We've scoured through our memories, past trip notes and the internet for our top 30 Tokyo freebies - here's our list of over 30 activities to experience that cost you absolutely nothing!
Keeping with our budget tips, we have grouped the activities into regions, so if you want to check some out, we've already done the work so you can keep travel times (and costs) to a minimum.
The regions are split into four:
- Western Tokyo, covering the Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya and Ikebukuro areas
- Central Tokyo, covering Tokyo, Ginza, Shimbashi and the Tsukijishijo fish market
- Northern Tokyo, covering the Ueno, Asakusa, and Akihabara areas
- Southern Tokyo, covering Odaiba Island
Let's get started.
Get some perspective...
Visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, and jump up to the free observation floors in both towers on the 45th floors. See Tokyo from above and on a clear day get some of the best views of Mt Fuji.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is open 9.30am-11pm daily, and is just a short walk from the south exit of Shinjuku Station.
Learn how to survive a natural disaster...
Japan is prone to many natural disasters, as was most evident in 2011 when the deadly earthquake hit Japan and subsequent tsunami. Visit the Life Safety Learning Centre in Ikebukuro where you will get a fascinating look into earthquakes, as well as hands on training in the safety procedures that will help save you in the event of a natural disaster. The centre includes an earthquake simulator, smoke maze and fire extinguisher training. This free centre takes about 2 hours to complete all activities.
The Life Safety Learning Centre is open 9am-5pm, Monday, Wednesday - Friday and is closed the 3rd Wednesday of every month. It is located at 2-37-8 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku. Take exit three at Ikebukuro Station to get there.
Official site: http://www.tfd.metro.tokyo.jp/hp-ikbskan/ikeb-map.htm (In Japanese)
Head on down to Shibuya and make your way to the Yebisu Beer Museum. Wander through the museum of this historic Japanese beer. At the end make your way to the Tasting Salon where you can taste their range of beers for a small fee.
Yebisu Beer Museum is open 11am-7pm, Tuesday to Sunday. It is located at Yebisu Garden Place, 4-20-1 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.
Immerse yourself in Shibuya
Home to the busiest crosswalk in the world, this neon lit district is the centre of youth culture in Tokyo, and is like stepping into a futuristic city with towering buildings covered in advertising and video screens. Take a seat on the second floor of the Starbucks overlooking the crosswalk to get the best view of the most organized chaos you will ever see. Take a self guided architectural tour – While in Shibuya, check out the shopping boulevard of Omotesando where you can see some of modern architectures' finest buildings designed by great Japanese architects, like Tadao Ando and Shigeru Ban.
Jump off the JR train at Shibuya Station and take any exit.
Need to get a pet owl?
Always wanted to be Harry Potter? Well this night time pet shop is a must see for you. Selling only owls for pets, this quirky little pet shop is located just one stop away from Shinjuku Station.
Open 7pm-9pm weekdays and 2pm-8pm weekends. It is located at 164-0003 Tokyo, Nakano-ku, Higashi-Nakano 1-45-5 Sunrise building B102. A short 3 minute walk from JR Higashi – Nakano Station.
Official site: http://page.freett.com/liveanimals/index.htm (In Japanese)
Pay your respects at Meiji Shrine...
Just outside Harajuku station, hidden in this mammoth forested area in the middle of Tokyo is Meiji Shrine. Meiji is a large Shinto shrine that is dedicated to Emperor Meiji. As you wander through the gardens you will see plants that have been brought from all over Japan to this green oasis. Be sure to visit on a weekend, and you might be lucky enough to see a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony happening on the grounds.
Open year round, from sunrise to sunset daily. Jump off at Harajuku Station and make a right.
Take a Sunday stroll through Harajuku...
Sundays in Harajuku are a must. See the Harajuku girls in their finest cosplay outfits and others dressed in emerging fashion trends you may never see anywhere else. Take a stroll in Yoyogi Park just adjacent to Harajuku and you will see local bands playing, more interesting characters strutting their unique looks and may even see a group of 50’s greasers play fight.
Sunday is the best day to visit Harajuku. Jump off at Harajuku Station and start exploring.
See the local parasites...
No, we’re not talking about people, come check out this squeamish museum you won’t find anywhere else. The Meguro Parasitological Museum is a few stops down from Shinjuku at Meguro station. Come see one of the largest collections of bacteria and tape worms on display and more. Perhaps don’t visit after eating. Oh and check out the gift shop for some of the most unique souvenirs around.
Meguro Parasitological Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm and is a 15 min walk from the west exit at Meguro Station.
Official site: http://www.kiseichu.org/Pages/einfo.aspx
Get some free paper...
Head on down to Only Free Paper in Shibuya. This store stocks nothing but free magazines and papers, and there are hundreds of them. If you’re a design buff or trying to brush up on some Japanese come down and marvel at all the beautiful magazines and papers and take what you please. There are some truly stunning magazines with the most intricate designs on them, and all for free! These make for a great memento of Japan. The only restriction is you can only take a couple of each title.
Only Free Paper is open Wednesday to Monday, 11am-8pm and is located at 1-22-11 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku.
Play with the technology of tomorrow...
Head down to the Sony Building in Ginza and enter the many levels of the Sony Showroom. Here you can fiddle, test out and play with the latest high-tech gadgets that Sony has cooked up for us. You'll also get a glimpse at concepts they are working on to make the future a better place. For international visitors, there is a whole floor of international models of Sony’s latest products that you can buy tax & duty free!
Sony Building and showroom is open daily from 11am-7pm. Exit B9 at Ginza station takes you directly into the Sony building.
Official site: http://www.sonybuilding.jp/e/
Play with your paper...
One of Japans most famous art forms is exhibited here and you can make your own! Origami Kaikan in Tokyo is a large space dedicated to the art of origami. Here you can learn to make your own pieces of art and watch skilled Japanese masters make the finest paper from scratch.
Origami Kaikan is open Monday to Saturday, 9am-6pm and is located at 1-7-14 Yushima Bunkyō-ku. Take the Marunouchi line train and get off at Ochanomizu, and take exit 1 from the station.
Visit a photo gallery...
Ginza is home to many of the biggest names in cameras and film, and they all host spectacular photo galleries that are free to visit. Canon and Nikon both have exciting rotating exhibitions of some of the best photography out there.
Canon Gallery Ginza is open Monday to Saturday, 10am-7pm, and is located at 3-9-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061. It’s a 3 minute walk from exit A2 at Higashi-Ginza station.
Nikon Salon is open 10:30am-6:30pm daily and located at 1F, 2F, Strata Ginza Bldg., 10-1, 7-chome, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Get into advertising...
Everywhere you go in Tokyo, you are surrounded by advertising. Visit the ADMT – Advertising Museum Tokyo to see the history of Japanese advertising, from its origins to today. The museum has a collection of over 150,000 pieces, with some dating back to the Edo period. It’s a must for an art lover or anyone fascinated with our commercialized society.
ADMT is open Tuesday to Friday, 11am-6:30pm and weekends and holidays 11am-4:30pm. From Shimbashi station, take the Shiodome exit and turn right, go down and walk through the Shiodome concourse and find the gate A exit and it’s on your left.
Official site: http://www.admt.jp/en/index.html
Watch the robots play...
You're in one of the most futuristic cities in the world, where else would you see robots? Visit the Honda Welcome Plaza in Minato and see all the latest cars and future concepts that Honda have to offer, and watch a show of ASIMO, their advanced humanoid robot.
Honda Welcome Centre is open daily from 10am-6pm. From Aoyama Itchome Station, take exit 5 to get to the centre.
Get political, Japanese-style!
If politics is more your style, you can have a free guided tour of Japan’s parliament. Tour the National Diet of Japan and see all the wood stained walls, smelling of rich mahogany, and understand how the government runs in Japan.
Tours at the National Diet of Japan are operated on weekdays from 8am-5pm. All tours depart from the reception desk, which is next to the Annex of the House of Councilors. Take the train to Nagatacho Station, entrance to the building is across the road from the station exit.
Official site: http://www.sangiin.go.jp/eng/info/dbt/index.htm
Visit the Emperor of Japan...
Fancy popping into say "Hi" to the Emperor? Well, you won’t be able to personally say hi, but you can get on a free tour of the Imperial Palace grounds. To get on a tour you must book ahead here online, where you will be given an English audio guide and be able to tour the grounds and see the impressive buildings that make up the palace.
If a guided tour isn’t your thing, Just a visit to the Imperial Palace’s east garden’s may be more your style. These stunning gardens show the finest examples of decorative Japanese gardens with plant species from all over the country. You’ll also see traditional buildings as you get to walk behind the mammoth walls surrounding the palace.
The East gardens are closed on Monday and Friday. Take the train to Tokyo, and the main gates are a short walk from the station exit.
Official site & bookings: http://sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/english/guide/koukyo.html
Are you feeling fishy?
A must do for all visitors to Japan is to visit the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest fish market in the world. You can tour around the actual market from 9am onwards, where you'll get to see the freshest catches and largest fish imaginable. While there, make sure you grab some fresh sushi from one of the many stalls around the marketplace. If you get there early enough, limited amounts of tourists can see the morning tuna auctions, be aware though that in order to see this, you'll need to be at the market at 5am.
Tsukiji Fish Market is open from 5am for tuna auctions, or 9am-12pm for general tourists. It's a short walk from the Tsukijishijo station on the Toei Subay Oedo line.
Official site: http://www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp/english/market/tsukiji.html
Check out the stock exchange...
Want to see the world’s second biggest economy do its thing? Take a free English tour of the Tokyo Stock exchange. Don’t have images of Wall Street in your mind with hundreds of men yelling and throwing papers in the air: here, the trading floor was abolished in the 1980’s. These days, the Tokyo Stock exchange is run almost completely digitally. Guided tours cover the history of the exchange, and the a walk-through of building where you get to see the trading floor as it is now.
English guided tours operate Monday to Friday at 1:30pm, and last about 40 minutes. Take a train to Kayabachio station on the Tozai line.
Take a stroll around Ginza...
Ginza is the high end shopping mecca of Tokyo. The streets are lined with the finest retailers in beautiful buildings, and many in historic buildings which date back to the early 1900’s. Stroll through some of Japan’s legendary department stores such as Mitsukoshi Make sure you pass by the famous Kabukiza Theater and marvel at the architecture of this historic theatre where some of the finest kabuki shows are still performed regularly. Take a stroll down the Yurakucho, which is one of Tokyo’s most interesting dining districts, located beneath elevated train tracks, and has all different eateries from Yakatori bars, to beer halls, to fine French wine bars. It has something for everyone’s tastes.
The Ginza shopping district and Yurakucho are open year-round. Take any exit from Ginza Station.
Grab a bento box and take a walk in the park...
Get off at Uneo station and make your way to Uneo Park this large park is a must visit in April when Sakura (Cherry Blossom) is in bloom, and the park is filled with joyful locals having picnics and enjoying the flowers. This beautiful park is amazing year-round, with countless species of plants and many shrines and small temples throughout the park.
Jump off the train at Uneo station and take the Uneo Park exit.
Visit Tokyo’s oldest temple...
In the historic neighbourhood of Asakusa is Tokyo’s oldest temple, Sensoji. Sensoji was founded in the 7th century, and the temple still sits in the same place today, with no damage in WW2 coming to it. The streets surrounding the temple are filled with markets and kitchen stores, selling beautiful local crafts and quirky Japanese souvenirs. Enjoy some local delicacies like sweet bean cakes, and black sesame ice cream.
Getting to Asakusa and Sensoji is easy. Take the Ginza subway train to Asakusa Station and follow the signs for the Sensoji exit.
Get your Sumo on!
Japan’s national sport is Sumo, and you can visit the Sumo museum located at the Kokugikan Sumo Stadium. The museum covers the history of sumo, the rituals of the sport, and the regime competitors go through to become champions.
The museum is open Monday to Friday, 10am-4:30pm and is a five minute walk from Ryogoku station.
Official site: http://www.sumo.or.jp/eng/museum/shisetsu/index.html
Wander around Akihabara...
The district of Akihabara is known as ‘Electric City’, and is the center of all technology, gaming and anime in Japan. The streets light up the night sky with bright neon signs and colourful exteriors. Make sure you look through the 10-story electronic stores, trying out gadgets you may never see back at home. Take a stroll through the side streets where you can witness a pachinko parlour and one of the countless Japanese arcades with some of the most technologically advanced video games you will ever see.
Getting to Akihabara is easy, take a train to Akihabara station and take the ‘Electric City’ exit.
Visit art school...
Located close to Akihabara is 331 Arts CYD. This contemporary art gallery is housed in an old high school, and offers many free galleries with different exhibitions and art installations throughout. The gallery is a must see for any art fan.
331 Arts CYD is located at 6-11-14 Sotokanda Chiyoda-Ku. Jump on a train to Suehirocho Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza line, and take exit 4.
Official site: http://www.3331.jp/en/
While in Akihabara, you need to check out the Anime scene. Be sure to check out the Tokyo Anime Center, which houses many exhibitions on the latest and historic anime art from Japan.
Tokyo Anime Center is open daily from 11am-7pm. Take the electric city exit from Akihabara station.
Official site: www.animecenter.jp (in Japanese)
Become a TV star!
On Odaiba island, one of Japan’s private nationwide television stations, Fuji TV's headquarters are located in one of the most futuristic buildings you will ever see. They house free exhibitions on many popular Japanese television programs, which are hilarious.
Fuji TV is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am-6pm. Take the Yurikamome train line, which travels around Odaiba Island. Disembark at Daiba station and once outside, follow signs for Fuji TV.
Official site: http://www.fujitv.co.jp/en/visit_fujitv.html
Experience the world of Toyota...
Visit Toyota Mega Web on Odaiba Island for all things Toyota. Here you can test drive all their latest cars, take a ride in an electric car and see all their future concepts and innovations for more than just driving. They also have various simulators for car racing and safety. You can also visit the Toyota history garage, which has on display most models of Toyotas from the company’s long history in automobiles.
Toyota Mega Web is open daily, from 11am-9pm. Take the Yurikamome train line and disembark at Aomi station.
Official site: http://www.megaweb.gr.jp/About/en.html
Step into the future...
Another must stop on Odaiba Island is the Panasonic Center. Here you'll enter a showroom of sorts for all things Panasonic, where you can play with all the latest gadgets, as well as witness new technologies as they are being created. With Panasonic's aim to become a "green innovation company", and the vision of bringing about innovation in lifestyles and business with eco ideas for the earth, the center serves as a vehicle for communications, receiving opinions and requests directly from customers while presenting actual products and services.
Panasonic Center is open daily, from 10am-6pm and closed on Mondays. Take the Yurikamome train line and disembark at Ariake station.
Wander around Odaiba...
Odaiba Island is all manmade, and when initially built they commissioned many of Japans biggest architects to design striking buildings for this new area. Today, Odaiba is filled with unique malls, museums and arenas, all with their own unique look. Take the Yurikamome around the island, and check out some of the amazing architecture. Wander through the malls with some amazing shops and eateries, as well as themed areas, like early 1900’s Hong Kong, filled with shops and restaurants. Be sure to go to Diver City Tokyo Plaza and see the massive (life sized) Gundam statue from the world famous anime series.
Odaiba Island is easily accessed via the Yurikamome train line, which departs from Shimbashi station.
Diver City Tokyo Plaza is open daily, from 10am-9pm.
Get a free guide
Tokyo Free Guide is a nonprofit volunteer organization that have 150 volunteer guide members, who speak at least one language besides Japanese (just name a language, and they will have at least one guide who speaks it). Most of them have lived and/or worked in or around Tokyo for a long time. Many of the guides will have a great deal of knowledge on specific trends, or subjects like music, pop culture, anime, fashion and more, so they can help give you the inside scoop on the local scene. Their volunteer guides truly enjoy meeting people from different countries and cultures and sharing the fun of discovering Tokyo.
It’s best to organise a tour guide before arriving in Japan, and they will show you around, focussing on the interests and activities that you want to experience. If anything is a paid admission, or any public transport is taken, you are expected to pay for the guide. It is customary that as thanks, you would also have lunch or a meal with the guide, and pay for that too.
It’s best to check out tokyofreeguide.com, to read more about what they offer, and to book a guide to give you a unique perspective on a day out in Tokyo.