Translated by Hilary Keyes
Things to Do in Ueno Park, Tokyo: Ueno Zoo, Museums, and Cherry Blossoms
Ueno Park was established in 1873 and is the first public park of its kind in Japan. With numerous institutions within its grounds and incredible natural highlights, Ueno Park is an excellent place to spend the day!
Written by Mayu
Ueno Park - One of Tokyo's Most Popular Public Parks
Ueno Onshi Koen is the full name of the public space known to most as simply Ueno Park. Established in 1873 by the government of the time, Ueno Park was the first public park of its kind in all of Japan.
Spanning across a roughly 53,000 square meter plot, Ueno Park is where you will find Ueno Zoo, Shinobazu Pond, the National Museum of Western Art, the Shitamachi Museum and many, many other sightseeing spots - this is definitely a place that draws visitors from all around the world.
And, Ueno Park is bustling with cherry blossom viewers come the spring as it is one of the most famous places in Tokyo for hanami parties. Today let's take a closer look at the many wonders contained within this beloved, over 100 year old park.
Table of Contents:
How to Reach Ueno
Traveling to Ueno from Tokyo Station
Traveling to Ueno from Shinjuku Station
From Tokyo's biggest business area, Shinjuku, to Ueno, take the JR Yamanote line. This time, you will need to take the sotomawari (outer track) bound train for 12 stops, which will take about 25 minutes. The total fare for this trip is 200 yen.
Traveling to Ueno from Shibuya Station
How to Access Ueno Park
Once you have arrived at Ueno Station, now it's time to make your way to the park. Here is the best route to take from the JR Ueno Station to Ueno Park.
From Ueno Station to Ueno Park
1. Head to the JR Ueno Park Ticket Gate
After arriving at the JR Ueno Station platform, take the escalator up or the stairs and walk towards the Ueno Park ticket gate.
2. Go Out the Ticket Gate Towards the Park
Once you come out of the ticket gate, you will see Ueno Park right before your eyes.
Ueno Park's Institutions and Highlights
Ueno Park is where you will find the greatest concentration of museums, art galleries, and cultural facilities in Tokyo. Not only that, but Ueno Park is also where you will find the beloved Shinobazun Pond, which blooms with lotus flowers in the summer. Let's take a closer look at some of the many interesting spots to visit within Ueno Park.
1. Ueno Zoo
As many of the international visitors to Ueno Park come with a trip to Ueno Zoo in mind only to discover just how vast this park is, let's first take a look at how to reach Ueno Zoo after you have made it to the park, not a simple feat without some preparation in advance.
Traveling from Ueno Park to Ueno Zoo
First, head in the direction of Ueno Park from the JR Ueno Station.
1. Go Across the Crosswalk
Once you have come out of the ticket gate, there is a crosswalk right ahead of you. Cross the road.
2. Take a Left at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan
After crossing, you will see the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, a large building right in front of you.
At this building, turn left.
3. Walk By the National Museum of Western Art
On the path, you will see the National Museum of Western Art on your right. Go straight down this road.
4. Cross Through the Plaza with a Fountain
On your right you will see a water fountain. Without changing direction, keep walking straight.
Now you can see the signs indicating the entrance gates to the zoo.
You have arrived!
For more details on how to get there from the station, please take a look at this article: How to Get to Ueno Zoo from Ueno Station (JR/Keisei Lines).
Noteworthy Animals at Ueno Zoo
At Ueno Zoo, both giant pandas and the okapi, unusual relatives of the giraffe, have been successfully bred. Giant pandas can only be found at three zoos in Japan: at Ueno Zoo, Kobeshi Ritsuoji Zoo (Hyogo prefecture), and Wakayama Adventure World (Wakayama prefecture).
Because of that, the panda enclosure at Ueno Zoo is crowded with visitors almost any day of the week. The hours that the pandas are fed their bamboo grass are posted on the zoo's website and on the entrance gate of their enclosure. If you would like to see the pandas when they are eating, it would be a good idea to adjust the time of your trip to match this schedule.
In addition, Ueno Zoo is where you will find many of Japan's own famous protected species, such as the Japanese serow, the Japanese stork, the red-crowned crane, and the Japanese giant salamander, among other precious animals. If you would like to see some animals that you simply cannot find in zoos abroad, then by all means pay a trip to Ueno Zoo. And, if you'd like to know more, check out 8 Animals You Absolutely Must See At Ueno Zoo!, and Go and See Natural Treasures of Japan in Ueno Zoo!.
Recommended Routes in Ueno Zoo
To sum up the size of the zoo, here you will find about 3000 animals comprising 400 different species. As it may take an entire day to see the zoo in its entirety, those with tight schedules might think that they have to pass it up, but if you decide on which animals you would like to see most in advance, it is possible to make your way through the zoo quickly.
For visitors to Japan, we would like to recommend the Japan-specific animals course. This way you can see the Japanese serow, Hokkaido deer, Japanese wild birds and others on display in the Japanese zone, all of which are creatures which cannot be found overseas.
Take a left as soon as you pass through the front gates and you will see a historical building: a 5-storied pagoda. In that area is the Japanese Animal Zone, home to the Japanese serow, Hokkaido deer, and wild birds. You can also find cages with Lidth's jay, Japanese squirrels and other creatures in this area too.
Here are some of the Japanese animals you can see at Ueno Zoo.
Famous in Nara and Miyajima: Japanese Deer
Beautiful Voices: Japanese Wild Birds
There are many different types of Japanese wild birds at Ueno Zoo. These birds are exhibited in two different buildings, I and II.
Look at the Patterns: Asian Black Bear
Asian black bears, known as 'tsuki no waguma' (white crescent moon bears) in Japanese, are so called for the distinctive crescent moon-shaped pattern in the fur on their chests.
Living on Japan's First Monkey Mountain: Japanese Macaque
The first saruyama (*1) or monkey mountain, established in Japan was built here in Ueno Zoo. Here you can enjoy seeing a group of Japanese macaques living together and going about their usual activities.
*1 Saruyama: a human-built mountain upon which monkeys are allowed to freely live; this is a particularly common feature of Japanese zoos.
Nishizono: Kids' Zoo with Japanese Domestic Animals
The Mishima cow is a domestic breed of cattle raised in Yamaguchi prefecture.
While the Kuchinoshima cow comes from Kuchinoshima Island of the Tokara Island chain in Kagoshima prefecture. Other than these creatures, there are many other animals to see at Ueno Zoo. If you want to see even more of the animals at Ueno Zoo, please get to the park early in the day and take your time strolling through the grounds.
For more about the various routes through the zoo, take a look at: 3 Recommended Routes to Take in Ueno Zoo.
2. The National Museum of Western Art
Perhaps one of the most conspicuous buildings within Ueno Park is the modern building housing the National Museum of Western Art.
Designed by the famous 20th century architect Le Corbusier, the National Museum of Western Art is a World Cultural Heritage recognized building and an Important Cultural Property in Japan; many come here not only appreciate the arts but also to take in the aesthetic sense of the building itself.
Within this museum are painted works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and other Impressionists and sculpture by artists such as Auguste Rodin on permanent exhibition. Art and Architecture at The National Museum of Western Art, Ueno has more on this amazing museum.
Address: Tokyo, Taito, Ueno Park 7-7
Website: The National Museum of Western Art
3. Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum was the first public art gallery in Japan; it opened in 1926 in Ueno Park. This museum does not have a standing collection, but rather is where special exhibitions from overseas and from artists within Japan are displayed.
Address: Tokyo, Taito, Ueno Park 7-47
Website: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
4. National Museum of Nature and Science - Japan Gallery
The National Museum of Nature and Science, found in museum and art gallery rich Ueno and popularly called the 'Kahaku', is the largest and only science museum in all of Japan.
In their permanent collections you will find the Global Gallery, which has displays on the various creatures of the world and the progress of science and technology from earliest history to present. In their Japan Gallery, displays regarding the nature of the Japanese islands can be viewed.
In the Japan Gallery, the origins of the Japanese islands, Japan's domestic flora and fauna and materials explaining the lives of the ancient Japanese are displayed. Those with a great intellectual curiosity about Japan's biodiversity and culture will find themselves completely satisfied by a trip to this museum. To know more about this collection at the museum, please check out: The Japan Gallery at the National Museum of Nature and Science.
Address: Tokyo, Taito, Ueno Park 7-20
Website: National Museum of Nature and Science
5. National Museum of Nature and Science - Global Gallery
The Global Gallery, on the other hand, has taxidermied animals and birds from around the world, demonstrations and videos on the state of the world, the progression and contributions of science and technology by the Japanese and more on display. Those with an interest in physics and science in general will find this to be a perfect museum for them. To learn more about the Global Gallery, please read this article: Learn About Earth at the National Museum of Nature and Science, Ueno.
Address: Tokyo, Taito, Ueno Park 7-20
Website: National Museum of Nature and Science
6. Shinobazu Pond
This large natural pond is about 11,000 meters square in area, making it one of the three largest ponds in all of Japan. In the summer pink and white lotus flowers bloom in the Hasuike area, there are cormorants living in the Unoike area and you can have fun rowing boats in the Boat Ike area.
On the central island within the pond stands Bentendo temple. If you would like to take a short break while in Ueno Park, this is a great place to stop by. To see more of this beautiful pond, head to Ueno's Shinobazu Pond: A Relaxing Urban Oasis.
Address: Tokyo, Taito, Ueno Park
7. Bentendo Temple
This is a hexagonal temple located within the center of the Shinobazu Pond and is where Benten, the goddess who answers prayers regarding science, the arts, fortune and marriage, is enshrined. Surrounding Bentendo you will find stone monuments of soft-shelled turtles, puffer fish, glasses and even knives consecrated in thanks here. If you do pay a visit to Bentendo, other than visiting the main temple building, please take a look about the grounds at these unique stone monuments.
Check out Bentendo: Exploring Ueno's Hexagonal Tower for more.
8. Kiyomizu Kannondo Temple
Kiyomizu Kannondo is a temple from the Tendai sect of Buddhism that has been recognized as an Important Cultural Property in Japan. The pine trees painted by the famous ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige in his works "One Hundred Famous Views of Edo" were modeled after those found in this temple; the Tsuki no Matsu (moon's pine tree) and the main temple building, designed Kyoto's Kiyomizudera, are two of the small highlights of this temple.
9. Ueno Higashi Terunomiya Shrine
Ueno Higashi Terunomiya is the temple wherein the ruling family of the Edo era, the Tokugawa family, specifically Tokugawa Ieyasu, Tokugawa Yoshimune, and Tokugawa Yoshinobu, are enshrined. Those wishing for better fortune and better luck in studies, as well as those about to take their exams often come here to buy talismans.
The main building, the gate (called "karamon", as it has exotic decorations), and the sukibei wall (*2) were all built in 1651, making them National Important Cultural Properties. Of these Edo-style constructions, as they are called, the extravagant vermilion paint and gold leaf facades are particularly impressive.
In the spring peonies and cherry blossoms bloom here and in the fall momiji viewing takes place, while in the winter many come to perform hatsumode, and to appreciate the winter peonies - this is a popular spot all year long.
*2 Sukibei: depending on the carving, this is a wall that appears transparent when viewed from the interior.
Address: Tokyo, Taito, Ueno Park 9-88
Website: Ueno Toshogu.com/
10. Shitamachi Museum
The word 'shitamachi' is used to refer to the downtown inhabited by the common people in Japanese. Feeling nostalgic for the Japanese and very 'Japanese' for international visitors, the buildings and townscape of old Japan evoke feelings of nostalgia from the Japanese and inspire the Western image of 'Japan'. The Shitamachi Museum in Ueno Park is where you can find Tokyo's old shitamachi resurrected.
Within the dismantled and rebuilt 100 year old merchant's house and home of a common person, you can see displays of the geta straps sold by the merchants and the kimono worn by the commoners as they washed and dried their regular clothing, as well as other household tools on exhibition here. This is a very valuable museum that has preserved the daily lives of the common people in Japan from long ago for the modern generations to enjoy.
Visit Slip Back in Time at Ueno's Shitamachi Museum to learn more about this museum.
11. Ueno Daibutsu
Although it was once a great statue of the Buddha, thanks to frequent earthquakes, wars and other disasters, all that remains of this massive statue is the relief of the face.
12. Starbucks Ueno Park
This is the Starbucks Ueno Park location. The shop is quite famous thanks to its stylish design. Recalling the image of Ueno Park itself, this store features the Japanese traditional some, or dyeing, technique.
The open terrace seats are also quite lovely, and through the large windows located in the spacious interior, great views of the fountain and nature of the park itself can be appreciated.
13. Ueno no Mori Park Side Café
If you would like to take a short break in Ueno Park, we recommend visiting the Park Side Cafe. On sunny days the terrace seats offer views that make you feel like you're surrounded by nature; here you can truly enjoy a relaxing time.
Hanami Parties in Ueno Park (Best Season and Cautions)
The sakura or cherry blossom season begins in Tokyo from mid-March until the start of April. Ueno Park has been a prime cherry blossom spot ever since the Edo era, as there are about 1200 trees of 40 different varieties of sakura growing throughout the grounds.
The Ueno Sakura Festival takes place from mid-March to the start of April annually. Paper lanterns are strewn throughout the park, beautifully lighting up the sakura at night. Stands selling yakitori, yakisoba and other Japanese fast foods are established within the grounds and great crowds of people gather to view the cherry blossoms, making this already popular park even busier than usual.
Although an extremely rare problem, sometimes the sheer number of people and their cell phones in this space during cherry blossom season causes phones to lose reception - there are just too many people using the networks for the system to handle. For this reason, if you are planning on meeting people to see the cherry blossoms with, rather than meeting in the park itself, it is far safer to meet elsewhere first and then travel to the park after everyone has made it to the location.
Incidentally, if you are looking for a sure fire place to meet up with people during sakura season, then the paper lanterns at the entrance to Ueno Park or the Ueno Green Salon cafe to the inner right of the entrance are both very convenient spots. For more information, please read: Five Sakura Viewing Spots in the Tokyo Area.
For More Important Travel Information:
If you are traveling in Japan and are in need of some assistance, please refer to these and other helpful MATCHA articles.