Of all the parks in Tokyo, Ueno Park is unparalleled in its size and amount of facilities. Ueno Park is also known to be Japan's oldest park, and the nature-rich park pleases visitors with a different vibrant palette in every passing season. The vast park land is brings you in contact with art, history, and culture at a variety of facilities like the Tokyo National Museum, and the National Museum of Science and Nature. Ueno Zoo will even show you the everyday lives of exotic animals up close.
This article will take you through everything that Ueno Park offers - its facilities, nature, and the long history embedded into its soil!
Read more about Ueno Zoo↓↓
Ueno Zoo: Meet Pandas, Polar Bears & Capybaras at Tokyo's Oldest Zoo!
History of Ueno Park
Ueno Park & the Dutch Doctor: Protecting the "Mountain of Ueno"
Ueno Park on a nice, sunny day
Ueno Park was one of Japan's first parks, and its story dates all the way back to 1872. During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), the Ueno area was loved by the public as a prime cherry blossom viewing spot. After the Boshin War (civil war, 1868 – 1869) the hills of Ueno were severely burned down and left devastated. The Ministry of Military planned on building an army hospital and cemetery on the exhausted hill, but one man’s fierce opposition lead to the construction of Japan’s first park instead. Doctor Anthonius Franciscus Bauduin, a Dutch military doctor teaching in Nagasaki at the time, saw the hills of Ueno and was astonished by the vast stretch of nature before him. He insisted that the land should be made a park, in the same manner that many first-world cities have done. Bauduin’s words drove the Japanese government to halt the construction of the hospital and cemetery. In honor of Bauduin, a statue of him is placed within Ueno Park.
On the following year, the construction of Ueno Park began across Tokyo. Sensoji Temple, Zojoji Temple, Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine and Asukayama were selected as candidates. 3 years later, Ueno Park was opened tothe public.
The first National Exhibition & Ueno Park
Ueno Park flourished as a place of cultural exchange and innovative encounters. With the Ueno Zoo opening in 1882 and The First National Exhibition taking place in 1887, Ueno Park was now the cultural heart of Tokyo. At the Tokyo Taisho Exhibition held in 1914, Ueno Park proudly presented the first escalator in Japan, along with a water slide on Shinobazu Pond.
Disasters and wars
The following decades at Ueno Park were met with disaster and calamity. The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 turned Ueno Park into an evacuation zone, with more than 10,000 temporary homes set up. The statue of Saigo Takamori, the man behind the coup against the Tokugawa clan, was plastered with papers of survivors searching for their loved ones. After the war, in 1926, the first public art museum opened in the park premises, in hopes of restoring Ueno Park’s once vivid cultural scene.
The Second World War once again drew Ueno Park back into a time of hardship. The park grounds were used as the headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Military’s First Antiaircraft Division, and Shinobazu Pond, once covered with lotuses, was converted into a rice paddy field. Other open areas of Ueno Park were once again adopted as an evacuation zone for those looking for refuge from the Tokyo Air Strikes.
Why is Ueno Park famous for its cherry blossoms?
The War had ended, but the Ueno area had been demolished and drastically different. The once public friendly area had altered into an unsafe and unstable neighborhood, with black markets, homelessness and prostitution on the streets. Ueno Park too, once home to a luscious green hill, now was left with an empty pond and bare land. To bring life back into Ueno, the Ueno Shosei Kai (now the Ueno Tourism Association) went hard at work by planting over 1,200 cherry blossom trees and reviving Shinobazu Pond back into its green, lotus-covered presence.
Ueno, the Town of Culture
Since then, Ueno Park has restored its name as a cultural hotspot and the city’s cherry blossom-viewing park of choice. Within the following decades after the war, more than 10 museums and cultural exhibits were built, including the National Museum of Nature and Science and the Tokyo National Museum.
Inside the Park
Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park
If you see a pond that is absolutely lidded with lotuses, then you have found Shinobazu Pond. This eye-catching pond is located in the southern end of the park, and is a natural pond. In the pond you can find many species of birds, such as cranes and pelicans.
The hexagonal traditional building you see in the middle of Shinobazu Pond is none other than Benten-do. The original version was built in 1625, and the one we see today was rebuilt in 1958. This temple is named after the god of wealth and entertainment, Benten. The unique hexagonal structure has a purpose, which is so one can pray from all sides of the pond towards Benten-do.
Kyoto’s iconic Kiyomizu-dera temple’s mini model is here in Ueno. Kiyomizu Kannon-do is a smaller version of the original Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto, and is architecturally very similar. From the main hall, you can see one of the sceneries depicted in the Edo era artist Utagawa Hiroshige’s set of ukiyo-e (woodblock print art), One Hundred Famous Views of Tokyo. This temple, built in 1631, is also allocated as an important cultural property.
Ueno Tosho-gu shrine
Ueno Tosho-gu, built in 1627 in honor of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Designated as an important cultural property, this shrine is in good shape to this day and bears many beautiful features, such as the Sukibei Wall, which is red and covered with paintings all across. The shrine is well known for its peony garden, open during April and May.
・9:00a.m. to 4:00p.m. (October to February)
・9:00a.m. to 5:00p.m. (March to September)
・¥500 (junior high school and older)¥1000 for both Tosho-gu and peony garden admission
・¥200 (elementary school students)
・9:00a.m. to 5:00p.m.
・¥700 (junior high school and older)
・¥0 for students below middle school
The hill on Ueno Park was once an ancient burial ground, or kofun, although now it is used as a resting space. This kofun is estimated to be around 1,500 years old, since pottery from the Yayoi era (300BC – 300AD) has been discovered from the hill.
Ueno Park is home to several statues of prominent historical figures. Here are some of the most famous statues in the park.
■Saigo Takamori Statue
Ueno's Saigo Takamori statue
The Saigo Takamori statue has been standing strong on the park grounds since 1898. Saigo Takamori is well known as Japan’s “last samurai”, as he fought and won against the ruling Tokugawa government for the restoration of the imperial government in 1867. The bronze samurai is now a symbol of Ueno Park and a popular meet-up spot for Tokyoites.
■Dr. Bauduin statue
The park’s founding father, Dr. Anthonius Franciscus Bauduin, is memorialized in a statue too. The Dr. Bauduin statue was made in 1973 in partnership with the Dutch government. Tulips directly shipped from the Netherlands are planted around the statue, and are in full bloom every April. The statue was remade in 2006, as it had turned out that the original statue had Bauduin’s brother’s face on it due to the wrong photo being sent to the sculptor. The statue we see today is of Dr. Bauduin.
Statue of bacteriologist Noguchi Hideyo
Some other statues include those of Prince Komatsu Akihito, former United States President Ulysses S. Grant, bacteriologist Noguchi Hideyo and Tokyo’s first mayor Yasui Seiichiro.
You can experience being face-to-face with the Buddha at this site. The Ueno Daibutsu was once a full-body Buddha statue, right after its completion in 1631. But the following years were only met with disaster—with an earthquake in 1647, a fire in 1841 and yet again an earthquake in 1855, the statue was constantly damaged and in construction. Things really became irreparable after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, and only the face of the Buddha remained in tact. The reminents of the Buddha statue were kept within Kanei-ji temple. In 1972, Kanei-ji decided to showcase the face of the Buddha, and it has been out in the park ever since. In recent years, this face-only Buddha is popular amongst students as a good-luck mascot for exams.
The impressive and elegant fountain in the park is the Takenodai Fountain. The area used to be a part of a temple, but was burned down in the Boshin War. The former main hall area is now home to a museum, and the former additional hall area how houses the Takenodai Fountain. The area surrounding the fountain is a spacious lawn area, and is ideal for relaxing and taking a break. The Takenodai Fountain is located in front of the National Museum of Nature and Science.
Ueno Park is home to over 10 museums and exhibits. Here is an introduction and a brief summary of a few of them.
■National Museum of Science and Nature
National Museum of Science and Nature
For those who are a fan of science and dinosaurs, this museum will be excellent. This museum brings fun to people of all ages, as it offers many hands-on activities for both kids and adults. Since the museum is divided into the Japan Gallery and the Global Gallery, there are artifacts and exhibitions from all over the world. Descriptions in English, Chinese and Korean are provided, and there are also English audio guides available to rent out.
■Tokyo National Museum
Tokyo National Museum
Why not visit the oldest museum in Japan along with the oldest park in Japan? The Tokyo National Museum, built in 1872, is a museum filled with historical artifacts and works of art not only from Japan but parts of Asia as well. This museum boasts over 110,000 pieces of cultural treasures, including items like kimonos and samurai swords from centuries ago. Most of the displays have English descriptions, so foreign visitors too can learn about Japanese history while visiting this museum.
Read more on Tokyo National Museum↓↓
Tokyo National Museum: Japan's Biggest Treasure Trove of Discoveries!
■Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Japan’s first public art museum is located in Japan’s first park. The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum was opened in 1926. Entrepreneur Sato Keitaro donated 1 million yen (roughly 3.2 billion yen today) to Tokyo to help construct the museum. After its opening, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum was famed as the “temple of art”, and artists whose works were exhibited here were considered top-notch. The museum has since then been home to artworks representative of their times. With its grand re-opening in 2012, the new Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is a “doorway to art” open to all who want to take a step into creativity and inspiration.
Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival (Spring)
Cherry blossoms at Ueno Park
Since the Edo period (1603 – 1868), the Ueno Park grounds have been a popular area during the spring, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Ueno Park is home to 1,250 cherry blossom trees today, and is one of the most famous spots for them in Tokyo. From mid March to early April, Ueno Park hosts the Ueno Cherry Blossom Festival, and people all over Tokyo gather to sit under the cherry blossoms and spend time with friends and family. Paper lanterns, called bonbori, are decorated throughout the park and are light up at night, making it especially a spectacle in the dark. Admission is free.
Satsuki Festival (May)
Held in mid-May, the Satsuki Festival is an exhibition of satsuki, (Japanese azaleas). Arrangements of the satsuki flowers are displayed in front of the Takenodai Fountain area. There is also a short lecture session (in Japanese) about satsuki during the festival.
Ueno Summer Festival (July - August)
At the Ueno Summer Festival, you can experience a classic Japanese summer festival. With several events such as live performances, antique markets, ice sculpture exhibitions and bon-odori (traditional festival dancing), this summer festival is sure to get you in the summer spirit. The festival is held during mid-July and mid-August.
Edo Week (October)
Edo Week is a new event, and its main objectives are to spread and have more people enjoy Japanese culture, not only for foreign guests but for the Japanese as well. The event encourages visitors to show up in yukata (a more casual, light cotton kimono), but don’t sweat it if you don’t have your own, as there is a yukata fitting booth ready at the event. With other booths for cultural crafts and food, the Edo Week will indulge you in everything Japan. Edo Week takes place in mid October.
Winter Cherry Blossom Illumination (Winter)
Japan and its love for illuminations (lighting up streets; usually in the winter) is well present at Ueno Park. The Winter Cherry Blossom Illumination, held between mid October and mid January, brightens up the park by planting LED blossoms on the cherry trees. About 100 trees between the Takenodai Fountain and the Ueno Shopping Street glow in mellow, heartwarming pink tones. So don’t worry if you miss the cherry blossoms in the spring, since they now bloom in the winter too.
Nearest stations: Ueno Station 上野駅 (JR Utsunomiya Line JU02, Keihin Tohoku Line JK30, Yamanote Line JY05 Joban Line JJ01 and Tokyo Metro Ginza Line G16, Hibiya Line H17, Keisei Main Line KS01)
Access from Shinjuku Station
【Shinjuku Sta.】JR Yamanote Line / for Ikebukuro
→【Ueno Sta.】from the Park Exit → about a 1-minute walk
Access from Tokyo Station
【Tokyo Sta.】JR Yamanote Line / for Ueno
→【Ueno Sta.】from the Park Exit → about a 1-minute walk
Access from Narita Airport
【Narita Airport Sta.】Keisei Limited Express Line / for Keisei Ueno
→【Keisei Ueno Sta.】from the Main Exit → about a 5-minute walk
Access from Haneda Airport
【Haneda Airport Sta.】Tokyo Monorail / for Hamamatsucho
→【Hamamatsucho Sta.】Keihin Tohoku Express Line / for Minami-urawa
→【Ueno Sta.】from the Park Exit → about a 1-minute walk
5-20, Uenokoen, Taito-ku, Tokyo
5:00a.m. - 11:00p.m.