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Ueno Park Guide

Ueno Park Guide

By CarolUpdated Aug. 5, 2021

Ueno Park is home to several of Tokyo's most prestigious museums, a popular zoo, hundreds of cherry trees that bloom in late March and a host of other attractions, including the remains of a once towering statue of Buddha.

Ueno Park has something memorable for everyone: for the casual tourist, the culture vulture, the nature lover, the fitness fanatic, or the shutter bug. In spring it is full of beautiful blossom and in fall of red and gold leaves. Learn more and read some interesting facts about Ueno Park and its surroundings below.

Highlights

  • Ueno Park is one of Tokyo's most popular cherry blossom spots.
  • Tokyo National Museum is the oldest and the largest repository of art and culture in Japan.
  • Ueno Zoo is the oldest zoological park in Japan. It covers an area of 35.2 acres and houses over 2600 animals.
  • The National Science Museum in Tokyo is Japan’s only nationally administered museum.
  • Visit the Kaneiji Pagoda, which has been standing in the same spot for almost 400 years.
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Ueno Park in Tokyo

Opened to the public in 1873, Ueno Park today is home to five museums, two concert halls, and Ueno Zoo. This park is one of Tokyo’s largest green spaces.

The park rests on the grounds of what used to be Kaneiji Temple, the resplendent temple of the Tokugawa clan who ruled Japan from 1603-1868. Unfortunately, the temple was destroyed during the Battle of Ueno in 1868—the last battle for Edo during the Boshin War—and the Kaneiji Temple that stands at the northwest corner of the park is but a humble replacement.

On weekdays it is a nice place for a stroll and some entertainment by – sometimes bizarre – street performers. On weekends there is always an event held within this park. Depending on the event, you could get some pretty unusual foreign cuisine too!

Cherry blossom in Ueno Park

During spring, and particularly when the cherry trees are in bloom, usually in late March and early April, visitors and locals flock here to witness the beauty of the over 1,000 trees of the park.

Ueno Park is one of the best hanami (flower viewing) places in Tokyo. The park has several sakura varieties and has some trees that bloom earlier than trees in other places around the city.

There are a few things you need for the complete hanami experience. First you need to purchase a large plastic picnic sheet to spread on the ground to reserve your space. Next, familiarize yourself with the surroundings, especially the location of the toilets and trash bins to determine easy access among the thousands of visitors.

And finally, be sure to bring enough food and drink, like onigiri (rice balls), bento lunch boxes, cheese and crackers, also sake or wine, to last you through the evening. Because when the sun sets, about 1,300 lanterns light up to extend hanami into the moonlit sky.

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Museums around Ueno Park

Other than admire cherry blossom trees, you also can wander around in a museum. There are more than eight museums located within Ueno Park, four of them are among the most famous museums and it is a must to visit them while you are in the area.

Tokyo National Museum

Here you will find paintings, calligraphy, sculptures, and all kinds of Japanese and other Asian decorative art. The most interesting areas seem to be the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures and the museum gardens.

The former extends over two floors and stores a collection of more than 300 valuable Horyuji treasures from the 7th-8th century, which were donated to the Imperial Household by the Horyuji Temple. The building is rather modern, and technology makes it possible to see all the treasures through a digital archive too.

National Museum of Nature and Science

As the museum’s motto is “explore the power of imagination”, every event and exhibition is created in order to stimulate your natural curiosity and help you discover a brand-new world. No matter whether it is about biodiversity, botany, or astronomy, this museum has a lot to offer to everyone.

With its 130 years of experience, you can find a large range of exhibitions like the “History of the Japanese Islands” one, situated in the Japan Gallery. There you can get a better look at the complex and unique geological history of Japan and you can discover extinct species through fossils and layers of rock. A boost for imagination! There are even a kids section and a great variety of events, for example, the night-time astronomical observations and the guided tours of the botanical garden!

Metropolitan Art Museum

Metropolitan Art Museum’s concept is to create a place where anyone can encounter and explore new values and enjoy fine arts in a suggestive environment. The museum aspires to become a “doorway to art”, so it offers even architecture tours that help the visitors to enjoy the museum’s building, just like any other piece of art. This tour is guided by “art communicators” (tobira), and each tour is unique because it reflects the assigned tobira.

You can find a vast selection of sculptures and calligraphy works, and a huge variety of special exhibitions– for example the Van Gogh & Japan one, that explores the relations between Vincent and Japanese artists. One of the most famous Van Gogh paintings, The Courtesan, relates in fact to Japanese customs, and even after Vincent’s death, Japanese artists were very interested in his works.

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National Museum of Western Art

As the name suggests, the National Museum of Western Art focuses on sharing the finest western arts, offering galleries after galleries full of pieces of art from the Renaissance period until the 20th century.

We can find Veronese, Rubens, Rivera, the French artists Monet, Renoir and Manet, and even modern artists such as Picasso or Miro. There is also a huge number of special exhibitions to discover in every season. Last but not least, the museum’s main building was designed by Le Corbusier, a renowned French architect, that gave this building such a splendid and modern design that it has become an important cultural propriety.

Temples and shrines around Ueno Park

There are some spectacular shrines/temples in Ueno Park that everyone should visit: Kaneiji Temple, Kiyomizu Kannon Temple, and Toshogu Shrine. They are beautifully decorated, well-kept, and there is always someone there paying their respects to the shrine.

Kaneiji Temple

This is a Buddhist temple that is far more pivotal to the history of Japan than is apparent from the few remaining buildings in a residential neighborhood on the outer edge of Ueno Park. All of Ueno Park used to be part of Kaneiji Temple. It was centered on Shinobazu Pond then, near where the Kiyomizu Kannondo and the five-story pagoda still can be found.

There is a bronze-statue of Saigo Takamori located within this area and it is one of the most famous objects in Japan. Saigo Takamori was the leader of the Satsuma clan from Kagoshima, a key part of the Imperial Forces.

Kiyomizu Kannon Temple

Kiyomizu Kannon, built in 1632, is tucked away inside Ueno Park. The temple has a platform overlooking a circle made from a pine tree. This circle is called the pine tree of the moon (tsuki no matsu in Japanese). It became famous with local people and was picked up by Ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige in his One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (1856–59), giving it historical significance.

The oddly shaped pine tree is not the only reason to visit this temple, the old temple building gives you the characteristic atmosphere that you can feel in a historical place. Kiyomizu Kannon is a true gem to visit.

Toshogu Shrine

You will be greeted with a facade of gold as you walk towards the Toshogu Shrine in Ueno Park. This gorgeous building is designated a Cultural Property of Japan for its resilience in surviving devastating wars and earthquakes since it was built in 1627. The shrine has distinctive features from the Edo period (1603-1867). Pay attention to the gold leaf trimmings and intricate carvings.

Most visitors come to the shrine to pray for good fortune, such as passing an examination, vocational success, longevity, orrecovery from illness. Of course, you can also come simply to admire the characteristics of traditional Japanese architecture.

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Ueno Zoo

Being the oldest zoo in Japan, Ueno Zoo was established in its present site in Tokyo in 1882 as part of Japan's modernization drive during the Meiji Period.

Tokyo's Ueno Zoo is world class, with animals and birds from around the globe. Best of all, its settings convincingly imitate the wild, meaning that the animals can be observed in what comes pretty close to their native habitats.

This zoo is divided into 63 main sections, grouped into such categories as the Gorilla and Tiger Forest, Japanese Animals, The Children's Zoo (with animal petting area), Animals of Africa, the Birdhouse, and the Vivarium (turtles and reptiles).

The big attraction at Ueno Zoo are the big animals: elephants, gorillas, polar bears, giraffes, etc. However, a leisurely inspection of the smaller enclosures and cages will reveal a huge assortment of smaller animals, and particularly birds, that you may well be seeing for the first time in your life.

Guided tour of Ueno Park and its surroundings

Ueno Park is known as the art and cultural center of Tokyo. It has many historical buildings and makes this area one of the most favorite places around Tokyo. However, strolling in Ueno Park will not be easy on your own because it is a huge area!

Spend a half-day or a one-day tour around Ueno Park with Asia Highlights. Take a slow walk along the cherry blossom trees and head to the National Museum to learn about Japanese history or take a look around the Western Art Museum to see some of the famous paintings.

Admire the architecture and learn the history of the temples and shrines located in Ueno Park, take photos and play with cute animals like pandas and koalas in Ueno Zoo! Conclude your day by lighting-up a lantern after experiencing the hanami festival (in spring).

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Explore Ueno Park with Asia Highlights

Spend a half-day or one-day tour with Asia Highlights and explore this magnificent park with a professional tour guide with lots of knowledge and experience. We can craft your very own tour to suit your demands. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions!

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