Free Time

Free Time

Sip sake, stuff your face with senbei, appear on TV, take a spin in a new Toyota—the options are nearly endless when it comes to enjoying free stuff in Tokyo


Originally published on on November 2009

01 Sumo Wrestling Museum


Located inside Ryogoku’s famed Kokugikan stadium, this museum showcases portraits of sumo legends, photos of major moments from the sport’s history, and a variety of props and costumes, including the ceremonial aprons worn by past winners. Visitors can also book a tour to watch the wrestlers practice and see different aspects of their preparations, including hairdressing, drumming and “comic sumo.”

1F Ryogoku Kokugikan, 1-3-28 Yoko-ami, Sumida-ku. Tel: 03-3623-5111. Open Mon-Fri 10am-4:30pm, closed Sat-Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Ryogoku. TT

02 Earthquake Museum


If you find yourself with time on your hands after visiting the small-scale sumo museum, you can shake things up at this nearby spot. The Earthquake Museum features information and exhibits relating to the Great Kanto Earthquake, which struck on September 1, 1923. It has photos and models of the city and the damage caused by the 7.9 magnitude quake, which killed upwards of 140,000 people, all of whom are memorialized on tablets in the museum. There are also displays of debris and diary entries and personal accounts from the day.

2-3-25 Yokoami, Sumida-ku. Tel: 03-3623-1200. Open Tue-Sat 9am–4:30pm, closed Mon (or the following day if Mon is a national holiday). Nearest stn: Ryogoku TT

03 Yebisu Beer Museum


The site of a Meiji-era beer factory, this small but comprehensive museum is devoted entirely to one of the world’s most beloved beverages. While the best part—the tasting—will set you back a few hundred yen, the information on the history of beer in Japan and around the world, the short film on the “magic of beer,” the gallery of adverts, and the exhibit on the science of brewing—where you can hear about all the latest technology and learn all the details about the grain to glass process—won’t cost a dime.

4-20-1 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5423-7255. Open Tue-Sat 10am-6pm (enter before 5pm), closed Mon. Nearest stn: Ebisu. TT

04 Meguro Parasitological Museum


Proclaiming itself “the only museum in the world on parasites,” this offbeat gallery offers an intriguing way to spend the afternoon. With all the photos, specimens and information you can handle, the museum will make you rethink your attitude toward these much-maligned creatures. The first floor provides a general overview of parasites and how they fit into the grand scheme of nature, while the second floor delves deeper into their life cycle and allows visitors to examine over 300 actual specimens.

4-1-1 Shimo-Meguro, Meguro-ku. Tel: 03-3716-1264. Open Tue-Sun 10am–5pm, closed Mon (or the following day if Mon is a national holiday). Nearest stn: Meguro. TT

05 Tokyo Metropolitan Children’s Hall


This centrally located spot in Shibuya is a godsend for parents of kids ranging from toddlers to high schoolers. A variety of play areas and activities will entertain even the most hard-to-please young ’un: there’s a roof playground, library (with “story time” and puppet shows), stage for concerts and plays, scientific crafts area, “human body maze,” computer room, lounge area, wood shop—and more. Tokyo Metropolitan Children’s Hall also offers an array of monthly events and classes that are worth looking into.

1-18-24 Shibuya, Tel: 03-3409-6361. Open 9am-5pm most days; see website for specific schedule. Nearest stn: Shibuya. TT

06 Yebisu Garden Place Tower


With an excellent view of the Shibuya and Shinjuku areas, Yebisu Garden Place Tower offers a different vantage point on the city than the one at the touristy Shinjuku Government building. Take the elevator up to the 39th-floor restaurant area, and you’ll find an observation deck that stays open late. A noteworthy aspect of the view here is that the tower is the only skyscraper in the area, making for an awe-inspiring vista of the city.

39F Yebisu Garden Place Tower Bldg, 4-20-3 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5423-7111. Open daily 11am-11pm. Nearest stn: Ebisu.

07 Sony Building


This Ginza landmark showcases cutting-edge gadgets from the world’s foremost electronics company. Visitors are free to try out all the items, as well as attend various (Japanese-language) exhibitions and seminars; just-released international products are available for purchase. The highlight of the facility is the Opus High Vision Theater, where you can enjoy free high-def movies, including some of the latest theatrical offerings. The current film (through November 15) is Terminator Salvation, and there’s a statue of the T-600 robot that you can take pics of until the 19th.

5-3-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3573-2371. Open daily 11am–7pm. Nearest stn: Ginza. www.sonybuilding.jpTT

08 Toyota Mega Web


Easily worth a few hours’ time, this huge showroom features the newest model cars and future technology from the world’s largest automaker. On offer are exhibits, virtual reality rides and a VR theater, as well as the opportunity to drive a car on an indoor track or, with a member of staff, outside around the Odaiba area. Also worth a look is the “History Garage,” which displays vintage Toyota autos.

Palette Town, Aomi 1-chome, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-3599-0808. Open daily 11am-9pm. Nearest stn: Aomi or Tokyo Teleport. TT

09 Dance & Yoga Classes

If you’re considering a new exercise regime but put off by hefty joining fees, then hit up Tokyo’s fitness instructors for a free trial session—most gyms and exercise studios offer free lessons for first-timers. Check out Tokyo Dance School in Meguro for hip-hop, rock and jazz dancing lessons with one of their LA-trained instructors. Just fill in your contact details on the online registration form, along with a note stating what type of lesson you wish to try. Bikram Yoga Ogikubo offers a free first trial of its hot yoga classes weekdays at 10am, 1pm, 3pm, 7pm and 9pm, and weekends and holidays at 10am, noon, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm. Just turn up about half an hour before the start of class to register, and make sure you bring some ID, light, comfortable clothing, towels and water.

Tokyo Dance School: B1, 1-5-10 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku, Tel: 03-3794-1358. Nearest stn Nakameguro. (Japanese). Registration form available at TDS Dance (Japanese and English).

Bikram Yoga Ogikubo: B1F, 5-20-5 Ogikubo, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-5347-3315. Nearest stn: Ogikubo. (Japanese) SH

10 Depachika

I don’t know who it was that came up with that old adage about there being no such thing as a free lunch, but I’m willing to wager it was someone who had never enjoyed a stroll through the basements of Tokyo department stores. Free food samples galore—go ahead, stuff your face, then stuff your face some more. The Isetan depato in Shinjuku is a fantastic place to start; there are even free tours in English twice a year (March and September) when you can have a look behind the scenes, sample a  massive array of culinary delights, and even go home with an arsenal of edible delicacies. If you want to take part, join Isetan’s “I Club” by stopping by the seventh floor of the annex building—it’s free, and the service entitles you to a personalized, English-speaking shopping guide.

3-14-1 Shinjuku-ku. Tel: 03-3352-1111. Open daily 10am-8pm. Nearest stn: Shinjuku. SH

11 Makeup

So—has a bit of time left alone with a selection of makeup brushes and some war paint left you on the wrong side of the line marked “drag queen”? Don’t panic—visit a cosmetics counter and get the staff to do your makeup for you. If you’re looking to buy some new cosmetics anyway, this is a fantastic opportunity to have the experts show you how it’s done. Generally, counter staff are happy to do your makeup for free; MAC, in particular, has super-helpful staff who are always happy to share their expertise with you. (Of course, any subsequent purchases you make are not going to be free.)

MAC Omotesando Hills location: 1F,  4-12-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5410-1122. Open Sun-Wed 11am-8pm, Thu-Sat 11am-9pm. Nearest stn: Omotesando.
Shinjuku location: 2F Lumine, 3-38-2 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-5322-7322. Open daily 11am-8pm. Nearest stn: Shinjuku. SH

12 Imperial Palace East Gardens


These large and beautifully maintained gardens are a fine example of the Japanese flair for green spaces. With carp ponds, seasonal foliage (including cherry blossoms) and a sprinkling of traditional buildings, the gardens offer a fine way to enjoy a sunny day. The on-site Sannomaru Shozokan museum is also free and features clothing, photographs and other memorabilia related to the Imperial Family. Tours of the Imperial Palace grounds can be arranged by calling the number below.

1-1 Chiyoda, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3213-1111. Open Tue-Thu and Sat-Sun 9am–5pm, closed Mon and Fri. Nearest stn: Takebashi or Otemachi. TT

13 Omiya Bonsai Village


This park located in Omiya, Saitama, features dozens of separate gardens where you can gaze on the gorgeous little trees and view bonsai masters at work. There’s also a quaint traditional “rest house,” called the House of the Four Seasons, which merits a look. In association with a local (English-speaking) kimono shop, visitors can enjoy a walking tour of the area while wearing traditional dress (for ¥5,000 fee). The annual Bonsai Festival at the beginning of May is quite the spectacle as well.

96 Bonsai-cho, Kita-ku, Saitama. Tel: 048-664-1636. Open Fri-Wed 9am–5pm,
closed Thu. Nearest stn: Omiya Koen (Tobu line). See for more info. For info about the kimono walk, see TT

14 Saitama Municipal Cartoon Art Museum


Located in the vicinity of Omiya Bonsai Village, this museum is also free and offers a colorful way to take a break from all the green. Focusing on famed cartoonist Rakuten Kitazawa, who was born in the area and who is considered one of the pioneers of the modern manga form, the museum features a variety of displays relating to cartoon art, including some of Kitazawa’s more important sketches—the politically focused editorial cartoons are particularly interesting.

150 Bonsai-cho, Kita-ku, Saitama. Tel: 048-663-1541. Open Tue-Sun 9am-4:30pm, closed Mon. Nearest stn: Omiya Koen (Tobu line). TT

15 Sake Plaza


Situated on the first and fourth floors of the Sake Brewers Association offices, Sake Plaza offers all the information you could possibly want on Japan’s national drink. Various exhibits on sake making, history and other topics await, as well as a library and displays of cool labels from sake bottles. The pièces de résistance, though, are the free samples on offer during the occasional testings. Staff are also on hand to assist you with queries (English is usually not a problem), maps and advice for visiting one of the hundreds of breweries around Japan.

1-1-21 Nishi-Shimbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3519-2091. Open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, closed Sat-Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Toranomon. TT

16 Free Café Harimaya Station


In a city with no shortage of cafes, this one truly stands out. The owners say that “people of all ages, regardless of nationality and sex, and regardless of whether or not they buy anything, are welcome to use the café at no charge, at any time, and as frequently as they like.” Why? Harimaya Honten is famous for its rice crackers, and it sees the café as a way to get the word out—as well as promote its message of environmental responsibility. Senbei, roasted green tea, coffee, and other drinks are all on offer. A new location recently opened near Higashi-Ginza station. A free café in Ginza? Now that’s something special.

Toranomon: 3-8-1 Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-5512-4747. Open daily 10am–8pm. Nearest stn: Toranomon.

Ginza: 2F, 4-9-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5550-6110. Open daily 10am-8pm. Nearest stn: Higashi-Ginza (A2) or Ginza (A6). TT

17 Internet


Tokyo is jam-packed with manga-kissa, but despite offering myriad benefits in the way of inclusive drinks, snacks and so on, the charges can add up—¥2,000 for just an hour’s surfing is not uncommon. If you’re roaming the city for free internet, check out the Yahoo Cafes in Kasumigaseki, Hibiya or Shinagawa. Libraries are also usually a safe bet—the Tokyo Metropolitan Library in Hiroo has six machines for public use on the first floor, along with free wireless on the third. The Young Work Plaza in Shibuya also offers computers available for public use.

Yahoo Cafe: Shinagawa: 7F Shinagawa Prince Hotel Annex Tower, 4-10-30 Takanawa, Minato-ku. Open daily 6:30am-10pm. Nearest stn: Shinagawa, Takanawa exit.
Tokyo Metroploitan Library: 5-7-13 Minami Azabu, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3442-8451. Open Mon-Fri 10am-9pm, Sat-Sun & hols 10am-5.30pm. Nearest stn: Hiroo.
Young Work Plaza Shibuya: 1-21-1 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3770-8609. Open Mon-Sat 10am-6:30pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Shibuya. SH

18 Imperial Palace Cycling


Cyclists on a budget will enjoy the latest initiative by the Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute. On Sunday afternoons between 10am and 3pm, you can borrow a bike and take it out on a 3km cycle track around the Imperial Palace and surrounding areas. Nearby roads are closed to motor traffic on Sundays (although you should bring along your own helmet anyway). A selection of 250 bicycles are available for both adults and children, including new models, road bikes, mountain bikes, kids bikes and tandems. Simply show up at the Uchibori-dori reception desk to register.

Tel: 03-3211-5020. Reception desk located three minutes’ walk from exit 2 of Nijubashi-mae station (Chiyoda line), next to the police box. See for English details and map. Note the track is closed on rainy days and during special events.  SH

19 TV tapings


If you’re the type who enjoys the pantomime that is Japanese TV, then you’ll be thrilled to find out that you can go along and watch most shows for free by sending the stations an oufuku hagaki (return-mail postcard). Fuji TV is a good place to start—you can request free tickets to perennial favourite Waratte ii Tomo, which features high-profile Japanese tarento along with occasional visits from Hollywood celebrities (it’s filmed live each day in Shinjuku’s Studio Alta from noon-1pm). If you fancy yourself on the other side of the screen, NHK’s Cool Japan is always looking for foreigners to join the show at its Shibuya studio (preferably those who have been in town a year or less) to talk about everything from fashion to anime to architecture to culture.

Waratte ii Tomo: Send postcard with number of people, your names, dates, address and tel no. to Warate ii Tomo, Fuji Terebi, Tokyo, 119-0188.
Cool Japan: Apply to appear on the show at the English-language website:

20 English-language Tour Guides


You’re new in town; they’re kind-hearted volunteers with plenty of time on their hands, a great deal of local knowledge, and a burning desire to spend the day practising their best English (and Spanish, French, etc.) on you. The Tokyo Free Guide is a nonprofit volunteer organization set up to help overseas visitors experience Japanese culture and local customs. They currently have about 150 guides who speak another language besides Japanese. Visit their English language website to arrange a free tour guide for yourself or your group—it’s entirely up to you where you decide to go or how long the tour lasts. Of course, because the guides are giving you their time and invaluable insider knowledge for free, lunch is on you (along with entrance fees, travel expenses and so on). Either way, it’s still a total bargain. Contact them a few weeks in advance to make sure someone is available. SH

21 Pet-sitting

If you’re headed out of town but don’t want to part with your hard-earned cash just so that your beloved pet sit in a cage, get in touch with PetConnect, a free pet-sitting service. Owner Lene Kimura can help you find some kindhearted person to take your pet into their home (or even visit it at your house) and love it as their own—cage free. Some pet-sitters charge a nominal fee for their services, but most are animal lovers who are quite happy to help you without payment.

For more info, see Pet Sitting Connection Japan. SH