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Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima have surprised travel critics by winning places in a comprehensive Lonely Planet poll of the world’s top 200 cities, illuminating Japan, with an impressive three entries, as a desirable destination for urbanite travelers.

“While Japan is obviously a wonderful and exciting place to visit, I have to admit I was surprised that there were three Japanese cities in the top 200 because I didn’t think that most people would be able to confidently identify that number of cities in Japan,” said Tom Hall, Lonely Planet’s travel information manager.

Perhaps unsurprisingly on the other hand, Paris, New York and London all featured in the top five for their style, spirit, cuisine and climate among many other things, but Tokyo — following closely behind — is also heaped with praise as a true example of a vast conurbation that combines the past, present and future in just one space.

“It’s that mix of the serene traditions of Japan with modern fast-paced technology which makes Tokyo the fascinating contradiction that it is — without it, I think the world would be a very different place,” Hall extolled, citing neon lights and technology that make visitors’ “jaws drop” as key reasons to visit the capital.

The 200 cities were ranked following a Web-based survey of travelers’ favorite metropolises, and, with added input from experienced staff of the world-renowned travel guide company, have been compiled into an attractive coffee-table book full of color images from around the globe.

Inspiring lists of all that is striking about each individual city make the authors’ intention to take browsers on “a journey through the best cities in the world” — even if only from their armchairs — clear to see.

And despite his initial surprise that all three made the grade, Hall is quick to illustrate just why Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima deserve their places in the prestigious book as the 26th, 45th and 133rd top cities in the world.

“As people continue to travel and explore the world, they find that while Tokyo offers an amazing experience, maybe Kyoto offers a more traditional Japanese experience,” the travel guru explained, noting that more than half the world’s population now lives in cities, offering endless fascination to the traveler.

“With Hiroshima, it’s the iconic nature of the name of the city that gets people going there, and when they arrive, they discover a very lively city with a great entertainment scene and lots of culture,” he said, arguing that the differences between the cities mean that a trip to Japan is not complete without seeing all three.

Asked if the new title will inspire a surge in travel to Japan’s cities, Hall replied without hesitation, “Yes. Absolutely,” predicting urban-inspired tourists will take extended “city breaks,” which in the past were confined predominantly to just weekend stays in neighboring countries.

As Hall concluded with knowing confidence, “When travelers start to tick places off their dream wish list of global top cities to visit, they’ll discover their list is incomplete without the experience, personality and buzz Japan’s cities have to offer the rest of the world.”

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