As anyone will tell you, Japan, albeit an amazing place to visit, is not cheap. While it may not be as expensive as the likes of Singapore or Paris, it’s worth researching budget advice while preparing for your trip to Tokyo. That being said, the city is also home to some incredible free activities if you know where to look. Read on to learn about the 5 best free attractions in Tokyo.
1. Relax in Meiji Shrine
Tokyo, with it’s crowded intersections and tightly packed trains, exemplifies the phrase “organized chaos”. This is particularly true in the area of Harajuku’s Takeshita Street. On busy days, you’ll find yourself jammed shoulder to shoulder with many of the freelance photographers in Tokyo doing their best to capture photos of the wildly imaginitive cosplayers that the neighborhood has become known for.
Though located just across the street, Meiji Shrine feels worlds away from the neighboring Takeshita Street. From the moment you pass under its towering torii gate, you are transported to a greener, and most importantly, much quieter place.
As you continue along the path, you’ll come across two sets of barrels which look very different from one another. On the right, beautifully hand-painted sake barrels which have been sent as an offering by different sake brewers around the country. On the left, dark wooden wine casks from France, sent to signify the strong friendship between the two countries. It’s a lovely juxtaposition and a great spot to stop for photos.
Further along, you’ll come across the shrine itself. With any luck, you may be able to see a traditional wedding ceremony being held here; a fairly common occurrence on weekends during the warmer months. If you’d like to say a prayer at the shrine but are unsure how to do so, check out this other article I wrote on the subject.
2. Walk the Rainbow Bridge Into Odaiba
Odaiba, the man-made island located just across the bay from Tokyo, is a modern, trendy beachfront area with tons of shopping, great restaurants, and even better views. While there are several ways to get to Odaiba from Tokyo, the most memorable is by crossing the aptly named Rainbow Bridge. Come sundown, the bridge is illuminated in stunning, color-changing lights.
This half-mile long bridge takes roughly 20-30 minutes to cross, but offers incredible views of the Tokyo skyline in the process. Come early evening as the sun starts to set, it’s one of my favorite spots for portraits in Tokyo. There are two paths across the bridge; the north and south sides, which you will need to decide between before crossing. For better views of Tokyo, opt for the north side. For an unonbstructed view of Odaiba, the south side is your best bet.
Once across the Rainbow Bridge, you will find yourself in Odaiba. There are countless things for visitors to do here including the incredible teamLab Borderless art exhibit or visiting the 65ft tall Gundam statue, but if the weather is nice, the best activity is simply relaxing on the beach and enjoying the distant views.
3. Visit the Winter Illuminations
Spring may be the most popular time of year to travel to Japan, with its mild weather and beautiful cherry blossoms, but each season brings with it something special that warrants a visit. Those fortunate enough to visit in late November through December can take part in the annual Tokyo Illuminations.
While everyone reading this is surely no stranger to Christmas lights, Tokyo’s Illuminations are massive lighting displays that can stretch over several city blocks. More than just your typical randomly strewn collection of twinkling bulbs, each Illumination is designed with a particular theme in mind.
In the picture above, the Tokyo Midtown Illumination features a space-themed display, dubbed “Starlight Garden”. Its nearly 200,000 lights are synchronized to put on an awe-inspiring show set to music. It’s just one of the many Illuminations held throughout the city, making it the perfect way to spend your night in Tokyo.
4. Tour the Suntory Brewery
Step foot in any convenience store in the country and you will undoubtedly come across the name Suntory. As one of the largest beverage companies in Japan, they produce many popular teas, juices, and most importantly, beers. As anyone will tell you, the only thing better than drinking a refreshing beer is drinking one for free. At Suntory Musashino Brewery, you can do just that.
The brewery offers daily free tours for visitors to learn more about the history of Suntory, views parts of the brewing process, and sample a selection of their most popular beers. Visitors need to reserve their spot on the tour in advance via the brewery website. The site is only available in Japanese, but you can use Google Translate to translate everything into English. Unfortunately, the tour itself is only offered in Japanese, but thankfully, beer is delicious no matter which language it’s served in.
5. Enjoy the Views From The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center
Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world, and try as you might, it’s impossible to take in all of its sights in a lifetime, let alone a single vacation. That being said, you can see a great deal more with a bird’s eye view. While the Tokyo Skytree is the highest lookout point in the city, those sky-high views come at a premium price. Instead, head over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center. Admittedly, the name is a lot less flashy, but at 202 meters high, its twin observation decks more than make up for it.
Open daily from 9:30 AM till 11:00 PM, its 360 degree viewing platforms are my favorite spot in the city to watch the sunset. Be sure to bring your camera to capture some amazing photos of Tokyo. On clear days, you can even spot Mount Fuji in the distance.
Visiting Japan ranks high on many people’s bucket list, but most tend to push it off due to budget concerns. Thankfully, a trip to Tokyo doesn’t need to break the bank. With a little planning, that vacation fund can go so much further. With the free activities listed above, you could put the money saved towards something even better, like creating lasting memories with a portrait session in Tokyo.
If you’re heading to Tokyo and would like to discuss booking a photo tour or portrait session, contact me for rates and availability.