Japan Today

Japan’s 20 best free sightseeing spots

By Casey Baseel

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% 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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Top 25 travel destinations in Japan -- Top 20 factory tours in Japan -- Travelers rank Japan’s 20 best castles

© RocketNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

"popular with both infrastructure fans and couples looking for a more unique date than dinner and a movie."

Didn't we all have one, that "dam first date"??

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Kurobe Dam free? Sure there is free to look at the thing, but it costs 2500 yen round trip to get there unless you want to climb over a mountain. And that is just from the Nagano side! From Toyama side it is a bus, cable car, and trolley ride that will run you close to 10,000 yen round trip. Show up at Kurobe Dam with 1000 yen in your pocket and you will see how "free" it is.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Suma Beach, West of Kobe.

In the Summer.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

JTDanMan there are a lot better beaches than dirty Suma.

What about Pontochou in Kyoto, very nice alleyway full of izakayas, that light up very beautiful when the sun goes down.

Kobe harbor, also free, is also not so bad.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Any table at Starbucks that is next to the window, facing a well traveled city street. Near a uni or a high school.


4 ( +4 / -0 )

So, basically this one or two things in a bunch of different prefectures that are only free if you already happen to be in the area and don't have to pay for transportation to get to them. Sorry, but it's kind of a useless list. What would be more helpful would be to make one list for Tokyo, one list for Kyoto, one list for Sapporo and so on and feature them over the course of a few weeks.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Kurobe Dam is hardly "free" but well worth it. If you get a chance, see the whole area, including Shomyo Falls, which are the tallest in Japan. Also, ride the cable car and trolley through the mountain and see the snow walls which can go on for quite a few kilometers and reach a height of up to 20-plus meters at Murodo. Very scenic country. Highly recommend it. For those who aren't familiar, Nagano and Toyama, have some really great scenery. Matsumoto is one of the cleanest cities you'll ever see and the castle is worth visiting.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I love Ebisenbei :) too yummy!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Not one nature place mentioned. Japan does love concrete.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Kurobe? Free? Ha. And, you technically it's in Toyama, but to get there you have to go to Omachi, Nagano. If you come from the other way via Toyama it costs more.

I recommend Nezame-no-toko, Tsumago, or Magome. All free (but parking may cost you).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I visited KUMANO-KODO, in Mie-ken, just 2-3 hours from Nagoya.

One of the tallest waterfalls in Japan (Nachi Taki) and hiking all over the mountains. Absolutely fantastic, highly recommended.

Reminded me that Tokyo people do n

3 ( +3 / -0 )

aren't ALL sightseeing spots free?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"aren't ALL sightseeing spots free?" ummm.... I guess you have NEVER been to Japan. Just about everything costs money. Shirakawago. Five lakes in Hokaido. LAKES! costs 500 yen to park. Any and EVERY castle in Japan (but Ono, Fukui castle) costs money to visit. Fuji-san now costs money to climb (Hakusan does not and is TWICE the climb of Fuji and ten time more beautiful. Tateyama as well). Everything Kyoto costs money. I spent more just to visit the shrines, temples, monkey mountain, etc, etc, about 2500 a day. I went to the MOST eastern spot on Honshu island. It cost 500 yen. I was MAD too. I have been to the most northern, western, southern, and eastern points on Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku and was livid when one of those places had the nerv to charge me to walk 10 meter further so that I could accomplish my task of reaching the superlative point.

THAT being said. MANY of those 12 points are free and some of the best veiws and FREE sightseeing spots in the whole nation. The western and eastern kyushu and shikoko points, you can see the other island. The most northern spot in Honshu, in Omazaki is amazing as well.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

**10. Ebisembei Village (Miama, Aichi Prefecture)

Japan has dozens of varieties of rice crackers, with one of the most popular being the shrimp-flavored kind k

nown as ebisembei. Visitors to the Ebisembei Village in Aichi Prefecture can watch the crispy snacks being made.**

Is this a joke??? Lord, you couldn't pay me to "visit" half of these places.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

This was a nice list of suggestions. One of my favorite free sightseeing activities is the hike up Mt.Daimonji in Kyoto. It's easy and enjoyable, and the view from the top is spectacular. For me and my friends, going on a hike/walk on any one of the countless trails in the Kansai area is a perfect way to spend a fee-free (and usually crowd-free) day.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I can't believe Nikko isn't on this list. Plus it's a Unesco World Heritage Center. You can wander for hours though some of the most famous temples and shrines in Japan. The scenery is breathtaking both in the Nikko area and in the surrounding areas. It also requires ¥¥ to get there, as does everything on the list, but surely it's a better choice than some hummy hydroelectric dam!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My favorite has always been Shirahama, Wakayama in summertime. Great little summer town with plenty of hotties strolling Shirarahama Beach. Also great in winter for onsen. Coganoi Bay Hotel.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Most of Koya san in Wakayama prefecture is free (in the sense of there being no admission fee - transportation to get there is a different story) and is way better than most of the places on this list. Dazaifu in Fukuoka is also free, its not that impressive compared to Kyoto but I would at least rate it higher than half the places on this list.

One thing I will say that I really like about Japan is that admission to most of the historic/cultural sightseeing spots is quite reasonable. Most of the big temples/castles/gardens only charge 400 or 500 yen (though the odd one does charge more).

Another point is just that in a lot of cities the shoutengai (shopping districts) are the most interesting area thing to see in town - and all of them are free. In Osaka the Shinsaibashi/Dotonbori area is WAY more interesting than the castle. Same with Nagoya (the Osu area is way better than Nagoya castle).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@JTDanMan suma beach is a crap hole, sand doesnt look anything like sand, grey full of stones and weeds, and it certainly isnt free, have to get there buy train/car then theres parking and fightling fro a place on the beach. for an average family it certainly will cost you at least 3000-4000yen.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

How about Imai-cho in Kashihara-shi in Nara prefecture? It's like Nara-machi but much larger and more old buildings.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Chizanso Garden (Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo)



2 ( +2 / -0 )

Strange not one place in Kyoto as far as the temples are concerned...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Inari Taisha in Kyoto

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites