Walking tours are a good way to meet new people and explore Tokyo. Also, unlike bus tours, Tokyo walking tours tend to be smaller, which means that the guide can better focus on his/her guests and you’re not as pressed for time. It’s also more likely for you to get glimpses of everyday Japanese life when on a walking tour.
In no particular order, here are some groups that organize free Tokyo walking tours for fellow cheapos—note, though, that you’ll still have to pay for admission whenever necessary, and that if you’ll be eating, it’s considered polite to treat your guide to a meal.
1. Tokyo Free Walking Tour
This tour group offer three different tours around Tokyo—all completely free. On Saturdays you can explore the Imperial Palace East Gardens and learn about the days of the Shogun in Tokyo (1pm – 3.30pm). The Sunday tours alternate between Asakusa (10am – 11am and 1pm – 2pm) and a combined tour of Meiji Jingu and Harajuku (10am – 12pm). While the tours are quite short, they’re perfect if you have a lot to fit in and want an introduction to the area. Dates are subject to change, so do check the calendar to confirm, and ensure you are at the meeting point up to 30 minutes before the tour starts.
2. Tokyo SGG Club Tours
SGG stands for “systematic goodwill guide,” and these volunteers hold a two-hour walking tour of the Imperial Palace East Gardens and three 90-minute tours of popular areas in Tokyo. The Asakusa Tour runs on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at 10.30am and 1.15pm, leaving from the Asakusa Culture and Tourism Information Center. Meanwhile, the Ueno tour takes place on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, departing at 10.30am and 1.30pm from outside the Ueno Green Salon across from the Ueno Station Park Exit.
The final area tour explores Yanaka and only takes place on Sundays at 10.30am or 1.30pm, starting from the Asakura Museum of Sculpture. If you’re keen to explore the Imperial Palace Gardens, you can join tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and weekends at 1pm starting from the JNTO Tourism Information Center. You need to be at the meeting points 10 minutes before departure.
3. Tokyo Free Guide
With over 150 volunteer guides who speak several languages, Tokyo Free Guide allows you to customize your tours. You just need to contact them to book a guide and work something out, and whether you’re traveling solo or with a small group, there’s sure to be a volunteer guide who can accommodate you. Of course, you have to shoulder all expenses that the guide will incur during the course of your tour, including transport, food and entry to attractions. Visit their website to contact them, or check out their Facebook page for testimonials from satisfied tourists and smiley selfies.
4. Tokyo Localized
Started by a traveler with a love for tour guiding, this site runs regular day and evening group tours around Tokyo. There are currently four different tours available, including their three-hour flagship Tokyo tour which starts from the AKB48 Cafe in Akihabara at 9.30am and 1.30pm every day, taking you from Kanda Myojin Shrine to Ameyoko and Ueno Park. The two-hour Asakusa tour is new and runs three times a day from Kaminari-mon, visiting hotspots like Nakamise-dori and Denpoin Street.
For a taste of Harajuku and Meiji Jingu, there’s a 2.5 hour tour that takes you from the shrine to Yoyogi Park with some great sights in between. The most interesting option, however, is probably the Shinjuku Night Tour, which runs between 7pm and 9pm every night, exploring Kabukicho, Omoide-Yokocho and Godzilla Road before winding up in Golden Gai. An ideal way to explore a sketchy part of town, this tour meets up at the Shinjuku Tourist Information Center. The tours are all free, but reservation is required and tips are accepted (and probably expected).
5. Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Shinjuku Tour
This is one of 13 guided tours being offered by volunteers affiliated with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the only free one. It’s a two-hour tour that starts at 10am and 1pm on weekdays. It will have you exploring the streets of busy Shinjuku, and it includes a visit to the basement of Isetan Department Store to see and maybe even try their offerings—department store basements are known to have delicious and reasonably priced food.
If you’re interested in the other tours, the costs are for entry and/or travel for yourself and the guides, with the full amount depending on how many people take part. They have some good options including sumo, tea ceremony and architecture-based tours. Or, if you don’t want to walk too far, you can take a short 40-minute tour of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings, which ends with a visit to the observatories, where you can view Tokyo from above. The meeting point is the Tokyo Tourist Information Center Main Office on the first floor.
6. The Japanese Red Cross Language Service Volunteers
This group offers tours not only in and around Tokyo, but also to nearby day-trip locations such as Kamakura. While anyone is welcome to contact them, they specialize in guiding and assisting physically challenged travelers. They also have guides who speak several languages aside from English. Check their website for more details.
7. Kimi Information Center
With their main office in Ikebukuro, this life assistance company for foreigners, with services covering everything from real estate to job-hunting, also has a roster of volunteer guides who are students keen to practice their English. Visit their website to inquire.
8. Capital Tokyo West SGG Club
Another one of the many SGG clubs around Japan, the guides are very knowledgeable about Western Tokyo, but they can also conduct tours around the rest of Tokyo. Just contact them to book a guide and arrange a tour.
9. Shinagawa SGG Goodwill Guide
According to their website, they are a group of volunteers. Like the previously mentioned SGG club, this one also allows you to customize your itinerary.
Pro tip: While we’re on the subject of Tokyo walking tours, here’s a nifty little guide to help you find professional tour guides in Tokyo.
Bonus: “Book a friend” to show you around
Another option, albeit a paid one, is to arrange a personalized private tour with a regular, likeminded Tokyo-ite who speaks your language.
We do our best to make sure all the information in this post is correct, but, like everything in life, it’s subject to change. Originally published in May, 2014. Last updated by Lily Crossley-Baxter in September, 2018.