Tokyo’s Ueno Park is a popular destination, packed full of shrines, temples, museums and entertainments. From earthquake evacuation zone to cherry blossom hot spot, this cultural enclave in the city’s northeast is a worthwhile stop for both locals and travelers alike.
Ueno is home to some of Tokyo’s oldest remaining wooden buildings, which miraculously survived all manner of disasters. One is the Ueno Toshogu Shrine, whose main hall dates back to 1651. The shrine was dedicated to the spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun to rule a united Japan. Another is the Kiyomizu Kannon-do, constructed in 1632 as part of the Kan’ei-ji temple complex that once covered park grounds. It’s best known for its “pine tree of the moon”, a tree that grows in a circle and allows visitors to view the nearby Shinobazu pond and Benten-do temple through the ring. Kiyomizu Kannon-do and its pine tree is featured in a popular ukiyo-e print from master artist Utagawa Hiroshige.
The park is also home to a number of excellent museums. The Tokyo Museum of Western Art houses a collection of Impressionist masterpieces and Western sculptures, while the National Museum of Nature and Science is a hit with children for its animal specimens and interactive exhibits. The National Museum is arguably the park’s crown jewel, with a collection of innumerable artifacts representing the broad sweep of Japanese history. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the small Shitamachi Museum invites visitors to step back into the Edo era, with recreated shops and houses dating from the 1700s and 1800s.
The best-loved residents of the Ueno neighborhood reside in the park’s zoo, founded in 1882. Pandas Ri Ri and Shin Shin remain perennial favorites, and their young cub Xiang Xiang became a huge draw after its birth in late 2017. The zoo, the oldest in Japan, exhibits a range of other animals, from Japanese macaques to giraffes and hippos. Kids also love the small amusement park located just outside the zoo’s main gate.
For many Tokyo residents, there’s no better place to celebrate new beginnings than the pathways of the park during cherry blossom season. In late March, between 800-1000 trees shower the area with brilliant pink blooms, drawing crowds of locals and visitors alike to picnic under the flowers.
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