Travel Japan: 8 Free Things to Do in Tokyo

Japan has a reputation for being one of the most expensive countries to visit, and its capital city of Tokyo can be especially tough on the pocketbooks of budget travelers. With accommodations and food eating up a large chunk of your travel budget, many budget travelers will complain that there isn’t any money left over for sightseeing. Or is there? Despite the fact that Tokyo is expensive, it still manages to provide a number of top-notch free attractions that showcase its unique culture and diverse lifestyle.

Tuna Auction
1. Tsukiji Fish Market

If you aren’t afraid of getting up early – try 4:30am – the Tokyo Fish Market is guaranteed to be a most memorable event of your time in Tokyo. Catch the early morning fish auction near Tsukijishijo Station. The inner market is a wholesale market where fish processing and auctions take place in the wee hours of the morning. Outside the market, you’ll find shops selling Japanese kitchen tools, groceries, seafood and the freshest sushi restaurants in town. The market is open early on mornings except Sunday. The auctions begin shortly after 5am and are over by 7am. Access to the market has been banned during high season.

Photo by Stefan

2. Odaiba and Tokyo Bay

Odaida and the Tokyo Bay area is simply beautiful if you’re looking for a view of the city skyline. A popular place for family outings and barbeques in the park, Odaiba Bay’s Promenade runs alongside the park and will take you right to the doors of Decks Shopping Mall.

Photo by EnhMark

3. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku (west exit) has two free observation galleries on the 45th floor and offers a stunning view of Mount Fuji, Yokohama and the beautiful city of Tokyo.

Photo by LeeLeFever

4. Harajuku District

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If pop culture and cosplay are what you are after, a visit to Harajuku promises to deliver. Harajuku is well-known for its boutiques and bistros and famous for its Harajuku Kids and Cos-play-zoku aka The Costume Play Gang. A day spent here is a day in voyeur’s paradise.

Photo by LeeLeFever

5. Shinjuku Station

Known as one of the busiest places on Earth, Shinjuku Station at rush hour is a sight to behold. You’ll see more people in one place than you’ve ever seen before at the Ginza Sukiyabashi crossing or at the Hachiko Exit of Shibuya Station.

Yoyogi Park

6. Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park on Sunday offers free entertainment and loads of visual appeal. This beautiful park is a gathering place for live performances, artists, drumming circles, flower children and the occasional rave.

Photo by Roboppy7. Free Food

Did someone say free food? Yes, indeed. Most department stores in Tokyo offer free samples in their basement food halls.

Akihabara

8. Akihabara

A visit to Akihabara, Tokyo’s largest electronic store, is bound to impress. Listen to the latest music, or test-drive the latest gadgets and gadgets. After you’re done window-shopping, wind down with a free massage from one of the massage chairs on display in the furniture department.

NOTE: The following photos have all been made available under a Creative Commons License on Flickr. Please click on each photo to go to the photographers photostream.

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/carriekellenberger/.

25 thoughts on “Travel Japan: 8 Free Things to Do in Tokyo

    Stevo

    (September 19, 2009 - 4:12 am)

    What a great list! Should I ever get to Tokyo I’ll definitely check out Harajuku District.
    .-= Stevo´s last blog ..Hong Kong Photo: Po Fook Memorial Hall =-.

      Carrie

      (September 21, 2009 - 1:40 am)

      Stevo,
      We sincerely hope that you will not go to Japan before you come to Taiwan. We want dibs! 😛

    Jack - eyeflare travel

    (September 19, 2009 - 10:09 am)

    Carrie, thanks for the great tips. Haven’t made my way to Japan yet, but hope to do so in the next few years.
    .-= Jack – eyeflare travel´s last blog ..Travel between Florence and Pisa, Italy =-.

      Carrie

      (September 21, 2009 - 1:40 am)

      Hi Jack,
      Thanks very much for stopping by, and I think I owe you for some stumble love too. Japan rates high in our books and we’d love to go back some day soon. I believe you’re new here, so welcome to My Several Worlds and thanks very much for commenting.

    John Bardos - JetSetCitizen

    (September 20, 2009 - 4:18 am)

    Greetings Carrie,

    One other piece of advice I would offer is to walk. Tokyo is huge, so people often mistakenly assume that the distance between train stations is far. It is generally only a 10 to 20 minute walk between stations, so I always recommend that people start at one point of the city and slowly walk to their destination.

    You will see much more of the city and get a better understanding of all the small streets and shops. There is incredible diversity all over Japan, it is difficult to see when you are traveling by train everywhere.

    The train system in Japan is fantastic so try it for the experience and to travel far distances, but you will get more out of walking. The same is true for other cities like Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Tourists don’t really need the trains to see the city. My wife and I still frequently walk across these cities when we visit. The popular areas are phenomenally crowded but you will often find quiet and beautiful streets nearby.
    .-= John Bardos – JetSetCitizen´s last blog ..Interview with Genius Marketer, Charlie Hoehn =-.

      Carrie

      (September 21, 2009 - 1:38 am)

      Hi John,

      Yes, I can second that suggestion. We really enjoyed walking around Toyko. What an incredible city. There’s never a dull moment. John and I did a road trip there last year. Rather than take advantage of the train system – we’ve heard it’s excellent, by the way – we chose to rent a car and road trip it for 16 days. We drove from Tokyo to Fuji, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Nagano. We wish we’d known you guys were in Nara, however, we will be back and hope to meet you in person some day!

    Poagao

    (September 21, 2009 - 1:28 am)

    The only one I didn’t do when I was there last year was Yoyogi Park. So now I have to go back, apparently.
    .-= Poagao´s last blog ..Nocturnal submissions =-.

      Carrie

      (September 21, 2009 - 1:35 am)

      Hi Poagao,
      We’ve done all of these, but Yoyogi Park was definitely a highlight for us. The bands and musicians there were just incredible. They had drumming circles, jazz bands, and full-on rock and roll gurus. It was a blast. If you’re planning a debut there with Muddy Basin Ramblers, please let us know so we can book our tickets. 🙂

    Nomadic Matt

    (September 21, 2009 - 3:34 pm)

    great great list!
    .-= Nomadic Matt´s last blog ..The Downside to Long Term Travel =-.

      Carrie

      (September 28, 2009 - 1:34 am)

      Thanks Matt. I took a cue from the master. 😉

    Carla Young

    (September 21, 2009 - 3:42 pm)

    I’m planning my first trip to tokyo very soon, and excited to check out all of these….especially harijuku and the tokyo bay.
    .-= Carla Young´s last blog ..10 Best Websites For Finding Budget Flights =-.

      Carrie

      (September 28, 2009 - 1:35 am)

      Carla,

      You’ll love it. Tokyo = eye candy.

    kim

    (September 23, 2009 - 1:56 pm)

    Great list, I did about half of these (1, 3, 4 & 5). Tsukiji was my absolute favourite.
    I would add that you should visit Harajuku during the weekend, on a rainy Tuesday there were no cool kids to be seen.
    Some other fun free things in Tokyo:
    – The Senso-ji temple, not too far from Tsukiji.
    – Ueno park during cherry blossom season (I was there in the fall, there was a free festival going on too)
    – Kappabashi dori. Kitchen supply walhalla, fun to just look at as well, has stores with those plastic food displays
    – Omotesando for the modern architecture of the designer shops.

      Carrie

      (September 28, 2009 - 1:40 am)

      Hi Kim,

      Yes, great tip! I forgot to mention that the best time to see Harajuku kids is on the weekend. One of my dreams has always been to go to Japan during the cherry blossom festival. I’d love to do a trip like Will Ferguson did in Hitching Rides with Buddha. If you haven’t read it, it’s about the author’s pilgramage as he hitchhikes 1,800 miles north through Japan following the cherry blossoms as they bloom across the country (a phenomenon known as the Sakura Zensen). An incredible read!

    Erica

    (September 26, 2009 - 6:26 pm)

    I’ve wanted to visit Tokyo ever since I saw Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation. I’d skip the fish market and head to the Tokyo bay area, Harajuku and Yoyogi Park. And, I wouldn’t leave until I’d tasted a vegetarian sushi.

      Carrie

      (September 28, 2009 - 1:46 am)

      Hi Erica,
      I’ve been nagging my husband to go back because I want to do it all over again!

    jessiev

    (September 26, 2009 - 9:02 pm)

    WHAT a great list. i loved living in japan, and would go back in a heartbeat. i love the small roads with small shops, and smaller restaurants. i worked in shinjuku and was always surprised by the masses of humanity – you feel like an ant!

    thanks for this fun article!
    .-= jessiev´s last blog ..SUBLYME =-.

      Carrie

      (September 28, 2009 - 3:02 am)

      Whoa. Shinjuku? I work in downtown Taipei and the people and pollution drive me crazy. I can’t imagine working in Shinjuku. How long were you in Japan for?

    William Wallace

    (October 20, 2009 - 8:54 pm)

    One of these days when I have enough dough to enjoy and expereince all the many delights that Toyko has to offer, I will be there like a shot…….!
    .-= William Wallace´s last blog ..Nottign Hill7 =-.

    michelleG

    (November 6, 2009 - 4:16 pm)

    If I ever make it to Tokyo, I will be checking these out

    LTL

    (January 26, 2010 - 1:25 pm)

    Sorry to tell you this, but all live bands have been banned at Yoyogi Park since November of 2008.

    Carrie

    (January 26, 2010 - 1:40 pm)

    LTL,

    Thanks for letting us know. I’ve heard that the live musical performances have stopped, but the rockabilly greasers, balloon men, acrobats, dance parties, and flea market are still on each weekend.

    LTL

    (January 29, 2010 - 4:44 am)

    Hi Carrie – That’s exactly right. No one is sure why they banned the live bands that used to – for many years – bring thousands of tourists and locals to the park each weekend. There was some speculation that it was related to the Olympics bid, but that has ended now and the live music ban is still being enforced. Either way, the Japanese government is spending a lot of money to promote tourism, at the same time that the Tokyo government is putting a lot of effort into stopping one of the most popular weekend tourist draws in Tokyo. It’s a sad situation for all involved.

    Carrie

    (January 29, 2010 - 4:58 am)

    LTL,

    That really is a shame. Yoyogi Park was one of the highlights of my time in Tokyo. I hope the government decides to bring it all back. Thanks again for letting us know about this.I appreciate you taking the time to comment and explain.

    johnny

    (November 6, 2010 - 7:33 pm)

    wish i had read this before my (expensive) backpacking in Japan. Also, you can check out the sumo stables for free and watch the big guys eat and train, and eat and eat – its pretty cool =)

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