Cheap things to do in Tokyo

Kabuki and jazz shows, sumo matches, free galleries and more – where to get all your thrills without breaking the bank

Written by
Time Out Tokyo Editors

With scores of inexpensive restaurants, bars and hotels for those in the know, Tokyo’s reputation for being an expensive city is mostly undeserved. However, even long-term residents often lament how pricey its art, entertainment and family-friendly options can be. Here’s how and where to beat the system, one ticket at a time. 

Ideas for a cheap day out

  • Theatre
  • Higashi-Ginza

A standard kabuki performance consists of two or three acts, but catching only one act is also possible at the Kabukiza, Tokyo’s main kabuki theatre. Tickets for these are sold on the day and prices vary by show – most go for anywhere between ¥800 and ¥2,000. You’ll be seated on the fourth floor and have very nice views of the action. If your Japanese is up to par, check out for the schedule and prices. Kabukiza Theatre

Buy on-the-day sumo tickets
  • Sport and fitness
  • Ryogoku

Watching giant men crash into each other doesn’t have to be wallet-wrecking – as long as you don’t mind getting up early and taking your chances. The ticket windows at Ryogoku Kokugikan, the main stadium, open at 7.45am on tournament days and sell seats for a mere ¥2,200. The sumo tournaments are held in Tokyo each year in January, May and September. Ryogoku Kokugikan

Save on cinema tix
  • Cinemas
  • Independent
  • Ikebukuro

Most Tokyo cinemas charge a near-extortionate ¥1,800 for a single adult ticket, but the capital’s cinephiles know how to get in on the cheap. The first day of each month is usually discount day (everyone enters for ¥1,100), while Wednesdays are ‘ladies’ day’ (ladies, you’ve just saved ¥700). Double (or triple) bills are another way to save: Shin-Bungeiza in Ikebukuro does all-nighters for ¥2,300, while Waseda Shochiku offers double bills of classics for ¥1,300. Shin-Bungeiza, Waseda Shochiku

Try the Noh 'happy hour'
  • Theatre
  • Performing arts space
  • Ginza

Reopened in the basement of the humongous Ginza Six complex this spring, the Kanze Nogakudo is a venerable Noh theatre originally established in 1901. The ‘happy hour’ allows you to catch the last act of every performance for ¥3,000 – quite a drop from the regular prices of ¥7,000-¥12,500. Note that ‘happy hour’ tickets aren’t available in case of a sellout. Kanze Nogakudo

Dance on the cheap
  • Clubs
  • Shibuya

Those looking to move their feet at a club but don’t feel like reaching for their wallet to pay a cover charge will want to check out Shibuya’s Oath. This box-sized bar also offers drinks at a very fair ¥500 (¥1,000 for your first drink). Oath

  • Music
  • Shinjuku-Nichome

Pit Inn in Shinjuku is a must-visit for any jazz fan in Tokyo. It has history, ambience and a consistently excellent lineup of the best domestic and foreign jazz musicians nightly. The cover charge at night (from ¥3,000) is very reasonable, but its unique afternoon live sessions are a real bargain. Taking place from 2pm almost daily they cost just ¥1,300, including a drink. Shinjuku Pit Inn

  • Theatre
  • Performing arts space
  • Shinjuku-Sanchome

Those new to Japan’s traditional form of comic storytelling will want to start at this venerable Shinjuku theatre, where affordable late-night shows (¥1,000) are held from 9.30pm every Saturday. Suehirotei

  • Attractions
  • Zoos and aquariums
  • Ueno

Gorillas, elephants, giraffes, polar bears, tigers, oh my. Ueno Zoo has it all, including a bird house, a turtle- and reptile-filled vivarium, and an extensive assortment of small animals. However, the real stars are without a doubt Shin Shin and Ri Ri, the pair of giant pandas. Shin Shin just gave birth to a female baby back in June 2017, and the cub will definitely draw an even bigger crowd once she’s ready to be displayed. Children and adults alike will marvel at the animals, and it’s worth noting that Ueno Zoo is well-equipped with amenities – you’re never far from a restaurant, snack stall, souvenir shop or bathroom. Ueno Zoo

  • Things to do
  • Takaosan

Lace up your hiking boots and escape the city’s hustle and bustle by climbing Mount Takao, Tokyo’s most popular peak. You can get there by taking the Keio line all the way to Takaosanguchi Station, about 50 minutes from Shinjuku.

Takao may not seem like a huge mountain at 599 metres tall, but once you find yourself puffing and panting near the top, you’ll appreciate its grandeur. Take a breather mid-hike at Yakuoin Temple for a look at the tengu (long-nosed goblin) statues. Once you reach the top, treat yourself to a picnic while admiring a panoramic view of Tokyo – and Mount Fuji on a clear day. Takao also has a monkey park and a wild plant garden. The hike takes about two hours and is suitable for the whole family. Avoid the lunchtime crowds and go in the morning instead. Mt Takao

See free art exhibits at luxury boutiques
  • Art
  • Omotesando

Don’t let the doorman and the huge glass gates of the Omotesando Louis Vuitton boutique intimidate you. In addition to the gorgeous collections of shoes, handbags and garments, the building hosts one of the city’s best-kept secrets: a small but stunning art space designed by Japanese architect Jun Aoki.

The glass box is located on the top floor of the luxury boutique and offers an Instagram-worthy view of Tokyo. The contemporary exhibitions change every few months, but some noteworthy past ones have featured the works of minimalist artist Dan Flavin and installations from Pierre Huyghe. Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo

Experience the history of sumo
  • Museums
  • Ryogoku

Couldn’t get your hands on some sumo tickets? While not as exciting as a live match, this free museum is sure to please sumo enthusiasts. and even non-fans will be awestruck by the displays of materials related to the Japanese national sport.

The museum is home to 3,700 sumo-themed, multicoloured woodblock prints, 500 sumo dolls and a collection of kesho-mawashi, those opulent silk belts worn by high-ranked wrestlers and equipped with an embroidered apron and tassels. The museum is located on the ground floor of the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena. After your visit, take a stroll around the neighbourhood, where you will most likely run into rikishi (sumo wrestlers) going about their daily lives. Sumo Museum

See the Japan of old on the outskirts of Tokyo
  • Museums
  • Koganei

If you still haven’t visited the Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum, you’re missing out on one of the most interesting museums in Tokyo. Located a short train ride away in the western suburbs, it’s the ideal setting for a budget-friendly family day. The concept is unique as the outdoor museum is located right in magnificent Koganei Park and houses buildings characteristic to different historical periods – including a handful built by famous Japanese architects.

Most of the structures are from the Meiji period (1868-1912) onwards and include a politician’s elegant former residence, a farm house, a photo studio, a public bathhouse, various shops and a police box. You can enter most of the buildings and make yourself at home – as long as you don’t mind slipping in and out of your shoes. Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum

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