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Even with the falling yen making Japan more affordable for international travelers, the country still isn’t exactly a bargain destination. Likewise, even local residents, who recently went through the double whammy of paying quarterly resident taxes and an announcement that sales tax will jump to 8 percent next year, are looking to stretch their entertainment budgets.

Thankfully, travel site Trip Advisor recently announced the results of its survey regarding the top 20 free sightseeing locations in Japan.

20. Tokyo University (Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo)

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Just sneaking into the rankings is the Hongo Campus of Tokyo University, the would-be alma matter of educationally and professionally ambitious high school students throughout Japan. For those who fall short of Tokyo University’s stringent entrance requirements, a stroll through the campus, complete with a photo in front of its iconic clock tower, makes a nice consolation.

19. Suntory Kyoto Beer Brewery (Nagaokakyo, Kyoto)

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The first of several alcohol-themed spots on the list is Suntory’s brewery in Kyoto. While perhaps not as well-known internationally as the beers from Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo, Suntory nonetheless makes a tasty brew in its Premium Malts line. The tour includes explanations of the production process and even a sample of the finished product.

18. Bankoku Shinryokan Convention Center (Nago, Okinawa)

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A convention center seems like a bit of an odd choice, until you take into account the complex’s stunning natural surroundings. Situated on a peninsula extending into Okinawa’s beautiful ocean waters, the Bankoku Shinryokan is worth checking out even for those not attending a conference there.

17. Nogeyama Zoo (Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture)

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Located within walking distance from Yokohama’s harbor front Minato Mirai district, Yokohama’s free hilltop zoo is no slouch in the variety department. Over 70 different species of animals are on display, including penguins, jungle cats such as jaguars and tigers, and perennial fan-favorite lesser pandas.

16. Befco Bakauke Observation Deck (Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture)

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The second conference facility on Trip Advisor’s list is the Befco Bakauke Observation Deck, located on the 31st floor of Niigata’s Toki Messe Convention Center. Open until 10 p.m., the deck provides views of the neighboring canal and the Sea of Japan, as well as the surrounding downtown area of Niigata Prefecture’s capital city.

15. Katsura Imperial Villa (Kyoto)

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Built in the early 1600s, this retreat used by Japan’s imperial family features a beautiful garden with footpaths winding around its central pond. While admission, which comes in the form of a 60-minutes guided tour of the villa, is free, visitors are required to make an online reservation ahead of time.

14. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Kure Museum (Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture)

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Located in the coastal city of Kure, this unique, submarine-shaped museum details the history and current role of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force. Long a shipbuilding center, Kure’s shipyards were also responsible for the World War II battleship Yamato, which another museum in the town focuses on.

13. Matsumoto Alps Park (Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture)

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Mountainous Nagano is sometimes referred to as “the roof of Japan,” and this hilltop park provides views of the peaks that ring the city of Matsumoto. A popular spot for cherry blossom viewing, the park also features streams, slides, a nature museum, and a small zoo with ponies and monkeys.

12. Orion Beer Nago Brewery (Nago, Okinawa)

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Okinawa’s most traditional alcoholic beverage is the rice liquor awamori, but for those not up to the challenge of its high-alcohol content, a more refreshing choice is the locally-brewed Orion Beer. As with Suntory’s facilities in Kyoto, visitors to the festively-named Orion Happy Park can learn all about what goes into the making of Okinawa’s favorite malt-based beverage.

11. Former Taisha Station (Izumo, Shimane Prefecture)

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As one of Japan’s oldest and most important shrines, Izumo Taisha in Shimane Prefecture is said to be the site of an annual conference of the country’s Shinto deities each October. Human visitors, on the other hand, come throughout the year, and in such numbers that the town’s original station from 1912 had to be replaced with a more modern facility. While train service ended in 1990, the old Taisha Station remains a popular place for tourists on their way to or from offering prayers at Izumo Shrine.

10. Ebisembei Village (Miama, Aichi Prefecture)

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Japan has dozens of varieties of rice crackers, with one of the most popular being the shrimp-flavored kind known as ebisembei. Visitors to the Ebisembei Village in Aichi Prefecture can watch the crispy snacks being made.

9. Nikka whiskey Yoichi Distillery (Yoichi, Hokkaido)

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If the bubbly offerings of the Suntory and Orion breweries don’t have enough kick for you, perhaps a visit to Nikka’s distillery is more up your alley. Hokkaido’s favorite whiskey, bottles of which are often adorned with the company’s bearded, playing-card-lookalike mascot, is a sure-fire way to brace yourself against the region’s notoriously cold winters.

8. Suntory Yamazaki Distillery (Shimamotocho, Osaka)

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Of course, not everyone can take the time to travel all the way north to Hokkaido. For more centrally-located lovers of hard liquor, a handy substitute is Yamazaki’s Osaka facility, opened in 1923 and the site of Japan’s first whiskey production.

7. Naramachi (Nara City, Nara Prefecture)

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Although nearby Kyoto gets far more international attention, Nara was actually Japan’s first standing capital. The Naramachi district contains a number of preserved houses, storefronts, and temples that give visitors a glimpse of the city’s long history.

6. Hokkaido University (Sapporo, Hokkaido)

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The list’s second institute of higher learning is the Sapporo Campus of Hokkaido University, which is also known for its distinctive clock tower.

5. Chizanso Garden (Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo).

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The number five spot went to the garden attached to the Hotel Chizanso Tokyo, previously known as the Four Seasons Tokyo. The garden’s pond and pagoda are lit up at night, and many springtime visitors follow a stroll around its footpaths with a walk along the neighboring Kanda River under its canopy of cherry blossom trees.

4. Sannai Maruyama Ruins (Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture)

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This archeological site in northern Aomori Prefecture was only discovered in 1992. Researchers have unearthed a number of artifacts dating from thousands of years ago, including structures estimated to have been built in 2600 BC.

3. Japan Air Self-Defense Force Museum (Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture)

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Also known as Air Park, the museum features displays and demonstrations of aircraft such as the C-1 transport, T-4 trainers, and F-2 and F-15 fighters.

2. Instant Ramen Museum (Ikeda, Osaka)

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Instant ramen may be ubiquitous now, but until 1958 it was nothing more than a dream of Momofuku Ando, whose Osaka-headquartered company Nissin first brought the food to market and transformed the eating habits of lazy college kids everywhere. At the Instant Ramen Museum visitors can learn about how the convenient noodles are made, and those willing to pay a small fee can even try creating their own.

1. Kurobe Dam (Tateyama, Toyama Prefecture)

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Taking the top spot in Trip Advisor’s ranking for the second year in a row was Kurobe Dam. This may seem like a bit of a head scratcher, but dam visits have become one of Japan’s newest tourism trends, popular with both infrastructure fans and couples looking for a more unique date than dinner and a movie.

Among dam fans, Kurobe Dam is commonly held to be far and away the best. Aside from its beautiful location in the wooded mountains of Toyama Prefecture, Kurobe Dam also attracts visitors who time their arrival to coincide with the regular discharging of water from the dam.

So even if your bank balance is looking pretty dismal and it’s several weeks until payday, take heart. Whether you want to learn something new, get back to nature, or just relax with a free beer, Japan has got you covered.

Source: Trip Advisor
Top image: Yousakana
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