A trip to Tokyo doesn't have to leave you bankrupt. Check out these 10 great free things to do in Japan's biggest city
Tokyo is widely regarded to be a budget-busting city, but steer clear of the swanky boutiques and Michelin-starred restaurants and there are plenty of freebies to be had for the savvy visitor. When you're done grazing your way through the free samples in the depachika (department store basement food courts), hit the streets and check out these 10 free sites.
1. Best free view
High above Shinjuku, the viewing gallery of the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building provides stunning views of Tokyo, and on a clear day Mount Fuji and Yokohama as well. Early morning should give the clearest view, particularly in the autumn, but the illuminated city in the evening is equally impressive. City Hall itself is worth a gander. The tallest building in the city, it was designed by renowned architect Kenzo Tange and constructed at a cost of $1 billion! The outer courtyard also plays home to various public artworks.
Open: 09:30am to 05:30pm (07:30pm on Sunday). Closed: Monday (Tuesday if Monday was a public holiday). Tel: 03-5321 1111.
2. Free Japanese garden
Many of Tokyo’s traditional gardens come at a price, but the Higashi-Gyoen or East Gardens of the Imperial Palace give visitors the opportunity to take in the tranquillity and beauty of a Japanese garden completely free. Take in the koi ponds, clipped pine and changing foliage throughout the seasons—obviously cherry blossom time is particularly popular. The gardens also plays home to a museum housing Emperor Showa's art collection, clothing, photographs and other memorabilia related to the Imperial Family.
Open: 09:00am - 04:30pm (last admission - 04:00pm); Tue-Thu and Sat-Sun 9am–5pm, closed Mon and Fri. 1-1 Chiyoda, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3213-1111.
3. Free sumo
Close to Ryogoku station and Tokyo’s Kokugikan Sumo Wrestling Stadium a small free museum offers visitors a look at the history of sumo. Exhibits feature historical depictions of the sport and photos of great wrestlers and other memorabilia. Visitors can also book tours of the nearby sumo stables, where you can see neophytes practice their leg lifts and sparring.
Open Mon-Fri 10am-4:30pm, closed Sat-Sun and holidays. Nearest station: Ryogoku. www.sumo.or.jp/eng1F Ryogoku Kokugikan, 1-3-28 Yoko-ami, Sumida-ku. Tel: 03-3623-5111.
4. Free museum
The nearby sumo stadium and stables maybe responsible for some minor tremors, but this museum is dedicated to what locals refer to as “The Big One.” Commemorating the devastating 1923 quake, The Kanto Earthquake Memorial Museum is situated in the grounds of Tokyo Memorial Temple. The museum contains models and photos that detail the destruction caused by the 7.9 quake, which killed over 140,000 people.
Open Tue-Sat 9am–4:30pm, closed Mon (or the following day if Monday is a national holiday). 2-3-25 Yokoami, Sumida-ku. Tel: 03-3623-1200. Nearest stn: Ryogoku
5. Free ride
Toyota’s Mega Web in Odaiba gives visitors the chance to check out the latest the automaker has to offer. From Formula 1 to concept cars, there is plenty to see in the giant showroom and the History Garage museum. Not just for petrol heads, Mega Web has cool virtual reality pods and allows visitors to test drive various models or take a computer spin in an electric car around the internal track (some charges may apply).
Open daily 11am-9pm. Palette Town, Aomi 1-chome, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-3599-0808. Nearest stn: Aomi or Tokyo Teleport. http://www.megaweb.gr.jp/English/
6 & 7. Free robots
Honda Welcome Plaza in Aoyama allows visitors to take a step into the future and showcases the latest and coolest of Honda’s technology. Check out the motorcycle simulator and make sure you are there for one of humanoid robot ASIMO’s daily meet and greets (daily at 10.30am, 11.50am and 3pm).
2-1-1 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Nearest stn: Omotesando
More free tech fun can be found at the Sony Building in Ginza, where you can take in a high-definition movie at the Opus High Vision Theatre or try out their latest electronic gadgets.
Open daily 11am–7pm. 5-3-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3573-2371. Nearest stn: Ginza. www.sonybuilding.jp
8. Free money (sort of!)
The Bank of Japan’s Currency Museum provides an overview of the history of money. Opened in 1985 the museum houses around 4,000 examples of different currencies and exhibits on money-related themes. Unfortunately there are no free samples!
Open: 9:30-16:30 (enter by 16:00) Closed: Mondays and national holidays. Tel: 03-3277-3037 Nearest stn: Mitsukoshi-mae http://www.imes.boj.or.jp/cm/english_htmls/index.htm
9. Free catch
Early risers can get a head start on their sightseeing at the world famous fish market in Tsukiji. Catch the freshest fish at 4:30am and watch the auction which starts at 5am. Be sure to stick to the areas designated for viewing, as the busy merchants don’t take kindly to clumsy foreigners getting in the way with their cameras - the tuna auction area is now off limits except for specific times. Snoozers will be disappointed if they get there after 7am as the action will all be over. Don’t worry though; the area is packed with great sushi shops, serving the freshest fish available, as well as knife and kitchen supply stores.
10. Free fun
The Yoyogi Park area is the place to head for free entertainment at the weekends. After a stroll around the main park, watch the Rockabilly groups practice by the main gate, their heavily styled quiffs shaking as they strut their stuff. Opposite the park you’ll often find free festivals that range from mini-raves to national days with food and a multitude of stalls. The area also attracts many amateur musicians and performers who busk and practice out in the open. The nice thing is never knowing what you're going to find going on, especially on Sundays.
Nearest stn: Yoyogi-Koen, Meiji Jingu-Mae or Harajuku.
The hotels in the recommendation list are chosen for being good value for money, really good budget deals or their location close to the places listed here. You can find reviews of many of them in my Tokyo budget hotel guide.