A few years back it was hard to imagine that travellers could afford to visit Japan on a budget. Due to its reputation for being one of the world's most expensive city, many crossed Tokyo off their bucket list. It took me a while to prepare financially to be able to afford to Tokyo, but to my surprise, this metropolis is much more affordable than I could ever imagine, especially in comparison to a British city, such as London. Furthermore, I also discovered a myriad of free things to do in Tokyo. And whether you are a budget or a luxury traveller, I am sure you will enjoy saving money whilst in Japan.
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Walk in Yoyogi Park
Yoyogi Park is one of Tokyo's largest green spaces, which makes it perfect for a quiet afternoon stroll. This park is famed for its sheer amount of trees, all sent to the capital from all around Japan, and planted by volunteers. Today, Yoyogi park is home to over 10,000 trees, which make it into a zen forested path for the outdoors lover. In my experience it's best to visit Yoyogi Park during autumn, because most of its ginkgo biloba trees, undertake a magical transformation: the thick green forest becomes a sea of yellow hues.
If you arrive in Tokyo during the warm - but not so rainy - season, take a blanket with you to Yoyogi Park and enjoy your lunch here on this tranquil island within the bustling city.
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Attend the Tuna Auction in Tsukiji
Note: The Tsukiji fish market is now closed. The market moved to a new location.
Tsukiji is the largest seafood market in the world. It is located in the centre of Tokyo, however, it is due to move locations at the end of 2016. The highlight of Tsukiji is the early morning tuna auction, which takes place starting at 5 AM. Although it is open to visitors entirely free of charge, the spaces are limited and allocated on the first come, first served.
To learn about the market & the new location, check out our Tsukiji fish market guide.
I visited Tsukiji on my first morning of arrival to Tokyo. Since I was jet lagged and couldn't sleep anyway, I decided to take advantage of the situation and visit the market first thing in the morning. It is impressive to see how methodical the tuna auction really is and how vendors and buyers have established body language signs to really speed up the transactions.
Visit The Beautiful Senso-Ji
Senso-Ji is located in Asakusa and it is one of Tokyo's most significant Buddhist Temple. Many come here to pay their respects and even more arrive at the temple grounds for an introduction into the Japanese spirituality. Senso-Ji offers free admission and it is always open. I visited the Temple grounds very early in the morning to ensure I avoid the crowds. In front of Senso-Ji, there is Nakamise Dori, a street with almost 90 shops which have been trading for decades. If you arrive at Senso-Ji during the early morning, chances are, most of these shops will just about open for trade. It's rather relaxing to set up the tripod, enjoy the crisp air and watch how traders slowly open their shops for the day ahead.
Window Shop in Harajuku
Harajuku is the well-known area for kawaii and youth fashion in Tokyo. Whether you are after a leopard tank top, funky tiger contact lenses or outrageous accessories, you are guaranteed to find it Harajuku. Mainly associated with Takeshita Dori, almost half a kilometre long street, all dotted with crazy fashion shops. For the traditional mind, Takeshita Dori is out of ordinary, but since it costs nothing to window shop, it's most certainly a great place to check to out. During the evenings, Harajuku really comes to life, as youngsters from all around Tokyo come together on a shopping spree. It's a true loud, colourful and bazaar-like feel to Takeshita Dori.
Walk in Ueno Park
Ueno Park is Tokyo's epicentre of culture and arts, being home to 5 museums, including The Tokyo Museum. Although some establishments charge an entrance fee, there is a lot more to do in Ueno, than just visit galleries and museums. For example, Ueno Park is one of Tokyo's most popular hanami spots. It also features a beautiful pond with benches all around it, a great place to stop by and read your favourite book. Ueno is also popular with picnic lovers, especially during Spring in Japan. There are a few temples and shrines scattered around Ueno which offer free admission, with Ueno Kiyomizu Kannon Temple being the most visited one.
Cross The Shibuya Pedestrian Scramble
Everyone has seen Shibuya crossing being featured in countless films and videos, but nothing quite compares to the real experience, as overwhelming as it may be. For some, Shibuya really represents what Japan is all about, but I personally believe they couldn't be further away from the reality. When you are in the middle of the Shibuya crossing, you can hear loud jumbo adverts, massive neon lights changing colours every second to grab your attention, thousands of people flocking from all directions to cross the road.
But if you take your time and look closely, you will realize how everything is perfectly in its place. You will notice how everyone knows exactly where to cross, how to cross, how to avoid collision between people. It may look chaotic to the untrained eye, but Shibuya is far from that. It's a perfect example of how the Japanese society managed to accommodate each other and live amongst such large numbers of people in perfect harmony. I believe, nowhere the idea of respect can be more obvious, than when you observe the Shibuya pedestrian scramble.
Explore The Strange Akihabara
For the inner geek, Akihabara is a perfect place for an afternoon of exploration. It features electronic stores, multi-level pachinko, maid cafes and plenty of adult entertainment. Above all, it features some of the coolest geeky shops, full of anime and manga. It's the cosplay paradise. As opposed to the rest of Tokyo, Akihabara overwhelms with a different type of jumbo advert: large posters of manga characters, as big as skyscrapers. It's easy to understand how someone came up with Godzilla. For the sake of your childhood memories, it's rather fun to window shop and discovers old school figurines of Sailor Moon, cutely waving at you from one of the Akihabara stores. Read more about the Tokyo Adult Guide.
Enjoy Japan's Sakura Season
Sakura season is perhaps what Japan is associated with during its zen moments. For example, when you hear the word Sakura, your mind takes you to a peaceful lakeshore, at the foot of Mount Fuji, where you can admire the sakura trees all around you. Although some parts of Tokyo are far from the zen fantasy, in reality, there are plenty of large green areas and landscaped gardens which feature many cherry trees.
During Spring, tourists and locals alike celebrate the hanami season throughout Japan. It's the perfect time to admire the pastel pink hues from all around you. You can check the Cherry Blossom Forecast and tailor your trip accordingly.
Get Lost in Shinjuku
Ever since I've been to Shinjuku, I've been daydreaming about revisiting Shinjuku. Nowadays, is what I really associate Tokyo with. I close my eyes and I visualize the colourful streets of this vivid neighbourhood, full of dancing adverts. I can smell the street food taking over my senses and I can feel the vibrancy of Shinjuku through my veins.
It's an electrifying feeling to simply be in Shinjuku. Once you begin exploring it, you will find so many interesting sights, you will become Shinjuku addicted. I know I did. The people, the markets, the red district, the odd shops, the street food vendors, all together with Tokyo's busiest train station, make Shinjuku in the absolute best spot in Tokyo. In a paradox, when I need to relax, I close my eyes and start virtually exploring the same agitated streets in Shinjuku. I've never felt more alive, more welcome, more at home.
Admire Tokyo From The Metropolitan Government Building
The streets of Tokyo are full of surprise. From colourful crowds, through to zen temples, to some of the world's busiest tourists attractions, Tokyo really is a multi-dimensional city. And no matter how much you try and learn Tokyo's secrets, a new side of its personality gets reveals with every step you take. There is a way to see it all, to admire the world's largest metropolis. No better place, than in the Tokyo Government building, which features a free of charge observational deck at its 45th floor. High as you may be, Tokyo always wins. No matter how far up in the skies you get, the vastness of this impressive city goes beyond the line of the horizon, beyond what you can see with your naked eye. It is up there, that you realize how amazing it really feels to be part of something so big, so impressive.
Do you have any more ideas on free things to do in Tokyo? Please let us know in the comments section below.