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The Best Free Things to Do in Shinjuku

2024-06-04

Shinjuku is Tokyo's dynamic urban hub, known for its busy streets, neon lights, and buzzing atmosphere. Though this entertainment district is an easy place to spend money, there are plenty of activities to enjoy here without dropping a single yen.

Whether you're a budget traveler or someone who loves exploring without breaking the bank, Shinjuku's diverse neighborhoods, people-watching opportunities, art displays, and sightseeing will provide you with plenty of free things. Explore Tokyo on a budget with our guide to the best free things to do in Shinjuku, one of the city's liveliest entertainment districts.

 

1. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observation decks

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Some of the city's best views can be seen from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building's free observation decks, located at 202 meters above ground. On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji and city landmarks such as Tokyo SkyTree, Tokyo Tower, and Meiji Jingu Shrine. Signage around the decks pinpoints the most important sights.

The building has two 45th-floor observatories — the North and South — that can be accessed by elevator from the first floor of Main Building No.1. (The North deck is temporarily closed at the time of writing.) It’s a good location for nighttime panoramas of Tokyo, twinkling with hundreds of thousands of lights right up to the horizon.

The building was designed by Kenzo Tange, a famed Japanese architect who played a significant role in helping to rebuild Hiroshima after World War II. His concept for the building was to fuse contemporary and traditional elements, with his influences purportedly being a microchip and a gothic cathedral.

After taking in the views, visit the on-site cafe and souvenir shop for refreshments and mementos. Please note that observatory closures may occur due to weather or other reasons, so check the official website before you visit.

 

2. Public art

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Nishi-shinjuku is a business district with glinting skyscrapers dominating each block, but art lovers will find a stroll through this urban landscape a rewarding one. Some iconic sculptures are peppered along the streets among these architectural giants, including one of Robert Indiana’s iconic Love sculptures, often featured as a backdrop for romantic photoshoots and even TV drama sets. It’s also a popular meeting spot, especially for couples. Nearby stand two pieces by pop art maestro Roy Lichtenstein: Tokyo Brushstroke I and Tokyo Brushstroke II. These pieces are all part of the Shinjuku I-Land Tower complex, a fusion of commerce and culture housing offices, stores, residences, and public artworks.

 

3. 3D billboard

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Opposite Shinjuku Station's east exit is one of Shinjuku's most recent free-to-see landmarks: a billboard depicting a larger-than-life calico cat engaged in various animated behaviors such as sleeping, waking up, meowing, yawning, and even observing passing pedestrians. This pioneering display marks Tokyo's inaugural 3D billboard (though there are now two more in Shibuya). Its curved LED screen can share high-resolution 4K images and play accompanying sounds. It's worth revisiting the cat throughout the day to see its intermittent appearances, which change as the day wears on, finally bidding onlookers goodnight 30 minutes before the screen shuts off for the night.

 

4. Godzilla’s head

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Kabukicho is Tokyo's renowned late-night, more adult entertainment district in Shinjuku. It's a busy area filled with neon lights, towering buildings, and various entertainment options, including izakaya bars, host and hostess clubs, karaoke bars, theaters, nightclubs, and eclectic shops.

Visitors can explore themed cafes, catch a live performance, or indulge in delicious local food, making it a fascinating area to explore day and night. At the center of it all stands the iconic Godzilla Head, a towering tribute to the legendary monster that routinely destroys the city in movies. Every hour, on the hour, between midday and 8 p.m., the Godzilla roars, accompanied by dramatic music, laser lights, and smoke. Guests staying at Hotel Gracery Shinjuku can get an up-close look at Godzilla, who looks into one of the bedrooms, or stay in a Godzilla-themed room with Godzilla merchandise to take home as a souvenir. 

 

5. Hanazono-jinja Shrine

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Though shrine hopping may not be on your mind when you visit Shinjuku, Hanazono-jinja is one of the area’s most important shrines and is well worth stopping by as you explore the district’s best free activities.

Its pathway is lined with vermilion torii gates, which make it a popular photography spot. Appropriately for this entertainment district, Hanazono-jinja is known for the performances it hosts: the lively Tori-no-Ichi, a festival held in November to pray for good luck in business; and regular Sunday flea markets, which feature stalls that sell small antiques and collectables from 6.30 a.m. until midday. The market doesn’t run every week, so check online beforehand to avoid disappointment.

 

6. Chuo Park

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Shinjuku Gyoen is undoubtedly Shinjuku’s best-known park, but there is a small fee to enter (although it is free for children under 12). Those looking for a pocket-friendly park in Shinjuku can relax in Chuo Park. It provides an athletic area where people can run and play sports, a playground area for kids, a lawn, and a forested area. After a day wandering around Shinjuku, Chuo Park is a welcome spot to sit, relax, and revive before your onward explorations.

 

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