Category Archive: Tokyo Things to Do
Tokyo is one of the most exciting (and expensive) cities in the world. It is also Japan’s capital city and the most populous metropolis on Earth. Tokyo, formerly known as Edo, was a small castle town during the 16th century. When Tokugawa Ieyasu established his feudal government in Edo, it quickly became the one of the largest cities in the country.
The Meiji restoration of 1868 saw the move of the capital city to Edo as well as the emperor establishing his permanent residence in the city and was henceforth renamed Tokyo (Eastern Capital).
Odaiba sunset.| Emily Cole at KCP Flickr
Today, Tokyo is a favorite tourist destination and a prominent financial, shopping, and entertainment hub. It is also a haven for Japanese history and tradition.
Even if Tokyo is an expensive city, you can still experience so many of what it has to offer on a tight budget. Here are a few places to visit for free when travelling to Japan:
Get lost in the Imperial Palace gardens. The outer gardens are open to the public for most of the year. The East Garden is probably the most popular with its little bridges, grassy knolls, ponds, and flowering trees. Its gorgeous landscape reflects Japanese aesthetics. Most of the Palace’s administrative offices are located here, including the Imperial Tokagakudo Music Hall, the Archives, Mausolea Department Imperial Household Agency, and the Museum of the Imperial Collections.
Imperial Palace East Gardens. | Matthias Catón
Be enchanted in Harajuku. Harajuku is the Kawaii capital of Japan, is the center of Japanese fashion and youth culture where you can get unique shopping finds and have a great dining experience. Harajuku in Tokyo is the best place to see extreme Japanese pop culture come alive, as well as to appreciate some of the country’s historic sights, all in one place.
Explore Odaiba. Odaiba started out as six artificial fort islands made during the Edo period to protect Tokyo from sea attacks. Tokyo Governor Shun’ichi Suzuki began developing the islands, spending around 1 trillion yen. But it wouldn’t bear fruit until the late 1990s, when it became a leisure and tourist spot as well. By the 20th century, the fort islands had been expanded so that they could be used as a commercial and residential area.
Walk along Tokyo’s Sumida River. The Sumida branches out from the Arakawa River at Iwabuchi and flows directly into Tokyo Bay. It passes through the Tokyo wards of Kita, Adachi, Arakawa, Sumida, Taito, Koto, and Chuo. The river meanders for 27 kilometers and runs under 26 bridges which are spaced about a kilometer per bridge.
There are so many more things to see and do in Japan for free for any frugal traveller!
Sumida River.| Emily Cole at KCP Flickr
For a student trying to get by on a budget, every cent counts. Food is one of the necessary expenses that can eat up your budget. There are many options for saving on food such as cooking but with the limited time of stay in Japan, cooking may not always be an option. Tokyo can be expensive if you don’t know where to get good, affordable meals.
Here are some suggestions on eating on a budget in Tokyo:
Supermarkets and convenience stores offer prepared meals that come in a wide variety of options. They are fast, delicious, healthy, and affordable. You can head straight to the ‘to go’ or the obento aisles to choose from rice balls, noodles, rice meals, and sushi.
Supermarket bento. | Julia Julia
Stand-and-eat noodle shops or curry houses
These food stalls have no chairs. People just basically eat and run. Deciding on a meal is pretty straightforward. You can choose a dish from the almost-real plastic replicas on display. The food comes out in a few minutes and you can immediately enjoy a hot meal. The shops are usually found in busy places like train stations.
Delicious depachika meals
Depachika is a term for department store basements. Basements of department stores in Japan were places where you could usually find seasonal and ceremonial gift items. But during the 1930s, department stores began selling food in their basements as a convenient and quick way to get a ready meal. You can find a variety of affordable food in depachikas. All the food is carefully prepared and beautifully laid out, ready to be eaten or as take-out. The food could rival the creations prepared by the best chefs and food artisans.
odakyu depachika. | mamichan
Japanese street food is also known as yatai (屋台), the word for a small, mobile food stall. Japanese street food is filling, inexpensive, and delicious. Some Japanese street food favorites include okonomiyaki, yakitori, gyoza, and takoyaki. Just keep in mind it is considered impolite to walk while eating when in Japan.
Street food stall. | Keith Miller
Vending machine madness
Vending machines are all over Japan. The popularity of vending machines in Japan compared to other countries is largely because of the low petty-crime and vandalism rates. The machines have become a convenient and affordable means to purchase almost anything, minus the cost of live employees to do the labor.
Wherever you decide to have a meal in Japan, whether cooking or trying any of the suggested places to grab a meal, you will never be left wanting for a satisfying and delicious meal.
Tokyo is an exciting and vibrant city. It is also one of the most expensive cities to live in. For international students, it can be quite a hurdle especially if you want to take in all the exotic new sights and visit beautiful places in and around the city.
You can still enjoy Tokyo, the many new places, experience the culture of Japan, and still be on budget by keeping a few tips in mind:
Know where to eat and how to eat cheap
There are numerous options for a delicious meal in Tokyo. There are restaurants offering a wide range of prices to fit anyone’s budget. Eating out can seem inexpensive at first but later on it all adds up. There are other cheaper options for a delicious meal to enjoy. Cooking at the dorm is one of the best options to cut back on meal costs. Supermarket bento boxes or other ready-made meals also go on sale in the evenings.
Bento. | Mun Keat Looi
Going out with friends
Hanging out with friends can get costly especially if you go to restaurants, bars or cafes often. There are many other ways to spend time with your friends that won’t cost as much such as a picnic at the park, a simple get together at the dorm or even checking out various sights as a group. There are so many free places to discover in Tokyo!
Save on transportation
Tokyo has one of the best train systems in the world. They are reliable, comfortable and convenient, but it can also be costly for students on a budget. To save on travel costs, make use of your student I.D. for discounts. Biking is also a great option to get around in the city.
Train platform, Tokyo. | Timothy Vollmer
Go on a frugal shopping spree
Being in an expensive city such as Tokyo doesn’t mean there aren’t any cheap places to shop in. It’s just a matter of knowing where the bargains are. Shopping in Tokyo can be fun and frugal at the same time by going to some of the popular places for shopping such as Shimokitazawa also known as shimokita, is a neighborhood of streets surrounding Shimo-kitazawa Station where Odakyu Electric Railway and Keio Inokashira Lines intersect. The district has long been known for hosting live performances and is the place for stage theater and music venues.
Shimokitazawa. | Shibuya246
Toranomon means “the gate of the tiger.” The name is derived from one of the outer gates of Edo Castle called Toranogomon.
Tokyo is already a mega-city, but it still continues to grow rapidly, especially in preparation for hosting the 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games. Toranomon Hills, a high-rise complex tower, is meant to symbolize a Tokyo of tomorrow.
Toranomon Hills (虎ノ門ヒルズ ) or Toranomon Hiruzu, is one of Japan’s newest skyscraper complexes built by Mori Building, a Japanese property management firm. Toranomon Hills opened on June 11, 2014 and is located in the Toranomon district of Minato, Tokyo around the new Loop Road No. 2, a surface artery that will connect the Shinbashi and Toranomon districts. Tokyo’s latest landmark has 52 floors and is 247 meters high. It is Japan’s second tallest building to date.
Toranomon Hills photographed by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg. | 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia
Toranomon Hills houses offices, residences, shops, restaurants, and an Andaz hotel. In line with Japan’s kawaii culture, Toranomon Hills has a character mascot named Toranomon, a cat-type business robot from the 22nd century Tokyo.
Toranomon. | 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia
Andaz hotel inToranomon Hills is aptly called “Andaz Tokyo”. A luxury hotel from the Hyatt Group, it is considered the first of its kind in Japan. It specializes in Japanese-style hospitality and prides itself in tailoring its services to the personal and individual needs of its guests, making you feel like you were in your own home. There are also shops and restauramts located on the 1st to 4th floors. One of Toranomon Hills’ unique features is the 6,000 square meter outdoor space with shops and restaurants having open-air terraces facing a lawn area called the “Oval Plaza.”
Toranomon Hills. | 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia
Toranomon Hills was the solution to the long time plan of building an arterial road between Toranomon and Shimbashi as part of a loop road around central Tokyo. Building a skyscraper above the road and relocating displaced residents became the answer. This futuristic development befits such a modern city as Tokyo.
The iconic Sumida River (隅田川 ) is a beacon of Tokyo, Japan. The Sumida River stems from the Arakawa River and flows into Tokyo Bay, passing through several wards of Tokyo: Kita, Adachi, Arakawa, Sumida, Taito, Kōtō, and Chūō. One of Japan’s most anticipated fireworks displays is held there on the last Saturday of July each year. Thousands of fireworks light up the Tokyo sky in a spectacular event that surely must not be missed when visiting Japan during the summer.
The Sumida River was the original route for the trade and commerce industry, and it played a major part in the success of Tokyo. The best way to experience the allure and history of the Sumida River is on a river cruise, of which there are several options. The ride gives you a glimpse of Japan’s rich history and diverse culture, and how Japanese commerce and industry developed because of the river, making the city the center of a thriving trading port.
Sumida River. | Hideya HAMANO
Sumida River Fireworks Festival
The Sumida River Fireworks Festival is one of the oldest fireworks displays in Japan. The origins of the annual summer event can be traced back to the Edo period when the common folk were said to enjoy viewing fireworks on a cool summer evening. It is associated with the Suijin Festival that is dedicated to the water deity in order to help appease the poor souls who have passed away from the plague or starvation, and to drive away pestilence during the reign of the eighth Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684-1751).
Sumida River Fireworks Festival. | Peter Zuco
During the late Edo period, the Sumida River Fireworks Festival was known as Ryogoku Kawarabiraki. The festival was held annually all throughout the Meiji Restoration and the late 19th century during the Meiji–Taisho–early Showa eras. The fireworks display was briefly suspended when Tokyo went through a major economic boom, and traffic congestion and too many buildings under construction all at once were a concern. In 1978, the festival was revived and renamed to Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai (Sumida River Fireworks Display). It is now one of festivals that visitors look forward to when in Tokyo during the summer season.
It’s always fun to go shopping when traveling in a new place. Japan’s capital, Tokyo, is a fun and exciting place to visit. But Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and not knowing where to find great bargains can cost you a pretty penny.
Here are some places to shop when visiting Tokyo:
Ameya-Yokochō (アメヤ横丁) is conveniently located in the Taito Ward of Tokyo. It is an open-air market next to the Ueno Station, just behind the Yodobashi Camera building. The market’s name “Ameya-Yokochō” originated from the shops in the area that sold United States army goods after World War II. “Ame” is short for America. Today, Ameya-Yokochō has over 180 shops that sell anything and everything, from fresh food to clothes and watches.
Ameya-Yokochō. | 663highland
Shimokitazawa (下北沢), also known as shimokita, is a neighborhood of streets surrounding Shimo-kitazawa Station where Odakyu Electric Railway and Keio Inokashira Lines intersect. The district has long been known for hosting live performances and is the place for stage theater and music venues. Shimokitazawa is also the home of the historic Honda Gekijō theater and holds several theater festivals all year round. The district’s narrow streets and small alleyways add to the charm of the neighborhood where small businesses thrive and great bargains await.
Shimokitazawa. | Aw1805
Ochanomizu (御茶ノ水) stretches from the Yushima section of Bunkyo-ku to the Kanda section of Chiyoda-ku. Chūō Line is the main transport center of the district; three prominent schools have campuses in the area. Ochanomizu is known for being the musical instrument hub of Tokyo, and it also offers great bargains on sports equipment. “Ochanomizu” literally means tea water and is named after the nearby Kanda River where water was taken to make the shogun’s tea during the Edo period.
Ochanomizu. | gansaibow
Cats have been a strong part of Japan’s culture. Japan even has shrines devoted to cats—Nambujinja in Nagaoka (Niigata Prefecture), Konoshimajinja in Kyotango City (Kyoto), and Neko jinja in Tashirojima (Miyagi Prefecture), also known as Cat Island, a small fishing village with about 100 residents. Local cats outnumber the people four to one.
Meanwhile, in Japan’s capital, Tokyo, cat cafés are a popular hangout for many. There are about 39 cat cafés around the bustling metropolis. The popularity of cat cafés can be attributed to many apartment buildings not allowing pets. Many Japanese find being around these cute, furry, and lovable creatures a great way to relax and unwind. There are several types of cat cafés with various cat themes like rare cat breeds, stray cats, or just black cats. Cat cafés have to comply with the strict regulations and requirements of Japan’s Animal Treatment/Protection Law to make sure that cleanliness in the establishments and animal welfare are met. It sure is a wonderful way to enjoy a cup of coffee.
Nekokaigi cat cafe. | The Wifechaser
But what if you want something stronger than a cup of Joe? Only six minutes from Ikebukuro Station, in the Ashigaoka neighborhood, a unique pub and restaurant (izakaya) is attracting a loyal clientele looking for just that. Akanasu is a one-of-a-kind pub that is also home to several cats. According to the pub’s owner, Koyanagai, not only customers from Tokyo come to have a drink and a meal, but also people from as far as Aomori Prefecture travel all the way to his pub to relax and be with the cats.
There are numerous cat breeds from all around the world, but only one native to Japan and Southeast Asia: the Japanese Bobtail. The breed is known for having a unique bobbed tail that resembles that of a rabbit, has existed in Japan for centuries, and commonly appears in Japanese folklore and art. In Japan’s colorful history and today’s society, cats remain loyal companions to many.
Japanese Bobtail. | Dodo bird
The impressive Kaminarimon Gate in Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo, marks the approach to Sensō-ji Temple and is also the entrance of Nakamise-dōri (仲見世通り). The famous street has all the signs of old world Japan: strolling down it is a great way to experience the Japanese culture and way of life. The shops along Nakamise-dōri sell a range of items, such as traditional Japanese wooden dolls, hair accessories, post cards, and other ideal souvenirs to remind you of your adventures in Japan. And if you get hungry, you can always fill up on delicious Japanese street food.
Kaminarimon Gate, entrance to Sensō-ji Temple and Nakamise-dōri. | Michael Cornelius
Nakamise-dōri is one of the oldest shopping streets in Japan. A warlord named Tokugawa Ieyasu once ruled over Japan during the Sengoku Period (1493-1590). He was responsible for the creation of the Edo Shogunate that made Edo, now modern day Tokyo, a thriving and prosperous city. This brought an influx of people to the great city. Many people would regularly visit Sensō-ji Temple; residents took the opportunity to make a living by setting up shops on the nearby street. This is said to be the birth of Nakamise-dōri.
Nakamise-dōri. | David Gómez
In 1885, all shop owners were ordered to vacate the street to make way for the development of the area into Western-styled brick structures. Once finished, shop owners soon returned. In 1923, when the Great Kantō earthquake hit Tokyo, many of the shops were in ruins. They were rebuilt this time using concrete but yet again sustained heavy damage during the WWII bombings.
Nakamise-dōri shutter art. | Chang’r
Today, the front shutters of every store along the row of Nakamise-dōri establishments are used as a large single canvas with images meticulously depicting traditional events and scenes for each season in Asakusa. The street, about 250 meters long, has around 90 shops. It’s a worthwhile visit just to look at the amazing artwork even when the stores have already closed for the night.
In Japan, April is always an exciting month with spring flowers all in full bloom. The highly anticipated blossoming of sakura (cherry trees) makes our lives more colorful and never fails to bring a smile to our faces. April ushers in many festivals to cap off the first quarter of the year.
Here are some of the festivals happening in Tokyo for April:
Sakura Festival and Peony Festival – Sakura, cherry blossoms, are in full bloom in April, usually. The blooms last for only one week, and then they start to fall from the trees. The flowers are considered the most beautiful when they are at their final stages. For many Japanese, cherry blossoms symbolize transience, nobility, and life. Some of the best locations to view the gorgeous trees are in Sumida River and Ueno Park. The peony flowers start to bloom usually around mid-April.
Sakura trees all lit up. | Marufish
Bussho-e (the birthday of Buddha) – Buddhists celebrate the birthday of Buddha (Sakyamuni ) every 8th of April. Bussho-e is also known as the Flower Festival. Sensō-ji Temple is one of the best places to pay homage to Buddha and join in the celebration.
Shirasagi no Mai – This event is celebrated on the 14th of April. Shirasagi no Mai is best represented by a ceremonial dance depicted in a historic picture scroll found at Sensō-ji Temple. Participants dress in traditional Heian period costume representing white herons.
Yabusame – celebrated every 20th of April, Yabusame is a much anticipated spectacle in Sumida Park. It is horseback archery in its finest. During the Edo period, it was celebrated to usher in the New Year.
Yabusame. | Yuki Shimazu
Naki Sumo (Zumou) – this Baby Crying Festival is celebrated on 20th or 21st of April. It is a 400-year-old tradition where babies are encouraged to cry for good health and to ward off evil spirits. Amateur sumo wrestlers hold the babies high up in the air as they cry while sumo referees determine the winner: the baby who cries the loudest and the longest.
Other festivals to look forward to around Japan are:
- Kamakura Festival, second Sunday to the third Sunday, in Kanagawa.
- Takayama Festival, 14th and 15th of April, in Gifu.
- Yayoi Festival 16th and 17th of April, in Tochigi.
The much anticipated Dezome-shiki (New Year’s Parade of Firemen), organized by the Tokyo Fire Department to usher in the New Year, begins with a stunning display of daredevil feats that rival the famous acrobatic acts of Cirque du Soleil.
In early January of each year, over 2,500 firefighters of the municipal fire departments and community firefighting teams showcase their skills at the latest rescue and firefighting techniques. Firefighters dressed in firemen attire from the Edo Period (1603-1868) exhibit not just their expert firefighting skills, but also display acrobatic prowess with ladders from the same era in their performance.
Click image or: http://youtu.be/6hkEmMXq4dw
City of Fires
During the Edo Period, huge fires ravaged large portions of Edo (now Tokyo), causing heavy damage. The Jobikeshi Fire Brigade was formed in 1657, after the first big fire known as Meireki no Taika. This began the development of strategies to safeguard the people and the city from fires. Soon, fire corps were stationed in four locations in Edo.
Ladders made from bamboo were deemed an important tool in firefighting. At the time, the ideal way to combat fire time was to tear down the surrounding buildings to keep fire from spreading. Speed was essential and nimble people were needed to climb the roofs. These were usually scaffold workers who also doubled as firefighters.
Today, Dezome-shiki is a grand event that not only entertains but also educates the public on the hazards of fire. The huge parade of firefighters and around 100 helicopters and fire engines is truly spectacular.
In mid-November, KCP students visited Edo-Tokyo Museum where they saw first-hand the artifacts used by firefighters during the Edo era.
A KCP student holds up a matoi, a symbol for a firefighter to carry and wave on a roof as an alert to fire nearby. | KCP Flickr