Tokyo Ueno Park
Ueno Park is situated right beside Ueno station. It was formerly part of the Kaneiji Temple grounds, and belonged to a ruling Tokugawa family before the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Sadly, the temple was almost entirely destroyed in the Boshin Civil War in 1868-9. This was a conflict between shogunate loyalists and the Meiji government, which had assumed power. Following the temple’s destruction, the grounds became one of the very first modern parks in Japan, opening its gates in 1873. The southern entrance to the park has a statue of General Takamori, who was a general in the Battle of Ueno.
The park is extremely popular during cherry blossom season (late March-early April), as it has more than 1000 cherry trees. In the park’s southwestern corner, you will find Shinobazu Pond, which has been a part of the grounds since the days of Kaneiji Temple. Kaneiji Temple itself was modeled on Enryakuji Temple in Kyoto, which overlooks Lake Biwako, so the pond was intended to be a miniature version of that lake. Within the pond is an island, which is home to a temple hall named “Bentendo.” This is dedicated to Benten, a Japanese goddess of love.
Ueno Park is best known for the fact that it is home to Ueno Zoo, along with several famous museums, including the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo National Museum, the National Science Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.
Sacred Structures in Ueno Park
Free Admission. Open between 9:00 and 17:00, 7 days a week.
In the Edo Period, Ueno Park housed one of the city’s major temple complexes. However, it was almost completely destroyed in the Boshin War. Today, there are only a few structures remaining from the former temple complex, including the Toshogu Shrine and a five-storey pagoda. Kaneiji Temple itself stands near the park’s northwest corner, and is fairly small compared with other temples in Tokyo today.
Free Admission. Open between 9:00 and 16:00, 7 days a week.
Dating back to 1631, Kiyomizu Temple was an original part of the Kaneiji Temple complex. It houses a sacred image of the conception goddess, Kosodate Kannon, and its wooden design pays homage to Kyoto’s Kiyomizudera.
Please note that this shrine is undergoing renovation until the end of 2013.
Constructed in 1616, this is one of Japan’s many shrines honoring Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate. Toshogu Shrine was part of the original temple complex in Ueno Park.
Free Admission. Open between 7:00 and 17:00, 7 days a week.
The Bentendo temple hall has an octagonal design, and is located atop an island in Shinobazu Pond. Benten is a Japanese goddess of love, wealth, music and good fortune. In the cherry blossom season, the grounds of the temple hall are packed with food stalls.
The Museums and Zoo within Ueno Park
Tokyo National Museum
Open between 9:30 and 17:00 (18:00 on weekends, and 20:00 on certain Fridays.)
Closed on Monday (or Tuesday, if Monday is a public holiday.) Also closed during the New Year Period.
600 yen admission (no charge on the 18th of May or the third Monday in September)
This is Japan's largest and oldest museum. In actuality, it is a whole complex comprising five smaller buildings. They contain the most important historical and cultural collections in Japan.
National Science Museum
Open between 9:30 and 17:00 (20:00 on Friday)
Closed on Monday (or Tuesday, if Monday is a public holiday.) Also closed during the New Year period.
600 yen admission.
This is a museum for Natural History and Science. There are plenty of interactive robotics and physics exhibits, along with 360 degree (as in completely spherical) cinema. The museum also houses a large number of mounted animal specimens.
Metropolitan Art Museum
Open between 9:30 and 17:30. Admission fee varies, depending on the exhibition.
This art museum has six galleries, with collections of all types. Rather than a permanent collection, it displays multiple temporary exhibitions.
National Museum of Western Art
Open between 9:30 and 17:30 (17:00 during winter. Musuem stays open until 20:00 on Friday.)
Closed on Monday (or Tuesday, if the Monday is a public holiday.) Also closed during the New Year period.
420 yen admission. (Free entry on November 3, as well as the second and fourth Saturday of every month.)
This museum mainly showcases European art. It rotates artworks from its own collection, as well as hosting special exhibitions.
Open between 9:30 and 16:30. Closed on Monday (or Tuesday, if the Monday is a public holiday.) Also closed during the New Year period.
300 yen admission.
In old Tokyo, the merchant and artisan quarter was known as “Shitamachi.” This museum reconstructs the life of people in Tokyo between the Meiji and Showa Periods.
Open between 9:30 and 17:00. Closed on Monday (or Tuesday, if the Monday is a public holiday.) Also closed during the New Year period.
600 yen admission. (Free entry on March 20, May 4 and October 1)
This zoo dates back to 1882, and was the first to open in Japan. Over the last forty years, it has been famous for its giant pandas. The current pair of pandas arrived at the zoo in early 2011.
Getting to Ueno Park
Simply take the the "Park Exit" of Ueno Station on the JR Yamanote Line.
This area has plenty of accommodation options to suit travelers on a low to medium budget. It is also convenient to Narita airport