Top 12 Free Things to do in Shibuya
12 free things to do in Shibuya. Simple as that. Most things to do in Shibuya aren't free, these 12 things to do, however, very much are.
Shibuya, Tokyo’s beating heart, is a modern wonderland. You could spend a whole trip here and not feel the creep of boredom once. That is, if you’ve got the money. The city’s heart can sometimes feel like the only thing it’s pumping is cash, especially when your bank balance is looking less than healthy.
Luckily for you, we’re here to help. Using our creativity and cheapo bloodymindedness, we’ve come up with a list of the 12 greatest free things to do in Shibuya. Leave your wallet at home and come with us.
1) People Watch at Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya crossing really needs no introduction, it has come to represent modern Japan just as Fuji represents the country of old. Located just outside the world’s second busiest train station, it’s a spectacle of noise, neon and bodies. Tourists making no secret of their amazement and local salarymen on their way to work intermingle seamlessly (most of the time) in a spectacular dance of humanity.
Perhaps this is overblowing it somewhat, but the crossing invites grandiosity like few other locations. It also invites people watching. Though the area is busy, it’s always possible to find a nice perch from which to gawp. You could even play a people watching game at the same time – find some good ones here.
2) Make Some Friends
Shibuya is a popular spot to link up with friends. On an evening, masses of people are to be seen lingering quietly, waiting for companions. But what to do if you’re only in town for a brief stint and know nobody? Wander aimlessly, lonely and sad? Not anymore. The internet has made making friends, even when halfway around the world, a breeze.
Mobile app Tinder is not only for hooking-up, many travellers and locals alike use the app to make friends at short notice. Download the app onto your phone, upload a picture and write a description (make sure to mention you’re only after friends if that is indeed the case) and start swiping. With minimal effort and next to no planning, you could have a sightseeing buddy or drinking partner!
Another good option is Meetup, a platform designed to connect people through shared interests. Users set up a Meetup Group to which others sign up, a date and time for the meetup is decided and finally, the meetup takes place! Some groups set very loose, general criteria, such as the Tokyo Hang Outers Meetup (self-explanatory) or the Tokyo Welcome Meetup (for those new to the city looking for company), others are a lot more esoteric, such as the Release Yoga Meetup or the Tokyo Futsal Meetup. Whatever your interests you’re bound to find a group for you. Meetups take place all over the city, though Shibuya is one of the most common spots due to its central and convenient location. Get involved!
3) Relax in Yoyogi Park
Unlike some parks in the city, Yoyogi is completely free to enter and open 24/7. Also in contrast to some of the other parks, Yoyogi has a relaxed, anything goes atmosphere with far fewer restrictions and rules.
Yoyogi is large, with ample room for everyone to wander, lounge or play. Though by no means the most beautiful or well-landscaped in the city, it has plenty of charm of its own, with abundant trees, fountains and wide-open fields. It’s size and centrality makes it a hotspot for people from all walks of life to hang out and practice their hobbies. On Sundays especially, it comes alive with hobbyists of all kinds, from mellow yoga enthusiasts to gyrating gangs of 1950s rockabilly dancers.
What’s more, the park offers welcome solace from the breakneck speed of the city around it, which is, you’ll agree, priceless.
4) Take in Some Art
If you’re after cool things to do in Shibuya, then hopping between the numerous and totally free galleries in the area is a good bet.
What better place to start than the station itself, home to one of Japan’s most famous works of public art: Taro Okamoto’s “Myth of Tomorrow” mural. Okamoto’s avant-garde, semi-abstract take on the destruction wrought by the dropping of the A-bomb is a joy to behold, not least for its prominent placement, which pits the unceasing flow of station life against the painting’s sombre themes.
Out of the station, Tokyo Wonder Site, a gallery dedicated to experimental contemporary art from around the world, is the next place to head for. Entrance is free and there are always a good number of events and exhibitions to take in. Other options include the Diesel Art Gallery, Hachi in the Hikarie Shopping Mall and Parco Gallery X in the Parco building – all free to enter and displaying excellent contemporary art from Japan and abroad.
5) Enjoy Some Music
Tower Records lives on in Japan, and at its flagship store in Shibuya, music fans are in for a treat. With 9 floors dedicated to music from the ultra-mainstream to the relatively unknown, simply browsing the shelves is a great activity in itself. There is also a cafe and rooftop bar for when you need to take a break (granted, these are not free).
You’ve got two options if you want to do some actual listening. One is taking advantage of the headphones dotted around each floor which play various select CDs. If this smacks of penny-pinching desperation, check-out the “mini-live” concerts that take place almost daily. These concerts, which can be a solo pianist in a quiet corner or a full-on live show in the basement, are totally free of charge and a lot of fun. The only problem is, it’s difficult to find out any details ahead of time, so your best bet is to turn up early in the day and ask the staff. As said, these shows happen on a daily basis, so you should be able to catch one any day of the week.
Address: 1-22-14, Shibuya, Tokyo
6) Bar Hop
As you may be aware, most bars in Japan will charge you even without you buying anything. Seating charges are simply something you have to grin and bear. Or are they? Shibuya, as a common hang-out for broke foreigners, has a good amount of bars and clubs that have chosen not to impose the fee, in the hope of attracting more custom. Though clearly, you’ll need to get out that dusty old wallet should you get thirsty, at least the simple act of walking through a door won’t cost you a dime. Bars will often have a DJ or live music to enjoy, or you could simply soak in the vibes, safe in the knowledge you’re being a world-class cheapo.
If you’ve got a little money to play with, a good idea is to buy drinks at a convenience store and drink outdoors. In the summer, this is often preferable to a bar anyway.
7) Free Food
Food can be a nightmare for your budget in Tokyo, especially if you’re fresh off the plane, hungry and baffled. Keep you head together however and head to the basement, or depachika, of Shibuya’s Odakyu department store. Find here all manner of culinary delights, traditional Japanese and international both, laid out at stalls as far as the eye can see. Importantly, many offer free samples. Roam around sampling everything you can until you’re satisfied or awkwardness gets the better of you. Other department stores in the area also include such food halls, though none are quite as extensive as Odakyu’s. Bon appetit!
Tokyo’s number 1 meeting spot – the famed Hachiko statue, right outside Shibuya Station’s Hachiko Exit, is a great place to simply hang out. You’ll find locals and foreigners alike here, sitting, drinking and chatting. For the unaware, the statue memorialises Hachiko, a dog who, even after his owner’s death, waited outside the station every day for him up until his own death. Heart-warming stuff you’re sure to agree. Today, perhaps you’ll have your heart warmed by a kindly stranger at the spot, or maybe more likely, a can of Strong-Zero.
9) Shrine Time
Visiting shrines and temples should definitely be its own sub-section of general tourism in Japan – even if you’ve no interest in them, you’ll probably find yourself walking around at least one. So why not make it Miyamasu Mitake in central Shibuya? The shrine, built in 1570, with Emperor Keikou enshrined within, is loomed over by modern office blocks, but it holds its own against the besieging city and provides visitors with a safe haven from the audiovisual assaults which the district can attack you with.
If you’re heading to Yoyogi Park, you may as well also stop by the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine, another tranquil corner of the city, though slightly undermined by the crowds that flock there.
Address: 1-12-16 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
10) Green Fingers
The Shibuya-ku Fureai Botanical Center, a mini-botanical garden a short walk from Shibuya Station, is, to indulge in cliche, an oasis amongst the chaos. Though small, it’s home to over 200 varieties of rare and exotic plants, from baobabs to cacti, to remind you that the world isn’t all towers, cars and people. At the end of June, it’s famed for its firefly displays, which are truly a great natural spectacle. Though the regular entrance fee is an extremely reasonable 100 yen, turn up in the evening and this is usually waived anyway.
Address: 2-25-37 Higashi, Shibuya, Tokyo
11) Love Hotel Hill (Dogenzaka)
Love hotels are one of those things that is pretty much exclusive to Japan, but you’ll soon get used to seeing them when in the country, as they’re pretty much everywhere. Head to Shibuya’s Love Hotel Hill and get your fill all at once – it being home to the highest concentration of them nationwide. Unless you plan to stay here (which isn’t free), the entertainment here comes from marvelling at the sometimes sleazy, sometimes odd, sometimes fairly elegant facades of these buildings, as well as the small old-school bars and shops that you find in between. When you get home, someone’s going to ask you about love hotels, use this opportunity to prepare.
12) Hit the Books
Japan respects the idea of the library far more than other countries, and Shibuya-ku Central Library is one of the best in Tokyo. Libraries here are community hubs, used to study, learn a new skill (whether a language, a craft etc), engage in cultural exchange or simply socialise. Head here to relax and indulge your interests. If you’ve neglected to bring a book, Shibuya library has one of the largest collections of foreign books (mostly English) of all the city’s libraries and plenty of space to sit and read them. An excellent option for a rainy (or hungover) day.
Address: 1-18-21, Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo