The bustling streets of Tokyo, awash with the glow of neon signs, are a treat for families. Tokyo can seem like future world, from the incredible tech to the toilets and vending machines.
The one downside many families find about travel to Japan is that it can be quite expensive. But there are plenty of free activities that kids of all ages will enjoy.
Incorporate some of these into your trip and you’ll find your cash will last a little longer.
Here’s eight free (or really, really cheap) things to do in Tokyo with kids.
The huge lanterns pictured on the front of many Tokyo travel guidebooks can be found in the suburb of Asakusa.
The lanterns hang in the middle of the Kaminarimon or Kaminari Gate, which marks the entrance to the Sensoji, a Buddhist temple built in the 7th Century. The temple is surrounded by a stunning garden with waterfalls and small shrines.
The Asakusa Shrine, also known as Sanja-sama, was built during the Edo Period and survived the air raids of 1945. Little kids will love to explore the Nakamise, a shopping street located between the Kaminari gate and the main temple. Here you will find loads of cheap souvenirs and local snacks.
Asakusa temple is great to explore with kids. Picture: Alison Godfrey
Toyko with kids is great fun. Picture: Alison Godfrey
Duck down any one of the side streets and you will find colourful painted roller doors depicting images from Japan’s past. Teenagers will love posing in front of them for Instagram shots. At night time, the shutters roll up to reveal speciality restaurants.
Head to the river and you will find Sumida Park, which stretches along both sides of Sumida River for several hundred meters. It offers a great view of the Tokyo Skytree and the Asahi Beer Factory. Kids will love looking at the “golden poo” atop the Asahi building. It’s meant to be beer pouring from a glass, but everyone knows it as the gold poo.
Sumida Park is a great place to see the cherry blossoms in Spring and if you’re here on the last Saturday in July, it’s also the sight of the Sumida River Fireworks show.
Best for: All ages
Harajuku is crowded but kids love the weird fashion. Picture: Alison Godfrey
This is where Tokyo’s coolest teens come to hang out after school, dressed in their finest Harajuku-style punk outfits. For the best people-watching wander across Harajuku Bridge and then battle the crowds down Takeshita Dori. This narrow street is crammed with vintage clothing stores, cosplay shops and cafes. Little kids will love the sweet shop where they can scoop all kinds of sugary treats into bags and pay by weight. The shop attendants all have wonderful Harajuku outfits and pink hair.
Best for: teens, but little ones will still love it
Yoyogi Park in central Toyko. Picture: Alison Godfrey
If the bustle of this crazy city gets to much, head to Tokyo’s largest green space – Yoyogi Park. It’s a great place to watch cherry blossoms in Spring. In Autum, the Ginko tree forest turns intensely golden. In summer, you can spread out with a picnic.
Yoyogi Park is a local meeting place for clubs practice sessions and even rehearsals. Expect to see everything from horn players to hip-hop dancers, rockabilly gangs, complete with poodle skirts and Elvis-inspired pompadours. The acts usually gather by the park’s east side entrance on Sundays.
In the centre of the park, the Meiji Jingu Shrine is a great place to witness a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony. There are on average 15 of them here each day and they are quite the colourful spectacle. The wedding parade usually has a two priests, two shrine maidens, the soon-to-be married couple, and a procession of friends and family.
Best for: All ages
Shibuya Toyko. Picture: Shutterstock
Step outside the station to the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world – the one you will see in every film or television show about Tokyo. Every few minutes the lights turn red and pedestrians swarm in all directions towards their desired corner. For a cool view from above – head to Starbucks.
While in Shibuya you must search for the famous statue of loyal dog, Hachiko. This dog waited faithfully at the station every day for his master, a professor, to come home from work. After the professor died, the dog still continued to come every day, until the day he died.
Best for: All ages
Head to Origami Kaikan in Akihabara and learn about the Japanese art of paper folding.
Origami is a great activity to do with kids in Tokyo. Picture: Shutterstock
Exhibitions of these intricate artworks change seasonally and are often focused on current festivals and events. Admission to the gallery is free. Origami lessons, which introduce visitors to the art of paper dying and folding are also offered for a small fee.
Best for: Five and above if you plan to do the workshop
Every Sunday a 3.3-kilometres route around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, from the north side of Hibiya Park to the north of the palace, opens exclusively for bike riders. The Palace Cycling Course is surrounded by castle moats and pine trees and is it super easy for families to ride. The best part? 150 bicycles are provided to riders for free. Bikes are rented on a first-come, first-served basis. They can be picked up next to the Babasakimon police box in Kōkyo-Gaien Plaza.
Best for: 10+ so they are big enough for the bikes. Otherwise, it’s free to walk around the gardens all year round.
It is possible to see some sumo for free in Tokyo. But you’re going to have to head out early. Everyone is welcome to come to watch Keiko or morning sumo practice between 7.30 am and 10 am at Arashio-beya.
Visitors will be able to view the sumo training from large windows at the front of the building. Training is on most days, except for March, July, November, and each week after the grand tournaments. For the full rundown of dates click here: Http://Www.Arashio.Net/Tour_e.Html
Best for: All ages
Akihabra is Japan’s electronics heaven. Imagine a skyscraper department store where every floor is electronics. Now build an entire suburb full of them. That’s Akihabra. Yodobashi Camera, close to the train station, is the best place to start. The top floors are toys and the kids will love trying their luck on the vending machines. Feel tired? Sit in a massage chair. There’s a whole section dedicated to them.
Akihabara is great for kids who love tech. Picture: Alison Godfrey
If your kids love anime, Akihabra has loads of it. Animate is the best place to visit for official anime merchandise including a huge selection of manga, character goods and even themed food. It’s worth stopping by just to check it out.
Best for: All ages but mostly tech-obsessed. Keep it short for little ones.