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 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 usually polite to treat your guide to a meal:
1. Tokyo Free Walking Tour
This tour meets up on Saturdays at 1:00 pm in front of the Marunouchi Central Ticket Gate of JR Tokyo Station (no reservations needed), and ends at the Imperial Palace East Gardens at about 3:00 pm. Along the way, the guides explain the history of Tokyo. It’s a rather short tour, but it’s highly recommended if you don’t have the entire day to spare for a walking tour, and if you aren’t too fond of walking very long distances. At times, they also hold weekday tours; check their website for updates.
2. Tokyo SGG Club Tours
SGG stands for “systematic goodwill guide,” and these volunteers hold walking tours of Asakusa and Ueno. The hour-long Asakusa tour is held at 10:30 am and 1:15 pm on weekends, while the 90-minute tour of Ueno Park and its surrounding attractions is held at 10:30 am and 1:30 pm on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Just arrive at their respective offices at least 10 minutes before the tour starts, although they may have to limit the number of participants if the tourist-guide ratio becomes out of proportion.
Asakusa meeting point: 1/F, Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center, 2-18-9 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Ueno meeting point: Cafeteria & Gallery Green Salon, Ueno Park
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 surely 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. Visit their website to contact them, or check out their Facebook page for testimonials from satisfied tourists.
4. Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Shinjuku Tour
This is one of the guided tours being offered by volunteers affiliated with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the only free one. A 2-hour tour that starts at 10:00 am and 1:00 pm on weekdays, the tour 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 food, as department store basements are known to have delicious and reasonably priced food. If you’re interested in the other tours, the Harajuku and the Architecture tours aren’t too pricey. 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 buildings’ observatories, where you can view Tokyo from above.
Meeting point: Tokyo Tourist Information Center Main Office, 1/F, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.1, 2-8-1 Nishi-shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
5. 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 the physically challenged. They also have guides who speak several languages aside from English. Check their 2011 leaflet here, or their website.
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6. 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. Visit their website to inquire.
7. 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.
8. Shinagawa SGG Goodwill Guide
According to their website, they are a group comprised of 62 volunteers. Like the previously mentioned SGG club, this one also allows you to customize your itinerary.
While we’re on the subject, here’s a nifty guide to help you find tour guides in Tokyo.
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