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Do you want to explore the sprawling metropolis that is Tokyo without breaking the bank? Well, despite what they say, that's totally possible in Tokyo. It needn't be an expensive city, so long as you know how. Here are 15 awesome ideas for saving money without missing out on all the best this amazing city has to offer. There's so much you can do for free, like checking out the best views of the city, seeing Shibuya, visiting the Emperor at the Imperial Palace and plenty more.
1. Check out Tokyo’s oldest temple
-ji is the oldest temple you’ll find in Tokyo and is well worth a look. This temple, which is also known as Asakusa Kannon, was founded way back in the 7th century. It’s believed that the smoke from the huge incense urn in front of the temple has healing powers, so when you visit you’ll probably see people rubbing the smoke all over their bodies. There’s plenty to explore in the streets surrounding the temple too, with street vendors selling snacks of all kinds; from more traditional rice crackers and sweet bean cakes to the more modern treats like black sesame ice-cream.
Location: 2-3-1 Asakusa.
Opening hours: Main hall open daily 6.00am-5pm.
2. Pay your respects at Meiji Shrine
Meiji is a huge Shinto shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It was established in 1920 and is set in a large green oasis in the centre of Tokyo which covers around 178 acres. There are a number of ways to show respect at this shrine, including bowing when entering through or leaving from a 'Torii' (or shrine archway).
Location: 1-1 Yoyogi-Kamizono-cho.
Opening times: Daily from sunrise to sunset.
3. Enjoy one of Tokyo’s many festivals
Festivals are a very important part of Japanese culture and take place regularly throughout the year. The focus of these festivals can be incredibly varied and can include flowers, fertility, longevity, the dead, the moon, children, stars and plenty more. During these festivals you’re likely to see processions, food stalls and live entertainment.
The festival pictured above is the Sanja Festival, held on the third weekend of every May at Asakusa Shrine and held in honor of Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakatomo, the three men who established and founded Sensō-ji (see above).
4. Visit Tsukiji Fish Market
One of the largest fish markets in the world, Tsukiji Fish Market is a very popular spot with locals and early-rising visitors alike. The market, which begins in the wee hours of the morning, sells every kind of sea creature imaginable from top of the line caviar to cheap yet tasty sardines. Free to enter, this market is definitely worth a visit. You'll be able to sample the freshest sushi and sashimi going, along with some pretty unbeatable oysters. (Also, look out for packets of fish offal containing gigantic eyes and brain, as well as the stuffed polar bear and wild cat)
Location: 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku.
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 5am-11am, closed Sundays and some Wednesdays.
5. Play with the gadgets in the Sony Showroom
Taking up floors one to four of the impressive 11-storey Sony Building, the Sony Showroom gives you the chance to get your hands on the latest Sony products. On a visit to the showroom, you can fiddle with high-tech gizmos to your heart’s content, many of which aren’t even on general sale yet. You can even try out the latest PlayStation software on a giant, high-quality monitor. Throughout Tokyo you’ll find a number of other showrooms which are free to visit including the Nissan Gallery, the Panasonic Centre, Honda Welcome Plaza and Toyota's MEGA WEB.
Location: 5-3-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku.
Opening hours: Daily 11am-7pm.
6. Visit a photo gallery
During your stay in Tokyo you’ll find plenty of sights that’ll make you reach for your camera and get snap happy. However, if you fancy a break from taking pictures, why not check out some of the city’s top photo galleries operated by some of the major names in photography. Fuji, Canon, Nikon and Kodak all have photo exhibition showrooms in Ginza while Konica, Minolta and Pentax have showrooms in Shinjuku. At these galleries you’ll see frequently changing amateur and professional exhibitions and some of the galleries also contain small camera museums.
7. Go on a free guided tour with a local
Tokyo boasts a plethora of sights for you to enjoy and what better way to see these sights than by taking a free guided tour with one of the city’s locals to show you the way. The Systematized Goodwill Guide Groups are comprised mostly of students, housewives and retirees, and operate throughout the city. Tours depart from a variety of locations at different times throughout the day and cover attractions like Ueno Park, the Imperial Palace and plenty more. The tours themselves are free and you are only expected to pay for the guide’s travel expenses and any admissions to attractions. Find out more about Goodwill Guide tours of Tokyo.
8. Check out some of Tokyo’s beautiful gardens and parks
Bonsai trees, stone lanterns, Zen rock gardens and colourful carp! You’ll find all this and more on a stroll through some of the Japanese gardens found throughout Tokyo. And what's more, many of these gardens are free to enter. There’s the Higashi Gyoen Garden which is part of the Imperial Palace, the Nezu-jinja Shrine Garden, famous for its blooming azaleas in May, and the Shin Edogawa Garden, a classical Japanese garden complete with carp and stone lanterns. Tokyo’s Ueno Park is famous for its beautiful cherry blossoms in April and also hosts a selection of museums and more.
9. See stunning views of Tokyo
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, or Tokyo City Hall as it’s also known, soars up for 243 meters above the ground. Designed by Kenzo Tange, the building’s twin towers cover 48 floors. Up on the 45th floor is where you’ll find the public observation decks, which can be reached by elevator in a speedy 55-second trip. Once you step onto the observation deck you’ll be faced with stunning views of the Tokyo, especially on clear days when you’ll get brilliant views of Yokohama to the southwest and Mount Fuji to the west.
Location: 2-8-1 Nishi Shinjuku.
Opening hours: Daily 9.30am-11pm.
10. Check out some of the city’s many free museums
Tokyo has an incredibly wide variety of museums for you to check out. If you’re on a strict budget, don’t worry because many of the city’s museums won’t cost you a single yen to visit. These free museums include the following: Sumo Museum, Parasite Museum, Advertising Museum, Beer Museum Yebisu, Eyeglass Museum, Japan Stationary Museum, Fire Museum, Banknote and Postage Stamp Museum and the Currency Museum. So from sumo to specs, you’ll be able to see them all entirely free of charge.
11. Visit a sumo stable
Sumo is one of the major attractions in Tokyo and if you’re lucky you might get the chance to visit a sumo stable during your time in the city. These stables are where sumo wrestlers live and train, and there are over 50 sumo stables in Tokyo. When the wrestlers aren’t involved in tournaments, you can go along and watch their early morning practices. Ask at reception in your hostel to find out if there's a stable nearby that you can visit.
12. Go people watching in Harajuku
Every Sunday, teenagers gather in this area around Harajuku Station and show off a wide variety of styles including colourful cosplay costumes. In nearby Yoyogi Park, which is one of the city’s largest parks, you’ll see a great variety of interesting characters as you stroll through. Local bands play around the perimeter of the park, people practice martial arts, and a host of other performers entertain the crowds. The ones that you have to see are the Elvis impersonators and 'greasers', who have been going 20 years and still go all-out to prove their credentials. A must visit area during your stay in Tokyo for sure!
13. Stroll along Omotesando
Described as the Champs-Elysées of Tokyo, the tree-lined boulevard of Omotesando is one of the most famous streets in Japan. All along the street you’ll find the flagship stores of some of the world’s top designers, making it an ideal spot to indulge in some window shopping. Along the stretch you’ll also see some great examples of innovative modern architecture designed by celebrated Japanese architect, Tadao Ando.
Location: Runs from Harajuku Station to Omotesando Station.
14. Go for a jog around the Imperial Palace
If you’re in the mood to combine your sightseeing with something a bit more active, be sure to check out the 5km jogging course around the Imperial Palace. It’s free to use and very popular with the locals. Along the way, you’ll catch a glimpse of a selection of sights including the Imperial Palace Public Square, British Embassy, National Theatre and the National Diet (governmental) Building.
Location: Course begins near Sakuradamon.
15. Soak up the atmosphere in Shibuya
One of Tokyo’s 23 special wards, Shibuya is an incredibly popular area both with locals and visitors. This area is home to the world-famous Shibuya Crossing, which is said to be the busiest pedestrian crossing in the entire world. Shibuya is unique in that every street and area in the district has a completely different atmosphere, offering visitors a fascinating variety of things to see, do and experience. Especially popular with young people, Shibuya is home to a number of world-class department stores, nightspots and plenty more.
There you have it, 15 activities that give you the best of Tokyo without costing you a single yen. So there's no need to pay attention to any of those people that shake their heads and gravely say that Tokyo is an expensive city. Like all cities, Tokyo is easily affordable so long as you know how.
Know of any other cool activities you can do in Tokyo for free? Let us know in the comments...
Thanks to Vincent_AF, Yasunari Nakamura, *Meiji Jingu, andlun1, JK LU, pspechtenhauser, Kondo Atsushi , Laika ac, NJ Moore, sharkhats , Shiny Things, Warren Antiola, Spreng Ben and David Orban for the images! Please note, all images were held under the Creative Commons licence at the time of publication.