Recommended smaller cities in Japan for a working vacation?
February 9, 2020 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Are you familiar with smaller cities in Japan outside of the usual Kyoto/Osaka recommendations? I'm looking for a smaller, less hectic city in which I can focus on a personal work project for a month or two.

I have a couple months to work on a personal project that allows me to be out of the office and only requires I have a laptop, so I was hoping to find a smaller Japanese city in which to do it.

Ideally it would be big enough to have a selection of reasonably priced hotels (I'm not looking for the Park Hyatt here) or boring utilitarian business service apartments, mass transit options so I wouldn't need a car, and enough cafe/restaurant options to explore, but also small enough it's not overwhelming. I don't really need night life or tourist attractions.

I'm looking for a good mix of quiet (but not sleepy) and vibrant (but not hectic.) And I suppose off-the-beaten path of possible Olympics tourists is important too. Any ideas?
posted by bluecore to Travel & Transportation around Japan (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Kanazawa springs to mind. It's a direct trip Shinkansen trip from Tokyo, has a fairly walkable city center and a decent bus system, it's a little prettier than the average Japanese city since there are several neighborhoods that have survived from before the postwar "identical ferroconcrete boxes" era of Japanese architecture, has one of the three the best landscape garden in Japan, and it's definitely cheaper than Tokyo or the Kansai. The food's incredible, especially if you like seafood, but that's basically true everywhere in Japan.

Kagoshima could be quite nice too, but, since you mention the Olympics, it can be unpleasantly hot in the summer, even worse than most of Japan. If you are going in the summer and heat and humidity is a big concern for you, somewhere in Tohoku or Hokkaido could be a good bet.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:24 AM on February 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

Depending on the time of year you go, Sapporo might be a good fit. I spent a good part of August 2018 up there and it was pretty perfect:

- cheaper than the main Honshu tourist track for food and accommodation

- very extensive metro system, surprisingly, for a city so spread out - obviously less dense than central Tokyo but a pleasure to walk around; buses were also not too challenging

- good access by plane for not-outrageous amounts with low-cost airlines to other parts of Japan

- foreign tourism not unheard of; English + Japanese pleasantries enough to help you get around (I somehow bought shoes there!); other pretty spots nearby for reasonable weekends away/in the countryside - the national parks to the east and north are fantastic and car rental is pretty inexpensive

Maybe also have a look at Hakodate and Asahikawa - both smaller than Sapporo but both probably cheaper still in terms of places to stay, and no Olympics events are scheduled there, I think.
posted by mdonley at 10:36 AM on February 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

Fukuoka is just brilliant. Southern enough to be warm, large enough to have anything one might want and small enough to be charming.
posted by krautland at 1:53 PM on February 9, 2020

I believe there are a few soccer games scheduled for Sapporo but otherwise I agree with mdonley's suggestion. And if you go, check out nearby Otaru for a charming little place as well
posted by Riptor at 2:51 PM on February 9, 2020

Seconding Kanazawa. Or maybe Nara (if it isn't a time when overrun with tourists).
posted by Rash at 2:56 PM on February 9, 2020

If Osaka is too big, Fukuoka probably will be also; it's on roughly the same scale.
Kanazawa and Nara both sound like good options. Matsue might be another possibility. Kofu might be slightly too far on the small side, but worth a look?
Sapporo has some athletics events scheduled for the Olympics, I believe, judging from the fuss in the news about how the athletes had expected to compete in Tokyo.
posted by huimangm at 3:07 PM on February 9, 2020

The olympic marathon was moved to Sapporo (maybe I'm off on the details, but from what I saw, it looked like a unilateral decision by the IOC, surprising both the governor of Tokyo and the mayor of Sapporo), so there will definitely be olympic stuff happening there.

Nthing Kanazawa, there are trains, but much of the city is walkable. At any rate, if you're going to be around for a while, it'll be worth it to get yourself a cheap bicycle, pretty much anywhere you stay.

Sendai is pretty nice, also about two hours from Tokyo by shinkansen, with decent transportation, and access to some pretty great natural scenery.

As far as Osaka and Fukuoka, I think I'd have to disagree, Osaka is much busier, much more claustrophobic than Fukuoka. It's not a small town by any means, but it's not overwhelming.

One thing to think about, especially if you're coming here in the summer: the weather has progressively been getting worse in summers, hot, humid weather pretty much everywhere. Hokkaido was, at one point last summer, the hottest place in the country, which was deeply unsettling. If anything, I'd say aim for the coast, and stay away from anything in the center of the country, with all of the cities in mountain valleys (say, Kumazawa, or Kofu) which get brutally hot with no breeze.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:49 PM on February 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yokosuka fits the description pretty well. Also, with a US military base there, foreigners are not unusual and Engilsh is widely (but not universally) spoken. But not SO US military base that they've gone past "accustomed to foreigners" to "hate foreigners". It's got enough that I keep finding new things after being there dozens of times, and it's got two train lines (JR and Keikyu) to get out of town when you do want a change of scenery. It's easy to go for a walk in the wilderness without traveling too far.
posted by ctmf at 7:53 PM on February 9, 2020

Some smaller cities where I would enjoy spending a month or two would include Fukuoka, Kobe, Sendai. Kanazawa is also pleasant enough.

Shizuoka and Mito are much quieter, and I don't know them too well, but they might be suitable.

Some of Tokyo's exurbs like Chiba City or Fujisawa or Tsukuba might also work, since they're close enough to the city that you could get whatever you need there during occasional trips, but far enough away that they're quieter and have their own character.

YMMV, but places I personally wouldn't want to be stuck in for a month or two would include Sapporo, Kagoshima, Nara, and Kofu.
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:15 PM on February 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sapporo, Kanazawa, and Fukuoka are all good bets. Monocle magazine is obsessed with Japan and chooses Chigasaki, but that might be too small. But it is nice.

Would also suggest Hiroshima or Kochi. Hiroshima is easy to get around by bicycle and you can get out on local trains to some nice hiking, coasts, etc. Food is awesome in Hiroshima. Kochi is on the Pacific Coast and with nice beaches unlike much of the Japan coast. Transit isn't terrific, but you can get around. Car rentals are cheap to head out of town. Really good and cheap seafood.
posted by Gotanda at 11:55 PM on February 9, 2020

Kagoshima is small-ish, very friendly, has amazing views, is a ferry ride away from the island that inspired the Princess Mononoke forest, and has the world's biggest turnips.
posted by BinaryApe at 12:12 AM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

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