Ever wanted to know how a city of 13 million deals with its sewerage (#17)? Have you wondered what it would be like to pilot a space shuttle (#8)? How about visiting the resting place of the 47 ronin samurai (#58)? Or how about a getting a taste of the 22nd century by getting lost in the labyrinth of interconnected underground department stores in Shinjuku (#65) and then checking out the world’s most advanced toilets at the Toto showroom? (#48).
Well, you can do all of this and a lot, lot more for little to no cash in Tokyo.
Taking free and cheap to a whole new level, Tokyo Cheapo presents 101 Cheap and Free Things to Do in Tokyo — an interactive guide. One-hundred-and-one activities is obviously a ridiculous overload, so use the filters below to refine the list by the area or by freeness. Also check out the interactive map at the end of the article. And if you still want more tips, sign up for our free newsletter.
Finally if you’re a cheapo and you have any more suggestions, feel free to share them with us all—add them in the comments!
Museums and Galleries
- Check out ancient coins from Japan and East Asia at the Bank of Japan Currency Museum. Admission free, closed on Mondays. 1-minute walk from Mitsukoshi-mae Station.
- See the 19th-century treasures of the Meiji Emperor at the Meiji Jingu Treasure Museum. Admission 500 yen, closed on Mondays. Closest station is Yoyogi on the JR Yamanote Line.
- Check out Louis Vuitton Espace, a free penthouse gallery on Omotesando Avenue, even if the current exhibition isn’t to your taste, the space itself is worth seeing, plus there’s a great view.
- Visit Meguro Parasitological Museum—proudly advertised as the world’s only parasite museum. Admission free, closed on Mondays. A 15-minute walk from Meguro Station.
- Take a trek to Kyodo no Mori Museum in Fuchu. Admission 200 yen, 20-minute walk from Fuchu Honmachi Station on the Nambu Line. Usually closed on Mondays but check the schedule.
- Learn about the unique craft of Japanese kite-making at the Tokyo Kite Museum in Nihonbashi. Admission is free and it’s closed on Sundays. A 1-minute walk from Nihonbashi Station.
- Geek out at the Japan Camera Industry Institute Museum in Ichibancho. Entrance is 300 yen and it’s closed on Mondays. A 1-minute walk from Hanzomon Station.
- Revisit your living in space fantasies (just me?) at Chofu Aerospace Center of JAXA—the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency. Includes a space shuttle simulator and lots of spacecraft and aeroplanes. Admission is free, closed on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s a 13 minute bus trip and walk from Mitaka Station on the Chuo Line.
- Discover how gas was introduced to Japan during the Meiji period at the Tokyo Gas Museum. Admission is free and the museum is closed on Mondays. You’ll need to catch a bus from Hanakoganei, Higashikurume or Musashi Koganei Stations.
- Visit an Edo period display of reconstructed Fukagawa Saga-cho houses at the Fukagawa Edo Museum. Admission is 300 yen and it’s closed on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month.
- Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum – Admission 400 yen. It’s a 5-minute bus ride from Musashi-Koganei Station on the JR Chuo Line.
- Museum of Advertising and Marketing – Free Admission. Located in Shiodome, not so coincidentally the home of Japan’s biggest ad agency Dentsu. Closest station is Shimbashi.
- Suginami Animation Museum – Free Admission
- Soak up the tradition of Sumo at the Sumo Museum in Ryogoku. Free Admission
- See firefighting equipment from the Edo period right through to the present at the Tokyo Firefighters Museum. Closest station is Yotsuya Sanchome on the Marunouchi Line. Admission is free.
- Take a trip to Japan’s not so distant past at the Showakan Museum in Kudanshita. This museum is run by the Japanese War Bereaved Family Association and tries to tell the story of ordinary peoples’ lives during and after WWII. Admission is 300 yen and the museum is closed on Mondays. It’s connected directly to Kudanshita Station.
- Enjoy exhibits like “Let’s Enjoy Advanced Technology ‘Sewerage'” at the Rainbow Sewerage Museum in Odaiba. The closest station is Odaiba Kaihinkoen on the Yurikamome Line. Admission is free and it’s closed on Mondays.
- Japan Paper Museum – Admission 300 yen
- Find out how the police respond to emergencies at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Museum. The kids can dress up as a police officer and pose with various vehicles.
- Wonder why these two unrelated things are the focus of the Salt and Tobacco Museum in Shibuya. Admission is 100 yen and like most museums it’s closed on Mondays. It’s a 10-minute walk from Shibuya station and apparently it’s more interesting than it sounds.
- Kyu Asakura House – a beautifully preserved old house a short distance away from Shibuya, 100 yen to get in, or 500 yen for a year-long pass!
- Take a wander through The National Art Center, Tokyo. There will likely be one or two free exhibitions. The non-free stuff is good too, but it’s not free or particularly cheap.
Gardens and Parks
- Take a walk in Hibiya Park and look out for the turtles and herons in the ponds near the police box. It’s apparently (or was) a bit of a cruising/cottaging spot—so if you get bored watching the turtles humping…
- Go on a tour of the Imperial Palace (apply using their “state-of-the-art” website)
- Enjoy the myriad of scenes revealed to you as you stroll around the ornamental pond and tea house at Hinokicho Park in Akasaka.
- Explore Yoyogi Park on the weekend and check out the event square in the summer and everywhere else for musicians, dancers and performers. Events include cultural festivals, live music, farmers markets and flea markets.
- Better still have a covert picnic at Yoyogi’s “secret” park, which is free but you’re not meant to bring food and drinks (just be discreet).
- Have a picnic at Shinjuku Gyoen. It’s not free, but it’s pretty close, plus plenty of gardens, old tea houses etc. to explore. Entry is 200 yen and the park is closed on Mondays. Closest station is Shinjuku Gyoenmae.
- If you’re in eastern Tokyo, check out Kasai Rinkai Park. I once saw cats humping in the middle of the path here—sadly it was before the advent of Facebook so I could only show my friends the photo I’d taken from my phone.
- Pretend you’re a guest at the Hotel New Otani and explore the beautiful garden which predates the hotel by about 200 years (there are no checks and there are always hundreds of people wandering around).
- Do the same at the garden at Chinzanso/The Four Seasons. It’s the same deal as with the New Otani—there are always events here so no one bats an eyelid or particularly cares if you’re a guest or not. The garden is gorgeous.
- Take your S.O. for a walk in the park at Koishikawa Korakuen. Entry is 300 yen. It’s a relaxed 10-minute walk from Iidabashi Station.
- Not to be confused with the place above is Koishikawa Botanical Gardens. Admission is 330 yen and the gardens are closed each Monday. Closest station is Hakusan on the Mita Line.
- One of the largest parks in Tokyo, Showa Kinen Park in Tachikawa is a veritable day out for all the family with the water park, natural attractions, picnics, BBQ area, fake Mayan tower and strange massive dome-shaped bouncy castle thing. Entrance: 400 yen (adults), 200 yen(senior), 80 yen (6 – 15 yrs), and free for little ones.
- Tamagawadai Park is fairly close to central Tokyo, plus you have the bonus of taking a walk along Tamagawa River afterwards. Take the Tokyu Toyoko Line from Shibuya and get off at Tamagawa, the park is a short walk west of the station. You can walk along the river west all the way to the Denentoshi Line and take the train back to Shibuya from Futagotamagawa Station.
- A 15-minute walk from Nishikasai station is Gyosen Park and Zoo. The zoo isn’t as big as some others, but it’s free. The zoo is closed on Mondays.
- A quiet oasis in the middle of the urban zoo, Roppongi West Park.
- See a tycoons Western-style residence built during the Meiji period as well as an English garden and a Japanese garden at Kyu Furukawa Teien. It’s a short walk from Kami-Nakazato Station on the Keihin-Tohoku Line. Admission is 150 yen.
- Wander around Shin-Edogawa Garden—the former grounds of a feudal lord during the Edo period. Admission is free. You can walk there from either Waseda or Edogawabashi Station.
- Enjoy the flowers and tranquility of Mukōjima-Hyakkaen Garden—built by a rich merchant during the Edo period in North-east Tokyo. Admission is 150 yen and the garden can be reached on foot in 8 minutes from Higashi-Mukojima Station on the Tobu Isezaki Line.
- Located 300m to the north of Ryogoku Station on the Sobu Main Line, Kyu Yasuda Teien is another garden dating from the Edo period.
Showrooms and Window Shopping
- Browse the 10 levels of the Sony Building at Sukiyabashi Crossing. Closest station is Ginza on the Marunouchi and Hibiya Lines.
- Make electric car brmmm brmmm (whirring?) noises while seated in the latest electric car in the Nissan Showroom at Ginza 4-chome crossing.
- Play with some of the cleverest toys you’ve ever seen at Hakuhinkan toyshop on Chuo Dori.
- Peruse the stalls at Ameya-yokocho—Tokyo’s biggest outdoor market near Ueno Station.
- Akihabara has more than it’s fair share of computer goods, electronics and gadgets.
- Akihabara is also host to a seven-story sex superstore called M’s. Go and explore what Japanese technology innovation has done for this industry.
- Demo the most advanced toilets in the world at the The Toto Showroom in Shinjuku.
- Parade along Omtesando and check out the super-expensive brands stuff.
- After getting bored of Omotesando, wander down Takeshita Dori in Harajuku.
- Feel like you’re violating some sacred inner sanctum of ‘gyaru’ culture by exploring the 109 department store in Shibuya. Bonus points if you get some of the shop staff to pose in a photo with you.
Public Art & Architecture
- Head to OmoHara Plaza Building (between the Omotesando and Harajuku neighborhoods, hence the name). It’s a trendy fashion center with a kaleidoscope entranceway made of mirrors for a full trip effect. After your photo op in front of the building, make your way to the 7th floor terrace for a great view of the surrounding area (we recommend dusk for the most spectacular view). In the summer, the terrace becomes a “beer forest” where you can sample some craft beer in the
insufferablylovely warm weather.
- Check out some of renowned artist Taro Okamoto’s various public art works. The most famous are the totems at Sukiyabashi Crossing in Ginza and outside the Children’s Castle (next to the UN University) in Aoyama and the mural in Shibuya Station. His house in Aoyama is a museum—the best stuff can be seen from the street for free.
- Gundam Statue in Odaiba—see #9 on this article.
- Hunt out the modern architectural gems that Tokyo has to offer. There is still a structure by Le Corbusier (in Ueno Park) and two buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright—go find them!
- Wander around Ginza/Yurakucho to see structures by some of the most celebrated current crop of architects. Look for the translucent Hermes Building by Renzo Piano, the Mikimoto building by Toyo Ito and the Tokyo International Forum by Rafael Viñoly.
- Traverse Omotesando starting with the Nezu Museum—a beautiful reinterpretation of a Japanese warehouse by Kengo Kuma, continue on to the stunning Prada Building by Herzog & de Meuron then look for the TOD’S Building—another Toyo Ito masterpiece. Other buildings along this street include structures by Tadao Ando, MVRDV and SANAA. For a tour in reverse, check our post Omotesando—World’s Best Outdoor Modern Architecture Museum.
- Shinjuku is Tokyo’s original skyscraper zone and is famed as the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Some of the newer buildings in this area are the best. The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower was voted “Skyscraper of the Year in 2008 by Emporis. It was built by Tange Associates—although completed several years after Kenzo Tange himself died. The best view of the building is from the roof of the Keio department store. Some other Tange buildings in Tokyo are the Fuji TV building in Odaiba and the incredible Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
- Wander around “T site”—the new flag ship Tsutaya retail village in Daikanyama, a veritable work of art designed by Klein Dytham
- Pay homage to the resting place of the 47 Ronin at Senkakuji Temple.
- And then pay homage to Hachiko—Tokyo’s most famous dog (now a statue).
- Wander around inside the building where Douglas MacArthur personally ruled Japan from 1945 until 1951. His office is still preserved in the state that he left it, but it is only open to visitors on rare occasions. Closest station is Hibiya.
- Since you’re in the area, wander into the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace (open to the public) and make your way to the top of the ruins of the Edo Castle dojon (castle platform). Even thought the castle burnt down not long after it was built 400 years ago, the height of the base is still quite impressive and gives a nice view of the area and the surrounding city.
- Pop over to the politically controversial Yasukuni Shrine (due to some of the people who have the honor of being buried there). Apart from being a serene and pleasant spot for an autumnal stroll, there’s often some political excitement, the “right” colorfully represented by the nationalists driving around with a massive blaring out propaganda/nonsense and sharply contrasted by regular exhibitions/protests drawing attention the nation of Japanese occupied territories during the war. You can also enter the first floor of the Yushukan Museum for free where you can see a Zero fighter and various other armaments.
- Buy a bento from Precce or 7-Eleven and eat it on the terrace behind Tokyo Midtown. The restaurants just next door charge more than your whole meal just for a drink.
- Get a coffee at Starbucks and watch the madness of the scramble crossing in Shibuya.
- Try the Shinjuku underground challenge: owing to the massive scale of shopping facilities and sub-terrestrial linkage, it’s possible to walk from one mall to another, and up into other department stores for maybe as much as 1.5 mi! Go to Shinjuku, start in any mall, department store or station and allow yourself to get utterly lost underground/indoors. See how much distance you can cover and how many different stations you can enter without ever going outdoors.
- Once you’ve completed the Shinjuku underground challenge (above) grab the Chuo Line over to Tokyo Station, and repeat for Tokyo. Last time I tried, I managed to walk underground from somewhere near Otemachi, down through Tokyo Station, down to Tokyo International Forum, then up into Bic Camera at Yurakusho Station.
- If you do wish to emerge, explore the seedy backstreets of Kabukicho after dark looking out for the not-so-elusive impossibly svelte hosts. You can usually find the more junior ones with permanent scowls painted on their faces loitering around the entrances of their establishments. Check out the sign boards outside featuring their names, blood types and ‘talents’.
- Get a photo with the surprisingly diminutive Godzilla statue in Hibiya (see the map at the end for exact location Hibiya).
- Explore “Love Hotel Hill” between Shibuya Station and Yoyogi Park.
- Drop 500 yen on Pachinko, or at least wander through a Pachinko parlor and see how long you can stay in there without running out screaming.
- Head over to Akihabara and have a strawberry milkshake at a maid cafe. The maids are interesting enough, but I find observing the other patrons and trying to imagine the story (why, how often, etc.). Cheapo Warning: they’ll probably want to charge for taking photos.
- Tachiyomi –read all the books you want at virtually any bookstore. If you weren’t meant to read it, it would be wrapped in plastic. http://tokyocheapo.com/lifestyle/tachiyomi-reading-magazines-for-free/
Getting a View of Tokyo
- For one of the best views of Tokyo Bay, the skyscrapers that surround it and Tokyo’s iconic Rainbow Bridge, jump on the Yurikamome automated light rail system. The line begins in Shimbashi, goes across the Rainbow Bridge itself and does a big loop around Odaiba – the land of huge bubble era construction follies.
- The highest free observation deck in Tokyo is at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building—near the west exit of Shinjuku Station.
- Bunkyo Civic Center Observation Desk, Korakuen http://whereintokyo.com/venues/25352.html
- Take a lift to the top of the Carrot Tower in Sangenjaya. It’s actually just a building rather than a carrot shaped tower and it’s only 26 stories high – but there is nothing around it so you should get a great view of the city.
Temples and Shrines
- Senso-ji—an impressive sight no doubt. Plus a hot spot for tourists.
- Get one of those photos where you juxtapose Zojo-ji in the foreground with the nearby Tokyo Tower. Closest station is Shibakoen on the Mita Line.
- Wander from Harajuku Station through the long forested approach and enormous torii to Meiji Jingu. Be sure to take close-up personal photos of people having their wedding ceremonies there. Don’t worry, if they didn’t want people to take photos they would have chosen somewhere else!
- Visit Ikegami Honmonji—the resting place of Nichiren—one of Japan’s great Buddhist teachers. The temple is a short walk from Ikegami and Nishi-Magome Stations.
- Take the escalator to enlightenment at Hie Shrine in Akasaka. Closest stations are Akasaka and Tameike Sanno.
- Experience the unusually solemn, cathedral-like Honganji in Tsukiji. Unlike just about every other temple in Japan, Hongan-ji is made of concrete and stone and incorporates elements of Western architecture. Closest station is Tsukiji.
- Enjoy the gardens at Nezu Shrine. The shrine is a 10-minute walk from Nezu Station on the Chiyoda Line.
Fun, Games and Entertainment
- Spend Saturday afternoon wandering around amongst the high school girls in Shibuya and Harajuku, then head over to Akihabara to experience the polar opposite, of otaku-esque men shopping for hard drives.
- Nonbei Yokocho—check out some old fashioned minature bars in Shibuya.
- Have a bath at an old-school Japanese-style sento at Shimizu-yu in Omotesando or Jakotsu-yu in Asakusa.
- Go to the second floor of the Shimbashi Eki Mae building where there are the mythical vending machines selling used underpants.
- Head down to the basement of Matsuya Department Store in Ginza at lunch time to try lots of free food samples
- Check the Apple Store in Ginza for free design-related meetups. You might have to endure some propaganda at the event, but it’ll all be in Japanese anyway.
- Common busking spots—Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station, Yoyogi Park, Inokashira Park.
- Wander around a busy station (Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Shibuya for example), and pick up as many free tissue hand outs as possible. Then go home, photograph them and list them on eBay. Alternatively call up your friends tell them to do the same, then come round for a tissue party.
- Daytime karaoke, cheapo style.
- Ping pong at the game centers in Shibuya.
- Morning jog round the Imperial Palace. A forest surrounded by a moat slap bang in the center of Tokyo, also a popular route for morning joggers. Get off at subway station Sakurada-mon, between 7am and 9am, and just follow all the other joggers.
- If you’re new to Tokyo and have never done it before, get on a busy commuter train for a couple of stops, most lines heading to Shibuya or Shinjuku between 8-9am should suffice. First, spend a few minutes watching a few Japanese passengers board the train (by squeezing into to an already completely full carriage), then when you think you’ve figured out the technique give it a go.
Trips and Travel
- Get on the circular Yamanote Line and go all the way round (get off one stop away from where you got on, thereby paying the minimum fare).
- Take one of Tokyo’s last remaining tram/street car lines—the Toden Arakawa Line—from the start at Minowabashi through to the terminus at Waseda. Only 170 yen for the entire 50-minute trip.
- Hiking in Kamakura
- Mount Takao, is usually deemed the easiest mountain hiking spot in Tokyo. When climbing Mount Takao, make sure you take the Keio Line from Shinjuku—at 390 yen it’s about half the price of taking the JR line! Mount Takao is #2 on our Terrific Tokyo Hikes list.
- Takao can get a little crowded, and sometimes feel a bit “touristy”. For a far-less-trodden path, take the Seibu Ikebukro Line to Hanno and pick up one of the Seibu Line hiking maps. There’s a couple of nice gentle 2.5-hour hikes starting from Hanno station (Tenranzan and Komatoge) and walking into the nearby hills, or you can take the Chichibu Line a few stops for some more serious mountain hiking options. To make a full day outing, try 1304m Bukosan, but leave early it’s two hours on the train from Ikebukuro, then a 6-hour hike.
This article was originally published in December 2012 and was updated in November 2015.