Tokyo is a fascinating city. In spite of being one of the most developed cities in the world, it still preserves Japan’s ancient traditions and culture. There is a ton of things to do ranging from modern – some might say bizarre – experiences to closely guarded traditional practices. And thankfully not all of them require you to pay. So here is guest blogger Carolyn Ballard’s overview of the top ten free things to do in Tokyo.
1. Explore the divine
Tokyo may be known for its modern skyscrapers but the real architectural highlights lie in the city’s temples and shrines. These sacred sites are kept in remarkable condition and offer a fascinating insight into Japanese religion. The most notable temple in Tokyo is Sensoji, an incredibly old and visually impressive place of worship. Other highlights include Nezu Jinja and Meiji Jingu. Sensoji temple is located in Asakusa and opens from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm.
2. Take a Hike
Tokyo is not entirely a concrete jungle. You may be surprised to learn that it is a city with a variety of nature trails, parks, and gardens that offer the perfect outdoor escapes. There are many hiking groups that you can join to explore Tokyo’s forests and nature trails in the company of other travellers and locals. Relax in one of the many parks and gardens, some of which have less strict laws on barbecues and drinking. You can even spend a night away from the bustling city life in one of the many camping sites in the city.
3. Visit a museum
Japan has many unique traditions and cultural practices. And they are all showcased in Tokyo’s many museums. There is a museum for virtually everything: the royal family, samurai culture, toys, costumes, and technology among others. However, if you’re exploring Tokyo on the cheap then you’ll want to stick to those that offer free entry. Top choices include the Sumo Museum where you can learn all about Japan’s most iconic sport, and the Suginami Animation Museum, which boasts a fascinating collection of Japanese animation.
4. Observe modern Japanese culture
Few places beat the famous district of Harajuku for a glimpse into Japan’s thoroughly modern culture. Here you can admire extreme teenage fashion that ranges from bright candy-colour ensembles to dark Gothic-inspired outfits. Narrow Takeshita Street is where many of these trends are born and it’s lined with boutique shops and trendy cafes. It’s a great place for window shopping and from here you can walk to the iconic Shibuya crossing – the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world.
5. Watch a Show
There is always a show or performance taking place in Tokyo, and some of these shows are free for the public’s amusement. What’s more, the variety of shows is just as robust as Japanese culture. They range from exhibitions of traditional Japanese practices such as sumo wrestling to new exhibitions of robotics, magic, and music. Families should visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Children’s Hall, which hosts free, fun activities for children. Throughout the year performances are held in the city streets including the Afro-American-Caribbean FESTA – a great festival to indulge in dance, good food and beer.
The most prominent aspect of your visit to Japan will be the Japanese people. The Japanese are warm-hearted and welcoming, and the younger generation are always looking to interact with foreigners. And socialising doesn’t have to cost a penny. There are numerous cafés around the city for socialising – Socrates Café is an excellent place to meet up for casual talks with locals and other travellers. Although many people in Tokyo speak some English, you should learn some basics of the Japanese language for better interaction.
7. Watch the tuna auctions in Tsukiji Market
Tsukiji is one of the world’s largest fish markets. In recent years it has become a major tourist attractions due, in part, to its boisterous tuna auctions. If you want to witness this famous event, make sure you are awake early in the morning. If you’re not an early bird then there will still be many things to see if you go later. The registration of the 120 daily viewing places usually begins as early as five in the morning. The market does not operate every day so consult the Tsukiji market website before you set off.
8. Enjoy the city vistas
Imagine having the opportunity to survey the city from 202 metres above the ground for free. The observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building will allow you to enjoy the magical panoramic view of the city. If you are lucky to be around on a clear day, you may see Mt Fuji. At dusk, you have the chance to catch a glimpse of the fantastic sunsets and the excellent view of the city bursting into neon-lit action.
9. Grab a bike
Rent-a-bike businesses are blossoming in Tokyo. However, there is one place where you do not have to spend a dime. The free cycling spot is in one of the most beautiful locations in the city. The Palace Cycling Course is situated along Uchibori-Dori, the street that runs from the North of Hibiya Park to the Imperial Palace. Every Sunday, 250 bikes are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The types of bikes available include kids’ bikes, tandems, as well as the regular rides. As if that is not enough, upon securing a bike, you can keep it until 3 pm. For all the lovers of bike rides, this is one spot you cannot afford to miss.
10. Try some sake
Originally referred to as Sake Plaza, the Japan Sake and Shochu Information Centre information centre makes available extensive information about Japanese alcohol. If you have always wanted to quench your thirst for information about alcohol, there isn’t a better place to be. Think of it as a showroom, a tasting space, and a place to up your knowledge of sake. While there, find out if there is an upcoming tasting event. Famous breweries often hold such events with seminars handled by specialists who have a mastery of the topic.
Carolyn Ballard is a passionate traveller and the founder of DesToDis, a blog with the main aim of sharing guidelines, tips and personal experiences on all things travel.
Browse our offering of Japan tours that all kick off in Tokyo if you want to discover this buzzing capital for yourself.