Free Things To Do in Tokyo
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The Meiji Shrine is a Shinto (Japan's original religion) shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. Japanese history credits Meiji for modernizing Japan by incorporating Western principles into Japanese society, including adopting a cabinet system into government. After the emperor's death in 1912 and that of his consort in 1914, the Japanese commemorated their contributions with the Meiji Shrine. While the buildings are certainly worth visiting, the surrounding forest (considered part of the vast Yoyogi Park) is a sight to see as well. That's because 100,000 of the trees standing were all donated by Japanese people from around the country as a thank you to emperor.
While at such a holy site, take time to divulge in traditional rituals. When entering the shrine, you'll first meet the Torii, or the shrine's large archway. It's traditional to bow once entering then again when you leave. To foreigners, the temizuya may appear to be a drinking fountain, but it's actually a cleansing station where visitors have the opportunity to purify themselves with holy water. It's common to wash your hands and rinse your mouth out, but don't drink the water or allow the wooden dippers provided to touch your lips. When approaching the main shrine, it's customary to pay your respects by bowing twice, then clapping your hands twice, make a wish and bow once again. Carrying out such respects are optional, the rules of the shrine are not. Don't photograph the interior of the buildings; don't eat, drink or smoke unless you're in designated areas.
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The oldest religious site in Tokyo is also its most visited. The Sensoji Temple sees about 30 million annual visitors and dates all the way back to year 628. Despite its claim to antiquity, however, the structures that currently stand are relatively new reconstructions of previous edifices (during World War II, nearly the entire temple was razed). The Sensoji Temple is dedicated to Asakusa Kannon, the Buddhist god of mercy and happiness. According to legend, two fishermen struck gold and found a statue of the god while fishing on the Sumida River. The Sensoji shrine is dedicated to this lucky catch as well as features a small homage to the fisherman who caught the statue. Unfortunately, while here, you won't be able to see the actual statue. It is there, but it isn't on public display. It has never been. Either way, Buddhists and interested tourists alike flock to this attraction with the hopes that being in the presence of Kannon's healing powers will rub off on them. After you've properly toured Sensoji, take some time to check out the shops that line Nakamise Dori, which you'll find on the way to the temple.
The majority of travelers enjoyed their experience at the Sensoji Temple. Visitors found the temple to be beautiful and enjoyed admiring its grand stature and intricate architectural details. The only complaint among travelers was with the attraction and all the activity surrounding it; Sensoji can get so crowded that it can be difficult to be able to simply admire the attraction. If you don't want to share space with throngs of tourists, visitors suggest coming early morning or late at night.
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You'd think the Imperial Palace would be mobbed with tourists, but it's not. You can credit the lack of crowds to an application policy, which limits the number of visitors. That's because the Imperial Palace is home to the Emperor of Japan and the royal family. And before that, it was the residence for some of Japan's most important figures, including Emperor Meiji (credited for modernizing Japan) and rulers during the Edo Period (the time period before Japan was modernized by Meiji). Because of its significant importance in Japanese society, admittance to the site is hard to get (you have to put in your application several weeks in advance) and access inside the actual palace is even fewer and far between.
As such, most travelers suggest skipping the application entirely (those who went on the tour were disappointed with how little of the palace is open to visitors) and admiring the compound from afar. Visitors also say the East Gardens, which are part of the Imperial Palace complex, are much more of a sight to see. This flourishing green space has plenty of shady spots and open fields, perfect for relaxing. And during cherry blossom season, these gardens are a choice spot for locals looking to enjoy the seasonal foliage.
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Envision a mini Atlantis rising out of the water, conveniently right next to downtown Tokyo. That's Odaiba. This neighborhood/mini-island situated on the Tokyo Bay is a hub of entertainment, eateries and eye-catching architecture, including the futuristic-looking Fuji Television building. Some of the area's top attractions include the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation and the relaxing Odaiba Seaside Park, which comes equipped with its own beach and Tokyo's own Statue of Liberty. There's also a host of amusement parks the kids will no doubt enjoy. In Tokyo Leisure Land in Palette Town, you'll also find go-karts in Mega Web and one of the world's largest Ferris wheels.
There's also the Legoland Discovery Center. DiverCity Tokyo Plaza and Decks Tokyo Beach facility offers lots in the way of dining and shopping in addition to entertainment options. Meanwhile, adults will likely be drawn to the Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari, a natural hot springs theme park where visitors can walk around in traditional yukata robes while dipping their toes in one of the 13 varieties of baths available. But, aside from the many distractions on Odaiba, the gorgeous views across the water have most eyes turned back toward downtown. And at night, the Rainbow Bridge electrifies the glittering skyline with glorious colors.
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There are plenty of skyscrapers that provide bird's-eye lookouts in Tokyo. So what makes the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Tower special? It's free! At 202 meters high (662 feet), its two observatories (North and South observatory) are the highest vantage points you can reach in the city without having to shred some yen (at least that we know of).
Travelers loved their experience at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building because it was so fuss-free. Free admission, few lines, speedy elevator, helpful customer service and no time restrictions at the top was ideal for travelers who were looking to take their time with the incredible views in front of them. The observatories offer 360-degree views of the city and visitors say on a clear day, Mount Fuji is visible in the distance. If you can, travelers suggest visiting at sunset. The transition from day to night, when some say truly Tokyo comes to life, is magical.
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New York has Fifth Avenue, London has Oxford Street, Paris has the Champs-Élysées and Tokyo has Ginza. The neighborhood is a shopper's paradise, housing all types of storefronts from affordable, big-name retailers such as H&M and Zara to upscale design houses such as Dior, Armani and Cartier. You can also find loads of specialty stores selling traditional items, such as kimonos, incense and chopsticks, as well as more unconventional finds, such as stores dedicated to buttons, model trains and even charcoal-infused beauty products. You can also find a plethora of Hello Kitty products at the Sanrio flagship store located here, as well as all the toys your kid's (or your) heart desires at the massive Hakuhinkan Toy Park.
If you're not much of a shopper, Ginza still offers loads in the way of things to do. The neighborhood is also an arts hub, housing more than 200 galleries to its name. There are also plenty of theaters as well. If you're looking to catch a traditional kabuki performance while in Tokyo, Kabuki-za is considered one of the city's best. And if you're a foodie, you'll probably end up in Ginza anyway. That's because the neighborhood houses lots of Michelin-rated restaurants, including the three-star Ginza Kojyu, which is also considered one of the 50 best restaurants in the world.
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Akihabara is nirvana for techies. Tokyo's premier electronics district, which is also referred to as "Akiba," has gadgets of all kinds found in booths on side streets and main street mega department stores. You'll spot the latest technology on the shelves, which will probably put your equipment to shame. And if you're in the market for hard-to-find bibs or bobs, you're likely to find that here too. If you're unsure where to start, stop at the larger-than-life Yodobashi department store (often billed as the largest electronics store in the world) or stroll along the neighborhood's main street, Chuo Dori, which becomes car-free on Sundays. In addition to being an electronics hub, Akihabara also caters to serious gamers and anime lovers. Here, you'll find loads of gaming arcades as well as shops and street stalls selling comics and character figurines. You'll also probably spot a few cosplayers casually walking down the street.
While Akihabara is no doubt unique, recent travelers had mixed reviews about the district. Those who expressed interest in anime loved their visit, saying you can't leave Tokyo without experiencing the world Akihabara has to offer for fans. Those without a greater interest in the subject matter enjoyed the buzzing activity and plethora of neon signage that permeates the area but ended up growing bored after a period of time. Some were downright offended by the inappropriate nature of some of the anime culture (think maid cafes), so this area may not be suitable for young children. Visitors solely interested in shopping for electronics felt overwhelmed by the options and recommended researching in advance to maximize your time in the neighborhood.
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