[From October Issue 2012]
Ueno, located in Taito Ward, Tokyo, is a sight-seeing area the Japanese are well acquainted with. A five-minute train ride away from Tokyo Station, Ueno Station is a railway terminus at which a number of trains, including bullet trains stop at. A number of songs have been written about the fact that it has been the gateway to the Tohoku region for about 20 years.
Located right by Ueno Station, Ueno Onshi Koen (Ueno Park) is a spacious green park. Built at the suggestion of Anthonius Franciscus BAUDUIN, Holland’s surgeon general, at a time when the word “park” didn’t even exist in the national vocabulary, it was the first ever park in Japan. The park often appears on the news and on other TV programs as a place bustling with activity, with live broadcasts of events such as cherry-blossom viewing being shown. One of the most photographed spots in the park is a bronze statue of SAIGO Takamori, known to tourists as “Ueno no Saigo-san” (Mr. Saigo of Ueno). A historical Japanese figure, Saigo is typically depicted with a dog by his side.
In the park is a zoo, a shrine and a number of museums. The Tokyo National Museum houses 110,000 items ranging from archaeological documents to arts and crafts works, including 87 designated national treasures and 631 important cultural assets. The National Museum of Western Art contains the Matsukata collection and other art works dating from the late Middle Ages to the early 20th century. The National Science Museum is also known for its unique exhibits, such as its models of outer space and dinosaur skeletons, and is the only national science museum in Japan that covers all scientific disciplines. Because so many important cultural assets are on display, these national museums are well worth checking out.
The Ueno no Mori Museum (The Ueno Royal Museum) exhibits works donated by members of the public, and also holds special exhibitions to display items borrowed from art museums in other countries. At the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, internationally and domestically renowned performances of classical music, opera and ballet are held. On top of all of this, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, which opened in 1926, has just been reopened in April after two years of renovation work.
Opened in 1882, Ueno Zoo is the oldest zoo in Japan. Housing about 3,000 animals of 500 species, the zoo is famous for keeping rare animals and giant pandas. With its pond, rocks and bamboo groves, the renovated panda house is an environment that closely resembles the natural habitat of pandas. At “The Sea of Polar Bears and Seals,” you can watch seals and polar bears in action from every angle as they swim about the tank.
Passing by the children’s amusement park located opposite Ueno Zoo, you can see Ueno Toshogu Shrine in front of you. Designated as a national important cultural property, at Ueno Toshogu Shrine, TOKUGAWA Ieyasu, the founder of Tokugawa shogunate is worshiped as a god. Known as a good spot for viewing cherry blossoms in spring, and the changing colors of leaves in autumn, the shrine can get crowded, especially during the New Year holidays with tourists visiting the shrine for the first visit of the New Year, or with people coming to see peonies that bloom in winter. It also attracts those who pray for good luck or success in entrance examinations, as well as a number of people interested in Japanese architecture from abroad as an example of authentic Edo period architecture.
There are a number of famous spots inside the park, one of which is Shinobazu Pond. When an inlet of Tokyo Bay was reclaimed, part of it remained to form the pond. Two kilometers in circumference, the pond consists of three sections: U no Ike (the Cormorant Pond), Hasu Ike (the Lotus Pond), and the Boating Pond, which gets crowded with couples and families. In spring, cherry blossoms blooming around the pond are reflected in the water, and in summer lotus flowers, for which the pond is famous, bloom over its surface.
At the southern end of the park, beside Shinobazu Pond, you will find Suijo Ongaku-do (the Waterfront Concert Hall). There are various events held there according to the season, such as classical concerts in spring and Japanese drum performances in summer. Some concerts cost only 500 yen while other events can be enjoyed free of charge.
If you’re looking for a place to eat in Ueno Park, then Ueno Seiyoken and Ueno Inshotei, both have views out over Shinobazu Pond. Loved by Japan’s great literary figures, Ueno Seiyoken offers authentic French cuisine. Opened in 1875, Inshotei is a restaurant with a long history that serves kaiseki-ryouri (traditional Japanese cuisine consisting of a number of small dishes). Dishes are made using ingredients that vary according to the season.
Inside the park, there’s a traditional Japanese sweet shop called “Shin Uguisutei.” The shop opened in 1915, and the most popular item on its menu are delicious uguisu dango dumplings made from sweet red bean paste and pounded rice. There you can also enjoy seasonal sweets, such as shaved ice in summer and oshiruko (sweet red-bean soup with rice cake) in winter. For a light meal or to buy souvenirs, you can go to Ueno Green Salon, a cafe right next to the entrance of Ueno Park. Panda-themed merchandising and dishes are popular there.
The Shitamachi Fuzoku Shiryokan (Downtown Museum), located by the Shinobazu Pond, exhibits quite a few precious items that bring back memories of the good old days. Many houses collapsed during the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and in the war in 1945, but here you can see lost scenes from the Edo period. In addition, antique fairs, where old tools and coins are sold, are held regularly near the museum.
Besides the park, there are other popular tourist spots in Ueno.Walking from Ueno Station toward Okachimachi, you come to a shopping street called Ameya Yokocho. Also known as Ameyoko, the street is lined with more than 400 shops, and around the end of the year it gets crowded with customers stocking up on food for the New Year holidays. The shops carry not only domestically produced items, but also imported items, and are known for selling food products, such as fish and dried goods, clothing, jewelry and shoes. Known for its cheap prices, the shopping street is popular with tourists from abroad too.
Text: BOTAMOCHI Anko