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10 free things to do in Tokyo

With its reputation as being one of the most expensive cities in the world, Tokyo can discourage many travellers who fear for their budget! While flat renting or transport within the city can be very expensive, you may be extremely surprised with the cost of some activities and the low cost of the food that is, most of the time, extremely delicious. For travellers who want to enjoy this great city while on low-budget, here is a list of 10 free or cheap things to do in Tokyo.

Tokyo by night (Credits DORONKO on Flickr)

1. Cheap train ride around the city

If it is your first time in Tokyo, you might want to have a general look at the different areas and sights of the city. The best way to do so is to ride the Yamanote line train that circles within Tokyo. Go to one of the stations, pay the cheapest fare (about 130 yen), find a seat and enjoy the ride. The Yamanote line passes through all of the major areas of Tokyo, such as Shinjuku, Akihabara or Ginza, so you will have a good idea of how the city looks like. The complete loop of Tokyo takes about an hour.

The Yamanote line train and its distinctive green colour (Credits richard winchell on Flickr)

2. Enjoy long walks

When you have more time on your hand, don’t hesitate to take long walks in the city. Tokyo is a perfect place to get lost because you will always find your way back. Avoid the major sights and wander the narrow streets where you will be sure to find small temples and traditional houses.

View of Ochanomizu station

3. Fish auction in Tsukiji Fish Market

If you are an early bird and enjoy fish, you will be tempted to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. The market is now only open to the public between 5:00 am and 6:15 am for the tuna auction. About 120 people are allowed to visit the market every day on a first-come, first-served basis, so do not be late. If you are lucky enough, you might even taste some raw tuna for breakfast!
Please visit the market’s website for more information.

Tuna auction in Tsukiji Fish Market (Credits JoshBerglund19 on Flickr)

4. Crazy fashion week-ends in Harajuku

Harajuku is the most popular place for fashion among Japanese youngsters and going shopping with them on the week-end is likely to be an interesting experience. All styles can be seen in Harajuku and don’t be surprised if you are walking behind a girl dressed like a doll, or a Rocker back from the 50’s. Many like to pose just outside Harajuku train station, so bring your camera to capture their eccentric clothes and hairstyles. You can even join them in the picture.

Harajuku girls (Credits tie78reu on Flickr)

5. Gadgets, comics and maids in Akihabara

For those fond of the latest technologies, video games and Japanese animation, Akihabara is THE place to visit. Yodobashi Camera, a giant shopping centre selling mostly electronic items, has the newest televisions and computers and you can try the products on display. The main street of Akihabara, just outside the train station, is a paradise for those into Japanese pop culture, with dozens of shops selling mangas, new and old video games, toys and figures. Every Sunday, the street is pedestrian-only, with girls dressed like French-maid or comic heroine to attract the customer, or just for the show.

Pinky Maid in Akihabara

6. Picnic under the cherry trees

Every spring, the cherry blossoms, Sakura in Japanese, open for a week or two and Japanese people gather together, with family and friends, to celebrate this event. Most people look for a good spot under a cherry tree in the numerous parks in the city, sit with food and drinks and enjoy the rest of the day looking at the flowers. This is called Hanami and it is a perfect dive into Japanese culture if you are visiting the country at this time of the year.
For 2012, the flower should open on March 30th until mid-April in Tokyo, but you can check the japan-guide page for more information.

Large crowd in Ueno park for the cherry blossoms (Credits kadluba on Flickr)

7. Visit temples and shrines

If you are looking to learn more about the different religions of the country, do not hesitate to visit the shrines and temples within the city as most of them are free. The two main buildings are Senso-ji, a temple in the Asakusa area, and Meiji-jingu, a shrine dedicated to the emperor Meiji and his wife, located in Shibuya, and famous for its impressive gate.

The gate of Meiji-jingu, one of the biggest shrine in Tokyo

8. Have a look at Tokyo from above

While visiting Shinjuku, stop by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and head to the 45th floor to have one of the best views of the city, for free. Try to spot the major sights of Tokyo and, if the weather is good enough, you can even catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Credits atotto on Flickr)

9. Fire flowers in the summer

A summer in Japan is not a real summer without fire flowers, Hanabi in Japanese. Every year, fire flowers festivals are held in all parts of the city, mostly along the river for security reason. Japanese people dress with yukata, sort of light kimono for the summer, and buy their fireworks to have a festival on their own. If you have the budget, get some fireworks in a supermarket and set up your fire flowers festival: it is the best way to make contact with the local habitants.

Fire flowers in Tamachi district

10. Rest and enjoy a book

There are a lot of bookstores in Tokyo and most of them have a foreign book section with titles in English, French, Spanish and German. After a long and tiring day visiting the city, find yourself a table and read some books. Do not feel guilty about it as most of the Japanese are doing the same. You can even learn more about Japanese language and culture with a large selection of books on these subjects. The Kinokuniya Bookstore in Yoyogi is, without a doubt, the best one in town.

For comfortable accommodation with affordable price, do not hesitate to check out the HI Tokyo Central YH and Sumidagawa YH in Tokyo, and book your nights through our website hihostels.com.

If you know more free things or cheap activities to do in Tokyo, let us know in the comment section.

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