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The Not-So-Mega Cities of Japan Quiz
Locations of Japanese Cities
When Westerners discuss Japanese cities, the biggest cities such as Tokyo and Osaka plus the cultural capital of Kyoto will nearly always get mentioned. However, Japan is such a diverse place. This quiz features other beautiful Japanese cities.
A classification quiz
Estimated time: 3 mins.
* Drag / drop or click on the choices above to move them to the correct categories.
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Quiz Answer Key and Fun Facts
Yokohama is Japan's second biggest city with 3.8 million people. It tends to have a low profile as it shares Tokyo Bay with the capital. Indeed the two city centres are only 30 minutes from each other by train and the two urban cities are contiguous. However, it is Yokohama that is the economic and commercial hub of the Greater Tokyo Area, an area of 13,500 km2 (5,200 mi2) with 38 140 000 people in 2020.
Yokohama was the first port that opened to international trade in 1854. Its growth as a city outstripped its northern neighbour but the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 crippled the city for many years; then because of its industrial base, the fire-bombings of World War II wreaked havoc on the city before it had recovered from the earthquake.
In contemporary times Yokohama promotes itself as both a maritime and international city. Its downtown area is particularly attractive with its seafront, parks and promenades.
Hokkaido is the northernmost main island of the four main Japanese islands but it is a different world to the urban landscape we associate with Honshu. This island (and a single prefecture of Japan) is over one-third the size of Honshu but has less than five per cent of Honshu's population.
Of the five million people that lived in Hokkaido in 2019, two million of them lived in the prefecture capital of Sapporo, Japan's fifth largest city. Not bad for a city that did not exist until 1868. This is because Hokkaido was not considered Japanese as it was the domain of the indigenous people - the Ainu, who called the island Ezo, though there were some small Japanese settlements on the southern tip of the island. The island was annexed under the Meiji Restoration in 1869 and renamed Hokkaido. Japanese then colonised the island and the Ainu people were forced to assimilate and were dispossessed of their land. The port of Hakodate, on the island's southern tip, was considered a settlement to establish the capital but it was in an unsuitable location for defence and as a base for the development of the island.
At this time, a canal was being built, 300km north towards the centre of the island near where Sapporo is located today. This was in the centre of a flat, large fertile plain - unusual for the generally mountainous terrain of the island. This was considered a suitable location for a capital. Sapporo started with seven residents but grew quickly as both an agricultural base and an administrative centre. It did not become a 'fully-fledged' prefecture until 1947. Because of this 'late-blooming' of the city, there is no traditional Japanese architecture that features in most Japanese cities but there are many treelined modern boulevards and parklands. The Sapporo Snow Festival, featuring giant ice sculptures, is a major attraction and attracts artists from around the world. An unusual feature of Sapporo is while it is on the coast, there is little interest in its beachfront for water activities and sports.
Fukuoka is the nearest city to mainland Asia and is a gateway city to South Korea. It is situated on the northern tip of Kyushu, the third largest and most westerly of the main islands. Fukuoka is the sixth largest city in Japan and the second largest port (after Yokohama) which stems from its long history as a place of international commerce.
It is a modern city, formed in 1889 when two smaller cities on either side of the Naka River merged. Hakata was the commercial port and mercantile district, (and remains so today). Across the river was the home of many Samurai in Fukuoka. The modern city was formed on April 1, 1889, with the merger of the former cities of Hakata and Fukuoka. Historically, Hakata was the port and merchant district and was more associated with the area's culture and remains the main commercial area today. Hakata was the name chosen for the merged entity but a few samurai forced the issue for the merged city to be called Fukuoka which indeed became the official name. Hakata is still used to refer to the central area of the city and more importantly the main train station.
Geographically the city sits on Hakata Bay and is hemmed in on three sides by mountains. However, there is a peninsula that juts out to protect the bay and is nearly all parkland. This leisure place is only 3-4 stops from the downtown area where you can be on a pleasant beach with a natural park behind you while you slurp the regional delicacy tonkatsu (pork rib broth) ramen. Another touristy place to visit is Fukuoka Tower, a 234-metre (768 ft) tall tower with an observation deck with 360-degree views of the surrounding region.
Nagoya is a city of contrasts. Located halfway between Tokyo and Osaka on the Nobi plain, the city is in the middle of one of Japan's most fertile areas. Built on plateaus to avoid the periodic floodwaters, Nagoya is both a historical city with its roots in traditional Japanese culture and the manufacturing powerhouse of Japan. The main Toyota, Mitsubishi and Honda car manufacturing plants are located here making it the busiest container port in the country with its car export trade.
Nagoya is Japan's fourth largest city with 2.3 million people and over ten million in its metropolitan area. Three famous locals are responsible for developing a township at the turn of the 17th century: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu all wanted to unify Japan under a single government. Tokugawa succeeded in 1603 after winning the Battle of Sekigahara. This established the Tokugawa Shogunate, which would rule Japan until the 1850s.
After unification Tokugawa built a castle and invited people on the outskirts of the area to move closer to the castle which became (and still is) the centre point of the emerging city. It established itself with industries such as cotton, timber and ceramics. The automobile industry in Japan started in Nagoya in the 1920s with Toyota, the world's largest car manufacturer, establishing its base in the city. This industrial might meant manufacturing infrastructure turned to the production of military goods during WWII which made the city a prime target for bombing. Over a quarter of the city was destroyed including some of Nagoya Castle (which was rebuilt in the 1950s). After the war, most of the city was bulldozed and replaced with wide boulevards.
The city today pulses with its industrial might and as such, tends to be avoided by tourists, yet it is an attractive city with many traditional surprises as you walk down its wide streets.
Shikoku is the smallest main island in Japan and is just south of Honshu. It is 225 km (140 mi) long and between 55 and 155 km (34 and 98 mi wide). There are rugged mountains running east-west dividing the island It has a population of 3.8 million who mainly live in the small plains area on the north of the island facing the Inland Sea.
Matsuyama (literally pine mountain) is the capital city of the Ehime Prefecture (Shikoku actually means "four prefectures) with just over 500 0000 residents (2020). It is located on the Dogo Plain and faces the Inland Seto Sea and includes an archipelago of 29 islands between the main island and Honshu.
The city can trace its history back to 596 AD when Yuzuki Castle was built, near Dogo Onsen (hot springs), and a port was established nearby. The clan that established the site was conquered by Toyotomi Hideyoshi during his invasion of Shikoku around 1600. Matsuyama Castle was built on a steep hill and a jokamachi (urban housing surrounding a lord's castle) was established. Even today, the castle is the standout landmark in the city, and there is an incongruousness to the ancient form of the castle juxtaposed with the rectangular grid pattern of a typical Japanese city below.
While it is a key commercial centre for the island, the only agricultural product of note (except for rice which is grown in every available space in Japan) is mandarin oranges, perhaps because of the lack of arable land which may account for so much heavy industry in the city including chemicals, farm machinery, metalworks and food processing.
Asahikawa is a city of 370 000 people in north-central Hokkaido. Like Sapporo, Asahikawa is a modern city as the Japanese did not colonise Hokkaido until the Meiji restoration in 1869, as it was the home of the Ainu indigenous people.
However, Sapporo, the capital, was in the south of the prefecture so another administrative centre was needed further north. The city is at the confluence of four rivers and is a rich agricultural area. A settlement soon turned into a town and city status was conferred in 1922. Besides the ubiquitous rice, the cooler climate (Asahikawa is the coldest city in Japan) meant that soy and kidney beans, oats, barley, and white potatoes are important crops. The largest coal deposits in Japan are nearby. After WWII, industrial might increased dramatically with the main industries being brewing and timber production. Furniture-making and paper-pulp are also major industries. The city is known for its zoo (polar bears and emperor penguins in the same vicinity) and its soy-ramen noodles.
Kochi is the only major city situated on the southern coast of Shikoku facing the Pacific Ocean. On a coastline where mountains run all along the southern coastline, Kochi is jammed onto the only alluvial plain on that side of the island. Situated at the confluence of two rivers, the city can trace its origins back to Japanese feudal times when a town developed around a castle that was built in 1601. (The castle-then-town scenario is typical of the feudal Japanese era).
Because of the mountains separating Kochi from the rest of Shikoku, there have been difficulties with transport and communications. Roads and railways initially had to follow the less mountainous coastline rather than travel north-south across the island. Trams were the most economical way of getting around the Kochi district. The city was not connected to the national railway grid until 1951. Because of this relative isolation and lack of suitable land for agriculture and industry, Kochi has reinvented itself as a services city with two large universities attracting students from all over Japan making education a major industry.
One particular reason to visit Kochi (apart from the local speciality of kutsuo no tataki - seared skipjack tuna) is the ocean beach at Katsurahama, just south of downtown. It claims to be one of the best beaches in Japan.
Most of Honshu's 104 million people are crammed into the cities on the south and east of the island on the great Kanto plain. The north and west coasts are much more sparsely populated due mainly to the rugged mountains that bisect the island, making the west coast particularly difficult to access.
Niigata is the only designated (greater than 500 000) city (800 000 - 2022) on the west coast of Honshu facing the Sea of Japan. It is a port and a harbour, with many canals and two rivers that have acted as transport routes to get the abundant harvests of rice to port. Niigata is a region famed for its quality of rice and sake. Its name translates to "new lagoon" and is known as the "City of Water".
People have inhabited the Niigata region since the Jomon period (14,000-300 BC) though much of the land would have been underwater then. There are records of a fort being built in 647 AD. The port of Niigata was established at the mouth of the Shinano River (Japan's largest) while another smaller port was established 1.5 km north on the Agano river. In time the two communities merged into one to form a city in 1914.
The city serves as a base for people to access Sado Island 20 km north of Niigata. Sado island is Japan's sixth largest island after the four main islands and Okinawa to the south. A place of exile for dissidents, through history, this rugged island has high mountains riddled with gold mine shafts and crisscrossed with hiking trails. The small plain between the two mountain ranges houses the 60 000 permanent residents in two towns.
Nagasaki is a mid-size major Japanese city with a 2020 population of 407 000. It is the third largest city in Kyushu. It sits on a long peninsula on the western side of the island 160 km south of Fukuoka. It is at the head of a long narrow bay that serves as a natural harbour with two rivers feeding into it but the city is hemmed in on three sides by mountains. A pretty city with beautiful views of the city and surrounding water once you climb into the mountains surrounding the city.
Nagasaki is famous and infamous:
During the period of seclusion between the 16-19th centuries, Nagasaki was the only port in Japan that could trade with the Europeans, principally the Dutch and the Portuguese. Catholic missionaries were also sent to Nagasaki. They brought with them such products as tobacco, bread, and textiles which were quickly assimilated into the local culture. The result of this European influence is that Nagasaki has a sizable Christian community in modern times with a large number of churches. Additionally, there are Dutch influences in the local architecture. In a part of the city known as Glover Garden walking down the street, you could be forgiven for thinking you would be walking down an Amsterdam thoroughfare.
Nagasaki also had the tragic fate of being devastated by an atomic bomb during WWII. It was not the original target which was Kokura but poor visibility made this choice non-viable on the day. The secondary target was Nagasaki but it too was obscured by smoke and clouds, so radar was used to determine the drop zone. The result was that the bomb detonated to the west of the city and the city was not flattened like Hiroshima. However 100 000 people tragically died. Nagasaki rebuilt the city, replacing war industries with shipbuilding, fishing and foreign trade. Nagasaki, unlike Hiroshima, built only low-key memorials to that fateful event.
In the 21st century, Nagasaki remains a lovely port city with a thriving shipbuilding industry and an identity influenced by European trade. A city worth visiting.
Kobe is a city of 1.5 million people (seventh largest in Japan) situated 35 km (22 mi) west of Osaka on the main island of Honshu. It is a port city wedged in between the island's south coast and the mountains. Mount Rokko, to the north of the city, with an elevation of 931 m (3,054 ft) overlooks the city. The mountain range to the north is so rugged that there are no major roads north of the city - only tunnels.
The city can trace its history back to the establishment of the Ikuta Shrine in 201 AD by Empress Jingu. After Sakoku (Policy of Seclusion) ended in 1853, Kobe was one of the first cities to open its trade doors with the west.
In 1975 the Kobe City Council passed an ordinance banning vessels carrying nuclear weapons from Kobe Port. This means no US warships will enter the port, as US policy is not to disclose whether any warship is carrying nuclear weapons.
In 1995, a large earthquake had its epicentre near the city centre. Over 6000 people died, and over 200 000 were made homeless. Large parts of the city were destroyed including the main east-west freeway and the port itself. The port was once the busiest in Japan but dropped to fourth busiest after the earthquake. The city recovered and is a thriving modern city that celebrates its maritime and historical origins.