Keep it Cheap! 10 Things You Can Get For Free in Tokyo
Even with the yen seeing some tough times, Tokyo is still far from a cheap place to visit. With expensive hotels, food, drinks, and taxi cab fares, it can be hard to find some relief for your wallet, particularly of the cheap-as-free variety. Here’s a list of 10 things you can receive for free in Tokyo, if you know where to look!
Guerrilla tissue marketing— no, really— is a unique phenomenon found to be extremely effective as advertising in Japan, especially in bustling Tokyo. At any given time in countless high-traffic areas, you can spot folks handing out packets of tissues with small advertisements inserted. These can really come in handy in winter and allergy season! Unfortunately, there have been tales of these tissue-distributors purposefully avoiding eye contact with foreigners, but try not to take it personally! They may assume you’re not the target audience of their product (which may be something like a hostess club where foreigners aren’t especially welcome, anyway.) You can always tap them on the shoulder and say “sumimasen!” if you really need those tissues, though.
Cities like Tokyo packed with people drain can your cellphone battery faster than a salaryman drains a glass of beer, which can be tough if you’re relying on your GPS to get around. External chargers can be purchased at any convenience store, but there’s a cheaper option! One of Japan’s 3 major mobile carriers, Softbank, offers a free charging service for customers and visitors alike. Their charging station looks like a big filing cabinet with a couple dozen small drawers with a tiny window on each drawer. Pick an open drawer, put your phone inside, select a 4-number combination for the lock, and you’re good to go! Come back and get your phone a bit later, but be sure to remember your drawer number and lock combination!
3.Bigger portions / Free refills
Who doesn’t love more food for less money? You may know to ask for “oomori” (big portions) and “okawari” (refills), but here are some places you can get those for free! Teishoku (set menu) restaurant chain Yayoiken offers free refills on their delicious rice, sometimes from a big rice cooker in the middle of the restaurant. Negishi, which specializes in beef tongue, also offers free large sizes and refills of their special barley rice. With a few locations throughout Tokyo, katsu (pork cutlet) restaurant Hamakatsu can’t be beat for refills of miso soup, cabbage, pickled vegetables and rice. At Hakata Tenjin tonkotsu ramen restaurant in Shinjuku, your first “kaedama” (second serving of noodles) is free!
Still hungry? Try grazing the offerings of any “depachika!” A conjunction of “depaato” (department store) and “chika” (basement), the floor is filled with a wide selection of every sort of food imaginable, all immaculately packaged and displayed. And yes, there are free samples! Many places will offer you a small taste of their delicacies. Bring a bit of luxury into your Japan dining without breaking the bank!
GPS and cellphone map applications have made travel much easier for many, but sometimes good, old-fashioned paper maps are the best ways to learn about interesting places to visit. Guidebooks can be expensive, so be sure to pick up some free transportation and tourist maps at subway and train stations. You can also check out the Tokyo Tourist Information Centers in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Keisei Ueno station, or Haneda airport. Or, get some personal recommendations from the Yanesen Tourist Info and Culture Center in Yanaka, where they can also help you make reservations for a variety of sightseeing experiences! (Note: that part may not be free.)
Planning a trip to Japan in the summertime? Be prepared for some intense heat and humidity, and be on the look out for this kind of ingeniously useful advertising! Having evolved from the traditional paper and wood uchiwa, the free kind is plastic and comes printed with all sorts of advertisements. You may also come across a mysterious thick paper circle with a smaller circle cut out by the edge— it’s a fan, too! Hold it by putting your thumb through the hole and enjoy the breeze! Uchiwa are usually distributed outside train stations, at festivals, or even at shopping malls, so keep an eye out and keep cool!
If you’re in Tokyo in the winter, be sure to enjoy the toasty warmth of “kairo” (disposable handwarmers) while you’re exploring! The magical little packets come in a variety of sizes and functions (some adhesive, some to put in your shoes, etc.) but all have the same basic use: tear open the package, shake the packet, and enjoy several hours of warmth. If you’re really lucky, you may be able to score a pack or two for free, being distributed in the same ways as tissues and uchiwa. These are less common and are usually used for advertising cram schools for students or similar, but see if you can find one in your travels!
Idol fan in Tokyo, but on a budget? There are any number of ways to experience Tokyo’s super-cute idol culture without spending more than a train fee! Up-and-coming indie idols can occasionally be found in Akihabara handing out flyers, which make great souvenirs, and sometimes even CDs. Over in Nakano, you can occasionally find an all-day free idol festival (with, of course, a priority area for ticket holders.) Odaiba’s legendary Tokyo Idol Festival held every August also has a couple of outdoor stages that can be viewed for free, and if you do have a festival pass, there’s a Free Handshake booth inside the meet-and-greet area where you can get to know some idols totally free of charge!
Say you need to find a lot of souvenirs for a lot of people, but you don’t want to spend a lot of money. As in, no money at all. A little place called Only Free Paper on the 4th floor of Shibuya’s Parco department store has you covered! Here, you can peruse and take home a variety of free magazines, newspapers, zines, and more! With genres including fashion, art, music, travel and food, you’re bound to find a unique souvenir for everyone on your list to enjoy, even if they don’t read Japanese. Just be considerate when choosing your titles, as you’re limited to no more than a few copies of any one publication.
Maybe your luggage is already stuffed to the brim with Japan goodies, but you still really wanted to check out a few more magazines and photobooks before heading home. Try out the Japanese habit of “tachiyomi” — reading while standing! In Japanese bookshops and even the magazine section of convenience stores, you’ll often see folks standing there leisurely leafing through books and magazines. This can be an easy way to check out your favorite publications without putting pressure on your wallet! Try to find the sample (or 見本/“mihon”) copy that’s already been handled by others, and don’t open anything sealed in plastic!
The memories you make in Japan are priceless, but if you look in the right places, some of your souvenirs, meals, and essentials can be, too! Happy travels, and keep it cheap!
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