10 Flexible Sightseeing Spots in Ueno that You Can Enjoy for a Brief Visit or as a Full-Day Trip!
The popular area of Ueno offers many attractive sightseeing options that you'll be sure to want to visit. With Japan's first zoo, a plethora of different museums, Important Cultural Properties, and Ueno Ameyoko Street, it's not difficult to find various ways to keep yourself occupied in the city. Each of the 10 locations introduced in this article is within walking distance from Ueno Station, so you can freely spend a few spare hours, or even devote an entire day to any particular place!
Aug 20 2019 (Nov 22 2019)
1. Ueno Zoo
Ueno Zoo is a must-visit destination when planning a trip to the Ueno area. The historic site was first founded in 1882. The vast 14 hectare zoo grounds house approximately 3,000 animals from around 400 different species. There is plenty of greenery interspersed throughout the park, and the zoo is a perfect way to spend a leisurely day seeing the various animals while surrounded by nature. You'll find animals from a diverse range of biotopes around the world, from giant pandas, polar bears, gorillas, elephants, and bears, to endangered species like the Sumatran tiger and the Western Lowland Gorilla. If you've an eye for the peculiar, check out the Reptile and Amphibian House in the West Garden, or Japan's only aye-aye in the Forest of the Aye-Aye. A ride on Japan's very first monorail connecting the East and West Garden is also quite the thrill.
2. Ueno Royal Museum
You can find artistic works from an array of different genres at Ueno Royal Museum. If you find some time during your exploration around Ueno, consider paying the museum a visit for a slow-paced time spent appreciating a slew of works demonstrative of brilliant creativity. This museum opened in 1972, and it displays art and calligraphy exhibits, as well as exhibits with the collected works of past artists. Special exhibitions are also held periodically, while the Modern Art Exhibition and the Exhibit of Works by the General Public are held every year, so check out their schedule to find if they may have an exhibit to your liking. As it's situated in Ueno Park, the museum has a tranquil atmosphere about it. You can also find a cafe inside of the museum, where you can sip some of the cafe's popular blends of coffee or tea while resting your feet and enjoying the scenery.
3. Ueno Toshogu
Ueno Toshogu is a must-visit landmark of early Edo architecture that was designated an Important Cultural Property. The shrine was constructed by Todo Takatora and Tenkai Sojo (a Buddhist monk) after receiving an order from the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu, to build "a place where his soul could rest". The lavish main building is covered in a glowing, gold foil, and has the looming presence expected of a structure dedicated to a man who once consolidated the country under his rule. Ieyasu is the enshrined deity, and his blessings are said to include success in life and victory, as well as health and longevity. That the shrine has survived both wars and earthquakes is quite miraculous. Consider paying your respects to the felicitous Ieyasu at Ueno Toshogu and perhaps you'll find some share of your own fortune. Regardless of your luck, you can enjoy the distinctive beauty of the flowers in every season, from peonies and cherry blossoms in the spring, to orange deciduous leaves in the fall.
4. Ameyoko Shopping Street
Ameyoko Shopping Street is a must-see spot in the Ueno area, where people are constantly going to and fro in the lively shopping strip, regardless of the day of week. Upon setting foot into the street, you'll hear the hearty voices of the barkers at the various stores. The bustling shopping district is most active during the end of the year, when you may even find yourself unable to move through the crowds. During the winter, you can find a large selection of seafood, such as crab. From seafood, to clothing, to leather goods, the motley assortment of different products can be like a carnival maze, so much so that you can easily find that you lose yourself in the joy of a shopping spree.
5. Ueno Park
Ueno Park is a relaxed location to visit in the Ueno area, ideal for a date or if you have young children with you. The longstanding park was established in 1873, and offers a quaint, storied semblance in addition its comfortable natural scenery. Cultural facilities like the Ueno Zoo and Ueno Royal Museum are both located in the park, making it easy to find things to do throughout the course of an entire day. You can also enjoy the surrounding scenery from the boats in Shinobazu Pond, or try some flower viewing under the overstretched arms of the cherry blossom trees. When the flowers are in season, the faint, pink hue of the flowers are a beautiful sight. The park has something different for each person to enjoy as a space that accommodates a wide periphery of interests.
6. Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden
The Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden carries the now antiquated vestige of what was once considered a modern garden. The premises, which have been designated an Important Cultural Property, is comprised of a Western-style house, a Japanese house, and a grand garden. During its time under the ownership of Mr. Iwasaki, who founded Mitsubishi Corporation, the grounds housed 20 different buildings. Countless trees such as ginkgo trees, cherry trees, and maple trees are beautifully arranged on the vast property. The luxurious interior is adorned with ornate wallpapers, furnishings, and sculptures, all of which can give a good impression of a high-class lifestyle in an older japan. The magnificent and retro spiral staircase in the Western house and the large washbasin in front of the study are must-sees.
7. Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Peruse both domestic and international masterpieces of art in Ueno at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. The museum, founded in 1926, is oftentimes utilized as the venue to announce different art exhibitions and to host public exhibitions. There is even a Gogh and Gauguin special exhibition, so be sure to check for details on different periodic exhibits if you're interested in a particular theme. You'll find that you can have the luxury of a quiet and refreshing experience finding different kinds of art you enjoy. Participating in art-themed events, window shopping at the unique, newly built museum shop, or dining comfortably in a restaurant are but a few of the many ways to spend an enriching and tranquil day of solace.
8. National Museum of Western Art
Ueno National Museum of Western Art has multiple notable works of art which are permanently on display, as opposed to being periodically on exhibit. Enjoy ingenuous displays of creativity from the annals of Western Art history with works of modern French painters like Monet and Renoir, or the intricate sculptures of Rodin. From paintings of late medieval Old Masters, whose works are dated between 1300 up to the late 18th century, to the Matsukata Collection, there is more than plenty to see throughout the course of the day. The main building, designated an Important Cultural Property, was built as a symbol of renewed amity between France and Japan in 1959. The museum presents the perfect venue to spend a quiet day watching the sunset, and taking in the life works of some Western civilization's preeminent artists.
9. Tokyo National Museum
The Tokyo National Museum is the oldest museum in Japan, and its stores span from art and antiquity from Japan and other areas of Asia, to various fascinating exhibits on cultural resources. The collection is unrivaled in Japan in both quality and quantity. 3,000 items are on display at any given time. Relics designated as Important Cultural Properties dating back as far as the Jomon period (14,000 - 300 BCE) to the Edo period (1603 - 1868), outline Japan's history as a civilization. You can take your time with each article on the first floor of the main building, where sculptures, clay, and swords are on display. The Hyokeikan building is a Western-style architectural structure characterized by its green dome which has been designated an Important Cultural Property. The museum is great to visit for a slow-going, carefree day.
10. Shitamachi Museum
Shitamachi Museum has a rustic feel reminiscent of the Taisho era (1912 - 1926). Upon removing your shoes to enter the building, which recreates the Nagaya (a Japanese traditional collective means of housing where several independent residences comprise a single building), you'll find an interior which also harkens to a past period of history. The first floor presents a glance of the shitamachi (working class district) of Tokyo at the time, where you can find oroshi-donya (traditional merchant buildings) and even a little dagashi-ya (mom-and-pop traditional candy store) in the narrow back alleyway. The chabu-dai (short-legged table) and naga-hibachi (cooking stove heated by charcoal) faithfully recreate the lifestyle of the times. There is an exhibit corner on the second floor where you can find various information, toys, and events of the shitamachi. With countless exhibits of a bygone way of living, the museum tugs at an appreciation for times past.
A Journey to Ueno Has a Wealth of Experiences to Offer
This has been an introduction to some of the top highlights in Ueno. This area offers a bevy of different ways to spend some time in a variety of different kinds of settings. After a day full of fun, why not cap off each day with the lavish treatment offered at one of Relux's recommended high-end traditional Japanese inns or hotels?
Header image: kuponjabah/Shutterstock.com
If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
Translated and republished with permission from: SPIRA (formerly known as Relux Magazine)
By the way, you can book a hotel through Relux (run by SPIRA) by clicking here!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.