the high-paced city life, but also don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere. I lived in Himeji, which was okay, near Nara (for only a short while) and in Osaka, but it was too much city for me.

    Any suggestions? I’d probably want to stick somewhat with what I know, meaning not too far from the beaten path, and not too far north or south.

    Thanks a lot.

  58. I think Kyoto, where I’ve been living for several years, fits the bill rather well. Its own downtown is moderately urban, although far from overwhelmingly so and it has a generally good variety of urban type things, but there are also many areas just a moderate length bike ride from downtown that are practically countryside – and it’s only an hour to downtown Osaka for hardcore city, or in some other direction for real countryside. And of course, it’s still near where you lived before so you can see whatever is familiar.

    Some other cities that might fit the bill are Fukuoka and Sendai, maybe Hiroshima? I don’t know any of them well enough to give a very good answer I’m afraid.

  59. Before I read Roy’s post, I was thinking Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Sendai.

    Others to keep in mind would be Kanazawa, Nagano, and yes, Kyoto.

  60. Thanks, Roy and M-Bone. I really appreciate it. I don’t know if I’m adventurous enough to venture over to Sendai or even Fukuoka. I have visited Miyajima Island (spelling?) but not Hiroshima. It seems more placid going west. I love Takayama, but I don’t think there’s enough gaijin to make me feel accepted there. I like the idea of being near Takayama, due to my spiritual organization, whose headquarters is there. It’s heaven for me…but maybe not for day-to-day pursuits. Yes, I was thinking of Kyoto or somewhere outside of Nagoya, say Gifu. Any other suggestions? My Japanese at this point is still very limited.

  61. Matsumoto is very nice for an overnight trip but it seems a bit small for your plans.

    Sendai and Fukuoka really are big cities – they have the type of foreign community that is big enough but won’t by unavoidable if you want to keep a bit aloof and work on your Japanese.

  62. Gifu and Nagoya aren’t even in the same league. Nagoya is a big city, but not overwhelming and seems like it would be a nice place to live. Gifu has fewer than 500,000 people. I like cities that size myself, but it doesn’t seem to be what you are looking for. Really nice central location if you plan to do a lot of train travel, however, and a nice city overall.

  63. Do you know how long it’d take to get from downtown Nagoya to Gifu by train? I’ve been to Nagoya—just not lived there. I like the smaller population, compared to Osaka. So much concrete….

    Is Fukuoka a smaller city? I know Temple University is there and that they have a TESOL program.

  64. Fukuoka is a pretty big city – over 2.5 million so plenty of opportunities, fun to be had, great food, significant foreign population (especially Asian). I like Fukuoka a lot – big, but not so big that it is overwhelming.

    As for getting from Nagoya to Gifu – do you mean as a commute? Or as a “trip” where you take the fastest possible option?

  65. what a great thread! I’m applying for JET now and I’m considering requesting
    1. Kobe/Nishinomiya
    2. Kumamoto
    3. Chitose, Hokkaido (my friend lives there).