Destination: Ueno Park

Who started this trend? When was it decided that there would be a single location that would have a large park and several museums all together? San Francisco has Golden Gate Park, Chicago has Grant Park, Cleveland has University Circle, and Tokyo has Ueno Park. I guess it's a matter of convenience - set aside a large parcel of land for general public culture use, and build some museums as needed.
 It was about five months ago that I took these pictures, on a cold Sunday in February. A nice, small wildlife preserve marsh sits at the south end of the park. Next to the marshland is the Shitamachi Museum, which I'll write about sometime soon.
 In the middle of the marsh lake is a causeway and bridge, lined with stalls selling all kinds of food.
 Chocolate covered frozen bananas, anybody?
 Or maybe you want some fried food, sandwiches, or really any other kind of Japanese stall food. I think I saw a ramen shop.
 In the middle of the marsh/lake (called Shinobazu Pond, which is really cut into thirds - two thirds is the marsh and one third is a lake) sits Benten-do. This Buddhist temple is devoted to Benzaiten, the goddess of arts, knowledge, and wisdom. Almost every temple I've seen has this water source for cleansing yourself before entering.
 The hall itself is under renovation, or at least was when I visited. So my pictures focus on the beauty that is the upper, visible structures.
 It looks like a fresh coat of paint has just been applied, as the temple hall looks brand new!
 And the back side shows off more of the structure.
 As I mentioned earlier, the pond has both marshes and a full lake area, where visitors can rent swan boats (or just normal boats), covered to protect against the harsh summer sun. And probably, at night, give a little privacy for snuggling couples not quite ready for the nearby love hotels.
 The marsh area is probably the most photogenic part of Ueno Park most of the time, though the currently-bare paths become a sea of white come cherry blossom season, and provide a nice green canopy of shade in the summer.
 There are various monuments scattered throughout the park, though identifying them is difficult if you don't understand Japanese. I believe this was a war memorial near the south end of the park.
 Also in the southern half of the park is Kiyomizu Kannon Temple, just up the hill from Benten-do. Smaller and less popular, it still serves as a temple for the goddess of fertility.
 Ema, or wooden cards with wishes and dreams, are hung outside many temples. I'm sure most of these are prayers related to having more, healthy children.
 The date here gives you an idea of when I visited - probably that weekend.
 Especially in major tourist places, some of the cards have English writing. This one struck me as unique
because it had multiple languages.
And again, the water for cleansing your hands (and mouth, though most visitors don't do so).
 I haven't explored a large portion of Ueno Park yet - namely the zoo, promenade, and recently reopened art museum. The east side of the park has several museums, however. And right in the middle is a baseball diamond.
 This commemorates something important about the field. I believe it's one of the first baseball fields in Japan, or it was the site of important games early in Japan's baseball history.
 Despite being midday, the February sun brought long shadows from the south.
Ueno Station sits right next to the park. Tokyo SkyTree wasn't open when I took this photograph.
 Come spring, flowers begin to bloom along the path. I was too early for cherry blossoms in Ueno (maybe next year) but it was still a nice, busy day when I visited in April.
We had hopes of going to the zoo, but it was just a little crowded.

Ueno Park's grounds and temples can take up a good part of a visitor's day. Adding on the museums, it's easy to spend two or three days in the park itself, without heading down to the shopping arcade.

Ueno's other attractions include:

  • Shitamachi Museum, a fun small late-Meiji to early-Showa period history museum
  • National Museum of Western Art
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, which just reopened in April
  • National Science Museum, with a mix of old-style "hands-off" exhibits and newer "hands-on" areas
  • Tokyo National Museum, a five-building complex of national treasures and important cultural items
  • Ueno Zoo, the home of a couple pandas and some other animals
Note that Ueno Park essentially shuts down on Mondays, along with pretty much all the other cultural activities in Japan. Fair-weather Sundays bring crowds of tourists and locals looking for some nature and sightseeing, and it's best to find somewhere else to be that day as well. My Sunday visit on a cold February was met with plenty of people in the museums and a decent number of people on the paths. My return in April (again, on a Sunday) saw even larger crowds.

Ueno Park is easy to find. Just head to Ueno Station and follow the signs. The station is quite large with several exits, but by following the signs you can't miss it! Admission to the park is free, and entrance to the temples is also free. However, the attractions above can have admission fees. Food options in the park are generally limited to food stalls and small restaurants around Benten-do, though there are other eating options in the attractions and plenty of choices outside of the park.

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