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The users of travel website Trip Advisor recently ranked Japan’s best free sightseeing spots. Of course, if you’re visiting Japan from abroad and in a position to spring for airfare, odds are you’re not so strapped for cash you can’t afford to spend a little bit to enjoy yourself, since you came all the way here.

With that in mind, the site has now compiled the 20 coolest places in Japan, as chosen by overseas visitors, regardless of whether or not they charge admission.

20. Universal Studios Japan (Osaka)

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USJ (as it’s called by the locals) may not have ever been the filming location for classics of the silver screen, but it does have numerous attractions based on blockbuster hits (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man), as well as movies without such lasting or positive impressions (Backdraft, Water World). If you’re wondering what USJ offers that you can’t get at its sister parks in Los Angeles or Orlando, maybe you’ll find the answer at the Osaka park’s Hello Kitty Fashion Avenue section.

19. Tokyo Tower (Tokyo)

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It may not be as tall as its younger sibling, the Tokyo Sky Tree, but 333-meter (1,093-foot) tall Tokyo Tower still offers spectacular views and looks great in its iconic crimson. Even better, unlike the Sky Tree, you don’t need to make a reservation ahead of time to go up to Tokyo Tower’s observation decks.

18. Meiji Shrine (Tokyo)

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Tokyo’s premier Shinto shrine was built in 1920 in remembrance of the emperor Meiji and his wife. In contrast to the hustle and bustle of Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple, Meiji Shrine is an oasis of calm in the center of the capital. The shrine’s expansive wooded grounds are, astoundingly, not a natural forest, but the result of extensive planting of trees donated during its construction.

17. Odaiba (Tokyo)

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Built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, Odaiba first gained popularity as a date spot where fashionable couples could dine at stylish restaurants while enjoying a romantic view of the Tokyo skyline across the water. The island’s permanent attractions now include a gigantic Ferris wheel, classic car museum, sandy waterfront area, and the 1:1 scale statue of giant anime robot Gundam.

16. Omotesando (Tokyo)

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Stretching out from Harajuku Station, the tree-lined boulevard known as Omotesando is the place for fashionistas who enjoy turning the sidewalk into their catwalk as they stroll from one high-end boutique to the other. Can’t afford anything from the Bulgari or Diore branches? No problem. Grab some ice cream to go from the local Ben and Jerry’s, find a nice vantage point, and enjoy the free fashion show of people watching on Omotesando.

15. Hakone Tozan Train Line (Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture)

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The town of Hakone, famous for its hot springs, is located high in the mountains of Kanagawa Prefecture, Tokyo’s neighbor to the south. While there are numerous routes into the heart of Hakone, the most picturesque is the rail switchbacks of the Tozan Line, especially as the leaves turn in autumn or the hydrangeas bloom in June.

14. Umeda Sky Building/Floating Garden Observatory (Osaka)

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At just 40 stories tall, the Umeda Sky Building might not seem like anything to get excited over, especially in a country where skyscrapers are a dime a dozen. What makes it special, though, is the final approach to its open-air rooftop observation deck: an escalator with nothing between it and the ground some 173 meters (568 feet) below.

13. Miraikan (Tokyo)

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If the above description of Odaiba hasn’t quite convinced you it’s worth visiting, the island is also home to the Miraikan. Alternatively called the Future Museum and the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, the Miraikan houses displays on aerospace engineering, genetics, and is also the sometimes-residence of Honda’s robotic ambassador Asimo.

12. Asahiyama Zoo (Asahikawa, Hokkaido)

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One of Japan’s most-visited zoos, Asahiyama Zoo was also the setting for the popular 2009 film Penguins Flying in the Sky. Needless to say, this cemented the Antarctic birds as one of the zoo’s star attractions, along with its polar bear enclosure.

11. Tsukiji Fish Market (Tokyo)

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Once upon a time, a visit to Tsukiji was strictly for travelers, freshly arrived in Japan, whose jet lag caused them to get up at 4 a.m., hours before anything else was open. Then the rest of the world discovered how delicious raw fish is, and everything changed. Be forewarned, though. Tsukiji remains first and foremost a working marketplace, so don’t stand in the aisles snapping pictures too long, or you’re liable to get run over by one of the dozens of service carts skittering about the complex.

10. Cup Noodle Museum (Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture)

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Less traditional than the sashimi sold at Tsukiji, but no less popular, is the instant ramen the Cup Noodle Museum is dedicated to. The building features exhibits on the development and history of the quick-to-prepare noodles, its biggest draw is the area in which visitors can create their own unique cup of instant ramen from over 5,000 possible flavor combinations.

9. Nijo Castle (Kyoto)

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By far Japan’s most accessible castle for visitors following the standard Kyoto-Tokyo route, Nijo Castle is conveniently located near the center of the country’s former capital. As a result of being built in 1626 during a period of relative peace, Nijo Castle was more a luxurious estate for the Shogun to use on visits to Kyoto than an actual fortress, giving it a comparatively open design unique among Japanese castles.

8. 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture)

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In contrast to Kanazawa’s traditional Kenrokuen Garden, the city’s art museum takes a much more modern approach to aesthetic appreciation. Among the facility’s unique design premises are a lack of a designated main entrance, in order to help visitors experience the exhibits without the limitations of preconceptions.

7. Ghibli Museum (Tokyo)

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Officially the Mitaka Forest Ghibli Art Museum, this must-see for anime fans sits in a wooded area of Tokyo’s Mitaka neighborhood. No photography is allowed inside the building, and tickets must be purchased in advance, but don’t let these slight inconveniences dissuade you from visiting. The museum has daily showings of Ghibli animated short films that are screened nowhere else, and is also the only place where you can buy Nausicaa-themed Beer of the Valley of the Wind.

6. Tokyo DisneySea (Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture)

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Tokyo DisneySea, situated adjacent to Tokyo Disney Land, focuses less on rides and more on atmosphere, attracting attendees with its numerous shows and parades in settings recreating Venice, New York, and Arabia. Geography purists should take note that Tokyo DisneySea, much like Tokyo Disneyland, the Tokyo Auto Show, and Tokyo Narita Airport, is not in Tokyo, but instead Chiba Prefecture, which borders the capital to the east.

5. Oedo Onsen Monogatari (Tokyo)

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Heading back to Odaiba, the island’s Oedo Onsen Monogatari is a love letter to historical Tokyo (Oedo) and hot springs (onsen). Visitors change into cotton yukata robes and pass through a central area styled after a traditional Japanese festival with games and food stalls before reaching the complex’s numerous bathing areas, including a foot bath/walking path in the open-air garden.

4. Fushimi Inari Shrine (Kyoto)

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Dedicated to Inari, the deity of rice and agriculture, the buildings of Fushimi Inari Shrine are scattered across a mountain crisscrossed by walking paths. Along the way, hundreds upon hundreds of tori gates donated by the faithful form virtual tunnels with slivers of sunlight seeping through the narrow gaps between them.

3. Dotonbori (Osaka)

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The center of Osaka’s vibrant entertainment scene, Dotonbori is at its most impressive at night, with the neon from its towering billboards reflecting off the waters of the canal that bisects the district. Speaking of the canal, it’s tradition for fans of the local baseball team, the Tigers, to dive into it from the pedestrian bridges following a big win.

2. Kaiyukan (Osaka)

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Osaka makes the list once again with its aquarium, the Kaiyukan. While the building does have a unique exterior design, we’re guessing its high ranking is a direct result of its awe-inspiring whale shark. Try to synchronize your visit with its feeding time, when the gentle giant opens its mouth wide and sucks in the surrounding water like a colossal vacuum cleaner in order to get its fill of tasty plankton.

1. Takeshita-dori (Tokyo)

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Walking away with the top spot was Takeshita-dori. Also located in Harajuku, Takeshita-dori runs parallel to the previously mentioned Omotesando. The eclectic teen to Omotesando’s sophisticated grown-up, Takeshita-dori is the place to see people sporting Japan’s trendiest youth fashions, and the place to shop if you’re aiming to make the look your own.

Just make sure you’re OK with crowds before you go (and be sure to wear deodorant, too).

Source: Trip Advisor
Top image: Photozou
Insert images: Goo, Its-mo, Ganref, Design Channel, Exblog, Wikipedia, Change Fashion, Hostel 64, Miraikan, Pub, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, Rakuten, Menamomi, Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, So-Net, Disney Hotels, Trip AdvisorOsaka Info, Yahoo! Japan, Waooh