Nature In Japan: Ranking Its “Greenest” Cities

Nature In Japan: Ranking Its “Greenest” Cities

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Nature in Japan: Nature in the big city
Picture: PIXTOKYO / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Trees, parks, clean air. Just how green are Japan’s cities? We used data to find the cities that best exemplify nature in Japan.

Where is the best place to live in Japan? Especially if you want to experience nature in Japan?

In my experience, existing data and rankings out there are catered towards a Japanese perspective. And that can be very different from what I personally value. So I decided to collect public data from 120+ large cities in Japan. The data includes at least one city from all 47 prefectures, plus all 23 Tokyo wards.

In my previous article, I came up with a general answer to the question: where is the best place to live in Japan as a foreign resident? Weighing factors like foreign population ratio, cost of housing and living, and international jobs and schools, I came up with a ranking. It had Hachioji on top, Tottori on the bottom, and 119 other cities in between. Check out the top 10 list and where some other major cities fell here.

Jinbei on Twitter: “撮影目的では初めて行った旭川空港。天気は快晴、大雪山は冠雪しており紅葉もピーク。便数こそ少ないですが、撮影していてとても楽しい空港でした。 pic.twitter.com/z5drVAg9li / Twitter”

撮影目的では初めて行った旭川空港。天気は快晴、大雪山は冠雪しており紅葉もピーク。便数こそ少ないですが、撮影していてとても楽しい空港でした。 pic.twitter.com/z5drVAg9li

Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido

Gauging How Cities Reflect Nature in Japan

Research has shown that green spaces in cities have enormous health benefits. They reduce depression, anxiety, and stress. Click To Tweet

This time, I decided to take a new angle not specific to just foreign residents, but something relevant to all residents in Japan. Just how green are Japan’s cities? How do they best exemplify nature in Japan?

For the purposes of this ranking, that doesn’t mean environmentally friendly. I mean green. Nature, trees, parks, mountains, clean air, and water. I’ve found that in all the places I live, I often underestimate the importance of green space. How many trees are on the streets? How close is the nearest park? Can I go hiking in a nature reserve within an hour?

Research has shown that green spaces in cities have enormous health benefits. They reduce depression, anxiety, and stress. That’s on top of their role in providing places for sports and recreation, natural beauty, preserving landscapes, and mitigating natural disasters. 

Advertisements

Existing rankings compare Japanese cities and prefectures based on their park space or park space per person. So I decided to create a more comprehensive ranking of Japan’s greenest cities.

Notes on Methodology

I compiled data for 121 large Japanese cities and Tokyo’s 23 wards from public sources on nine factors. I assigned scores 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. (I.e., if values ranged from 1 to 10, I assigned values of 10 a score of 10, values of 9 a score of 9, etc.) The maximum score was 47. I am not a statistician and this is not scientific. Nonetheless, I believe it’s a solid way to see the cities that have the best nature and greenery.

Weighted factors include park space per resident, pollution (air, water, soil, noise, and odor), tree cover, and the number of natural destinations within city and prefectural limits.

Note that these rankings only determine the degree to which a city reflects and emphasizes nature in Japan. I’d love to rank which cities in Japan are most environmentally friendly. However, that would take a very different set of data and result in a very different ranking.

The cities that topped this ranking tend to be off the radar and dispersed all over the map. But what they do have in common makes them wonderful places to be. Lush, spacious parks for relaxing and recreation, ample tree cover, minimal environmental pollution, and an abundance of natural beauty.

So without further ado: the greenest cities in Japan!

Goryokaku in Hakodate

T-1: Matsue (Shimane), Hakodate (Hokkaido), Asahikawa (Hokkaido)

It may not be surprising to see two cities in the natural wonderland of Hokkaido at the top of this list. But the medium-sized city of Matsue tied their top score. Matsue is wedged between a lake and the sea north of Hiroshima prefecture. It has an ample 18.5 square meters of park space per resident, and the best pollution score outside of Hokkaido, with clean air, water, and soil. Matsue doesn’t have the same iconic natural beauty and features of the two top-scorers from the north, but nabbed the top spot on the back of its park space and lowest-in-Japan pollution levels (for cities of 200,000+).

サラピエ@カメラ系自転車乗り on Twitter: “由志園は昼と夜で姿を変えます。日没までは10万輪の鮮やかなダリアを楽しめます。日本庭園との相性も最高~✨🌸 pic.twitter.com/0CEtrNsM1F / Twitter”

由志園は昼と夜で姿を変えます。日没までは10万輪の鮮やかなダリアを楽しめます。日本庭園との相性も最高~✨🌸 pic.twitter.com/0CEtrNsM1F

Yushien in Matsue

Hakodate and Asahikawa can’t match Matsue in either of these areas. But they make up for it with access to some of the most astounding natural beauty in all of Japan. Mount Hakodate and Cape Tachimachi offer iconic ocean and urban views. And Asahikawa is right next door to the massive Daisetsuzan National Park featuring the tallest mountain in Hokkaido. All three, in their own way, exemplify and emphasize the depth and beauty of nature in Japan.

T-4: Morioka, Nara

Nara has the most park space per resident out of any city on this list, at 19.9 square meters per person. Click To Tweet

Another set of two very different cities come in next on the list. I wasn’t surprised to see Morioka make the top 10. In my lone visit to Morioka, I keenly felt that it had an abundance of parks, nature, and wildlife in and around the city. Its park-space per resident comes close to Matsue’s figure, it earned a solid pollution score, and the heavily-forested, remote Iwate prefecture is home to an abundance of natural beauty.

タケコプター on Twitter: “スイスイ〜と気持ち良さそうに盛岡 高松公園3月9日 pic.twitter.com/jdhT7q0IlI / Twitter”

スイスイ〜と気持ち良さそうに盛岡 高松公園3月9日 pic.twitter.com/jdhT7q0IlI

Takamatsu Park in Morioka

Nara was less intuitive to me. However, it actually has the most park space per resident out of any city on this list, at 19.9 square meters per person. It also scored above-average in terms of low pollution. Although landlocked, the richly forested Nara prefecture has no shortage of destinations out in nature, either.

6: Sendai

View of Sendai. (Picture: gandhi / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

This is another city that just made sense to me. Sendai is well-known for its large number of old trees and is wedged right between the coast (not too far from iconic Matsushima and the stunning Sanriku coast) and the Yamagata mountains. Sendai was #2 in terms of park space per person on this list (Matsue was at #3). Plus, it had by far and away the best pollution score out of any city of over 1 million residents. Sendai is easily the greenest “big city” that celebrates nature in Japan.

むーさん on Twitter: “今日はゆっくりペース今仙台西公園を散策ちう木々に囲まれて充電してます☺️秋のかほりがします pic.twitter.com/eHqwFD8x2O / Twitter”

今日はゆっくりペース今仙台西公園を散策ちう木々に囲まれて充電してます☺️秋のかほりがします pic.twitter.com/eHqwFD8x2O

A typical street in Sendai near Nishi Park.

T-7: Kobe, Kanazawa

While Sendai won out the title for greenest big city in Japan, Kobe is not far behind. Kobe takes Sendai’s “wedged” position between sea and mountains to a whole new level. You can hike up a forested mountain from Shin-Kobe station to overlook the harbor. There is a skiing mountain within city limits. With such an abundance of local nature colliding with an above-average pollution score, Kobe came in just a single point behind Sendai.

片柳弘史 on Twitter: “見頃を迎えた、神戸市立森林植物園の紫陽花。ブルーと紫、白を基調とした、落ち着いた色合いでまとめられています。紫陽花は、神戸市の花にも指定されています(^O^) pic.twitter.com/sx74ZRb7KX / Twitter”

見頃を迎えた、神戸市立森林植物園の紫陽花。ブルーと紫、白を基調とした、落ち着いた色合いでまとめられています。紫陽花は、神戸市の花にも指定されています(^O^) pic.twitter.com/sx74ZRb7KX

Hydrangeas blooming at the Kobe Arboretum

Kanazawa is one of the most balanced high-scorers on the list. Its 12.6 square meters of park space per person are still well above-average for large cities in Japan, as are its very clean air and soil. Ishikawa Prefecture doesn’t have the same soaring heights as Hokkaido, for example. But Kanazawa benefits from its seacoast, mountains within city limits, and lush Kenrokuen Garden, renowned as one of the best three gardens in Japan.

T-9: Oita, Hachinohe

Kanazawa benefits from its seacoast, mountains within city limits, and lush Kenrokuen Garden. Click To Tweet

Two under-the-radar cities finish up the top 10. Oita, with a population of around 500,000, is the capital of Oita Prefecture. It sits near the famous onsen city of Bebbu on the Beppu Bay. It made the top 10 of park space per resident in the nation with an above-average pollution score. Oita is also quite close to several national and quasi-national parks in the mountains of Kyushu.

mttakao.com on Twitter: “🗾写真で旅シリーズ 青森編  奥入瀬川青森県の十和田八幡平国立公園にある十和田湖から流れ出る奥入瀬渓流の写真です。#奥入瀬渓流 #写真好きな人と繋がりたい pic.twitter.com/DFHfIu7yIm / Twitter”

🗾写真で旅シリーズ 青森編  奥入瀬川青森県の十和田八幡平国立公園にある十和田湖から流れ出る奥入瀬渓流の写真です。#奥入瀬渓流 #写真好きな人と繋がりたい pic.twitter.com/DFHfIu7yIm

Towada-Hachimantai National Park

Hachinohe, a city of 230,000 in Aomori, actually managed to outscore its prefectural capital, and by a solid margin. Both cities feature access to a similar number of sites of natural beauty, like Towada-Hachimantai National Park and the Sanriku Coast. Aomori and Hachinohe were both in the top 10 for least-polluted cities, but Hachinohe simply has far more park-space per resident than its capital sibling.

An aerial shot of the Tanesashi Coast in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture. (Picture: K@zuTa / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

The Rest

Sadly, some otherwise respectable and livable cities didn’t make the grade when it comes to nature in Japan. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Sapporo: T-29

Sapporo earned scores in the pollution and natural sites categories but simply has very little park space per person compared to cities like Asahikawa and Hakodate. That makes a big difference for one’s everyday experience of greenery. Sapporo is the #3 city of over a million for greenery, after Sendai and Kobe.

Kyoto: T-37

Not too far behind Sapporo comes Kyoto, which is not surprising if you’ve ever been. The city is rounded by a ring of forested hills and mountains and has gorgeous natural sites at every turn. However, a lack of park space and average pollution scores held it back in our nature in Japan ranking.

Fukuoka: T-56

The rank is far below Kyoto and Sapporo, but the score is only a few points worse. With solid park space for a big city, an above-average pollution score, and access to beautiful sites on the coast and in the mountains, Fukuoka is the prototypical “green” city in Japan. 

ジャイアン on Twitter: “久々の海の中道海浜公園。ちょっと曇りだけど気持ちいい😊 pic.twitter.com/VNbGSDVsKu / Twitter”

久々の海の中道海浜公園。ちょっと曇りだけど気持ちいい😊 pic.twitter.com/VNbGSDVsKu

Uminonakamichi Seaside Park in Fukuoka

Tokyo: T-66

Higher than you expected? While Tokyo has an abysmal park space score, the city actually has very clean air and water, despite substantial noise and odor pollution. As Japan’s capital and largest city, it also features much of Japan’s most iconic and beloved urban greenery in the form of parks, gardens, and shrines.

Yokohama: T-79

Here’s where the scores get not-so-great. While Yokohama didn’t score poorly in any one area, its scores in all three areas were average or below-average. At least Yokohama is close to many harbor-side or seaside sites.

Nagoya: T-83

Coming in one point behind Yokohama, the surprise #3 best city for foreign residents in Japan earned a below-average pollution score and an average park space score. And while nearby Gifu, Shizuoka, Shiga, and Mie prefectures all have an abundance of natural beauty, they all fall a bit outside of Nagoya’s radius.

Osaka: T-104

Osaka can certainly feel more dirty and grimy than other major Japanese cities. However, I wasn’t expecting it to perform this poorly. The city simply doesn’t have much park space per person. It has a below-average pollution score and also lacks close access to natural beauty. I love Osaka, but it’s not one of the greenest cities in Japan by any means.

Higashiosaka: Last Place

Sorry, Higashiosaka, but you fell to last place in this ranking. The city has a park space per person of 2.8 square meters, a below-average pollution score, and a low forest rate to boot.

Kansai Photos on Twitter: “Hanazono Park Cherry Blossoms #花園中央公園 #桜https://t.co/RoQ1j1DIKp pic.twitter.com/3guWbKzf3p / Twitter”

Hanazono Park Cherry Blossoms #花園中央公園 #桜https://t.co/RoQ1j1DIKp pic.twitter.com/3guWbKzf3p

Don’t worry, Higashiosaka still has nice natural spots, like Hanazono Park!

Tokyo’s Wards

As with the previous ranking, only a few points differentiated the various wards of Tokyo. And while Tokyo as a whole performed decently in the ranking, when you take away the several points accumulated by counting all of the green destinations in Tokyo city limits as opposed to the ones for each individual ward, the wards drop significantly in the rankings.

If they were to be ranked among other cities, they would tie with Osaka at best (Adachi, Katsushika, Chiyoda, and Taito Wards), and just one point above Higashiosaka at worst (Shinjuku). Tokyo’s wards all have below average park space per resident and above-average pollution scores. But none of them have much of anything when it comes to natural beauty.  

The top-scoring Adachi, Katsushika, Chiyoda, and Taito earned their scores on the back of slightly more spacious parks and slightly less noise and odor pollution.

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

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.

Japan in Translation

Subscribe to our free newsletter for a weekly digest of our best work across platforms (Web, Twitter, YouTube). Your support helps us spread the word about the Japan you don’t learn about in anime.

Want a preview? Read our archives

You’ll get one to two emails from us weekly. For more details, see our privacy policy