In a desperate bid to bring back international visitors, the Japanese Tourism Agency is pulling out all the stops, from lobbying A-list celebrities like Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber as spokesmen, to possibly offering 10,000 free flights in 2012.
and nuclear accident in Fukushima earlier this year, many travellers have
been wary to return. Pair that with the recent appreciation of the Yen, and you
have a country that is now battling a radioactive and expensive reputation. But
Tokyo, the capital, was largely unaffected by the earthquake, and despite the
strong Yen, there are a surprisingly good number of free activities that will
not blow the budget.
Low cost lodgings
choice for lodging is to stay in a ryokan instead of a hotel, and Ryokan Sawanoya is one of the more famous guesthouses
in the city. But there is also a growing number of websites such as 9Flats and CrashPadder
where travellers can rent a spare room or an entire apartment in the heart of Tokyo,
at a fraction of the cost of a four to five star hotel room.
shrines and temples in Tokyo are free of admission, including the famous Yasukuni Shrine and the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.
Imperial Palace (also free) is a truly stunning site. The East Gardens are
particularly beautiful and house a small museum showcasing Emperor Showa's art
in Tokyo are free too, including the ever-popular Yoyogi Park,
which is full of street performers and local bands on the weekends. Ueno Park is
the place to be during cherry blossom season (late March/early April) but it is
also awash with lotus flowers during the summer months. For a truly local feel,
head to Kichijoji Park in the western suburb of Kichijoji and take a ride in a swan-shaped
early on a Sunday to grab one of the 250 free bikes on offer at the Palace Cycling Course, which
runs along Uchibori-dori, from the north of Hibiya Park to the northern tip of
the Imperial Palace. Just fill in a simple form at the Bicycle Reception Desk, next
to Kokyo-mae Koban (a small police station). The Palace Cycling Course is open from
10 am to 3 pm on Sundays, and is closed on rainy days and during special park
Mad about museums
lots of free museums in Tokyo too, like the Sumo Wrestling Museum next
to the Kokugikan Sumo
Wrestling Stadium. Nearby is the Kanto
Earthquake Memorial Museum, a fairly small museum that is dedicated to those who died in the tragic
1923 earthquake and is set in the grounds of the Tokyo Memorial Temple. Or, you
can try your hand at being a newsreader at the NHK Museum of Broadcasting.
Given the country’s recent history, the Electric Power Historical Museum
is worth a stop; a large-scale model of a nuclear reactor is among the many
free samples galore in the basement food halls of many department stores dotted
around the city; the Tokyu department
store located directly on top of Shibuya Station is one of my favourites. These
food halls also offer a good variety of cheap sushi, sashimi and salads. Grab take
away and have a picnic in any of the previously mentioned parks.
try the novel approach of ordering your food from a vending machine in one of
the many local restaurants, where a bowl of noodles is typically less than 800
Yen. Usually, there are artificial food displays to help you with your order.
Once you make your choice, the machine will spit out a ticket, which you then
give to the chef. We stumbled upon Menya Musashi (7-2-6 Nishishinjuku; 03-3363-4634) on a recent trip to Tokyo, and my
bowl of spicy ramen noodles turned out to be one of my favourite meals. Ramen
fans should also try Yasube in Takadanobaba, where every bowl,
large or small, is priced at 720 Yen.
Metropolitan Government Building might not be an obvious tourist site, but
if you take the elevator to the 45th floor you will not be
disappointed. There are two observation galleries with views of Mount Fuji,
Yokohama and of course, Tokyo.
On street level, head to Shibuya Crossing, directly outside the
subway station, to marvel at the sheer number of pedestrians – apparently close
to 100,000 people pass through the crossing every hour. Gwen Stefani was
certainly on the money when she sang about Harajuku – “where the catwalk got
its claws, a subculture in a kaleidoscope of fashion, prowl the streets of
Harajuku”. This is the place to be if you want to see the hip young things of
Tokyo strut their stuff.