If Ueno Imperial Park could be summed up in just one word it would be 'art'. Ueno Park is the heart of Tokyo's art scene, with over 9 museums and academies in an area of roughly .35 square miles.
The park is heavily wooded, large trees line the wide spidering paths, creating a canopy overhead filtering through the sunlight. In this respect the park is well shaded save for the open spaces, such as the Grand Fountain. This abundance of shade makes Ueno Park a popular spot during the summer months for visitors as well as the homeless. It is not uncommon to see a dozen or two homeless spread throughout the grounds, sleeping under trees or on benches.
Every day hundreds of Junior High and High school students as well as residents and some foreigners tour the grounds to get a glimpse at the masterpieces within, some come just to relax, some come to do sketching, or some simply come for lunch at one of the various cafes.
- The Park offers both Japanese and Western institutions:
- Ueno Royal Museum
- Japan Art Academy
- Tokyo Culture Hall
- National Museum of Western Art
- National Science Museum
- Japan Academy
- Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
- Museum of Tokyo University of Arts
- National Library
- Tokyo National Museum
Unfortunately the museums are not free, a nominal fee is required for entry, which can add up if you wanted to visit several the museums.
An opportunity to see some of the indigenous animals of Japan as well as the rest of the world, Ueno offers a full scale Zoo. It is split into East and West halves, with a monorail connecting them for speedy transport. The inventory has a wide variety of animals including:
Animals of Africa Okapis
- Giant Anteater
The Children's Zoo Goats
- Ring-tailed Lemurs
- Ruffed Lemures
Monkey Mountain Sea lions
- Polar Bears
- Japanese Macaques
Gorilla Woods and Tiger Forest Birds
Japanese Animals Japanese Birds
- Japanese Cranes
- Red Pandas
- Pheasants and Pigeons
Hours: 9:30am - 5:00pm
Admission: Adult 600 yen, Children Free
In the South West corner of the park hides this jem. The Gojo is Tokyo's most underrated Shrine which will become apparent once you step through the main stone Torii and begin a descent through a veritable tunnel of smaller orange Torii gates, very similar to the ones you find in Kyoto. While walking this path you're instantly transported back 600 years into old Japan.
The descent continues and at the landing of the last stairs you get an over-head view of what appears to be a little ancient village. Heavy foliage diffuses the light and makes a pleasant shade and a very intimate setting. Follow the main path through the little houses and you'll encounter the Shrine's main temple in a clearing, standing tall in the sunlight.
A 600 foot promenade leads straight to the front Temple. Scores of large stone lanterns line the path, hundreds of years old like the Gojo Shrine you feel as if you're back in feudal Japan. The promenade is well forested on both the sides and over head. The lanterns are well weathered, augmenting the atmosphere.
As you continue down the promenade you'll find a towering shape taking formation on the right side, upon closer inspection you'll discover that this is a magnificent five-storied pagoda. Unfortunately a fence separates the promenade from the Pagoda, but if you go to the Ueno Zoo you will have much closer access to it.
Past the pagoda you'll enter the front courtyard of the Toshogu and hordes of lanterns of all sizes grouped together. One wonders what it would look like at night with all the lanterns lit.
Food in Ueno Park
The Park offers several dining options from upscale Green Park restaurant to the casual Cafe Hibiki.
For the high end experience Geen Park takes the cake, offering a wide array of gourmet dishes, both Western and Eastern. It also has facilities for parties should you want to party. The Green Park is located just after the front most entrance of Ueno Park.
Laid-back but still hip is the Cafe Hibiki. Located just accross the south side of the National Museum of Western Art, Hibiki has a huge out door cafe with a variety of light eating. The menu is mostly desserts and drinks. Some of the delights include: Orange Floats, Mango Pudding, Espresso, Cherry Pie, Japan's signature 'coffee jelly' and all between 350 and 500 yen.
For a quick and casual bite to eat, Savoia Pizza offers a variety of pizzas. It is worth checking out, if not only to see some of the bizarre flavors available. Here is their pizza menu: (priced in yen for your inconvenience)
- Cheese Pizza - 430
- Corn Mayo Pizza - 500
- Salami Pizza - 500
- Margarita Pizza - 630
- Seafood Basil Pizza - 750
- Seafood Tomato Pizza - 750
- Mix Pizza - 650
- Peperonchini - 650
- Quattro Fromage - 850
- Four Taste - 730
- Stick Pan - 300
- Sausage Pita Pan - 450
Just outside the children's area of Ueno Park (Ueno Kodomo Yuen) you'll find this fantastic Candy Land-designed ice cream shop, offering everything from ice cream crepes, gelato, green tea ice cream and more. At 280 yen for a decent sized ice cream cone, the prices aren't bad.
If you're in luck you'll come across some fantastic street performers which frequent the area, playing traditional Japanese or spiritual new age music. This gives tremendous atmosphere and adds a certain serenity to the experience. Bands such as Marakamasis (a duo of Spanish Americans who play tribal new age with a variety of windblown instruments) are regulars.
However it’s not always so serene. It is not uncommon to encounter an old man playing acoustic guitar with an accompanying stereo with the volume so high it sounds like a distorted ice cream truck PA.
Yamanote Line, Ueno Station.