Tokyo’s top 5 free things to do with kids
Experience the best of Tokyo without breaking the bank. These places will please the whole family – and it won’t cost you a cent.
- October 2018
Tokyo might have the reputation of being an expensive destination, but if you know where to look, this buzzing city has loads of incredible experiences you can enjoy with the whole family – absolutely free! Here are some of our favourites.
Towering views at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Kids or no kids, this is a Tokyo must-do. Children of all ages love a view, and the panoramic vistas from the 202-metre-high observation decks of this government building are stunning – on a clear day you can see as far as Mount Fuji. Time your visit for later in your trip and challenge the kids to find city landmarks that you’ve already seen from ground level such as Tokyo Tower, Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park. You’ll see more of the sights from the South Tower, but the North Tower is open until 11pm, giving you the chance to take in dusk and nighttime city views. Or you could do both – why not, it’s free!
Our favourite link: Japan Guide – Metropolitan Government Building
Find peace in the Imperial Palace Gardens
To escape the city’s concrete jungle and give the kids a chance to run around and explore a natural setting, these perfectly maintained gardens are a tranquil spot for a glimpse of Edo-era Japan. Once the defensive surrounds of Edo Castle (originally built in 1457; today only some ruins survive), the gardens are the modern-day backyard of the Emperor’s Imperial Palace.
The East Garden is an idyllic island of calm greenery, manicured Japanese-style, with sculpted hedges, koi ponds and pagodas. Kitanomaru Park is a moatside woodland with secret paths and waterfalls; in the right season (usually March-April) the best cherry-blossom viewing in Tokyo can be found here. Take the Chidorigafuchi Park walking path for an easy stroll along the moat; or from April to November, rent a rowing boat and paddle around it.
Our favourite link: Tokyo Cheapo – Imperial Palace Mega Guide
Get quake ready at Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park
This dead-serious attraction is a quirky, educational, only-in-Japan experience. Established to teach Tokyoites how to survive in the event of an earthquake – predictions of ‘The Big One’ hitting the metropolis are disquietingly frequent – this is the city’s natural disaster nerve centre.
During the two-hour visit, you’ll first live through a convincing earthquake simulation and then have to navigate your way through the wrecked cityscape that remains, using a tablet device to answer questions on how to survive. Then you’ll visit the learning centre for handy survival tricks such as how to make a cup from a scrap of paper. The simulation and aftermath may be too scarily realistic for young kids, but for primary-school aged disaster movie fans, this could be a big hit.
Location: Koto ward, Ariake
Our favourite link: Matcha – Earthquake?! Get Prepared at the Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park
Make a wish at Meiji Shrine
Tokyo’s grandest Shinto temple is tucked away in the woods of Yoyogi Park, a tranquil world apart from the buzzing city. Visit on a Sunday morning to catch a glimpse of a traditional wedding procession: the bride in a white kimono, the groom in a formal black robe, walking together under a big red parasol with Shinto priests leading the way and the rest of the wedding party following behind.
At the main shrine, lead the kids in following shrine etiquette: make an offering by putting a five-yen coin in the box, bowing twice, clapping your hands twice, making a wish if you like and then bowing again. You'll also see kiosks selling ema, wooden plaques on which the kids can write their wishes to hang in the shrine.
Location: Yoyogi Park
Our favourite link: Meiji Shrine official site
Marvel at the street fashion of Harajuku
Just across the road from Meiji Shrine is the pedestrian-only Takeshita Street, where you and the kids can enjoy some top-notch people watching and get a close-up view of Japanese pop culture. This is the go-to place for Japanese teens on the hunt for the most out-there new fashions, and they treat their favourite shopping street as an outdoor catwalk, parading their most outrageous outfits – from garish to Gothic, kawaii (cute) to cosplay, you’ll see it all here.
There’s plenty of very kid-friendly fast food on offer (crepes with sweet fillings are a particular speciality). Look out for the purikura stands – photo booths where you can decorate and customise your photos before printing them out as stickers: fun, and a great souvenir! There’s also a giant Daiso (100-yen) store on the street, if you want to take the opportunity to do some authentically Japanese cut-price souvenir hunting.
Our favourite link: Travel with Nano B – Harajuku Street Fashion