In 2017, Tokyo ranked fourth in the list of the world’s most expensive cities.
What makes Tokyo expensive for the average Indian traveller? First, it has to be local transport. Cab fares start at around ¥500 (¥1 equals to ₹0.61) and increase steeply after the first two kilometres. A one-way ticket from Tokyo to Shinjuku starts at ¥200. Japanese hotel rooms seldom justify their tariff. A lot of travellers opt for B&Bs in far-fetched localities. Though food may be available across budgets, entertainment (art performances, video games) may burn a hole in the pocket. But that does not mean Tokyo is a no-go for budget tourists. For, there are a host of free experiences for everyone.
Tokyo’s Imperial Palace dates back to 1888 and is the residence of the royal family. A visit to the palace and adjoining East Gardens is free of charge. The inner grounds of the palace are not open to the public, except on festival days. The Japanese-styled gardens are pleasant for a walk on a sunny day.
Note: The guided tour of the palace is possible only in a group and is in Japanese. However, audio guides are available in English. No buildings are entered during the tour.
Walk up the 243-metre-tall Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku and enjoy uninterrupted panoramic views of its skyline. The two towers of this building house two observatory decks at a height of 202 metres. On a clear day, you can see Tokyo Tower, Mount Fuji, Meiji Shrine and Tokyo Skytree. For kaleidoscopic night views, get a place in the North Deck which remains open until 11 pm every night.
Note: North Deck remains closed every second and fourth Monday of the month.
This museum in Shinagawa is perfect for photography and technology enthusiasts. Visitors can see developments in imaging, enjoy an interactive zone, and gawk at cameras designed by Nikon over centuries.
Note: Staff conduct an hour-long guided tour of the museum for three or more visitors in a group. Audio guide (in Japanese and English) is available but at an extra cost.
Take in the view
Head to Kiriko Lounge on the sixth floor and Kiriko Terrace on the 14th floor of Tokyu Plaza Ginza for spectacular views of Ginza’s busy Sukiyabashi crossing. The lounge is beautifully designed with a high ceiling and glass. Visitors are welcomed to this public space to take a break or grab a bite.
Note: It is easy to lose sense of time with the engaging sights.
Shinjuku, Tokyo’s 24-hour open entertainment centre, is perhaps the most photographed district. There are flashy video game parlours, illuminated skyscrapers and neon signages. Walk around tall skyscrapers, crowded eateries on Omoide Yokocho, Kabukicho (Japan’s largest red light district) or through the narrow alleys of Golden Gai. Get a photograph clicked with the robots at the wacky Robot Restaurant as a souvenir.
Note: All the best fighting temptation at the game parlours, bars and other attractions here.
Kirin Brewery Company, founded in Yokohama, is about 30 kilometres from Tokyo. Make a reservation in advance for a free brewery tour, where visitors are taken through the brewing process, history and tasting of one of Japan’s leading beers. The tours are usually in Japanese, though English may also be possible.
Note: A single journey train ride to Yokohama from Tokyo can cost above ¥300.
- Invest in the Japan Rail (JR) Pass for seven, 14 or 21 days. Prices start at ¥29,110 for a seven-day pass. The pass can be purchased by tourists only on submission of necessary documents. It covers almost all JR trains, ferries and buses.
- Pasmo is a prepaid card that allows travel on JR train lines, private lines, Tokyo subway and certain buses and taxis. It is different from the JR Pass since Pasmo card owners are not permitted to travel on Shinkansen bullet or express trains. Also, Pasmo can be recharged at assigned vending machines and can be used as an e-wallet in supermarkets.
- Taste three to five varieties of sake within ¥520 at Shinbashi’s (also spelt as Shimbashi) Sake Plaza.
- Head to the upmarket Ginza’s 300 Bar to try any alcoholic drink only for ¥300.
- Crawl through the small bars of the iconic Golden Gai in Shinjuku to experience local nightlife on a shoestring budget.
Most temples in Tokyo have free access. Begin with the Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa, which dates back to 645 AD and is the oldest in Tokyo. Continue to Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates soldiers who died in the Boshin War between 1868-69. Put Zōjō-ji Temple on the list too. The present structure dates back to 1598 and is very close to the Tokyo Tower.
Note: Access to the shrine is free, however, there is an entry to adjoining museums.
Ginza and Omotesandō attract shoppers and architecture enthusiasts alike. Tourists are seen walking around these boulevards capturing the modern designs of buildings. These are like outdoor galleries with exhibitions of Japanese, Dutch and French architects. Mikimoto Ginza 2 (has asymmetrical glass windows replicating Mikimoto pearls), Tokyu Plaza Ginza (showcases the traditional Japanese art of glass cutting), Prada’s flagship store and Audi Forum in Omotesandō stand out with their bold styles.
Note: Show restraint at Prada, Audi, Dior and their allies.
Espace gallery, on the seventh floor of the Louis Vuitton store on Omotesandō, holds exhibitions of contemporary and upcoming artists, so does the Chanel Nexus Hall in Ginza. They primarily focus on photography, but have conducted musical events over the last decade.