Ueno Park is Tokyo's most significant cultural center. Its 300 acres are filled with museums, temples, shrines, natural attractions, important institutions and several of Japan's top schools.
Each year more than 10 million people visit Ueno Park. These are the park's best attractions.
1. Tokyo National MuseumThe Tokyo National Museum is Japan's oldest and largest museum. Each of its five large buildings could be a decent museum on its own. The museum holds over 110,000 items including 87 priceless national treasures. These include historical artifacts and art.
The museum is a bargain at 600 yen (general admission). Attractions supported by the government are generally inexpensive (as are all the attractions in Ueno Park).
2. HanamiUeno Park is one of the best spots in Tokyo for hanami.
Amongst the parks 8,800 trees are several varieties of sakura that bloom in spring. Hanami draws enormous crowds to Ueno Park.
3. National Museum of Nature and ScienceA decent natural history and science museum with interactive displays. The museum has a large number of animal and plant specimens including two floors of dinosaurs.
4. Ueno ZooUeno Zoo is Japan's oldest zoo (1882). The zoo occupies over 10% of the park (35 acres). It's home to 460 species (more than any other zoo in Japan). The zoo's pens are too small for some of the animals. Otherwise, the zoo is generally well managed.
Ueno Zoo has many popular animals including two Pandas received from China in 2011.
5. Kaneiji TempleUeno Park sits at the unlucky northeast corner (demon's gate) of the Imperial Palace.
In the Edo-era (1625), the Shogun (Tokugawa) established Kaneiji temple here to ward off evil from the unlucky northeast direction. Since the temple was on undesirable land it was granted a large area. With time it became one of the city's largest and wealthiest temples.
In 1868-1869 there was a power struggle between Japan's Meiji Emperor and the Tokugawa Shogun (Boshin War). The Ueno area was the scene of one of the war's largest battles (Battle of Ueno). The Emperor won a decisive victory. Much of Kaneiji temple was destroyed in the process.
The following year (1869), the Meiji Emperor defeated the Shogun. He began a program of rapid modernization, westernization and industrialization. The ruins of Kaneiji were granted to create a western style public park (Ueno Park). All of the institutions in the park were established by Emperor Meiji based on western models.
A 5-story pagoda (now inside Ueno Zoo) and Kaneiji's main hall are all that remain of what was once 30 buildings.
6. Shinobazu PondShinobazu Pond is a large natural pond that's partially covered in lotus plants. It's a famous pond that's featured in several well known paintings. Today, the pond is an important nesting ground for birds. There are boats for rent in a portion of the pond.
Shinobazu Pond is popular with photographers. Its massive lotus covered surface looks out of place with downtown Tokyo in the background.
7. Kiyomizu Kannon TempleKiyomizu Kannon Temple was established in 1631. It's modeled after one of Japan's best known temples: Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto (although it's smaller). It has a stage that overlooks Shinobazu Pond.
The temple is dedicated to Kosodate Kannon (goddess of childbearing and child-raising). The temple is often visited by couples who are trying to conceive. Couples leave dolls at the temple that symbolize the children they would like to someday have. The dolls are ceremoniously cremated on September 25th each year.
8. Tokyo Metropolitan Art MuseumThe Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum doesn't have a permanent collection. It has a total of 6 galleries. One gallery is managed by the museum. The other 5 are rented to various art groups.
Its building isn't very attractive. However, inside it's a busy hub of Tokyo's contemporary art scene.
9. Ueno Toshogu ShrineUeno Toshogu Shrine (1616) is one of the few Edo-era structures in Tokyo to have survived Tokyo's turbulent history of earthquakes and wars. It's dedicated to the Tokugawa Shoguns.
There are 50 large copper lanterns on the grounds of the shrine that were donated by territorial warlords (Daimyo). These lanterns are unusual artifacts not commonly seen at shrines (usually such lanterns are made of stone). The shrine itself is intricately decorated with wooden carvings.
10. National Museum of Western ArtJapan's best collection of western art (primarily European). It's a well managed museum that has regular special exhibitions designed to pull in the crowds.
11. Bentendo TempleBentendo Temple is located on an island in Shinobazu Pond.
The temple is dedicated to Benten (goddess of knowledge and music).
12. Shitamachi MuseumUeno is in a low lying area of Tokyo formerly known as Shitamachi (literally "low town"). Shitamachi was a large area of merchants, artisans, peasants and pleasure districts. The Shitamachi Museum examines what life was like in this area of Tokyo in the late 19th and early 20th century.
13. Tokyo University CampusThe main campus of the University of Tokyo lies just to the west of Ueno Park beside Shinobazu Pond. The University of Tokyo is Japan's top university. It's often compared with Harvard in the United States.
It's an interesting place for a walk or photo tour.
14. Tokyo Bunka KaikanThe Tokyo Bunka Kaikan is a 2000 seat performance theatre in Ueno Park. Its schedule is packed with cultural events and musical performances.
15. Ueno DaibutsuThe Ueno Daibutsu was a giant bronze Buddha statue that stood in what's now Ueno Park from 1631 - 1923. It was toppled in the Great 1923 Tokyo Earthquake. The remains of the statue sat in the park for many years. They were finally melted down for metal in WWII. The great Buddha's face is all that remains today.
Area AttractionsUeno is a colorful neighborhood known for its street markets, dining and nightlife.