Don’t worry, even if you’re broke af, you will never run out of things to do in Tokyo.
Japan may be one of the top travel destinations among Singaporeans, but it’s also earned itself a reputation for being super expensive.
There is literally no such thing as “cheap flights to Tokyo” – return flight tickets from Singapore to Tokyo costs $700 to $1,800 this December 2022.
Even on off-peak months like January and June 2023, cheapest flight tickets cost $430 and $670 respectively.
Then how like that? Well, if you’ve spent all of your holiday budget on the plane tickets, it’s time to hunt for free activities and tours.
A post shared by Angela Nguyen (@nguyengela) on Jul 11, 2018 at 3:40pm PDT
20 free things to do in Tokyo, Japan
Lucky for us, there are tons of free museums, tours and other places of interest in Tokyo. Here are some of the top free things to do – you can grab free beer, visit a free zoo, and thanks to some pretty swell local volunteers, even take a free traditional wasen boat ride.
#1 Observe a tuna auction at Toyosu Fish Market (previously Tsukiji Fish Market)
Last month, the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market closed its doors, reopening as the Toyosu Fish Market in eastern Tokyo. Every day at 5.30am to 6.30am, tuna auctions are held in the building, and visitors are welcome to watch from the observation windows.
There’s an upper floor glass observation deck too that opened to public in January 2019. Every day, only 120 people are allowed into this observation deck. It’s a jaw-dropping and intimate unobstructed bird’s eye view over the auction grounds. However, you only have 10 minutes in there between 5:45am and 6:15am.
To get a ticket into the observation deck, you must enter the Toyosu Fish Market online lottery a month prior to your desired visitation date. Ensure your browser already has Google Translate plugin downloaded before visiting this Japanese site.
A post shared by Nikkei Asian Review (@nikkeiasianreview) on Oct 11, 2018 at 7:05pm PDT
#2 Go for the Suntory Musashino Brewery tour and drink free beer
The Suntory brewery is located in Fuchu, Tokyo, and you can take a free shuttle bus which runs every 30 mins from Bubaigawara Station. The 1-hour tour brings you around Suntory’s factory, where you can learn about the brewing process and sample up to 3 free beers.
If you’re a fan of Suntory’s Yamazaki series, you’ll be glad to know that their Yamazaki distillery in Osaka offers free tours too. Great free tour idea if you’re planning a day trip to Osaka, too.
#3 Not a fan of beer? Go for the Coca-Cola Tama Plant tour instead
It’s a universal fact that Coca-cola is the only soft drink worth the calories, so a trip to the Coca-Cola Tama Plant Tokyo factory where the magic happens most definitely makes it to my bucket list. The tour is 100% free, but you must contact the factory for a reservation first.
Note: Reservations seem to still be closed at the moment, in lieu of the Covid-19 years.
#4 Get certified as a “taste panel meister” at the Morinaga Milk Tama Plant
Beer and coke aren’t that child-friendly, but milk and juice is. Here, you can have fun testing your palate – if your tongue can discern subtle hints of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Morinaga Milk’s Tama Tokyo factory opened in 1966, and remains to date. The tour will “certify” you a taste panel meister and you can taste-test their dairy products.
Reservations by call, so get your hotel’s concierge to help you out!
#5 Gross yourself out at the Meguro Parasitological Museum
On a diet? Here’s something to make sure you never get your appetite back: The Meguro Parasitological Museum is a whole museum devoted to parasites. Yup – like tapeworms and shit.
The parasite museum is now open for visitors again since it last closed for Covid-19. Opening hours are now 10am to 5pm, Wednesdays to Sundays only.
#6 Get a bird’s eye view of the cityscape from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
The most popular observatory in the city is probably Tokyo Tower, but you need to pay to enter that one. The tallest free tower is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Tocho), where you can view landmarks like Mount Fuji from 202m above ground (48 floors).
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s South Observatory has opened since 1 September 2022 to tourists. Open 9:30am to 10pm, daily. You will be required to don a face mask, and will be denied entry if you show symptoms of Covid-19.
The North observatory currently serves as a vaccination site for Japanese residents.
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#7 Visit the Sumo Museum and observe practice at a sumo stable
Sumo wrestling is an iconic sport of Japan, so what’s a trip to Tokyo without some cultural immersion? The Sumo Museum in Tokyo is free to enter, and if you really, really dig the sport, you can even arrange to visit a sumo school to watch a training session. Most of these stables are in the Ryogoku district.
Opening hours from 10am to 4:30pm, weekdays only.
#8 Say hi to Hachiko in Shibuya
Hachiko was an Akita dog who lived in the 1920s. His story of faithfulness is famous worldwide and has even inspired movies. In 1934, the first Hachiko statue was unveiled at Shibuya Station, but that was melted in WWII. Don’t worry though – it’s since been replaced, and is still at the same place.
A post shared by Mishshan (@mishshan) on Nov 6, 2018 at 5:32am PST
#9 Visit the Godzilla statues at Hibiya
Speaking of iconic animal statues, there are 2 more to see – the Heisei-era Godzilla at Toho Cinemas Hibiya, as well as the more modern Shin Godzilla at Hibiya Chanter Square.
#10 Visit a Pokemon Centre in Tokyo
Even if you don’t intend to spend all your money on Pikachu plushies, the Pokemon Centre is a must-visit for any fan of the franchise. There are 5 Pokemon Centres in Tokyo – they are namely:
Pokemon Centre TOKYO DX at Nihombashi Takashimaya (has Pokemon Cafe)
Pokemon Centre SHIBUYA at Shibuya Parco
Pokemon Centre MEGA TOKYO at Sunshine City in Ikebukuro (has Pokemon Cafe)
Pokemon Centre SKYTREE TOWN at Solamachi, Tokyo Skytree
Pokemon Centre TOKYO BAY at Minami-Funabashi Station, Chiba Prefecture
#11 Take photos of the “Statue of Liberty”
Can’t afford a trip to New York? Play pretend and take photos of the replica in Odaiba. The statue also overlooks the beautiful rainbow bridge and Tokyo Bay.
A post shared by Mélanie Lefeuvre (@melanie_lefeuvre) on Nov 9, 2018 at 1:34am PST
#12 Take a stroll and enjoy the buskers at Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station and Yoyogi Park
You don’t always have to head to a concert hall to hear good music. Give the street buskers a chance – there are usually performers at Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station and Yoyogi Park. Technically it’s free to enjoy, but if you like the performance, donate a bit lah.
#13 Visit historical temples and shrines – Senso-ji, Meiji Jingu, Senkaku-ji, and more
Tokyo is a treasure trove of culture with many stories to tell. While some temples and shrines require a token admission fee, many don’t. Free ones include the Sensoji temple, Meiji Jingu shrine and the Senkakuji temple.
#14 Visit the Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace is also free to enter – although not all areas are open to public (because it’s the current residence of the royal family!). It’s near the Tokyo Station, and you will need to apply for a visit permit in advance (online). If you’re lazy to do that, the East Gardens are always open to public.
#15 Join in some matsuri festival fun
Matsuri means “folk festival”, which is basically a traditional celebration of sort. Depending on when you travel to Tokyo, you may be able to join in a free festival or two. Festivals typically run from spring to autumn, although there are celebrations and processions of all kinds all year round.
In November, you can expect:
Mt. Takao Tokyo: Maple Festival
Meiji Jingu Gaien Tokyo: Icho Matsuri (Gingko Festival)
Asakusa Tokyo: Tori No Ichi
Chokokuji Temple: Tori No Ichi
Ohtori Jinja Shrine: Tori No Ichi
In December, there are lesser festivals since its winter:
Sengakuji Temple: Ako Gishisai (47 Ronin)
Exact dates change with the year, so be sure to Google before you head down.
#16 Visit the Louis Vuitton Espace Tokyo
Nope, don’t hope to cop the latest LV bags here. The Louis Vuitton Espace Tokyo is a “glass box” on the top of the LV building in Omotesando. It houses contemporary art, and is free for all to appreciate.
A post shared by Fondation Louis Vuitton (@fondationlv) on May 15, 2018 at 3:28am PDT
#17 Sit on fancy toilet bowls at the Toto showroom
Everyone knows that Japan makes the best, most fancy loos in the world. They heat up in the winter, and play music when you go number 2. If that kind of stuff excites you, you can head to the Toto showroom in Shinjuku where the latest toilet technology is showcased.
#18 Visit the Gyosen Park and Edogawa City Shizen Zoo
There are many stunning national parks in Tokyo, but if you want to see not just flora, but some fauna too, head to Gyosen Park. The Edogawa City Shizen Zoo is right next to it. As expected of a free zoo, there aren’t any huge tigers or lions, but instead they have cute penguins, goats and the likes.
A post shared by tokyo.re.discovery (@tokyo.re.discovery) on May 26, 2017 at 8:32am PDT
#19 Take a wasen boat ride at the Yokojikkengawa Shinsui Park
Tokyo was once upon a time a river city, and the traditional Japanese equivalent of our “sampan” is called a wasen. If you want to experience a ride on this retro boat, go to Yokojikkengawa Shinsui Park – that’s where the “Wasen Tomo no Kai” volunteer group offers free 10-min rides to park goers.
#20 Go to a 7-story sex superstore (M’s Pop Life)
Leave the kids out of this one: If you’re looking to spice things up in the bedroom, you should definitely plan some time to go shopping at M’s in Akihabara. The 7-story superstore is all about sex toys, role play outfits and Japanese porn DVDs.
A post shared by shan (@shannyct) on May 15, 2018 at 6:44am PDT
Other important things to note about travelling to Tokyo
Here are some additional tips if you’re heading to Japan for the first time.
Changing money – what’s the SGD to JPY exchange rate?
Of course, once you have the flights booked, you should head to the money changer to change your Singapore dollars to Japanese yen. The exchange rate is about 1 SGD to 104 JPY as of time of writing.
I recommend Googling for online listings of money changers that show live rates. At the time of writing, I used CashChanger, and found that the following have the best rates for JPY:
Silver River Money Changer (Marina Square)
Fiat Money Changer (Raffles Place)
Fairfield Exchange (Great World City)
ZeroEX Pte Ltd (Woodlands North MRT)
New departure tax and Airbnb laws to take note of
In 2018, a couple of new laws were announced in Japan. First, from 2019 onwards, all travellers must pay a departure tax of 1,000 Yen (about S$9.50) when they leave the country.
The next rule is regarding accommodation – effective June 2018, all Japanese Airbnb hosts must register their homes with the government or get a hotel licence.
If Airbnb finds out your host is not “legal”, then your booking will be automatically canceled. Read more about the new Japan laws here.
Getting around Japan – Japan Rail Pass vs SUICA Cards
There are several transport passes for tourists in Japan, the most high-profile of which being the Japan Rail Pass (or JR Pass). That’s a tourist-only pass that allows you unlimited rides on certain lines of the Japan Rail network.
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Generally, the JR Pass is a super value-for-money option if you intend to travel across prefectures. For instance, if you’re planning to zip from Tokyo to Osaka and/or Kyoto, getting the JR Pass and taking the Shinkansen bullet train will save you lots of time and money.
There are like 2347912837 variants of the JR Pass, so for more information on that, you can read our JR Pass price comparison guide.
You’ll notice that these passes are not cheap. So if you’re just travelling around Tokyo, it might be more cost-effective to get the “Japan EZ-Link” cards. They’re called SUICA cards, which you top-up with credits and use to take the local subway.
Was this guide helpful in helping you plan your trip to Tokyo, Japan? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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