Tokyo is one of the world’s most expensive cities. Although food and accommodation was high priced during our visit, we were able to offset costs by sightseeing only at pre-planned spots, discovering many of the city’s highlights are free or cost little. While surely there are countless other low cost things to do in Tokyo, here are 10 of the things we did for free while visiting. If you have any other recommendations for cheap sightseeing in Tokyo that are not listed here, please comment below.

20140602-211720-76640384.jpg 1. KAMINARIMON GATE, SENSO-JI TEMPLE, & NAKAMISE-DORI STREET We stayed just a block away from the Kaminarimon Gate, which is the entrance to the shopping market on Nakamise-Dori. The narrow street is jam packed with tourists and school children browsing shops carrying souvenirs such as lucky charms and waving cats, and treats like green tea ice cream. Nakamise-Dori eventually leads to another gate with a five story pagoda and the Senso-Ji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo. A popular destination, we witnessed many other visitors crowding the steps of the main shrine to make offerings, while others enjoyed more peace and quiet in the surrounding gardens and smaller shrines.

The Nakamise, a shopping street that leads to the Sensoji temple in Asakusa, Japan. Photo by Mark Johnston

2. OBSERVATORY AT ASAKUSA TOURIST CENTER After strolling through the Kaminarimon Gate area, we made our way to the other side of the gate where the main tourist center is located. Inside we found that they had a free observatory on the the eighth level. From here, it provides a great overlook of the entire Asakusa area and a view of the more distant Tokyo Skytree.

20140602-202706-73626829.jpg 3. MEIJI SHRINE The Meiji Shrine is in a forest adjacent to Yoyogi Park. With busy streets surrounding it, the park features beautiful greenery and peaceful quietness. We walked through large, tall gates on our way to the Meiji Shrine. There it was a relief to find shade and get a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Takeshita Street in Tokyo. Photo by Mark Johnston

4. TAKESHITA DORI We wanted to see some interesting characters, so we headed to the popular Takeshita Dori. Known for its Harajuku/Cosplay fashion, the narrow street is a great place for people watching. The street offers candy shops and food booths serving delicious items such as overstuffed crepes.

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. Photo by Mark Johnston

5. SHIBUYA CROSSING We had to take part in the large street crossing in Shibuya. All streets are stopped so pedestrians can walk in any direction they please during the open crosswalk. After crossing the intersection, we headed to Starbucks where, on the second floor, one can enjoy a view of the crossing from above.

20140602-202708-73628299.jpg 6. PACHINKO PARLORS When we rode the overcrowded metro, hardly anyone talked to each other and if they did it was in near whispers. Imagine our surprise when, after our quiet metro rides, we snuck into a Pachinko parlor to be shocked by sensory overload. Loud music, (if you can call it that), and bright, flashing colors stunned us but didn’t seem to phase other gamers who lined rows of machines that we still can’t define. We visited one parlor just off Shibuya Crossing by the escalators to the JR station. Players seemed to be in a deep trance, staring at their screens while small silver balls collected in front of them. It’s quite a sight and it’s free to watch… we think. And while we didn’t dare to put our own money into the machines, who knows, you might find a new hobby of your own.


7. OBSERVATORY AT TOKYO METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT BUILDING We wanted a view of the city from higher up so we headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building that offers a north and south tower observatory free of charge. The elevators took us up 45 floors to more than 200 meters above the city. From here we could see all of Tokyo and its tall skyscrapers. Unfortunately it wasn’t a clear enough day when we visited, so we couldn’t see Mt. Fuji which is visible from the observatories on clear days.

20140602-202709-73629700.jpg 8. PARK HYATT TOKYO If you’re a fan of Lost in Translation, then visit the Park Hyatt Tokyo just around the corner from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This setting for the indie film makes for a nice rest stop. It was too fancy for our tastes so we just visited the lobby and front entrance, snapping photos and admiring the luxury surrounding us.

I will eat all of that. Shopping in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Photo by Mark Johnston

9. 100 YEN SHOPS Entrance is free, but you may come out of it spending some money. With everything costing only 100 Yen, it’s a bargain to buy some strange and fun souvenirs. Even if you don’t buy anything it’s fun to admire the different Japanese packaging on everyday items we all use at home. Mark and I ended up with some wacky candy, hand fans, decorated chopsticks and an “etiquette pipe.”


10. PUBLIC RESTROOMS The toilet is truly a throne here in Tokyo. We loved the options that come with using a public restroom. There were so many buttons to choose from at our leisure: heated seats, bottom spray, bottom dry and bidet. Users can even choose to have the sound of running water play to cover up their own noises while on the toilet. They’ve thought of everything here… but Mark is still trying to find the button to lift the seat.

Continue reading how we traveled around Japan on a budget.

About The Author

Britnee traveled around the world with her husband on a shoestring budget for a year. A few of her favorite destinations include Scotland's Isle of Skye, Chile's Torres del Paine, Bolivia's Salt Flats and Nepal's Annapurna Circuit.

5 Responses

  1. Jacob Jones

    You need to go to Zojoji Temple and check out Tokyo Tower. It costs money to go to the top but seeing the tower is a landmark worth seeing. The temple is also pretty cool. Did you guys walk all the way to Meiji shrine or just the gate? The temple is pretty awesome. I love washing my hands which symbolizes cleaning the body. Using insence to clean the spirit. And then praying to whatever God you believe in. Also please don’t leave without trying some Melon Pan, Pizza Man, Yakisoba, Katsu Curry. :) Enjoy your stay. Excited to see more posts on your journey.

    • Britnee Johnston

      We saw the Tokyo Tower at night but didn’t go up top, we should’ve though! Yeah we went to the temple of Meiji Shrine, which I agree was awesome. Thanks for the food recommendations we’ll scope them out!

  2. Andrew

    Great list, we are hoping to visit Tokyo next year and so we’ll remember these. The toilets seem crazy, interesting looking sweet/souvenir shop and I love bird’s eye views of cities, reminds me of Taipei 101 where you can get fairly high up in the Starbucks for free there too!

    • Mark Johnston

      Thanks Andrew. After our time in China and eastern Russia, we’re missing those Japanese toilets even more. :(