What are the most attractive prefectures in Japan? Every year, more and more people from all around the world choose Japan as their next travel destination.
One way to get to know a little more about Japan is to refer to different surveys and rankings issued by various organizations, like the Regional Brand Survey.
(Top image: PIXTA)
What is the Regional Brand Survey 2021?
Now in its 16th year, the Regional Brand Survey (RBS for short), conducted annually by the Brand Research Institute, is a way for prefectural and city governments to decide how much to invest into their ‘Regional Brand’ for the coming year.
While it's just a slice of opinion and certainly doesn't necessarily represent public consensus, a high score on the RBS can encourage governments to promote their local foods and goods or even other practical initiatives like multilingual road signs, local information such as maps, build more hotels and even create promotions for incoming visitors. This is why you might have cross-prefecture travel and passes to ‘travel around Hokkaido’ and so on.
The RBS asks Japanese residents their opinions on various factors, including which cities they deem to be the Most Attractive and which are the Most Livable. An insight into why such responses may occur come via questions including how aware the surveyees are of each region’s foods and goods.
The RBS ranks all the prefectures and cities in order of their attractiveness around the country. Let’s have a look at the results.
RBS 2021 Results Amid a Changing Landscape
In 2020, as the Japanese government essentially closed Japan’s borders to tourists due to COVID, alongside the introduction of the Go To Travel campaign which promoted Japan-wide tourism, Japanese people became very aware of the prefectures and cities they most wanted to visit.
When used correctly, the Go To Campaign offers a very attractive discount on your entire holiday. Out of necessity, 2020-2021 was the year that inner-country travel was rife, giving Japanese the chance to fully acquaint themselves with their country.
The results of the RBS reflect this too, reporting the highest year-on-year increase of awareness since the survey began, back in 2006!
There are many things that have changed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and its subsequent restrictions, but one result has remained steadfast. Out of over 35,000 respondents surveyed, for the 13th consecutive year Hokkaido, has come out on top as the most attractive prefecture in Japan. Interestingly, Hokkaido is also top for awareness factors too, meaning that respondents are also most familiar with goods and foods from Hokkaido.
Second is Kyoto, which has been in the top three tier since records began, just ahead of Okinawa at number three, followed by Tokyo and Osaka, which has pipped Kanagawa into the top five spot this year.
The top-five tier ranking of the coldest part of Japan (Hokkaido) and the hottest part of Japan (Okinawa) year-on-year shows that the grass really is greener on the other side. It is possible that many respondents head to both Hokkaido and Okinawa each year, for their fix of snow and ski, surf and sand; or just pick one of the two, depending if they prefer hot weather or colder climes.
Ibaraki Prefecture slips down the ranking by five spaces, right to the bottom, not even helped by tourist draws like the Ushiku Daibutsu (the world’s tallest Buddha statue) or Hitachi Seaside Park, which is incredibly popular in spring and autumn for its fauna. In the penultimate placing is Saga Prefecture in Kyushu, beaten by Saitama Prefecture at number 45.
The Top Five Most Attractive Prefectures 2021 (2020 Result)
・1 (1) Hokkaido 73.4
・2 (2) Kyoto 56.4
・3 (3) Okinawa 54.4
・4 (4) Tokyo 47.5
・5 (6) Osaka 42.0
The Bottom Five Most Attractive Prefectures 2021 (2020 Result)
・42 (32) Yamaguchi 15.6 / 42 (46) Tokushima 15.6
・44 (40) Gunma 15.3
・45 (38) Saitama 14.4
・46 (45) Saga 12.8
・47 (42) Ibaraki 11.6
Attention must be drawn to the Awareness of Local Foods section. It is a big part of Japanese culture to know about their local town or prefecture’s famous foods and local produce, especially when taking back souvenirs for friends and colleagues after a trip. Japanese people can be heard touting the benefits and deliciousness of their own hometown’s local produce far and wide. When travelling in Japan, many people look to their stomachs to lead them on to their next trip.
As we can see, the very top is Hokkaido. Japan’s northernmost island is famed for its delicious fruit, vegetables and fish and this is very important when considering the attractiveness of a town or prefecture. In fact, the Hokkaido towns of Sapporo and Yubari come in first and second place respectively in the city section of this part. Sapporo Beer is world famous - not just in Japan - and Yubari is renowned for its juicy, honey flavored, deep orange melon, ‘Yubari Melon.’
Hokkaido is closely followed by Okinawa, famous for its delicious black sugar and Okinawan ice cream, conjuring up pictures of fantastically sunny confines and azul-blue seas. Osaka, for its Okonomiyaki and Aomori for its famous alcohol, both come as little surprise and Akita, which has moved up two places this year, is known for its kiritanpo, a rice dish shaped like an American corndog.
An honorable mention should go to Chiba Prefecture, which jumped a whole nine places, from 21st place to 12th place; scoring particularly highly amongst those in their 20s (a fourfold increase from last year at 6.4%). Chiba is known for its surfing spots and as it was recently host to major outdoor sporting events, this could explain why.
Most Attractive Prefectures
Just what makes Hokkaido, Kyoto, and Okinawa so attractive? Here we’ll give a quick run-down of some of their attractive features. Let us know by sharing if you’ve been to one of them and what you found the best!
Hokkaido is home to it all: wonderful food, scenery and culture. As the natural beauty of Hokkaido has been touted far and wide, we thought we would highlight the local people who carefully preserved the land since they came: the indigenous people of Hokkaido, the Ainu.
In recent years, the government has been trying to bring back the Ainu old culture to our modern day society, and in 2020 opened the ‘Upopoy’ National Ainu Museum and Park. Visitors to Upopoy are treated to performances and tours of replica Ainu houses, given the chance to try out Ainu instruments for themselves and even wear traditional Ainu dress. A must-visit for culture vultures and history buffs.
Another highlight is the Hokkaido hot springs. Hot spring resorts in Hokkaido are vast and varied, from the vastness of Noboribetsu to the mountain-top retreat of Asahidake, from which Hokkaido’s autumn leaves can be enjoyed in all their beauty. In Japan, a great hot spring is something which is more than worth travelling for.
Hokkaido hot springs offer something for everyone, from outdoor mixed bathing overlooking a lake, to the easily accessible, free footbaths of Oyunuma in the middle of a beautiful forest. The water is varied across Hokkaido, so you’ll be able to try them all, from the salt-type waters through to smelly, nutrient-rich sulfurous types. Bathe all those cares and troubles away!
The rich culture and beautiful old buildings of Kyoto ensure its place in the top five each year. The capital of Japan for over 1000 years, before Tokyo took its place in 1868, Kyoto is the place to go for a glimpse into the older way of Japanese life. For visitors to Kyoto, trying Japanese ‘washoku’ food and taking part in a temple tour is a must.
The shrines of Kyoto are some of the most famous in Japan, and include Kiyomizu-dera Temple, known for its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The shrine itself is over 1200 years old, and when fall arrives, thousands of visitors flock to catch a glimpse of the colorful leaves which appear as if by magic. At just over 120 years old, Heian-Jingu Shrine is one of the newer Kyoto temples, and cuts a striking silhouette on the landscape.
Kyoto is the home of traditional Japanese foods, from Kyoto Kaiseki (very minimalistic, very traditional Japanese course meal) to Kyoto Herring soba to matcha parfait. To impress friends, family or crushes, seek out the Kyoto foods using seasonal produce, delicate flavors and meticulous presentation. With a large amount of fine dining establishments and Michelin stars to boot, Kyoto is a foodie’s paradise.
Okinawa is a group of small tropical islands at the southernmost tip of Japan, off the main Japanese island. Head here for sun, sand and sea; for those who fancy a relaxing holiday sipping cocktails by the beach or drinking with the locals in one of the downtown izakayas; Okinawa is the place.
The Okinawan people are famous for their chilled, laid-back lifestyle and the mainland is known for its American military base. In fact, Okinawa makes for a completely different world than anywhere on the mainland of Japan.
In Okinawa you’ll find American bars and produce alongside Okinawan foods such as sea grapes and Goya Champuru (bitter melon and egg stir fry); locals sitting on the streets discussing life and fishing, wonderful fresh fish and a whole host of ‘beach bum’ type souvenirs.
Let’s look at the ones that didn’t top the list this year. The RBS is, of course, about those places which are most attractive to tourism already, but what if you fancy heading off the beaten track?
We’ve highlighted the best points of Ibaraki, Saga, and Saitama. If you’re looking to avoid crowds and head somewhere that only the locals know, these are the ones to check.
Less than 1.5 hours away from central Tokyo by car or train, Ibaraki is a great choice for those who fancy a short trip to sample some of the regional delicacies and head sightseeing.
With flowers in bloom all year round, the natural colors of Ibaraki are splendid. From the beautiful springtime blue nemophila flowers at Hitachi Seaside Park to the summertime irises in the floral grounds of Suigo Itako Park iris garden. Majestic red, orange and yellow leaves cover the region like a fiery blanket to welcome in the fall, and Ibaraki’s famous plum trees are in full bloom in the late winter, making Ibaraki the perfect destination for flower lovers.
For culture lovers, Mito, Ibaraki’s largest city, has a famed modern art museum, which hosts changing exhibitions all year round. Nearby is a towering monument, the Mito Art Tower, part of the industrial art complex which was built in 1990 and looks down upon the city. And architecture lovers will enjoy the Rokkakudo, a hexagonal retreat along the Izura coast in Kitaibaraki.
In the north-western town of Daigo lies one of Japan’s top three most beautiful waterfalls, Fukuroda Falls. At an impressive 120m high and 73m wide, head here to catch the water cascading over the rocks, the soothing sounds discernible even from far away. Waterfall lovers can then check out Tsukimachi Waterfall, a smaller, pensive waterfall close to Fukuroda Falls.
Tucked in the northwestern tip of Kyushu, Saga is a prefecture that is close to the sea and in the past was the base for many merchants due to its close proximity to the mainland and easy accessibility.
Its access to the sea means a lot of fresh fish, so Saga Prefecture is a fantastic area for seafood lovers. Head to towns nearby the Sea of Japan or Ariake Sea for the freshest of the fresh.
Saga is also home to the towns of Imari and Arita, both famed for their distinctive, sought-after ceramic styles, making Saga a great tip for pottery lovers. In Imari and Arita, one can find many different pottery shops, kilns and more, all featuring white clay in bright colors that the regional pottery is known for.
In Saga itself, check out the Kitagata Shiki-no-Oka Park which has impressive views of the nearby mountains and Rokkaku River, perfect for children to play or adults to head to the hills to enjoy some tranquil scenery. Saga is also home to the annual Saga Balloon Fiesta in late October/early November - an impressive sight to enjoy!
Saitama is a prefecture whose name is familiar to many although its local specialties are often overlooked. Yet, Saitama has something to please the whole family, from exciting theme parks to grand shrines to awe-inspiring nature.
The town of Kawagoe is a wonderful shrine to Edo-Period Japan, similar to the very popular Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture. Kawagoe is perfect for those who want the quaint Edo Period old-town feel. With street stalls and many wooden shops and old buildings, Kawagoe is almost like stepping back in time.
Saitama also has Seibuen Amusement Park, where visitors can experience classic rides such as a Ferris wheel and merry-go-round, along with live street performances. Saitama is also home to the only Moominvalley Park outside of Finland. Here, visitors can enjoy seeing spots from the Moomin books, such as the lighthouse that appears in "Moominpappa at Sea," and sample Moomin-inspired foods.
What Would Be Your Choice?
Do you agree with the results of the survey? Do you think Hokkaido deserves the top place or would you put another prefecture up top? Have you ever tried Yubari melon? What about visiting Ibaraki? Do you have any recommendations?
Head over to our socials to respond and comment your thoughts!
Source: Regional Brand Survey 2021 via PR Times
Written by Kim Kahan
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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