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Mexico City, Mexico
March 28, 2002
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
From journal Sakura: Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo
March 23, 2002
In 1867-8 the Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled Japan from Edo (current Tokyo)
came to a fall. The Emperor Meiji moved from the ancient capital in Kyoto to
Tokyo and set up an enlightened government that hastened Japan’s integration
into the modern world after two and a half centuries of self-imposed
Ueno Hill was the scene of the last stand between the Imperial forces and the
Shogun’s supporters at the end of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Although Edo
Castle fell peacefully, 3,000 Shogun loyalists held out at Ueno. What is the
modern park of today used to be temple grounds of the huge Kan’eiji Temple,
one of the family temples of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Outnumbered and outgunned
by the Imperial forces the loyalist decided to destroy the Kan’eji Temple and
set fire to many structures. The Imperial forces destroyed most of what remained
after the final battle.
What remained of the original temple and the Tokugawa Shogunate graveyard can
be seen behind the Tokyo National Museum. It is long walk to this area and it
can easier be reached from the Uguisudani Station, one stop from Ueno on the JR
Yamanote line) Don’t make this part a priority if pressed for time.
The Toshogu Shrines, built in honor of the first shogun Ieyasu Toskugawa, was
part of the Kan’eiji complex. It is the only shrine in Tokyo designated a
National Treasure and somehow remained intact despite the calamities that befell
other structures in this area. It is an excellent example of the rich
decorations that the early Tokugawas favored. It was built in the early 17th century and one of several Tokugawa shrines that were erected all over Japan
following the post-mortem deification of Ieyasu as Sun God of the East. The
approach is lined with 200 stone lanterns donated by nobles vying for favor as
well as numerous bronze lanterns. These lanterns are not used for lighting but
rather to burn incense at certain religious ceremonies. During festivals and
cherry blossom season the approach to the shrine is lined with food stalls and
The photogenic five-story pagoda (1639) inside Ueno Zoo and the rebuild
Benten Do on an island in Shinobazu Pond are also remains of the original Kan’eiji
complex. The small Kiyomizudo Temple also survived the calamities of 1868 and
1945. It often visited by couples wishing for children. Directly opposite this
temple, a narrow avenue lined with orange-red torii and several pairs of stairs
lead to a small shrine complex, Gojo Shrine. No signs are in English here but it is a more interesting way to reach the pond than the main route.
From journal Ueno in Tokyo
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.
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
February 25, 2007
From journal Timeless Tokyo
October 29, 2006
From journal So, What Else is in Tokyo Besides Disneyland?
October 7, 2006
The park is large and offers pleasant walks with peony gardens and a number of beautiful temples and shrines. It's a popular place for Tokyoites to walk and picnic and was very busy when I was there.
You'll find lots of stalls selling octopus balls, green-tea ice-cream and similar delicacies. You an have a cheap and delicious lunch just by buying a few things from these stalls, then sit down on the grass and enjoy it.
There's a concert area beside Shinobazu pond where for a small fee you might get to see some local pop groups play. There are also stalls around the pond selling antiques. I bought some second-hand kimonos as presents.
The park contains the Tokyo National Museum which has fantastic exhibitions of Japanese art, ceramics, textiles and generally beautiful stuff. There's also an archaeology exhibition but I didn't make it that far.
There are some other museums here too, it took me the best part of a day to see the National Museum and another to wander around the park. I didn't even make it to any of the other museums. Plan on spending some time here!
From journal Tokyo Trip
Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom
September 9, 2005
The zoo is famous for its three giant pandas and a five-storied pagoda, one of the few surviving structures from Kan‘eiji. The spacious grounds are split into two sections linked by a short monorail ride and, though cramped and dingy in a few corners, have impressive new facilities such as the Reptile House, Gorilla Forest, and a domestic petting zoo. Definitely Ueno‘s most family-friendly attraction, the zoo gets very crowded on holidays and weekends, especially around the panda enclosure.
Near the entrance to the zoo, don’t miss the approach to Toshogu Shrine, a long path lined with 50 copper lanterns, trees almost obscuring the top of the pagoda to the right, the copper, green, and deep red hall of worship straight ahead just as it was 300 years ago. Along with the tunnel of red torii gates leading down to the modest Gojo Shrine, it’s far and away my favourite place in the park.
Less positively, there’s a disappointing lack of places to sit and relax unless you pay to get into the zoo or the grounds of the National Museum. Shinobazu Pond is indicative of this problem, a few scruffy benches and some food stalls on the ma-made island next to Benzaiten Temple the only places to break your walk. The park’s not even an especially nice place to walk around: the main paths are overcrowded and the trees are strung with blue tarpaulin sheets for the hundreds of homeless people who live here. Outside of cherry blossom season or the summer ice sculpture festival, the only picnickers you're likely to see are old men with cans of beer and cigarettes. Ueno is Tokyo’s best park for culture, but it's well down the list for an afternoon in the sun.
From journal Tokyo Parks and Gardens
August 20, 2002
One may get different opinions from different people, but the Ueno Zoo probably comes to mind first when one thinks of Ueno Park. There are always kids walking around with colorful balloons and snacks around the various animal areas. There is the sizeable Shinobazu Pond, which features lotus flowers, ducks, and an island with the Benzaiten Temple. Other old temple structures, all dating from 1631 to 1651, are the Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple (based on the famous Kyoto complex), the Toshogu Shrine, and the Five-story Pagoda of the Kaneiji Temple, with a height of 120 feet.
Ueno Park is also a museum campus in itself. The Tokyo National Museum displays not only Japanese artifacts, but also Iranian, Egyptian and more standard Asian items as well. The great LeCorbusier designed the National Museum of Western Art, although this project is not generally regarded as one of his more significant efforts. The Tokyo Metropolitan National Hall, the place to go to for classical music in Tokyo, is also located here.
The park features an unusual statue of Saigo Takamori, whose image is captured walking his dog. Across from the west side of Ueno Park is an unusual tower that looks like a weird stacked wedding cake. This is the Sofitel, a deluxe hotel with only 83 rooms within its 26 floors, designed by architect Kiyonori Kikutake as a cross between a multi-leveled temple and a tree.
From journal Bill in Japan - traditional TOKYO