I know for people in popular places like Tokyo and Kyoto, there are special lists of free things to do. Well, my list is more a general list for anybody who might be living in Japan. It’s based on my experience in the last few years. Feel free to add to it!
***Shopping. ‘Nuff said. I think everybody in Japan knows the Japan is the Queen of Shopping Fun. I saw Sake Flavored Kit Kats today. And it did not cost me a dime to gawk at them. Good places to shop are tourist areas. If you go to the Omiyage food section, you can help yourself to free tidbits of food. Just don’t try this too many times at the same place……or who knows what will happen. Other good places are random junky shops that sort of look interesting. Who knows what you will find, and it is a great place to practice your Japanese. Also, Hard Off is a second hand store where you can see what sort of interesting things Japanese people get rid of.
***Temples and Shrines. So peaceful. They are everywhere in Japan. It’s lucky to give exactly five yen, which you don’t have to do, but hey, it’s lucky. Churches, on the other hand, seem to be off limits for sightseeing. You can try, but I would go on a Sunday and be prepared to be converted.
***Toddler Areas. If you have a baby or toddler, YOU NEED TO KNOW THERE ARE SECRET TODDLER AREAS AVAILABLE FOR YOUR USE! They may be in a community center, or a department store, or a town hall, or almost anywhere. THEY EXIST. USE THEM.
We moms all know that horrible feeling of being cooped up with a fussy toddler on a rainy day, about to kill yourself and scatter your own remains in places where your husband can find them when he comes home from work. Yes, we have all been there. So please know that Japan is a country with “Mommy” places. For example, very near my house there is a toddler place in a health center. It’s super duper secret to dumb gaijin like me……so you got to be inquisitive and ask, “Where are the toddler places?” Ask many people.
****Free children areas. Like toddler areas, there are many free areas for children in Japan. Museums, indoor parks, climbing walls, and so on. Every city and town is different. Yes, many are free. Thank you, high Japanese taxes. Also, some of these places will have workshops–drawing workshops, science workshops, and so on. So please ask in your area! It will often be written in Japanese, so you need to ask.
***Libraries. Of course. I love libraries. However, libraries in Japan are not as smashingly wonderful as American libraries. They tend to be strictly books. Not too many frills. (But this depends on the library.) Also, sometimes English books are hidden in the storage room, so ask your librarian if they have English (or foreign books) in the “soko.” They may not understand you, so point a lot. Also, interlibrary loan is possible, too. English books are not well organized in Japan, but they definitely exist.
***Taiken Jyugyo. This is the free class that virtually all clubs and groups offer. I used to go to free English classes at Geos and Nova with my son for my son. I didn’t abuse this. If the classes had been excellent, I would have joined. They weren’t excellent, so I didn’t join. You can do this first free class for almost anything, from sign language to swimming to calligraphy to judo. Community centers have cheap classes for adults and children, by the way.
***Japanese classes. Many larger towns have free Japanese classes run by volunteers. Of course, quality depends on the teacher. But worth checking out!
***International Center. Larger towns have these. They are helplines for foreigners. Find yours and use it. If you have a question—anything! —this is the place to ask. If your small town does not have one, you can phone in to another cities’ international center with questions. Also, they have small libraries of language learning material and donated books.
***School Bazaars. These are usually held in fall. The information will be on a Japanese poster, so ask around. They are free and open to public. They want you to come, because they make money with a flea market usually.
***Top floors of tall building sometimes have viewing areas. In our town, we have a building called “The Corasse Building” with a restaurant and free viewing area. Fun!
***Festivals. The quintessential Japanese experience. Often the posters advertising them are only in Japanese, but sometimes have English on them.
***Seasonal Outdoor Activities. Cherry blossom viewing in spring, fireflies in summer, autumn leaves in fall, swans by the river in winter, and so on…..
If anybody has other suggestions, please add them in the comments! 🙂
The above photo shows a photos of souvenirs (omiyage) for my Japanese teachers. My Japanese teachers are all volunteers, so I feel it is worth it to buy them an omiyage. I want to show my deep appreciation. If I were to pay for a Japanese lesson, they run upwards of 3,000 yen per hour. So I am getting a really good deal.