Ueno Park is a perennial favorite of Tokyoites due to its
sheer size, central location and abundance of attractions. It draws the crowds
for all kinds of reasons from just hanging out with friends to visiting serious
museums and galleries.
As a major transportation hub in Tokyo, Ueno makes it easy and convenient for
friends from different parts of the city and even further apart to get together
and thus became famous as a meeting spot for class reunions. Ueno is always busy
over weekends but never more so than during sakura season when the park
is simply taken over by hanami.
Ueno Park is one of the areas in Tokyo where the homeless has set up home and
built tent cities, mostly out of blue plastic sheeting. During cherry blossom
viewing season they are joined by ordinary people sleeping over night to ensure
the best party spot the next day. The only way to guarantee a spot is to stake
your claim by placing your plastic sheet - almost always blue - on the ground
and sit on it until other members of your party arrive. Reservations and other
ways of keeping space are not accepted! This important task is usually delegated
to juniors in the company or the youngest members of a social group.
The cherry trees in Ueno are visible in most parts of the park but are
especially concentrated in the half closest to the JR and Keisei stations. In
addition cherry trees also encircle the adjacent huge Shibazunoike Pond so there
is usually space for all comers. Karaoke is usually set up at various spots in
the park and many parties will bring their own equipment.
Ueno has many other attractions for people not able or willing to spend too
much time on a plastic sheet eating and drinking and talking. There are several
major museums in and next to the park, it has a zoo, several shrines and the
Ueno area is famous for shopping at more reasonable prices than downtown Tokyo.
(For more information see a separate journal on Ueno
Ueno is a major rail station with several JR commuter, main line and
shinkansen (bullet train) connections. In addition it is the terminus of the
Keisei Line to Narita Airport. It is also served by the Ginza and Hibiya subway
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The main cultural reason to go to Ueno is to visit the museums. Five major
museums are located close to each other inside or next to Ueno Park.
The most important museum is the Tokyo National Museum, which houses
the largest collection of Japanese art in the world. The museum is spread over
various buildings and displays changes frequently. It has a collection of about
90,000 pieces of which less than 5,000 are on display on any given time. Most
displays have English name cards as well, although it may be hard to make much
sense out of it if you are not well versed in Japanese arts. The museum often
has special visiting exhibitions from other countries. The gift shop is well
above average but fairly pricey. Admission costs yen 400 and there may be
additional charges for special exhibitions.
The Science Museum is mainly aimed at Japanese school children with
interactive displays. The use of English is limited but it is still fun to
visit. It has an impressive display of Antarctica and the ubiquitous dinosaurs
skeletons that seems a requirement for all science museums of late. This museum
can get very crowded with school groups and should not be a priority when time
is limited. Admission is yen 400.
The Museum of Western Art is always very popular with the Japanese
public. It may seem odd to visit western art in Japan but this museum has the
largest collection of Western art in Asia with a special focus on Rodin and
French impressionists. The impressive collection includes 57 sculptures by Rodin
including Gates of Hell, The Thinker and Burghers of Calais.
(The latter three can be seen without tickets.) Admission is yen 420 but can go
up to yen 1500 for special exhibitions.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum has a collection of about 3,000
modern Japanese artworks, which are exhibited twice a year for about 3 months at
a time. Entry is free. Admission for visiting exhibitions can be expensive
though. The Public Gallery is rented out to other art organizations that set
their own admission fees - usually high.
The Shitamachi Museum tries to recreate the conditions in which
ordinary people lived in Tokyo at the turn of the nineteenth century. The
exhibition recreated a typical back street as well as merchant houses and
workshops. The second floor has an eclectic collection of old stuff - seemingly
anything old that was donated by people of Taito Ward, the ward in which Ueno is
located, is exhibited here. The museum is very hands-on and visitors are
allowed to touch most things and climb around in the houses. It is very popular
with school groups but foreign visitors are also made welcome with ample English
signs and explanations. Admission is yen 300.
From journal Ueno in Tokyo
Ueno Park is a major attraction, especially for families on a day trip. It
also houses some of the most important museums in Japan. More attractions are
the zoo, shrines and concert halls.
Ueno Park is a wide-open space. As a park it does not have much going for it
but the added attractions make it a popular venue. It is one of the most favored
spots for cherry blossom viewing parties but even at other times there are
always groups getting together here over weekends. It gets extremely crowded
during cherry blossom season and a good spot is hard to obtain. It is common
practice for one member of the group to sleep overnight to reserve a favored
spot and to sit and protect it the whole day until the other revelers arrive in
the late afternoon. Karaoke, for better or worse, is always available and often
simultaneously at various places - not necessarily out of earshot of each other!
On the weekends, food stalls are usually set up all over the park and food such as fried noodles, yakitori (chicken skewers), sausage on a stick, squid on a stick
and rice balls are commonly for sale. Drinks are also available but at a premium
compared to vending machines and convenience stores outside the park.
Ueno Zoo is a popular attraction for families. It is not a particularly
impressive zoo but it does have both pandas and penguins, which are favorites of
Japanese children. The pandas are housed in giant glass fronted cases and have
their own security guards to keep the crowds at bay. The zoo has some 12,000
other animals in cages of varied sizes but mainly tend towards cramped, by
There is also a smaller fun fair with rides for smaller children. The
attractions are fairly old fashioned by Tokyo standards but the toddlers seem
not to care too much.
The huge Shinobazu Pond attracts waterfowl and people alike. The pond is
divided into three parts: one for lotus lilies, one a haven for cormorants and
the last for boating. You can’t go far but renting a boat for an hour attracts
lots of couples. From here you have a great view of the oddly shaped Sofitel
Hotel - the narrow building is apparently very earthquake resistant.
Following World War II Ueno was famous as black market center. Shopping at
more reasonable prices than elsewhere in Tokyo is still a hallmark of this area
and huge stores and arcades are in the vicinity of the railway station. Diamonds
at wholesale prices are available at numerous shops close to Okachimachi