It may seem like this suburb only loves you for your money, with shiny shops and enticing restaurants beckoning from every nook and cranny. But it is possible to be in the ‘Buya without blowing big bucks. Here are 10 fun ideas for free things to do in Shibuya, so that you can enjoy an inexpensive jaunt to Tokyo’s youth mecca.
1. People watch at Scramble Crossing
We can’t talk about Shibuya without mentioning the mega-famous crossing, so let’s get it over with. At this massive intersection, bursting with neon and noise, every few minutes all the lights turn red to let pedestrians swarm every which way to get to their desired corner. This is the shot you see in all the movies and social media posts about Tokyo (see our how to photograph Shibuya Crossing guide). When you’re not gawping at the folks weaving and dodging, you can watch the huge TVs playing ads and music videos of the latest Jpop sensations.
Cheapo hack: We’re not known to recommend Starbucks, but the branch at Shibuya Crossing merits a mention because a) it’s said to be the busiest in the world, and b) it’s provides a good viewpoint over the intersection.
2. See some art
Want to see contemporary art without paying museum prices? There are a couple of cool galleries only minutes from Shibuya Station. On the north side, Diesel Art Gallery exhibits both domestic and international artists. At the Hikarie shopping center, a free gallery on the eighth floor (appropriately called “Hachi”) displays modern, contemporary, and Japanese craft art. And at Parco Gallery X in the Parco building, you can see the works of contemporary Japanese artists (be sure to go to the gallery on B1F and not the museum on 3F; the gallery is free, the museum is not).
Pro tip: Make new friends and experience the local nightlife on a bar-hopping tour of Shibuya. It’s not free, but it is pretty awesome.
3. Chill in the park
Yoyogi Park’s margins extend into Shibuya and the green zone is always chockablock with festivals, performers, picnickers, and sun worshipers. It’s especially hopping on the weekends. This is a great place to find a pick-up game of futsal or hacky-sack, a tai-chi or yoga gathering, a Frisbee match, or an interpretive dance-walking group. And Meiji Shrine is just a stone’s throw away. There are several routes to the park, but walking north from the station about six blocks along Inokashira-dori will get you there in a jiffy.
4. Be a bookworm
It’s more than common to spend all afternoon standing in front of the magazine rack at 7-11 reading the latest Brutus elbow to elbow with a sweaty guy looking at weakly-disguised porn. But if you want to browse without the guilt and perhaps fewer otaku, why not try the library? Even if you’re not a cardholder, you can while away the hours reading books (and in English, too) in a space meant for exactly that. You may even be able to score a chair. There are two branches within 10 minutes’ walk of the station—the Komorebi Owada branch at 23-2 Sakuragaoka is near the south exit of the station, just across the street from the Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel, and the Ward Shibuya Library at 1-6-6 Higashi is about ten minutes’ walk to the southeast of the station, near Jissenjoshi Gakuen High School.
5. Say hi to Hachiko
It’s practically required that you snap a pic of loyal dog Hachiko at least once when you visit Shibuya, or perhaps dress him in a hand-knitted sweater, or offer him a cappuccino. Hachiko, Shibuya Station’s mascot (look for the paw prints leading to the dedicated exit), is the dog that waited faithfully at the station every day for his guardian, a professor, to come home from work. After the professor died, Hachiko continued to wait in the same spot every day until his own death.
Today, the statue is probably the most popular meeting spot in Japan (good luck finding your date in a sea of people trying to do the same). He’s not the only gig in town, though. Other cool sculptures in the area include the Moyai Heads on the south side of the station (bonus: this is a favorite spot for buskers), the naked children playing on an iron globe near the west exit, or the girl holding a fruit in Dogenzaka.
6. Go geocaching
Once only a hobby for dedicated geo-nerds, this pastime used to require the possession of a GPS receiver. With the ubiquity of smart phones, however, now even a dilettante cacher can try out their sleuthing skills, playing a global game that is not only a treasure hunt and a measure of your detective ability, but also a way for locals to show off points of interest that may otherwise be overlooked. There are over a dozen caches in the immediate Shibuya station area.
Note: If keychains and doo-dads are your thing, be sure to bring along something to trade and follow the other rules of the game.
7. Explore “Love Hotel Hill”
If you’re interested in wacky architecture or just some titillation by osmosis, take a walk around the famed Love Hotel Hill in the Dogenzaka area. Comparison shop, dodge the guys trying to attract customers to peep shows and “soap lands” (aka sexy massage parlors), and marvel at the cool old coffee shops and bars that are stuck back there in between. One thing though—if you’re actually looking to partake of a room, give our guide to love hotels a read first. Not all Casablancas are equal.
8. Listen to live music
A few bars have DJs and live music most nights with no cover. If you’re really too cheap to buy a drink, you could probably get away with it at Coins Bar (but most things on the menu, food and drink, are around 300 yen), which tends toward hip hop, and Oath, which has more techno and house. Be advised that Coins does sometimes charge a cover later in the evening if they have a particularly popular DJ, so go early for free entry.
9. Check out Tower Records
You could also give Tower Records a visit. The store is still going strong in Japan, and offers a line-up of “mini lives”—free short concert—almost every day of the week. These range from acoustic strumming in between the CD racks to classical piano concertos, to full-on concerts complete with stage and strobe lights in the basement.
10. Fill your belly
Hungry but hopelessly broke? Duck into a depachika–a department store basement–where the food hall is found. Bakeries, sushi shops, wine sellers, takoyaki grillerr—the temptations are endless. Luckily, some stalls offer samples, and with a little perseverance you can graze your way to a hearty snack, if not a full meal. A few spots to try are Tokyu Food Show right under Shibuya Station, Seibu’s Food Hall, and Hikarie’s ShinQs Food.
Have your own favorite free haunts in the hood? Tell us about other things to do in Shibuya in the comments! Looking to explore other parts of Tokyo? Check out our post on 10 Free Things to do in Harajuku or Shinjuku too, and of course our mega list of 101 things to do in Tokyo.
Bonus: If you happen to be in town near the end of October then you’ve got to stick around for Halloween in Shibuya—it’s a whole other level of crazy.
This post was last updated by Carey Finn in February 2017.
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