History of Ueno Zoo: The Oldest Zoo in Japan
7 Popular Animal Exhibits in Ueno Zoo
Not just Animals! Also in Ueno Zoo...
Events
Apps and Guides for Ueno Zoo
Access
Nearby

Ueno Zoo in Tokyo is an animal haven with the highest annual visitor count in Japan, and is widely known as being home to the beloved giant pandas. With the birth of the baby panda Xiang-Xiang in 2017, the popularity of both Ueno Zoo and the pandas surged once again, and seems to never slow down!

When Xiang-Xiang was introduced to the public, many tourists flocked from all around Japan to get one look at the baby panda. In September 8th 2020, the "Panda Forest" facility also opened up as a new home for the pandas.

That being said, Ueno Zoo isn't all about the pandas. The spacious premises are split into an east zone and west zone, and both are equally packed with things to see. This article is your guide to all you need to know about Ueno Zoo, including the zoo's history, animals, and nearby attractions.

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Parks & Playgrounds

History of Ueno Zoo: The Oldest Zoo in Japan

The Beginnings of Ueno Zoo


Ueno Zoo's old main entrance

Founded in 1882, Ueno Zoological Gardens (referred from hereon as Ueno Zoo) is Japan’s oldest zoo. At the time, it was a zoological facility built to supplement Ueno Park’s museum. A few years after its opening, Ueno Zoo began displaying imported animals such as tigers and elephants, along with animals gifted by overseas royalty.

In 1924, alongside the Imperial prince's marriage, Ueno Park and Ueno Zoo were granted to the City of Tokyo. Ueno Zoo’s abundance of rare animals helped it grow into a popular recreational spot for citizens. To this day, Ueno Zoo maintains its popularity, as it boasts the highest number of annual visitors among all of Japan’s zoos.

From World War II and on


Ueno Zoo in 1969

Ueno Zoo experienced a mournful occasion during the Second World War. Odachi Shigeo, the administrator of Tokyo at the time, ordered for the killing of all large wild animals in the zoo. He feared the scenario of Ueno Zoo's cages being damaged by the bombings, allowing animals to run loose in the city. Large animals such as bears, hippopotamuses and lions were poisoned, asphyxiated or starved to death. After the war, a memorial for these animals was placed in the park as a reminder to the tragedy.

China Donates a Giant Panda to Ueno Zoo


The giant panda of Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo is most well known for its giant pandas. The first pandas to arrive in Ueno Zoo, Kan Kan and Lan Lan, arrived in 1972, and were met with awe by people from all over Japan. After the pandas’ arrivals, the zoo experienced a surge in visitor count, with over 7 million people flooding in annually to see the giant cuddly creatures (for comparison: the annual visitor count in 2016 was a little less than 4 million).

The “Zoo Stock” Project


The pygmy hippopotamus, a species protected at Ueno Zoo

With its 100-year anniversary in 1982, Ueno Zoo underwent a significant expansion, becoming four times larger than the time of its opening. At the same time, Ueno Zoo started the “Zoo Stock” project, that aims for the preservation and breeding of endangered animals (such as the panda, aye-aye and pygmy hippopotamus) in the park. To this day, Ueno Zoo is continuing the “Zoo Stock” project which has steadily made advances in the preservation of these species.

7 Popular Animals in Ueno Zoo

Here are some of Ueno Zoo's most popular animal exhibits!

The Giant Panda House


The giant pandas are the stars of Ueno Zoo!

The Giant Panda House of Ueno Zoo's most popular exhibit, and houses three pandas as of September 2020. The three are Shin-Shin, Ri-Ri, and Xiang-Xiang, the lattermost of which was born in June of 2017, calling for another nationwide boom in panda popularity.

As a part of the Zoo Stock Project, Ueno Zoo is engaged in the preservation of giant pandas in collaboration in zoological organizations around the world, such as the Zoos of Beijing and San Diego. Ueno Zoo is also active in promoting panda reproduction, and was the first zoo to successfully produce a baby panda in Japan. Currently, there are only 3 zoos with panda exhibits in Japan, so put the Panda House on your list if you plan on visiting Ueno Zoo!

The "Panda Forest" Opens in 2020, Giving a New Living Space to the Pandas

The "Panda Forest" (Panda-no-Mori) opened on September 8th 2020, as a brand-new nurturing facility for the giant pandas and other endemic animals of their natural habitat. This facility is built meticulously to cater to the needs of giant pandas, and living experience of their natural habitats.
The name of the facility was chosen by public survey in February of 2020, that took place within Ueno Zoo. "Panda-no-Mori" in Japanese holds a double-meaning, implying both the Panda's natural "forest", and the "protection" of their endangered species.

Japanese Animals


A Japanese Serow

In this exhibit, you can find animals native to Japan. Animals such as the Japanese Serow (a fluffy, goat-like antelope) and Lidth’s Jay (a jay with vibrant blue and purple feathers) are displayed in this area. This is a great opportunity to get to know Japan’s native animals before returning to your home country.

Gorilla Woods, Tiger Forest, Elephant Forest, Aye-aye Forest and Bear Hill


Gorilla Woods

In these areas, you can see these respective animals in a habitat close to their natural ones. Many of them are endangered species, yet Ueno Zoo has managed to collect and import them from other zoos in the world (no worries, they are in good hands and are cared for through the “Zoo Stock” plan). The aye-aye, in particular, is imported from Madagascar, and is an extremely rare and endangered species. Ueno Zoo is the only Japanese zoo with aye-ayes, so make sure you don’t miss your chance!

Polar Bear and Seal Ocean


A polar bear

Ueno Zoo is home to large sea mammals as well! In this exhibit, you can witness polar bears swimming as they would in the ocean through the glass window display. Seals, sea lions and other sea animals that live in similar habitats are also shown in this exhibit.

Vivarium


A Galapagos tortoise

The Vivarium is a special area displaying reptiles and amphibians. With a special environment created to replicate the natural habitat of amphibians and reptiles, you can catch a glimpse of how these creatures live in the wild. In the vivarium, you can find animals as large as the Galapagos Tortoise (measuring over 200 kilograms) and as small as the Poison Dart Frog (measuring less than 3cm and known for its vivid color).

Small Mammal House


A prairie dog

Inside the Small Mammal House, there await numerous small mammals like the Prairie Dog and meerkat. Many nocturnal creatures also reside here, such as the Ryukyu flying fox and the Senegal bush baby. The underground exhibit of the Small Mammal House is dark even during the day to imitate the nocturnal animals’ environments.

Petting Zoo


A capybara

The Petting Zoo, known as the Kodomo Doubutsuen or “Kid’s Zoo” in Japanese, is a popular zone for children. Here, children can interact with familiar animals like goats, and also with more uncommon creatures like capybaras (the largest rodent in the world). This is a great opportunity to get up close with interesting animals by petting and feeding them.

Not just Animals! Also in Ueno Zoo...

Shinobazu Pond


Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Zoo

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 West Garden, and is a natural pond. In the pond you can find many species of birds, such as cranes and pelicans. By the pond is a historical Temple of the god Benten, and a boat dock, giving Shinobazu Pond a variety of experiences that go beyond animal-watching.

Kyu Kanei-ji Five-Storied Pagoda


The five-story pagoda, one of Ueno Zoo's symbols

There is a five-storied pagoda inside the zoo, named the Kyu Kanei-ji Goju no Tou. Designated as an Important Cultural Property, this impressive work of architecture stands from 1639, during the Tokugawa Shogunate’s rule. The whole of Ueno Park used to be property of Kanei-ji Temple, which is currently located a bit outside of the park. Many buildings and memorials, such as this one, still remain in the park. The tower can be found in the East Garden.

Events at Ueno Zoo

Spring Break Event (Mar. - Apr.)


Ueno Zoo during the spring

Ueno Zoo hosts an annual Spring Break Event. Although the events are hosted in Japanese and geared towards locals, it still is worth going to as a foreign tourist since the events are very much enjoyable. The events vary every year, and some examples from the past are special animal feedings (like the snow monkey and the Asian black bear) and an orchestra in the zoo. The events are usually on the last week of March to the first few days of April.

Summer Nights at the Zoo (Aug.)

During this special weeklong event, Ueno Zoo is open for an extra three hours (closing at 8p.m.) You can get an exclusive look at how animals behave at night. Even better, you can avoid the sweltering heat and humidity by going later in the evening! This event usually lasts for one week in mid August.

Ueno Zoo Winter (Dec.)

Annually, there are some events during Christmas and the New Years at Ueno Zoo, with some variations every year. During the Christmas event, the staff dress in Santa Claus outfits and give out special snacks to feed the animals. For the New Years Event, the animal according to the year of the Chinese Zodiac is given the spotlight (for example, sheep for 2015).

Apps and Guides to Enhance your Ueno Zoo Experience

Tokyo Parks Navi

Ueno Zoo’s official app, the Tokyo Parks Navi, is a free app with thorough descriptions of each of the exhibits. Those with Androids can use the special “Tag” feature, where you use your phone and “tag” it to the designated part on the animal description board. After doing so, the app will automatically play an audio guidance of the animal. The language settings available are English, Simplified Chinese and Korean.

Access to Ueno Zoo

Nearest stations
・Ueno Station 上野駅 (JR Lines JU02/JK30/JY05/JJ01, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line G16/Hibiya Line H17)
・Keisei Ueno Station 京成上野駅 (Keisei Main Line KS01)

Access from Shinjuku Station

【Shinjuku Sta.】JR Yamanote Line / for Ikebukuro
→【Ueno Sta.】from the Park Exit → about a 5-minute walk

Access from Tokyo Station

【Tokyo Sta.】JR Yamanote Line / for Ueno
→【Ueno Sta.】from the Park Exit → about a 5-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 10-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 5-minute walk

Nearby Destinations