It is very easy to spend money in Tokyo. Between the world-class shopping available in Ginza and Odaiba’s mega-malls, the bargains at Akihabara and the incredible range of entertainment and restaurant options, Tokyo can make your travel budget disappear. You don’t need to blow your bank account! Some of the capital’s best attractions are free.
This list of 10 free things to do in Tokyo includes some of Japan’s most popular parks and temples. To reduce your travel costs even further, grab a discount one or two-day travel pass allowing unlimited travel over Tokyo’s rail and subway networks. This will both save time and money as you enjoy these ten free attractions in Tokyo.
1. Tsukiji Fish Market: One of the Biggest Seafood Markets in the World
Tsukiji Fish Market routinely tops “Best of Tokyo” lists. What’s even better is that it’s free! The only downside? To get the most out of Tsukiji Market, you’ll have to get up early.
Entrance to the market’s main event, the wholesale Tuna auction, is only open to 120 guests per day. Tickets are given out on a first come first served basis. The market opens for business at 5:00 A.M, but to be sure of securing a ticket, get there much earlier. Once inside, the energetic bidding and bustle of one of Tokyo’s biggest wholesale markets will challenge any preconceptions you have of Japanese people as shy and retiring.
Even if you’re not lucky enough to see the tuna auction, there are lots to see in Tsukiji’s outer markets, which offer food related goods and fresh sushi at competitive prices. The wholesale market winds down around 9:00 A.M., at which point anyone can enter. Keep in mind this is a place of business, not a tourist attraction. Leave large luggage behind and be aware of your surroundings. There will be workers zooming past you on forklifts and small trucks, but this adds to the high-energy environment.
**Tsukiji Market has moved to Toyosu and reopened as the Toyosu Fish Market. Check out the new Toyosu Market Website before you visit.
For more information: Toyosu Market Website
Check out this video for a detailed look into Tsukiji Market:
2. Senso-ji: One of the Most Famous Temples in Japan
Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest temple, predating the city itself. The temple’s earliest incarnation dates from 628 AD when two fishermen brothers caught a Buddhist statue in their net. Their village headman realized the value of the statue and enshrined it in his house in Asakusa village. This simple shrine attracted pilgrims, and the temple grew into a multi-building temple complex. Tokyo eventually swallowed up the village, which is now Tokyo’s Asakusa district.
Today, a steady stream of visitors pass through Senso-ji’s distinctive Kaminari-mon (thunder gate) towards the main building. Although most of the buildings are recreations of earlier buildings destroyed by fire or earthquake, Senso-ji retains the atmosphere of an Edo-period temple.
The shopping street that greets visitors has been there for centuries, offering visitors the chance to purchase souvenirs or traditional snacks, like senbei (rice crackers) or kibidango (rice dumplings dusted with soy powder).
The main building has some interesting paintings, but the highlight is the view. The contrast between Senso-ji’s buildings and modern Tokyo, including the Tokyo Skytree, epitomizes Tokyo and is rewarding at any time of day or season.
For more information: Senso-ji website (Japanese only)
Check out this video tour of Senso-ji:
3. Meiji Jingu Shrine: Culture, Nature, and Relaxation All in One
Meiji Jingu Shrine is one of Japan’s three most important Shinto shrines. It was created in 1920 to deify Emperor Meiji, who opened Japan up to the rest of the world and started its modernization process. Over one hundred thousand trees were donated from throughout Japan to create the shrine and the park around it.
Today, Meiji Jingu and its surrounding Yoyogi Park, offer an oasis of nature in the heart of Tokyo’s busiest districts.
Crowds flock to Meiji Jingu on December 31st to see the New Year rung in, and the shrine continues to be crowded until January 4th with people making their first shrine visit of the New Year. The bustle and festive atmosphere during New Years is fun but exhausting. The rest of the year, Meiji Jingu is a relaxed place to visit. Visit on the weekend for the chance of seeing a traditional wedding taking place. Afterward, relax in Yoyogi Park enjoying the sight of shoppers from nearby Harajuku wearing the latest fashions of Tokyo’s youth subcultures.
For more information: Meiji Jingu Shrine website
Check out this video tour of Meiji Jingu:
5. Imperial Palace Gardens: Something for Everyone
Tokyo has no shortage of beautiful public parks, and the Imperial Palace East Gardens are another must-see, even if you’re not on a budget. Located close to the Imperial Palace, the residence of the Imperial family, the East Gardens are within what was once Edo Castle, the stronghold of the Tokugawa shoguns. Traces of the Edo-period castle remain in the moat, bridges, gates and Fushimi-yagura, a keep moved to its current site from Kyoto’s Fushimi Castle.
Honmaru has broad lawns, perfect for picnics or simply to relax in the sun. Ninomaru pays tribute to the castle’s former history with a Japanese garden maintained in Edo-period style.
The Imperial Palace Outer Gardens includes a 5 km jogging track that circles the palace grounds and gardens (the custom is to run counter-clockwise). Jogging facilities, such as water fountains, restrooms and showers can be found along the route, making it a low-budget way to not only see Tokyo, but get your heart-rate moving too.
For more information: East Gardens Opening Times
Check out this video tour of the Imperial Palace Grounds:
7. Shibuya Crossing: The Busiest Pedestrian Crossing in the World
You’ve probably already seen Shibuya crossing. In many ways, the crossing is synonymous with Tokyo itself. It features heavily in movies, music videos, and documentaries about Tokyo.
This is because Shibuya is the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. The three giant advertising screens overlooking the crossing have become icons and led to comparisons to New York’s Time Square, but the crossing itself is the attraction. Watching the busy intersection comes to a complete halt for the crowds spilling out or into Shibuya Station is a sight that never gets old.
To get to the crossing, head for the station’s Hachiko exit. I prefer to watch the crowds from the Starbucks in the Tsutaya building, but while the Wi-Fi is free, the drinks aren’t. Head to the bridge linking Shibuya Station to Shibuya Mark City for a free view of the crossing in action.
Check out this video to see what it looks like:
okyo may be one of the world’s most expensive cities to live, but it doesn’t need to cost you a lot to visit and enjoy. How many of these sites will you be visiting? Comment below with your thoughts, or share with friends to secure yourself a travel mate—and halve your hotel fares.