What to do in Tokyo for FREE!

Japan doesn’t have to be expensive! Here are some awesome things to do in Tokyo for free!

WHAT TO DO IN TOKYO FOR FREE, BY CATEGORY:

#festivals

• Visit a Japanese shrine festival on new year’s day JAN 1

• Check out the gorgeous kimonos at the Meiji Shrine on coming-of-age-day JAN 13

• Get rid of your demons at a Setsubun ceremony FEB 3

• Go to a funeral for pins and needles FEB 8

• Get wowed by the blooming plum trees at the Yushima Shrine’s plum blossom festival FEB 6 – MAR 6

• Walk over hot coals at Mt. Takao’s firewalking festival MAR 8

• Watch yabusame archers shoot from horseback at the Meiji Shrine APR 18

• Watch free performances of traditional arts at the Meiji Shrine spring festival MAY 2-3

• See tattooed yakuza and costumed geisha at the Sanja Matsuri parade MAY 16

• Catch a glimpse of samurai on horseback & ancient carved floats at the Kanda Matsuri festival JUN 16-17

• Chase fireflies at the Hotaru Matsuri festival JUN 20

• Join the bon odori dancing at Ikegami Honmonji AUG 3-4

• See giant paper mache characters at the Asagaya tanabata festival AUG 5-9

• Join in the traditional Japanese summer dance at Nishiarai Daishi’s bon odori festival AUG 18-19

• Shake it down at the Koenji awaodori dance team parade AUG 22-23

• Don’t miss the lantern procession & shinto dance at the Kameido Tenjin shrine AUG 23

• Watch larger than life gods & demons parade through the streets at the Nezu Shrine autumn festival SEP 19-20

• Watch the past come alive at the Shinagawa Shukuba Old Tokaido Road festival in Shinagawa SEP 26-27

• Watch ten foot tall heros & gods parade through the streets at the Akasaka Hikawa festival SEP 11-14

• Don’t miss the festival of 10,000 lanterns at the Ikegamo Oeshiki festival OCT 10-11

• See tons of traditional music and dance for free at the Yasukuni Shrine fall festival OCT 16-19

• See horseback archery & sumo wrestlers at the Meiji Shrine autumn festival OCT 30 – NOV 3

• See an old-fashioned monkey show at the Yushima Shrine autumn festival SAT & SUN from NOV 1-23

• Watch the 47 ronin parade through town in full samurai regalia at the Gishisai festival DEC 14

• Don’t miss the decorated game paddle fair at Senso-ji temple DEC 17-19

#events

• Shop for bargains on japanese crafts & antiques at the Heiwajima Antiques Fair MAR 6-8, MAY 3-5, JUN 26-28, SEP 18-20, DEC 11-13

• Go to Edogawa and be wowed by the best fireworks you’ve ever seen AUG 1

• Watch glowing lanterns float dow the Sumida River at night AUG 15

• Watch the spectacular Harajuku Super Yosakoi dance team parade AUG 29-30

• Walk the lantern-lit path to enlightenment at Senso-ji temple SEP 12-16

• See the pandas at the Ueno Zoo for free OCT 1

• Cheer on your favorite dance teams at the Tokyo Yosakoi competition OCT 5-6

• Go watch some ritual archery at the Yasukuni Shrine OCT 13

• Don’t miss your chance to see firemen doing acrobatic log rolling OCT 17-18

• Experience the very latest in Japanese design and art at Tokyo Designers Week OCT 24 – NOV 2

• Go watch some real Tokyo drift at the Motor Sports Japan 2015 expo OCT 24-25

• Get crazy at the annual Dream Yosakoi dance competition NOV 1-2

• Take in the white heron dance at Senso-ji temple NOV 3

• You won’t be sorry you went to the lucky rake market at Senso-ji temple NOV 5th, 17th & 29th

• Ponder the 100 meter long character painting at the Mori Art Museum OCT 31 – MAR 6

• Don’t miss the amazing free holiday lights & music display at Tokyo Midtown NOV 13 – DEC 25

• Go see the Tokyo Dome City amusement park illuminations NOV 6 – FEB 15

• Find out who will be this year’s nail art queen at the Tokyo Nail Expo NOV 15-16

• Take advantage of a rare chance to go inside the imperial palace walls to see the autumn leaves DEC 2-6

• Be delighted by the free holiday light show at Shiodome NOV 13 – JAN 12

• Don’t miss the hauntingly beautiful music & animated holiday lights field at Tokyo Midtown NOV 13 – DEC 25

• Don’t miss the decorated game paddle fair at Senso-ji temple DEC 17-19

• Snag some great bargains on japanese antiques and crafts at the Setagaya Boroichi flea market DEC 17-19

• Go see the emperor on his birthday DEC 23

• Watch them ring in the new year 108 times with the giant temple bells at all major tokyo shrines and temples DEC 31

Seasonal Extravaganzas

• Go see all the best cherry blossoms in Tokyo MAR 27 – APR 7

• Enjoy the best place places to see cherry blossoms lit up at night MAR 27 – APR 7

• Take a thousand photos of the azalea festival at the Nezu Shrine APR 1-30

• Stroll under the arbors of wisteria at the Kameido Shrine APR 24 – MAY 5

• See over 3,000 blooming hydrangeas at the Ajisai festival JUN 6-14

• Enjoy the lotus flowers at Ueno Park’s Shinobazu pond

• Go see the fields of blooming cosmos flowers at Showa Kinen Park EARLY TO MID-OCT

• Don’t miss seeing Tokyo’s amazing chrysanthemum displays OCT 13 – NOV 23

• Snap some pix of the crazy chrysanthemum sculptures at the Kameido Shrine OCT 23 – NOV 23

• Ogle the figures made from live chrysanthemums at the Yushima Shrine NOV 1-23

• Don’t miss the glories of the changing Japanese maple leaves from MID-NOV to LATE NOV

• The ginkgo trees at Showa Kinen Park are a tunnel of golden gorgeousness from MID-NOV to EARLY DEC

• Go see the golden gingko trees at the famous Ichou Namiki ginkgo alley near Aoyama Itchome

Only-in-Japan Experiences

• Watch the rockabillies, contact jugglers, skateboarding beagle, slackliners, traditional japanese storytelling, and other free entertainment at Yoyogi Park EVERY SUNDAY AFTERNOON

• Watch traditional Japanese comic storytelling in english

• Hear about the latest japanese design at Pechakucha night JAN 28

• Walk around Odaiba lit up at night

• Walk around Kabuki-cho lit up at night

• Take in the annual free sumo tournament at the Yasukuni Shrine APR 1

• Stay out all night experiencing art at Roppongi Art Night APR 25

• See hundreds of carp flags flying at Tokyo Tower for childrens’ day APR 25 – MAY 5

• Stroll around Asakusa lit up at night

• Watch a guy make custom bamboo ear cleaners at the Koshinzuka Street Market EVERY 4th, 14th & 24th OF THE MONTH

• Get your picture taken with The Honorable Duck Butt of Sugamo

• Follow the mysterious blue neon path through Akihabara

• Go see Tokyo Tower lit up at night

• Go for a walk by the Sumida River and see the bridges all lit up at night

• Cool off with the kids at the fog playground near Tokyo Dome City

• Watch the light show fountain at Tokyo Dome City

• Go see the 5-story tall Gundam robot in Odaiba

• Catch a Japanese wedding procession at the Meiji Shrine SATURDAYS & SUNDAYS

• Go see Skytree lit up at night

• Gaze at the lights of Odaiba as you walk across the Rainbow Bridge

• See Tokyo Tower lit up in special colors EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT

• Hike up Mt. Takao to see the beautiful autumn leaves & shrine at the top

Entertaining Shrines & Temples

• Go see the beautiful wooden pagoda and make a wish on the lucky cat figures at Gotoku-ji temple

• Make a wish at the Anime Shrine

• Toss a coin to the gods at the tomb of the untold stories

• Celebrate Buddha’s birthday at Senso-ji temple

• Take photos of the shirasagi-no-mai dance of the white herons

• Walk around the Anime Shrine lit up at night

• Double your money at the Aeni-arai Benten money-washing shrine in Damakura

• Walk through a tunnel of glowing orange torii gates at the Nezu Shrine

• Get your wallet blessed by fire & drums at a Fukugawa Fudo temple fire ceremony

• Don’t miss seeing the biggest bronze Buddha in japan

• Escape to a cool shrine grotto at the Aeni-arai Benten money-washing shrine inKkamakura

• Pray to meet your perfect match at the Imado Shrine

• Stroll beneath the giant torii gates at the Meiji Shrine

Shopping as a cultural experience

• Spend a day browsing traditional goods at the Koshinzuka Street Market: dried snake tea, big red underwear

• Browse the Setagaya Boroichi flea market JAN 15-16

• Be amazed & tempted at a department store food hall

• Marvel at the incredible paper at the Origami Center

• Ogle the $10,000 hina matsuri girls’ day doll sets in Asakusa-bashi

• Wander through Tokyu Hands to see the weird products & inventions

• Check out the electronic toilets at an electronics superstore in Akihabara

• Browse  the plastic food stores on Kappabashi Street

• Laugh at the dog clothing boutiques

• See the gnomes of enlightenment at the Loft store

• Lust after a wooden keyboard at the Aki-oka artisan co-op in Akihabara

• Discover weird and wonderful flavorings at the Flavor Store

• Sample Japanese snacks at a department store food hall

• Find wacky Japanese souvenirs at Village Vanguard

• Browse the great deals on lovely japanese dishes & lacquerware on Kappabashi Street

• Bling your car with rhinestone encrusted accessories from the DAD store at the Men’s 109 store in Shibuya

• Check out the only-in-japan products at the Don Kihote store

• Admire handicrafts from all over the country at the Japan Traditional Craft Center

• See crazy fan-built Lego models at the Lego store in Odaiba

• Lust after the anime hero figures at the Anime Center

• You won’t believe the weird stuff sold in vending machines at Yodabashi Camera

• Buy yourself a set of gnomes of enlightenment & other great only-in-japan stuff at the Loft store

• Stock up on shocked socks on the Nakamise-dori shopping street outside Senso-ji temple

• Go wild buying only-in-japan pokemon swag at the Pokemon Center

• Get yourself a handbag you definitely couldn’t find back home at the Aki-oka artisan co-op in Akihabara

• Go shopping for the sharpest knives in the world or other Japanese goods of your dreams

• Get in the mood for Halloween & stock up on knick-knacks of the damned at the spookiest store in the world

• Go to the Village Vanguard store & get yourself an eye mask that will scare off crazy seatmates on your ride home

• Laugh at the sashimi stuffies and other weird only-in-Japan toys at Kiddyland

Note: This page was last updated on Feb 8, 2015. Please doublecheck the dates for the year you are traveling.

Jonelle Patrick writes mysteries set in Tokyo. Her fourth book – Painted Doll – is just out in paperback 

It's been nine years since she didn't make it home, but now Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura's life is about to unravel... Read more
When Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura’s phone rings with the news that his mother’s death ten years ago wasn’t an accident, his world begins to unravel. New evidence links her to…Read more

PAINTED DOLL book trailer (1:08)