Header image courtesy of Nippon.com
After 300 years of the Edo period, Japan began the process of modernisation during the Meiji era and Ueno Park is one of the country’s first Western-style parks, conveniently located right next to the JR Ueno station. Opening its doors in 1873, the park is built on the grounds of the Tokugawa family temple, Toeizan Kaneiji, and was designed to combine places of historic interest, scenic beauty, and recreation for the public to explore and enjoy. This impressive cluster consists of places of interest such as the Tokyo National Museum, National Museum of Western Art, the National Museum of Nature and Science, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and Ueno Zoo, plus numerous bronze sculptures of historical figures from the Meiji Restoration. Ueno Park is a top choice for cherry blossom viewing in Tokyo.
While being best known to be the home of Ueno Zoo, Ueno is also the best place for buying traditional foods, clothing, and super cheap sneakers. Here's our guide to navigating the Ueno neighbourhood, from what to see to where to eat and shop.
Tokyo National Museum is the oldest national museum in Japan with the largest art collection. It has six exhibition buildings that include Honkan (Japanese Gallery), Heiseikan (Japanese Archaeology and Special Exhibition), Toyokan (Asian Gallery), the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, Kuroda Memorial Hall, and Hyokeikan.
If you are keen on history and archaeology, you must not miss out on the opportunity to visit this museum because it houses around 120,000 pieces of Japanese and East Asian art and archaeological artefacts, including 89 national treasures and 646 important Cultural Properties.
Tokyo National Museum also hosts a series of events, such as VR programmes, lectures, workshops, and concerts etc.
Tokyo National Museum, 13-9 Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo 110-8712, Japan | (+81) (50) 5541 8600
With The Thinker by Rodin sitting near the entrance, National Museum of Western Art is the only Japanese national institution that is completely dedicated to western art.
Completed in 1959, the main building of the National Museum of Western Art was designed by French architect Le Corbusier as a symbol of the resumption of diplomatic ties between Japan and France after World War II.
Two additional wings were built afterwards and together, they are home to 4,500 pieces of paintings, drawings, and prints from the Renaissance to the early 20th century, including the works of Rubens, Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Pollock, and many more.
National Museum of Western Art, 7-7 Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0007, Japan | (+81) (03) 5777-8600
Consisting of the Japan Gallery, Theatre 360, and Global Gallery, the National Museum of Nature and Science offers an overview of Japan’s and the world’s biodiversity and scientific technologies, providing an experience that you will find both educational and eye-opening.
The Japan Gallery gives a comprehensive view of Japanese history through a chronological timeline of its natural environment geology, organisms, interaction with nature, and manufacturing and industry techniques. As for Theatre 360, it is a spherical 3D movie theatre where you can stand on a bridge to enjoy a panoramic movie experience on subjects such as the evolution on mankind and the world of dinosaurs etc. With “The History of Life on Earth” as its theme, the Global Gallery illustrates the evolution of mammals and birds that can better our understanding of Earth’s ecosystem.
National Museum of Nature and Science, 7-20 Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo 110-8718, Japan | (+81) (03) 5777 8600
Designed by Mayekawa Kunio, who was also the architect behind many of Japan’s greatest landmarks, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is tasked to become a “doorway to art” and offers a range of educational and outreach programmes, such as access programmes for people with disabilities and school education exhibitions for young children and students, so that people from all walks of life can have the opportunity to experience and understand art.
While specific exhibitions charge an admission fee, museum entry is free.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 8-36 Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0007, Japan | (+81) (03) 3823 6921
Founded in 1882, Ueno Zoo is Japan’s oldest zoo and home to 3,000 animals and 400 different species. It is divided into an East Garden and West Garden, and you can travel between them on foot or by monorail.
The biggest celebrities at the zoo are the giant pandas, Ri Ri and Shin Shin, along with their cub, Xiang Xiang. They are kept in a special section right by the zoo’s main entrance in the East Garden and there is always a long queue of visitors waiting to see them and take photos.
Aside from the pandas, the East Garden also features the “Gorilla Woods” and “Tiger Forest”, where you can view them in special enclosures, along with a variety of native Japanese animals and birds.
As for the West Garden, it is home to numerous African animals with a mammal house for nocturnal animals and a vivarium that showcases a variety of rare fishes, crocodiles, snakes, and turtles. There is also a children’s zoo so where young children can interact with guinea pigs, rabbits, goats, and other domestic animals.
Ueno Zoo, 9-８３ Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo 110-8711, Japan | (+81) (03) 3828 5171
After visiting Ueno Park, simply follow the train tracks and walk south and you will find Ameyoko, a 500-metre long shopping street with more than 400 stores offering great bargains on everything. You can basically spend the whole day there eating and shopping without the urge to leave but beware that it is going to be swamped with people!
If you are a sneakerholic, you are going to be exhilarated and having plenty of fun treasure-hunting for special edition and crossover sneakers on Ameyoko. With stores like mita sneakers, London Sports, ABC-Mart, and Sports Zyuen all gathered in the same place, you will definitely find rare sneakers to your liking. In addition, there is no need to worry about their authenticity because they are mostly just out of season stock. Aside from sneakers, you can also shop for a great variety of sporting goods at bargain prices.
If you are a foodie who prefers to sample different foods instead of sitting down for a full meal, Ameyoko offers an impressive range of food stalls where you can make pit stops while shopping and enjoy wagyu beef croquettes, Tekkadon, Takoyaki, fresh or cooked oysters, and even fruit skewers! The list just goes on and on…
In addition, there are grocery stores and supermarkets that sell Japanese snacks, such as chocolate, sweets, bean paste, rice confectionery, and delicacies, plus boxes of fruits, all of these will definitely be the perfect food souvenirs to bring home for yourself or as gifts to family and friends.
Ameyoko is also the best place for buying quality medicine and cosmetics at discounted prices. With numerous drugstores in the vicinity, you can choose from a great selection of medicine, skincare, and cosmetics, all tax free. These drugstores also frequently offer coupons, so remember to download them in advance to get even more discounts. However, you should note that the orderliness of these stores might vary quite a bit and certain popular products might be out of stock all the time.
For those who prefer one-stop shopping, you can walk over to Takeya, which is located on the east side of Okachimachi Station. Characterised by a purple exterior, it is the largest discount store in Tokyo and has become a landmark of the neighbourhood. It consists of nine buildings and houses a total of 42 floors, with each floor dedicated to a specific product category, such as snacks, clothing, branded goods, fine jewellery, medicine and cosmetics, garden supplies, and home appliances.
This department store is particularly popular with tourists because it has an offering of around 200,000 unique items and goods and the staff there can speak English, Chinese, Korean, and Thai. While some of the local stores on Ameyoko only take cash, Takeya accepts both cash and credit card and has multiple locations for tourists to do their tax refunds.
Takeya, 4 Chome-33-2, Taito, Tokyo | (+81) 03 3835 7777