10 Free Things to Do In Tokyo

August 21, 2018

 

No trip to Japan is complete without a visit to Tokyo, a city that is weird and wonderful, futuristic, but also frozen in time. Tokyo will blow your mind. And if you're not careful, it could also blow your budget. But fear not --I live here, so I know plenty of things to see and do that don't cost a single yen ;) From serene temples and shrines, to the hustle and bustle of busy streets, and even a world-famous fish market, you can experience the very best of Tokyo free. 

 

 

 

10) Visit Odaiba and Walk Across the Rainbow Bridge

 

photo by: @adventure_with_ana

 

Odaiba is a stunning seaside park in Tokyo, with a man-made beach and featuring a mini Statue of Liberty. An ideal sunset viewing spot, there are numerous ways to arrive. Most people take the train, or some more adventurous might hop on a ferry, but few people ever walk across it. I'm not sure if it's out of laziness or perhaps many aren't even aware of the pedestrian path, but it's an experience like no other in Tokyo. The walk across the bridge not only offers a view of the skyline you can't get anywhere else, it's also one of the best-kept secrets of the city, where you're almost guaranteed to only share it with a handful of other people. In a place as crowed as Japan, this is something very rare. 

 

 

9) Visit Nakano Broadway/Nakano Sun Mall 

photo by: @k.nida38

 

Less famous than Akihabara, but just as cool, Nakano Broadway and Nakano Sunmall are popular locations to buy anime and manga related stuff. But Nakano is so much more than that. Probably the most chilled out neighbourhood in Tokyo, and also one of the most ethnically diverse, here you'll find plenty of Shotengai (the type of street pictured above) bustling with both Japanese and international cuisine. Also featured in the area is a shop that's famous for selling up to 8 flavours of soft-serve ice cream on one cone, a fish market, and a tarot card reader. 

 

 

 

 

8) Pay Your Respects at Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa

photo by: @sawyer_fuji 

 

Built in 645 Ad, Senso-ji is Tokyo's oldest, most colourful, and most popular temple. Leading up to the gates, you'll walk through Nakamise, a long, busy street filled with lots of little shops that date back several centuries. Here you can buy souvenirs like yukata (a casual kimono) and folding fans, and many Japanese sweets. My personal favourite is taiyaki, a fish-shaped  (but not flavoured!) cake with filling inside, like red bean paste, chocolate, whipped cream, or my favourite custard. Oishii! 

 

 

 

7) See the City from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

photo by: @cmb.channel 

 

Like any major city, Tokyo has a number of high-rise buildings (Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower) you can pay good yen to reach the top of for an incredible view. But a fairly well-kept secret? You don't need to pay to see it. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is completely free, and depending on the weather and time of year offers not only a spectacular view of the city, but a pretty incredible view of Mount Fuji as well. 

 

 

 

6) Tackle the Shibuya Scramble

photo by: @sawyer_fuji 

 

Made famous by the Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift, Shibuya Scramble is Japan's busiest crosswalk. It's estimated that 1000 people cross each time the light changes during peak. The hustle and bustle of busy workers rushing alongside the tourists with their selfie sticks is an experience in and of itself. Hang around long enough and there's a pretty good chance you'll see a Mario Kart tour go by, costume-clad drivers and all. The best view of the scramble, though, is from above, either through the windows at Shibuya Train Station or at the second floor of the Starbucks (good luck getting a seat!). 

 

 

5) Bid on Lunch at Tsukiji Fish Market

 photo by: @billthoo

 

 

Arrive early if you want the full experience of the world-famous Tsukiji market. Here, restaurants and business owners bid wholesale on the day's catch, and a small group of visitors are allowed to watch the infamous Tuna Auctions. The market’s hours are 3:30am to 6:00am, and two sets of 60 people at a time can look in on the action. The first from 5:25am 5:45am, and the second from 5:50am and 6:10am. But beware, you have to arrive much earlier that that to beat the crowds and be let in. If you do miss the auction, there's still plenty to see. Tsukiji features an inner market, where most of the wholesale bidding and tuna auctions take place, and an outer market, with retail shops and restaurants that cater to the public. If you are interested in the auction, you'd better try to see it before it's gone: October 6, 2018 will be the last day of operations for Tsukiji as it is. The outer market will remain, but the inner will move to its new location in Toyosu. 

 

 

 

4) Visit the Giant Ghibli Clock 

photo by: @rick.e.ricardo  

 

Tokyo’s only Vaudeville-Steampunk-Victorian-Cuckoo Clock is a sight to behold. Over 20 tons of copper and steel went into making this three story high, 60 foot wide time piece designed by Hayao Miyazaki, the renowned director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli. The clock springs to life every day at noon, 3pm, 6pm, and 8pm (Saturdays and Sundays also feature a 10am chime), with over 30 mechanical vignettes including cannons, a wheel spinner, a boiling teapot, a couple of blacksmiths, and two bell-headed piston crankers. They all move in a timed, exquisite, and industrious ballet, with each performance beginning at roughly four minutes before the hour. Officially named, "NI-Tele Really BIG Clock," the Ghibli masterpiece is located in Shidome area at the base of the Nittle Tower.

 

 

3) Walk down Takeshita street in Harajuku

 photo by: @harajufashionwalk

 

Harajuku neighbourhood is internationally notorious as THE place to see people dressed in trendy Japanese youth fashion. Here, you're likely to catch more than a few people in their super kawaii outfits, but there's plenty of other things along Takeshita street to see, like fashion boutiques, trendy vintage stores, souvenirs and trinket shops, and of course all the Japanese crêpe stands. If you've got 500 yen to spare, I suggest lining up for one of these sweets. My personal favourites? Anything that comes with a slice of cheesecake rolled inside ;)

 

 

2) Stroll Through Yoyogi Park and visit Meiji Jingu Shrine

photo by: @adventure_with_ana

 

If the hustle and bustle of Harajuku becomes a bit much for you, zip on over to Yoyogi Park and visit the adjacent Meiji Jingu shrine. A bit of serenity in the city, it's hard to believe this massive green space, with countless pathways and gardens, exists smack dab in the middle of Tokyo. Visitors to the shrine can participate in Shinto religious activities, such as buying charms or amulets, or writing out your wish on an ema (a wooden plate you write a wish on, and leave at the shrine in hopes that it comes true). Be sure to clean your hands and mouth at the chōzuya (purification fountain) before approaching the main hall! 

 

 

1) Get Lost in Translation in Shinjuku

photo by: @tai_chillout1

 

Most people think of the bright signs and neon lights when they picture Tokyo. I don't think any other neighbourhood represents the image as well as Shinjuku. Wander around the streets and immerse yourself in the craziness to get a feel for the futuristic aspects of the city. If you're a fan of kaiju (Japanese monster flicks), the giant Godzilla looming over the movie theatre is a must-see, and all visitors to Shinjuku should definitely stop by Kabukicho, Tokyo's infamous red-light district. 

 

 

 

Want more information on travel in Tokyo and other parts of Asia from people who live here? Join the mailing list today! 

 

 

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