Japan’s Most Liveable Cities – Ranked with Data

Japan’s Most Liveable Cities – Ranked with Data

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Perhaps the best city to live in Japan.
By collecting extensive data on 119 large Japanese cities and scoring them on a variety of factors, we found an answer to a tough question.

What is Japan’s best city to live in? So far, we’ve attempted to answer similar questions about Japan’s liveable cities with data. First, we asked what are Japan’s best cities to live in as an immigrant? In this investigation, cities like Hachioji, Kobe, Machida and Nagoya scored highest. Then we asked, what are Japan’s greenest cities? This time, Matsue, Hakodate, and Asahikawa rose above the rest.

In this article, we’ll be exploring the best cities to live in overall, across all categories for all residents, all across Japan. By collecting extensive data on 119 large Japanese cities (population 200,000+), and scoring them on a variety of factors ranging from cost of living to green space to public transportation, arts and culture, and locally-owned watering holes, we came up with one answer to the question.

Coming up with a methodology

When looking at already-existing rankings of the best places to live in Japan, I found that rankings often weighed factors that I don’t agree make a place nicer to live in. For example, family wealth, birth rate, and large-scale shopping malls. So I made my own! You can read a note about the methodology at the bottom of the article. 

But in essence, this ranking scores cities in three categories. There’s stability, which includes factors like cost of housing, crime rate, natural disasters, and poverty. Then comfort, which covers transportation and commuting, park space, public education, and climate, among others. Lastly, fun, which includes food and restaurants, arts and culture, and tourist destinations. Stability and comfort were weighted at around 38% each and fun at just under 30%. Cities’ immigrant comfort ranking was used as a tie-breaker if two or more cities ended up with the same score.

While Tokyo did clear the top 10, some of the results were unexpected. Most surprising was the fact that a few cities from the same region of Japan soared to the top of the ranking, significantly outperforming the average and median scores. (Spoiler: It’s the Hokuriku region.)

I’ll dive into the top 10 cities, highlight a few other major scores, and then reveal a list of the full top 25, including their sub-category scores in stability, comfort, fun, and foreigner-friendliness.


While this ranking does not mean that a city is the perfect match for everyone, it does indicate in general which cities have a safe, affordable, convenient, and fulfilling environment for living. Let the ranking begin!

1. Kanazawa

Having actually lived in Kanazawa myself, I can say that the experience of this beautiful and historic city on Japan’s northern coast lives up to its first-place numbers. Above all, Kanazawa ranked as an incredibly comfortable city to live in. It has abundant parks, great public infrastructure in all areas from transportation to hospitals to education, clean air and water, and abundant nature. Kanazawa is also a fairly safe and affordable city that’s large enough to offer convenience and fun (and delicious seafood). It also has the X-factors not covered by the data, like a scenic townscape and abundant cultural heritage. Only the rainy winter weather can hold Kanazawa back.

2. Matsumoto

Central Matsumoto ranks as one of the best cities to live in Japan, in part thanks to the green space seen here.
Central Matsumoto ranks as one of the best cities to live in Japan.

A city in the heart of the Japanese alps unexpectedly breaks a tie with Toyama at #2 by virtue of a slightly higher immigrant ranking. Matsumoto scored highly in both the comfort and stability categories. In stability, highlights included a cheap cost of living and low unemployment and poverty. In comfort, Matsumoto won points off of its beautiful nature and abundant green space. Matsumoto scored on the low end of the ‘fun’ category. But it still represents a very affordable and comfortable city if one prefers the mountains to the bright city lights.

3. Toyama

Toyama is also one of the most livable cities in Japan.
The mountains soar in the background in Toyama City.

Another Hokuriku city, Toyama slightly underperformed Kanazawa in the comfort and fun categories, but outperformed it in the stability category. Toyama is known in Japan for its good public schools and high test scores, and backs these up with a stable, affordable, and enriching environment. Toyama also has access to the same coastal and mountainous natural beauty as its other Chubu neighbors.

4. Kobe

ふしぎ on Twitter: “お仕事終わりに、神戸港町、ハーバーランドへ行ってきました!!!!!港町からの夕日とハーバーランドからの夜景がむちゃくちゃ綺麗でした😊 pic.twitter.com/YiMsvhUAgY / Twitter”

お仕事終わりに、神戸港町、ハーバーランドへ行ってきました!!!!!港町からの夕日とハーバーランドからの夜景がむちゃくちゃ綺麗でした😊 pic.twitter.com/YiMsvhUAgY

At #2 in the immigrants ranking, and #7 in the green cities ranking, Kobe clearly is one of the best cities to live in Japan. Compared to cities like Matsumoto and Toyama, it’s a great deal more expensive, has more income inequality, and has a higher risk of natural disasters. But it has a comfortable climate, great parks and infrastructure, and superb access to sightseeing, culture, and fun in the Kansai region. This scenic city, hemmed in by mountains just a few kilometers from its famous port, lands a well-deserved #4.

5. Hiroshima

Hiroshima is a thriving, modern city, beloved by its citizens.

I must admit that I wasn’t expecting this one. But this western Japanese city had scores that were overall similar to Kanazawa’s. Hiroshima has a moderate cost of living, amazing public infrastructure from parks to hospitals, clean air and water, and a respectable number of eating, drinking, arts, and cultural activities. While it’s an hour and a half further down the Shinkansen from Osaka, Hiroshima’s balanced, healthy living environment in a comfortable climate deserves notice.

6. Nagano

takise on Twitter: “10/11 四阿山 登山(根子岳経由)頂上の絶景 紅葉 pic.twitter.com/9swXdEfIjt / Twitter”

10/11 四阿山 登山(根子岳経由)頂上の絶景 紅葉 pic.twitter.com/9swXdEfIjt

Another mountain city renowned for its beautiful nature and outdoor sports cracks the top ten. It did score several points behind fellow Nagano prefecture city Matsumoto. But Nagano’s stable environment of cheap living costs, few natural disasters, and low poverty and crime couple with a comfortable, green living space. Nagano is also just an hour and a half from Tokyo on the Hokuriku shinkansen. 

7. Tokyo

Tokyo Tower stands out among the sparkling lights of Tokyo’s Minato Ward.

The next three entries on the list all came in tied in terms of overall score. Tokyo won the tie-breaker by offering a superior environment for immigrants with its diversity, foreign language infrastructure, and job opportunities. Although Tokyo’s sky-high cost of living (and cramped living conditions) are nothing to scoff at, one of the world’s best metropolises offers endless entertainment and culture in a well-designed urban environment.

8. Kyoto

Toji in Kyoto
The Toji Temple in Kyoto.

Although Kyoto didn’t perform nearly as well in the immigrants or green cities rankings, Kyoto still makes it into the top ten here on the back of average scores across the board plus its vast cultural heritage and central location in Japan. Kyoto was held back by its above-average cost of living and above-average poverty, a common feature among Kansai cities. This ranking did not consider the beautiful, iconic architecture and streetscapes that make Kyoto one of the most beloved destinations in the world—nor did it consider the endless swarm of tourists known to frequently annoy locals.

9. Akita

陽氣發處 on Twitter: “旧秋田銀行本店本館(秋田県秋田市)①明治45年7月7日竣功、昭和56年に秋田市に寄贈された。現在、秋田市立赤れんが郷土館として多くの来館者が訪れている。 pic.twitter.com/H5Z1njW3Mu / Twitter”

旧秋田銀行本店本館(秋田県秋田市)①明治45年7月7日竣功、昭和56年に秋田市に寄贈された。現在、秋田市立赤れんが郷土館として多くの来館者が訪れている。 pic.twitter.com/H5Z1njW3Mu

Perhaps the single most unexpected entry in the ranking, it seems strange at first that this Tohoku prefectural capital could share a score with the two most famous cities in Japan. (Especially considering that the nearby Aomori came in…literally last on this ranking.) It becomes less strange when breaking down the score. Akita had average scores in the stability and fun categories. But its comfort score matched top scorers like Kobe and Kanazawa. Akita is cheap and compact, with country-low commute times, incredible green space, good schools and universities, and unpolluted nature. 

10. Nagoya

Nagoya castle.

Also making an appearance on the best cities for immigrants list, Nagoya is a fairly balanced entry. While none of its scores stand out, Nagoya is a city that offers great jobs and salaries compared to its low cost of living, with access to exploration due to its location right in the center of Japan. It was held back by above-average pollution scores and fewer cultural attractions compared to Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto.

11. Sapporo

The Sapporo TV Tower in central Sapporo.

Hokkaido capital Sapporo lost the tie-breaker with Nagoya due to its lower foreign resident score. In spite of difficult weather conditions, low incomes, and relatively high poverty, Sapporo offers beautiful nature, cheap housing, delicious food, and plenty of sightseeing. 

26. Yokohama

よっくん on Twitter: “GUNDAM FACTORY YOKOHAMAIlluminated by the setting sun.#GFY #横浜 #ガンダム #実物大ガンダム #夕陽 pic.twitter.com/FQlN4yu0SQ / Twitter”

GUNDAM FACTORY YOKOHAMAIlluminated by the setting sun.#GFY #横浜 #ガンダム #実物大ガンダム #夕陽 pic.twitter.com/FQlN4yu0SQ

Consistent with its ranking on the other two lists, Yokohama scores in the middle of the pack on most categories. Yokohama has relatively expensive housing, good infrastructure but long commute times, and plenty of fun.

36. Osaka

By collecting extensive data on 119 large Japanese cities and scoring them on a variety of factors, we found an answer to a tough question.
Kita Ward in Osaka City, bordered by the Yodogawa River.

The numbers just don’t love Osaka. Osaka has the highest unemployment and poverty rates among large Japanese cities. Still, culture, strong access from the center of Kansai, and delicious food provide some saving grace. If rankings could consider subjective X-factors, Osaka would surely see the biggest boost in its ranking for its sheer personality.

The Top 25

Note on methodology

I compiled data for 121 large Japanese cities and Tokyo’s 23 wards from public sources on 47 factors in four categories: stability, comfort, fun, and for immigrants. Scores were assigned on the basis of a 50% weighted-score (the top 10% of values received a score of 10, the second 10% a score of 9, etcetera) and 50% value-score (if values ranged from 1 to 10, values of ten were assigned a score of 10, values of 9 a score of 9, etcetera). The maximum score was 170. For clarity, #1 Kanazawa scored 103 and #119 Aomori scored 70. The median score was 85, represented by cities like Takamatsu, Matsuyama, and Tokushima. I am not a statistician and this is not scientific.

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Eric Margolis

Eric Margolis is a writer, translator, and book editor based in Nagoya. His investigative features on Japan have been published in The Japan Times, The New York Times, Vox, Slate, and more.

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