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It's Tokyo, But It's Free - And Should Be On Your Must-Do List

Ben Hall

Tokyo is a city of great contrasts; the glitz of Ginza, the neon of Shinjuku, and the ancient history of Asakusa. Ask many people if they’ve ever considered a holiday there, however, the response you’ll often hear is: “I’d love to, but it’s too expensive.” The myth of Tokyo being a hyper-expensive city still pervades, but there’s a lot you can see in Japan’s capital city without opening your wallet. When it comes to sights, you could spend a week in Tokyo and still not see everything. But there are a number of essential experiences everyone should include on their list, many of which are free, and number one for many people is the Meiji-jingu Shrine. 

Arguably Tokyo’s grandest Shinto shrine, Meiji-jingu is so forested that you would hardly know you were in the heart of the world’s largest metropolis. If you feel the need to escape the hustle and bustle for a few hours, this is perfect place to find sanctuary, but it’s also a wonderful place to immerse yourself in traditional Japanese culture and history. Meiji-jingu was built to enshrine the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. Meiji was Japan’s first sovereign following the demise of rule by the samurai class, and he died in 1912 and the Empress two years later. This much revered site was almost eliminated by air raids during World War II. Most of the major buildings burned down in 1945, but thanks to generous donations from around the world, the complex was rebuilt in 1958. And unlike some of Japan’s postwar reconstructions, the shrine is authentic. Meiji is a place of relaxation for Tokyoites, as well as their spiritual home. But it’s also an active Shinto shrine; if you are really lucky, a traditional Shinto wedding might be happening when you visit. This tops Japan’s role call of amazing sights to see; it’s a colourful wedding party with a difference, with the bride resplendent in a traditional Japanese wedding kimono, followed by shrine maidens and Shinto priests.

Other free sights in Tokyo include the majestic Imperial Palace, which is home to one of Tokyo’s most notable landmarks, the Nijubashi Bridge. The palace itself is mostly hidden behind a dense wood of trees, and it is closed to the public on all but special occasions, but the picturesque backdrop makes the bridge one of Tokyo’s most famous photo ops. At street level, Tokyo can seem an overwhelming and elaborate place but a great way to gain a little perspective on how this chaotic city fits together is to find one of the few places that offers a panoramic view. The “Tocho” observation deck at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings offers free entry and from the 45th floor, or 200 metres above ground, it’s said you can even see as far as Mt Fuji. As the saying goes, the best things in life are free, and the same goes for Tokyo which can be easy on the credit card, if you know where to go.  



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