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
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.
Tokyo’s Sumida River (隅田川) 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. Some of the more popular bridges are the Ryogoku-bashi which was built in 1932, the Nihon-bashi that dates all the way back to the 17th Century, and the Tsukuda Bridge which was built in 196 (the first bridge built after WWII).
Sumida River at night | Ian Muttoo
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 by joining a river cruise, of which there are several options. The ride gives you a glimpse of the rich history of Japan’s diverse culture, and how the Japanese commerce and industry developed because of the river, making the city the center of a thriving trading port.
Although there are several places to begin the cruise, a great starting point would be the Hinode Pier on the Yurikamome line. You can take a scenic route to Asakusa and Sensoji Temple, and bask at the gorgeous sights as you pass by the Hamarikyu Japanese Gardens. Taking the Sumida River Line route will let you escape the hustle and bustle of city life and transport you back in time through the lush greenery and tranquil waters.
You can also explore the river by taking the Himiko Water Bus. This cruise can begin by showing you the old atmosphere of Edo along Asakusa and you can cap your day off by exploring the shops and amusement parks in Odaiba. The Himiko boats are constructed to look like futuristic vessels that allow you an unobstructed view through their large wall to wall windows. As the sun sets, the lights on the ship will add to the aura of mystique and enchantment.
Himiko Water Bus | jetalone
What to See Along the Sumida River
The river cruise will allow you to see some of the famous sights in Tokyo, such as the Tsukiji Fish Market, the Kokugikan, which is the Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament Arena, and the Asahi beer headquarters. The Sumida River Fireworks Display, one of the most popular fireworks festivals in Japan, is held around the middle of every year and is not to be missed. It can be viewed downstream of Sakurabashi Bridge to upstream of Kototoibashi Bridge, and from downstream of Komagatabashi Bridge to upstream of Umayabashi Bridge.
Sumida River Fireworks Festival | localjapantimes