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 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.
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, Sundays and holidays. It’s a 13-minute bus trip + 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 Station.
Visit an Edo-period display of reconstructed Fukagawa Saga-cho houses at the Fukagawa Edo Museum. Admission is ¥400 and tickets must be reserved in advance. It’s closed on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month.
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 present the lives of ordinary people during and after WWII. Admission is ¥300 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.
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.
Ponder why these two unrelated things are the focus of the Salt and Tobacco Museum in Shibuya. Admission is ¥100 and like most museums it’s closed on Mondays. It’s a 10-minute walk from Shibuya Station and it’s more interesting than it sounds.
Kyu Asakura House – A beautifully preserved old house a short distance from Shibuya. Only ¥100 to get in, or ¥500 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 nor particularly cheap.
Gardens and parks
Take a walk in Hibiya Park. Look out for the turtles and herons in the ponds near the police box.
Enjoy the myriad of scenes revealed to you as you stroll around the ornamental pond and teahouse 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. You’re not meant to bring food and drinks (just be discreet if you do).
Have a picnic at Shinjuku Gyoen. It’s not free, but it’s pretty close, plus plenty of gardens and old teahouses to explore. Entry is ¥500 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. It’s a relaxed 10-minute walk from Iidabashi Station.
Not to be confused with the place above is Koishikawa Botanical Gardens. Admission is ¥500 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 makes for a fun day out for the whole family with a water park, natural attractions, picnic areas, BBQ area, fake Mayan tower and strange massive dome-shaped bouncy castle thing. Entrance: ¥450 (adults), ¥210 (senior), free for kids.
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 west along the river 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 and features a “Pony Land”. The zoo is closed on Mondays.
See a tycoon’s Western-style residence built during the Meiji period as well as an English garden and Japanese garden at Kyu Furukawa Teien. It’s a short walk from Kami-Nakazato Station on the Keihin-Tohoku Line. Admission is ¥150.
Wander around Higo Hosokawa Garden (recently changed from 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 is one of the most peaceful things you can do in Tokyo. This garden was built by a rich merchant during the Edo period in north-east Tokyo. Admission is ¥150 and the garden can be reached on foot in 8 minutes from Higashi-Mukojima Station on the Tobu Isezaki Line.
Located 300 m 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.
Parade along Omotesando 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 and 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 insufferably lovely 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, as well as the mural in Shibuya Station. His house in Aoyama is a museum—the best stuff can be seen from the street for free.
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.
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 though the castle burned 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 blaring out propaganda/nonsense. Enter the first floor of the Yushukan Museum for free where you can see a Zero fighter and various other armaments.
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 2.5 kilometers! 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, 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 in Hibiya).
Drop ¥500 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.). Fair warning, they’ll probably want to charge for taking photos.
Try out tachiyomi—reading all the books you want at virtually any bookstore. If you weren’t meant to read it, it would be wrapped in plastic.
Views 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.
Head up to the Bunkyo Civic Center’s Observation Desk on the 25th floor.
Take a lift to the top of the Carrot Tower in Sangenjaya. It’s actually just an orange-colored building rather than a carrot-shaped tower. 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
Sensoji—an impressive sight no doubt. Plus a hot spot for tourists.
Get one of those photos where you juxtapose Zojoji 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, Honganji 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.
Games, entertainment and things to do
Spend Saturday afternoon wandering around and try not to make a fool of yourself in front of cool youth culture in Shibuya and Harajuku. Then head over to Akihabara to experience the polar opposite—otaku-esque men shopping for hard drives.
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 is one of the most fun and memorable things to do in Tokyo.
Ping pong at the game centers in Shibuya.
Morning jog round the Imperial Palace. The forest surrounded by a moat slap bang in the center of Tokyo is a popular route for morning joggers. Get off at subway station Sakurada-mon, between 7 am and 9 am, 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 and 9 am should suffice. First, spend a few minutes watching a few Japanese passengers board the train (by squeezing into to an already completely full carriage). When you think you’ve figured out the technique, give it a go. This is one of the most entertaining things to do with friends in Tokyo.
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 for the entire 50-minute trip.
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—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 are a couple of nice, gentle 2.5-hour hikes starting from Hanno Station (Tenranzan and Komatoge). Or you can take the Chichibu Line a few stops for some more serious mountain hiking options. To make a full day outing, try 1304 m Bukosan. But leave early because it’s two hours on the train from Ikebukuro, then a six-hour hike.
This article was originally published in December 2012 and is updated periodically. Last update: June 2020. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out the rest of our website. We’re dedicated to making your time in Tokyo the best it can possibly be.