on February 25, 2007
On a spring afternoon, Ueno Park resembles the last train home on a Saturday night. The cherry blossom lined sidewalks erupt with locals and tourists alike, all scrambling for prime real estate under the sacred trees. Japan's largest public park is an eclectic mix of sights and sounds. Art afficionados can easily get lost in one of the many worthwhile galleries, notably the Tokyo National Museum, the National Science Museum, the Museum of Western Art and the Tokyo Metropolitan Modern Art Gallery. The Ueno Zoo is nearby and is popular among families with children. Most of the museums close around 5 pm and dining facilities are overpriced and nothing spectacular. Follow the masses away from the station towards the small street vendors for bargain shopping and cheap street eats. Shouting shopkeepers compete for your attention, and your pocketbook selling anything from cheap designer sunglasses to pounds of the day's fresh catch. Small stands sell mouth watering skewers of pineapple and strawberries for 100 yen, chocolate dipped bananas, and intoxicating takoyaki (octopus meatballs). The streets are chaotic, crowded and smelly, but you feel like you've stumbled into a bustling Asian market and you can find some good deals on souvenirs if you have the patience to crowd surf. Ueno Park is also "home" to a large number of Tokyo's homeless. The community is orderly and close knit with many people living in makeshift tents. Rows of shoes are lined neatly outside of the shelters. Unfortunately the community has become as much of a tourist draw as the museums and the zoo, and people take photographs of the community without much regard to those living there. Ueno Park is pleasant any time of year, but is most enjoyable during the sakura, cherry blossom viewing season. Just be prepared to rub elbows with the locals who set up camp underneath the trees with plenty of sake and a karaoke machine.
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