As of October 11th, borders have opened and tourists are already exploring the streets of Tokyo. On the one hand, this might be exactly what Japan needs to boost the economy and possibly stabilize the rapid-falling yen rate. On the other hand, one of the perks that many foreign residents had been enjoying during lockdown was the rare experience of visiting famous sites and cities free of crowds. I don’t know about you, but I did not fancy pushing past throngs of people on my last trip to Kyoto in 2018. With the borders finally open, you might already be experiencing a noticeable change in your day-to-day in Tokyo. If like me, crowds overwhelm you, read on for four suggestions on less-crowded activities and areas in Tokyo.

Picnic in the Park

Most seasoned travelers strapped for time tend to stick to concise itineraries that cover only the most important stops throughout their carefully selected list. This means that parks are often skipped by those traveling from abroad or from other prefectures.

Parks are excellent for getting in the much-needed exercise and fresh air. When strapped for cash, a picnic in the park is my first suggestion for an easy low-cost activity with family and friends. Furthermore, many of Tokyo’s bigger parks have amenities that are often overlooked by passersby. Showa Kinen Park in Tachikawa, for example, has a barbecue garden. Here patrons can choose from an assorted menu of delicious meats and vegetables while grilling in the great outdoors.

Inokashira Park in Kichijoji is another park known by locals for its beautiful pond that lights up from the reflections of surrounding trees in the peak seasons of spring and autumn. For a family-friendly option, Shinjuku Gyoen is a spacious place for a picnic, especially for those wanting to spread out in the sun surrounded by the Tokyo cityscape. It’s important to keep in mind that the parks mentioned above are subject to crowding during autumn and springtime, so my advice is to visit them during the off-seasons and on weekdays!

Experience the Theater with Tokyo International Players

One thing I missed when I first came to Japan was my triannual visit to the theater. Active in various community theater productions at a young age, I often visited my local theater to perform or support my friends. After moving to Tokyo, I wondered if I would be able even to find a place to enjoy a production but was worried there might be a language disconnect. Luckily, one organization in Tokyo has been able to fill that need.

Tokyo International Players is recognized as one of the few organizations in all of Tokyo where English language theater can be enjoyed! The cast is mostly comprised of Tokyo’s foreign community where you’ll find a wide range of seasoned actors and vocalists. Furthermore, Tokyo International Players has also taken COVID-19 seriously by implementing air-tight procedures to ensure everyone’s comfort and assurance.

The perks of these countermeasures translate to a less crowded theater and peace of mind. I thoroughly enjoyed TIP’s last concert reading of “John Hemstock Black” and am anxiously waiting for their next event! For more information about Tokyo International Players refer to their website here and I hope to see you at the theater!

Fill Your Day with Art

On rainy days, one of my go-to activities is visiting an art exhibition. There are so many great museums in Tokyo to explore! Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills is constantly putting on events and showcasing modern and historically acclaimed artists. Visiting museums regularly is an often neglected activity, thus one can expect fewer crowds even at the most advertised events. When viewing Damien Hirst’s Cherry Blossoms last May, the exhibition hall was surprisingly vacant on a Sunday afternoon.

For fans seeking works of local creators, Harajuku Art Village hosts Design Festa Gallery, a 76-room exhibition space for artists to connect and share their current pieces. There’s also room to relax and dine while enjoying the rustic treehouse atmosphere. Harajuku Art Village also has a cafe, and restaurant, Sakura Tei, serving delicious okonomiyaki.

Explore Niche Neighborhoods

As a Tokyo newcomer or even a long-time resident, it’s hard not to avoid frequenting more condensed shopping districts. With more and more tourists entering Japan, your favorite area may have gone from slightly busy to ridiculously overpacked. Why not branch off from your usual routine in the upcoming weekends and tour an area lesser known to tourists?

Kagurazaka is heavily influenced by French culture and easily possesses some of the most trendy cafes and restaurants in the Shinjuku area. I recommend dropping by the patisserie Aux Merveilleux de Fred and grabbing their famous merveilleux, a layered meringue confection enveloped with creamy whipped cream and toppings. Kagurazaka is not only known for delicious French food and confectionery, but you’ll also find shopping, flower shops, dumplings, yakiniku, and your new favorite izakaya in no time!

Other areas lesser known to tourists are Shimokitazawa for its shopping and music scene, Koenji for curated thrifting, and Nakano for retro toys and anime goods.