A Kanji Guide to all Major Japanese Capital City Names (With Character Meaning Explanations)

I have created a guide on how to write Japanese city names in kanji, and have also provided some cultural and historical context behind the kanji that are used. I noticed many people are wondering how to write Tokyo in Kanji, or perhaps how to write Osaka in kanji. I want to provide people with a resource that you can bookmark and come back to whenever you need it.

I will compile all of this information in order of highest-to-lowest city population, and will cover all cities with a population over 1,000,000 (I may edit this article and add ALL the cities in the future. Who knows?)

Tokyo 東京

Tokyo is written in kanji as 東京. The characters for Tokyo are made up of the characters 東(To) which means East and 京 (Kyo) which means capital. Modern day Tokyo was originally called Edo, but was changed to Tokyo (meaning Eastern capital) when it became the capital of Japan in 1868.

Yokohama 横浜

Yokohama is written in kanji as 横浜. The characters for Yokohama are made up of the characters 横 (Yoko) which means horizontal, and 浜 (hama) which means beach. Tokyo is less than an hour away from Tokyo by train, and it’s southern beaches are a famous day-trip destination.

Osaka 大阪

Osaka is written in kanji as 大阪. The characters for Osaka are made up of the characters 大(o) which means big and 阪(saka) which means slope or hill. Osaka was originally the primary economic hub for the previous capital Kyoto.

Nagoya 名古屋

Nagoya is written in Kanji as 名古屋. It is made up of three characters being 名 (na) meaning name or fame, 古(go) meaning antiquity, and 屋 (ya) meaning house. One possible origin of the name Nagoya is the adjective nagoyaka (なごやか), which means peaceful.

Sapporo 札幌

Sapporo is written in Kanji as 札幌. It is made up of two characters being 札(sa) meaning note or bill, and 幌(pporo) meaning canopy or awning. The name for Sapporo uses Kanji characters that mimic the syllabary of the original Ainu language “Sat Poro Pet”.

Kobe 神戸

Kobe is written in Kanji as 神戸. It is made up of two characters being 神 (ko) meaning god or spirit, and 戸 (be) meaning entrance or doorway. The name Kobe comes from the word Kanbe, an archaic title for supporters of the city’s Ikuta Shrine.

Fukuoka 福岡

Fukuoka is written inkKanji as 福岡. It is made up of two characters being 福(fuku) meaning luck, and 岡(oka) meaning hill or knoll.

Kyoto 京都

Kyoto is written in kanji as 京都. It is made up of two characters being 京 (Kyo) meaning capital and 都 (to) which also signifies the location of the imperial palace. This duality exists because Kyoto was the capital of Japan from 794 AD to 1868 AD. A very long time! Kyoto is the hub of traditional society and architecture in Japan.

Kawasaki 川崎

Kawasaki is written in kanji as 川崎. It is made up of two characters being 川(kawa) meaning river, and 崎(saki) meaning cape or peninsula. Kawasaki is one of the major suburbs of both Tokyo and Yokohama.

Saitama 埼玉

Saitama is written in kanji as 埼玉. It is made up of two characters being 埼(sai) meaning cape or peninsula (similar to 崎 in Kawasaki) and 玉 (tama) meaning precious gem. Saitama is perhaps the most populous suburb of Tokyo, and is famous for it’s plethora of family friendly areas and neighborhoods.

Hiroshima 広島

Hiroshima is written in kanji as 広島. It is made up of two characters being 広(hiro) meaning wide and 島(shima) meaning island. Hiroshima is not actually an island, but is part of the central Japanese landmass Honshu, but is near one of the most popular islands for tourists Miyajima (宮島).

Sendai 仙台

Sendai is written in kanji as 仙台. It is made up of two characters beings 仙 (sen) meaning lone or hermit and 台 (dai) meaning pedestal or stand. Sendai is a central city of Miyagi prefecture, which is one of the more unexplored areas of North Japan.


For now, this is where I conclude. If you are interested in learning more about life in Japan (in this case, my experience living in Japan), please check out my article below. I think you will like it!

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