Ueno Park 上野公園
Ueno Park, in Taito ward, is home to Tokyo's most famous cherry trees, art galleries, museums, temples, a zoo, street entertainers, the odd proselytizer, and more than the odd crow.
Ueno Park in Tokyo
The surrounding Ueno district is a shitamachi (working & merchant class town) in Taito ward, and is served by JR Ueno station, which is a shinkansen (bullet train) stop.
Ueno Park has something memorable for everyone: casual tourist, culture vulture, nature lover, fitness fanatic, or shutter bug. In spring it is full of burgeoning blossom, and in fall a leafy landscape of red and gold.
It is impossible to get through the whole of Ueno Park in a day. Choose what you're into, and explore at a leisurely pace. Ueno Park is very crowded by mid-afternoon, so try to get there early. Many facilities are closed on Monday.
From Ueno Station
The Ueno Park Exit of JR Ueno Station is the most direct route to Ueno Park, however going out the Shinobazu Exit is recommended if you want to pick up English-language information about the Park beforehand.
Tokyo Bunka Kaikan
Once in the Park, straight ahead of you is Tokyo Bunka Kaikan (東京文化会館 i.e. Tokyo Culture Hall), a cultural event space notable mainly for classical music performances, and the best-known work of Japanese architect Kunio Maekawa (1905-86), who apprenticed under Le Corbusier.
National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo
Across from the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan is the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo (国立西洋美術館). Check out the great drama in black steel of the 58-piece Rodin sculpture collection. Three pieces of the Rodin sculpture collection are located in front of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, including the Thinker and the awe-inspiring Gates of Hell.
The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo was established in 1959. Its Main Building is the only work in Japan of the French architect Le Corbusier (who also worked on the design of the UN Headquarters building).
The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo was built to house what remained of the Matsukata Collection. Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950), the son of a Japanese prime minister, was a ship building magnate and the first president of what is now Kawasaki Heavy Industries. The museum's collection covers Western paintings and drawings from the 15th to 20th centuries with the emphasis on France and French Impressionism.
The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, includes a research library.
- Opening hours: 9.30 am - 5 pm, Friday 9.30 am - 8 pm (Last admission 30 minutes before closing time) Closed Mondays and December 28 - January 1
- Admission: Free entry to Museum Collection on the second and the fourth Saturdays of each month, and November 3.
- Address: 7-7, Ueno-koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0007
National Museum of Nature & Science
The National Museum of Nature & Science, right next door to the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo is unforgettably framed by a D51 steam locomotive on one side (the Museum of Western Art side) and a 30 meter (almost 100 foot) diving blue whale sculpture on the other.
The National Museum of Nature & Science at Ueno is actually only one of the five facilities that make up the National Museum of Nature & Science, and is the 1930 reconstruction and relocation of the former Tokyo Museum that was completely destroyed in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.
The Science Museum's focus is primarily on the evolution of life on Earth, but its comprehensive permanent displays and exhibitions cater to nearly all aspects of scientific endeavor.
- Opening hours: 9.30 a.m.- 4.50 p.m. (Last admittance at 4 p.m.) Closed Mondays (the following Tuesday when a national holiday falls on Monday), December 28 - January 3; but open every day during holiday periods.
- Address: 7-20 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-8718
Tokyo National Museum
The huge Tokyo National Museum is across the road from the National Museum of Nature and Science. Tokyo National Museum is Japan's oldest museum, as well as its biggest. Admission to Tokyo National Museum grants you access to the following four galleries of the Tokyo National Museum, each housed in a different building:
Tokyo National Museum Main Gallery (Honkan)
The Main Gallery ("Honkan"), along with the Eastern Antiquities Gallery ("Toyokan"), is one of the biggest buildings and houses most of the Tokyo National Museum's exhibits. The Honkan is dedicated to Japanese artifacts. It was built in 1937, designed by the prominent pre-World War II architect, Jin Watanabe. The Main Gallery ("Honkan") of the Tokyo National Museum consists of two very spacious floors with 24 exhibition galleries that include the Dawn of Japanese Art, Attire of the Military Elite, Courtly Art, Buddhist Art, Ainu and Ryukyu Art, Daily Utensils, and Modern Art.
Tokyo National Museum Eastern Antiquities Gallery (Toyokan)
The Eastern Antiquities Gallery ("Toyokan") of the Tokyo National Museum was built in 1968 and has a wide variety of artifacts reflecting the cultures of Asia, mainly China - to which the whole of the second floor is dedicated - but stretching as far as India and the Middle East. The exhibits of the Toyokan cover sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, lacquerware, glassware, painting and calligraphy.
Tokyo National Museum Heiseikan Gallery
The first floor of the Tokyo National Museum Heiseikan Gallery is the Japanese Archaeology Gallery, dedicated to Japanese archeological objects. Although the Japanese Archaeology Gallery on the first floor of the Heiseikan - accessible from the Honkan - is officially included in the price of the ticket, the Heiseikan Gallery is not always open to the public.
However, when Heiseikan Gallery is open to the public, it is worth inspecting its archaeological exhibits dating back thousands of years: in particular the pottery held by the Heiseikan Gallery that dates further back than the pottery of anywhere else in the world.
The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures
The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures (Horyuji Hohmotsukan), built in 1999, is a clean, breath-easy space rendered in aluminum, fronted by a reflecting pool, and designed by Yoshio Taniguchi (also famous for Museum of Modern Art's new home in New York).
The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures has over 300 objects on display in the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, primarily from the 7th and 8th centuries, donated to the Imperial Household by Horyuji Temple in 1878. The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures preserves them in an environment that evokes the mystique of the temple atmosphere and sets them out with maximum accessibility and clarity. Stroll among the rows of statues of the Buddha on the first floor.
Inspect the sometimes eerie Kagura masks in the room behind. The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures has a small library with computer access to online library resources. There is a restaurant downstairs. Finally, be sure to check out the little log-built storehouse (azekura) from Jurin'in Temple tucked away in the trees just to the right of the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures.
- Opening hours: 9.30 am - 5 pm (last admission at 4.30 pm)
- Address: 13-9 Ueno Park Taito-ku, Tokyo,110-8712
The Hyokeikan in front of the Heiseikan is not open to the public. Hyokei means "expressing congratulations," and the Hyokeikan was built in 1908 to celebrate the 1900 marriage of the Taisho crown prince (later Emperor Yoshihito) at age 21 to his 15-year-old bride. The Hyoheikan is a beautiful example of Meiji Western-inspired architecture and has been designated an Important Cultural Property. In terms of old world charm, the Hyokeikan is the most elegant building of the Tokyo National Museum.
THE ABOVE GALLERIES ARE INCLUDED IN THE ADMISSION TO THE TOKYO NATIONAL MUSEUM (except for the Hyokeikan). THE FOLLOWING REQUIRES SEPARATE ENTRY.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum has been a presence in Ueno since 1926. The Museum's six galleries display a regularly changing array of various artistic genres, including painting, sculpture, ceramics and calligraphy, showcasing the works of contemporary Japanese artists.
The Museum Gallery is where special exhibitions are held, and the other five galleries are rented by groups for temporary exhibitions of their works.
- Opening hours: 9.30 a.m.- 5.30 p.m. (Last admittance at 4.30 p.m.) Open every day except for one day per month.
- Address: 8-36 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0007
The Ueno Royal Museum
On the other side of the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan from the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo is the Ueno Royal Museum (called the "Ueno no Mori" Museum / 上野の森美術館 in Japanese). The Ueno Royal Museum is a relatively small rental gallery supported by the prestigious Japan Art Association. The Association's history goes back to 1879, and is presided over by a member of Japan's imperial family, thus the "Royal." Ueno Royal Museum has only a small collection of its own, and a varied schedule of short-term exhibitions, mainly of paintings and calligraphy, organized by art groups.
- Opening hours: 10 am - 5 pm No fixed closed days. Depends on the particular exhibition.
- Address: 1-2, Ueno-koen Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0007
- Access: The Ueno Royal Museum is immediately accessible from the Yamashita Exit of Ueno Station.
Statue of Saigo Takamori
A little further on, between the Ueno Royal Museum and the Keisei Railway Line's Ueno Station entrance is a massive statue of Saigo Takamori.
Saigo is the focus of the film The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. It was here in Ueno Park on May 15, 1868, that Saigo led the imperial troops against the last of the old feudal Bakufu (i.e. Shogunate) forces and defeated them - a crucial landmark in the ushering in of Japan's modernizing Meiji Restoration.
Incidentally, the size of the statue no doubt reflects the fact that, especially for Japanese of his day, Saigo was a physically huge character at 180cm (6 ft) tall, and very stockily built.
Kiyomizu Kannon Temple
Kiyomizu Kannon Temple (Kiyomizu Kannon-do) is a beautiful old building first established in the early 1630s, when it was one of the structures of Kaneiji Temple. It has been in its present location since the 1690s. The "Kiyomizu" derives from Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, which inspired this temple's design. The temple balcony offers views of Benten-do Temple and Shinobazu Pond. The famous Moon Pine, with branches describing a circle, is right in front of the balcony. Kiyomizu Kannon-do enshrines Kosodate Kannon, a manifestation of the Buddha that is said to promote fertility in women.
Toshogu Shrine (東照宮 ) is clearly visible from inside the zoo, and accessible from just outside the Zoo's exit. Toshogu is one of Tokyo's most tastefully preserved shrines.
The date of Toshogu Shrine's founding varies according to the sources one reads, but Toshogu can safely be said to have been built in the mid- to late-17th century by Todo Takatora, the daimyo of Iga and Ise (roughly corresponding to part of today's Mie prefecture), who was also a famous castle architect. It has been extensively rebuilt (albeit piecemeal) since then.
There are about 200 Toshogu Shrines throughout Japan, all dedicated to the Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa. 'Tosho' means 'Light of the East', referring to the eastern location of the Shogun's seat of Kamakura. This Toshogu Shrine is characterized by luxurious gilt walls. Toshogu Shrine is preserved as it was in the Edo era (16th-17th centuries), having almost miraculously largely escaped the disasters of the past few centuries.
Toshogu is approached up a long paved tree-lined path under arches, and its centerpiece, the Golden Hall, or Konjikiden, is nestled inside a double layer of walls, adding greatly to its sense of mystery and serenity. While the grounds can be enjoyed for free, a fee is charged to go inside Toshogu Shrine.
It retains its old simplicity without dilapidation, and is full of elegant old ornaments and artifacts that, while they may have seen better days, are nevertheless preserved in a way that loses nothing of their original beauty or mystique. A place to sit down in and contemplate as opposed to simply inspect. Famous for its tree peony (botan) garden, open to the public in spring (mid-April to mid-May) and winter (January 1 - Feb 24) entry 700 yen.
- Opening hours: 9am - 4.30 pm, 365 days a year.
- Admission: 700 yen (600 yen for parties of 20 or more), free for children of elementary school age and under. Children of elementary school age and under.
Tokyo's major zoo is Ueno Zoo, located in Ueno Park.
The oldest zoo in Japan, Ueno Zoo was established at 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 the animals can be observed in what come pretty close to their native habitats. There are two entrances to the zoo: the main entrance, near the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and the Benten Entrance, near Shinobazuike Benten-do. Read about Ueno Zoo - Japan's premier zoological gardens.
Shinobazuike Bentendo (不忍池弁天堂) is a striking temple building featuring a two-story, hexagonal roofed pagoda, sitting in Ueno Park's Shinobazu Pond. This large pond offers boat rides in one part, and has a section full of lotuses, which bloom in summer. Shinobazu-ike Bentendo belongs to the nearby Kaneiji Temple and is one of the sites of the "Seven Gods of Luck" that residents of the adjacent Yanaka area traditionally visit. Here is dedicated to Benzaiten, a member of the pantheon, who is the Japanese version of the Hindu Saraswati, goddess of music and wisdom.
Shinobazuike Bentendo was originally built at the beginning of the Edo Period of Japanese history. However, it was destroyed in World War 2, so the current building, true to the original, dates from 1958.
The goddess Benzaiten is often depicted riding on a dragon, so check out the dragon spout in the temizuya purification shelter in front of Bentendo. Shinobazu Pond and Bentendo are accessed down the steps that start near Kiyomizu Kannon-do.
Go down the steps from Saigo Takamori's statue, veer right past the entrance of the Keisei Ueno Station entrance. At the second set of traffic signals turn right into Shinobazu-dori Avenue, and then almost immediately on your right, on the banks of the Shinobazu-no-ike Lake is the Shitamachi Museum ( 下町風俗資料館).
Shitamachi (literally 'undertown') refers to what is still in terms of atmosphere, the refreshingly attitude-free Taito Ward area. This small two-floor museum preserves some of the flavor of the area's life in the Taisho Era (roughly the 1910s and 1920s) with actual shop interiors, furniture, tools, implements, amusements, posters etc. from that time.
The suitably aged staff provide a warm welcome, making for a pleasant intimate half hour with the friendly ghosts of old Ueno. Autumn and winter features periodical special exhibitions.
- Opening hours: 9.30 am-4.30 pm (last admission 4pm). Until 5:30 pm (last admission 5 pm) in certain seasons. Closed Mondays (except when Monday is a public holiday, when it closes the next day) and December 29 - January 3.
- Admission: Adults: 300 yen; elementary to high school students: 100 yen.
- Address: 2-1, Ueno Koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0007
Yushima Tenjin (Tenmangu) Shrine
Yushima Tenjin (or Yushima Tenmangu) Shrine is Tokyo's most famous shrine of scholars, and is outside of Ueno Park, about 10 minutes walk from the Shitamachi Museum.
To get to Yushima Tenjin from the Shitamachi Museum, go back out onto Shinobazu-dori Avenue and turn left at the 'Suijo-ongakujo' intersection. Then at the next intersection called 'Tenjinshita' turn right, then first left, then first right. You will come to Onna-zaka (Woman's Slope) leading up to the Shrine, so called because of its gentle rise. Walk a few more meters along the street to the left of where Onna-zaka ascends if you want the decidedly steeper challenge of Otoko-zaka (Man's Slope)!
The International Library of Children's Literature
The International Library of Children's Literature (国際子ども図書館) is outside of Ueno Park proper - just outside the National Museum's big wooden Kuromon (Black Gate) exit. It forms part of the National Diet Library.
Most of the International Library of Childrens Literature is for research and is made up of books, both Japanese and foreign, and a huge microfiche collection. Using a research room requires leaving one's bag (and camera) in a locker and filling out a form.
However, the 1st floor Children's Library is, as the name suggests, a reading room for children to use, and the 3rd floor Museum is of general interest, where special exhibitions of children's literature from around the world are held several times a year.
A stroll through International Library of Childrens Literature, Ueno, is recommended even for those not that interested in children's literature. The building housing the International Library of Childrens Literature, Ueno, is a unique blend of architectures from three different eras, the original 1906 Renaissance-style architecture - expanded on in 1929 - not only beautifully preserved, but expertly unified into a spacious, inspiring modern whole by Tadao Ando, the 1995 recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.
- Opening hours: 9.30 - 5 pm (4 pm from November through February) Closed Mondays and public holidays (except Children's Day on May 5), December 28 - January 24, and the third Wednesday in January, March, May, July, September and November.
- Address: 12-49 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0007.
Kaneiji Temple is outside of Ueno Park proper - a little on from the International Library of Childrens Literature. Kaneiji Temple is a fraction of what it used to be (the whole of Ueno Park once formed its grounds) but it is still the base in the Kanto (i.e. Tokyo and environs) of the hugely influential Tendai school of Buddhism, introduced to Japan in the 8th century CE. Kaneiji Temple was established in 1625 to protect Edo Castle, the seat of the Shogun, from evil and from fire, and was the family temple of the ruling Tokugawa clan. The whole of the Ueno area as it is today began with the establishment of Kaneiji Temple.
The name Kanei (ji means 'temple') simply comes from the name of the era, and Kaneiji Temple was built in the second year of the Kanei era.
Kan'eiji Temple has definitely seen better days, because at that time the whole vast tract of what is now Ueno Park was part of the Kaneiji Temple grounds. However, when the Tokugawa feudal lords were destroyed in 1868 at the battle of Ueno (see the entry on Saigo Takamori above) the temple grounds were appropriated by the victorious imperial government and the grand old Kan'eiji Temple that presided over the area has been relegated to one of its corners. Most of the temple, where the Shogun's forces were based, was also destroyed in the fighting. The only part of it that survived was the five-storey pagoda, or Go-Juu-no-Toh, that now stands near the Zoo.
Kan'eiji Temple has great historical significance, matched by a restrained, somewhat stern, atmosphere--suitable, perhaps, to its weighty history. The large bibbed jizo bodhisattva statues in the grounds are particularly memorable, as well a curious tree with pendulous appendages hanging down from the base of its branches, suggesting perhaps that they were grafted on.
Of more interest than the main temple buildings is the 1709 mausoleum of Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi behind them. Access is from the back right-hand corner of the temple. Within the thick stone walls of the temple compound and framed by huge stone lanterns, the mausoleum gate is the grand finishing touch in what makes for an atmosphere of calm propriety and restrained power. Kaneiji Temple is best viewed in autumn.
Turn right out of the main gate of Kaneiji Temple and walk to the T-junction. Just across the road is Jomyoin Temple, once one of the 36 priests' residences of Kaneiji Temple, but now a temple in its own right.
Jomyoin Temple is far more worthy of your time than Kaneiji is. Jomyoin Temple boasts over 84,000 jizo, i.e. statues of the bodhisattva guardian of children - row upon row of them - all in a multitude of depictions and states of repair.
Jomyoin Temple is a more intimate and moving experience than Kaneiji. Allow yourself a good 20 to 30 minutes of delightful browsing around Kaneiji Temple to fully savor the history of Buddhist devotion that still imbues it.
- Address: 2-6-4 Sakuragi, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
Left out of Jomyoin and the next street on the left (off the Uenosakuragi 2' intersection) will take you to Yanaka Cemetery.
Yanaka Cemetery began as part of Tennoji Temple, but in 1872, the Meiji government confiscated the cemetery and nationalized it as part of its policy of separating Shinto and Buddhism. This policy had the nationalistic purpose of trying to establish Shinto as Japan's native religion in opposition to the imported Buddhist religion.
Yanaka Cemetery is a 10-hectare (25 acre) space with over 7,000 graves. Wander down the tree-lined Sakura-dori avenue (renowned for its cherry blossoms in late March, early April) to the vast mazelike cemetery where the remains of many of Japan's most renowned are interred.
Pride of place goes to the grave of the 15th and final Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837-1913). However, Yanaka Cemetery is worth going to just to wander round, take in the beauty, and even get slightly lost.
Ameyayokocho Shopping Street
Finally, back where we started at Ueno Park's entrance - just across from the Park is the entrance to Ameyayokocho shopping street. This is part of the Okachimachi area that is neighbor to Ueno.
Ameyayokocho, or just "Ameyoko," is a permanently festive riot of street stalls (some good T-shirts), clothing and shoe shops, snack and sweet sellers, and just about every other kind of vendor, all yelling Irasshai! ('Welcome!' or 'Roll up!') at the top of their lungs. Ameyokocho is also the place to go for Chinese culinary ingredients and foodstuffs. At the heart of the area is the Ameyoko Center Building full of small stores, and with its famous Asian foodstuffs market on the B1 floor.
Before you leave, join the motley crowd as it dawdles along and enjoy the restless, often garish, kalaidoscope of downtown distractions.
Ueno Park Access
Ueno (上野) station on the Japan Rail Yamanote Line, Park Exit. 1 minute walk.
Ueno (上野) station on the Ginza subway line. 5 minute walk.
Keisei Ueno (京成上野) station on the Keisei Honsen line 1 minute walk.
Uguisudani (鶯谷) station on the JR Yamanote line, behind the Tokyo National Museum. 1 minute walk.