Ueno Park Walking Tour, Tokyo

Ueno Park Walking Tour (Self Guided), Tokyo

Ueno Park, found next to the Ueno subway station in Tokyo, is a sprawling urban oasis. Home to more than 1,000 cherry trees, each year during the cherry blossom season (between late March and early April) it becomes a site of pilgrimage equally popular with locals and tourists.

One of the prominent landmarks within the park is the Saigo Takamori Statue, which pays tribute to the legendary samurai who played a significant role in Japan's history. Nearby, you can explore the Kiyomizu Kannon Temple, known for its serene atmosphere and beautiful architecture.

Art enthusiasts will find Ueno Park to be a treasure trove with attractions like the Ueno Royal Museum, The National Museum of Western Art, the Tokyo National Museum, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. These institutions house impressive collections of art spanning various genres and time periods.

For those interested in science and natural history, the National Science Museum of Japan is a fascinating destination. It features a wide range of exhibitions and interactive displays that make learning about the natural world engaging and informative.

Families and animal lovers can enjoy a visit to the Ueno Zoo, which houses a diverse collection of animals from around the world. The zoo offers an educational and entertaining experience for visitors of all ages.

Meanwhile, history buffs can explore the Kanei-ji Temple Pagoda, Tosho-gu Shrine, and Ueno Daibutsu, all of which have historical and cultural significance. Additionally, the Shinobazu-no-ike Bentendo Temple and Shinobazu Pond offer picturesque scenery and a tranquil escape from the bustling city.

To delve deeper into Tokyo's history and culture, don't miss the Shitamachi Museum, which provides insights into the traditional way of life in old Tokyo.

A diverse and culturally rich destination such as Ueno Park caters to a wide range of interests. So, why wait? Make Ueno Park your next destination in Tokyo, and embark on a memorable journey through history, art, and nature in one of the city's most iconic locations.
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Ueno Park Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Ueno Park Walking Tour
Guide Location: Japan » Tokyo (See other walking tours in Tokyo)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Saigo Takamori Statue
  • Kiyomizu Kannon Temple
  • Ueno Royal Museum
  • The National Museum of Western Art
  • National Science Museum of Japan
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
  • Ueno Zoo
  • Kanei ji Temple Pagoda
  • Tosho-gu Shrine
  • Ueno Daibutsu
  • Shinobazu-no-ike Bentendo Temple
  • Shinobazu Pond
  • Shitamachi Museum
Saigo Takamori Statue

1) Saigo Takamori Statue

The Saigo Takamori Statue is a bronze monument honoring a prominent figure in Japanese history, revered as the final great Samurai. This statue portrays Saigo Takamori dressed in hunting attire, with his loyal dog by his side. Saigo Takamori hailed from the Kagoshima Prefecture and held a key role as a commander of the imperial forces during the events that led to the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1864. This pivotal moment marked the beginning of the Meiji Restoration.

Following the Shogunate's defeat, the newly established government initiated measures to diminish the influence of the Samurai class. In response, Saigo organized a significant rebellion, during which a small group of samurai confronted the well-equipped forces of the central government. Unfortunately, the samurai were defeated in this conflict, leading Saigo to perform Seppukku, a Japanese ritual suicide.

Despite the defeat of his movement, Saigo Takamori remained a hero in the eyes of the people, and the government eventually pardoned him, erecting his bronze statue in 1898. In 2003, his story gained renewed attention through the film "The Last Samurai," which immortalized his legacy.

The bronze statue of Saigo Takamori stands proudly in Ueno Park, symbolizing the location where he engaged in his most notable battle, the Battle of Ueno. Even today, he continues to be admired by the Japanese populace as the ultimate embodiment of the cherished values of traditional Japan, representing the last great Samurai.
Kiyomizu Kannon Temple

2) Kiyomizu Kannon Temple

Tokyo's oldest temple is Kiyomizu Kannon Temple. Built in 1632, is one of the few surviving structures from the Kan'ei-ji temple. Most of the other buildings were destroyed in 1868 during the Battle of Ueno. It was only five years later that the area surrounding Kiyomizu Kannon was established as a public park.

Today, the park that is home to Kiyomizu Kannon is called Ueno Park. The park includes museums, public art, a Shinto shrine, a mausoleum and a monument to United States President Ulysses S. Grant.

The Ueno Zoo is a popular feature of the park. It is home to animals like the aye-aye, giant panda, two-toed sloth and the sumatran tiger.

Visitors to Kiyomizu Kannon Temple can spend a full day at the park seeing these and many other highlights. However, it is argued that the most notable structure in the park is the temple itself.

The main temple has a platform that looks over the pine tree of a moon, which is a pine tree that has grown into a circular shape. It also has an enshrined image of Kosodate Kannon, who is the protectress of child-bearing. Women wishing to become pregnant can buy charms near the temple hoping to aid in their quest.
Ueno Royal Museum

3) Ueno Royal Museum

The Ueno Royal Museum was formerly the Japan Art Association Museum. It houses Japanese art work collected by the first Japanese art association and also hosts temporary exhibitions from around the world.

The Ueno Royal Museum was opened for public viewing in 1972. The Japan Art Association was founded in 1879. Its aim was to promote art and artists from around the country. The organization maintains the museum and is headed by Prince Hitachinomiya, the younger brother of Emperor Akihito. It has hosted several exhibitions of historic and contemporary Japanese artists. It was renovated extensively in 1992 and a new gallery was inaugurated in 2006. It has display halls of different sizes where large and small exhibitions are periodically held.

The Ueno Royal Museum has an art school that helps young artists develop their skills. The school hosts lectures by leading artists for the benefit of students and teaches them art techniques, color applications and other art related concepts. In 1989 a separate space was dedicated for the interaction of artists called the Meeting of Friends. Field sketch meetings, lectures by prominent artists and seminars are held here. Art fairs are also held at the museum all through the year. It also hosts a nationwide competition called the Ueno Royal Museum Competition.
The National Museum of Western Art

4) The National Museum of Western Art

The National Museum of Western Art was established to provide the Japanese an opportunity to appreciate art from the West. It is the only museum in Japan that is wholly devoted to displaying works of European masters.

The National Museum of Western Art was the result of a vision of the Kawasaki shipping magnate and art collector, Matsukata Kojiro. He was not only a collector of art but a personal friend of western artists like Claude Monet. It was his dream to establish a museum in his country to encourage the appreciation of western art. The building was designed by the French architect, Le Corbusier. The Matsukata collection formed its initial permanent exhibits. It was opened for public viewing in 1959.

The National Museum of Western Art has 4500 paintings and sculpture by major European artists from the 14th to the 20th century. The main hall has works from the 14th to the 18th century including works by Veronese and Reubens portraying Christian imagery. The new wing has paintings by 19th and 20th century artists like Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and Picasso. The drawing collection includes sketches by Boucher, Moreau, Rodin and Cezanne and there is an impressive collection of prints by artists from the 15th century to the 20th century.
National Science Museum of Japan

5) National Science Museum of Japan

The National Science Museum in Tokyo stands as Japan's sole museum under national administration, doubling as a research institution focusing on natural history and the history of science and technology.

Originally established in 1871, it is situated in the northeastern corner of Ueno Park. Its inception dates back to the Ministry of Education Museum and later underwent name changes, transitioning from the Tokyo Museum to the Tokyo Science Museum, eventually adopting the moniker of the National Science Museum of Japan. Since 2007, the official designation has been the National Museum of Nature and Science.

Following a recent renovation, the museum now boasts an extensive collection of natural history exhibits and engaging presentations on science and technology. It also delves into the scientific advancements in Japan prior to the Meiji era. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by well-preserved artifacts such as a steam locomotive and a life-sized model of a blue whale. The museum comprises two buildings, with the newer one housing dinosaur skeletons and a showcase on the diverse marine life.

Interactive scientific displays are available, including a room with tilted floors and mirrors designed to illustrate spatial perception. The third floor resembles a lifelike woodland environment adorned with stuffed animals, encouraging children to engage with the exhibits. Meanwhile, the older building focuses on Japan's indigenous flora and fauna, offering insights into the stages of evolution. Overall, the museum provides both recreational and educational activities suitable for children of all ages and their accompanying parents.
Tokyo National Museum

6) Tokyo National Museum (must see)

The Tokyo National Museum holds the distinction of being Japan's oldest and largest repository of art and culture. Beyond its role as a place for education and research, the museum houses an extensive collection of books and documents focusing on Asian art, with a particular emphasis on Japanese art and archaeology.

The origins of the Tokyo National Museum date back to 1872 when it began as a 20-day exhibition held within the Taiseiden Hall, which was once a Confucian Temple. This exhibition was organized by the Museum Bureau of the Ministry of Education and featured objects that would eventually form the foundation of the museum's permanent collection. Following the exhibition, the collection was relocated first to Uchiyamashita Cho and later to its current permanent building within Ueno Park.

Today, the Tokyo National Museum comprises five distinct buildings. The Honkan, housing the Japanese Gallery, is a significant cultural property of Japan, designed by Watanabe Jin. Inside its 24 rooms, visitors can explore Japanese artifacts spanning from 10,000 BC to the 19th century. The Tokoyan building showcases exhibits from various parts of Asia across 10 rooms and seven regional levels. The Hyokeikan, established in 1909, serves as a venue for events and temporary exhibitions. The Heiseikan features an extensive collection of Japanese archaeological objects, while the Horyu Ji Homotsukan houses treasures donated by Horyu Ji to the imperial household. Notably, the museum is home to more than 87 Japanese National Treasure holdings and 610 Important Cultural Property holdings.

Why You Should Visit:
Takes you through Japan's history and culture; very affordable, comprehensive and well displayed, with English explanations but the audio guide is also very useful.
The museum is located within the grounds of Ueno Park – a beautiful park especially during Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season or in autumn.
Amazing selection of gorgeous and interesting goodies in the gift shop, too.

Take a 100 yen coin for the lockers (you will get it back!).
Taking pictures is allowed with the exception of some pieces that will be marked with "no photos allowed".
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

7) Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

Established in 1926, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park was originally known as the Tokyo Prefectural Art Museum. It changed its name in 1943 when Tokyo became a metropolitan prefecture.

Designed by modernist architect Kunio Maekawa, the museum's current building, constructed in 1975, is celebrated for its avant-garde design harmoniously integrated with Ueno Park's green surroundings.

Initially criticized for its lack of a permanent collection, the museum started amassing art in the 1970s. It currently houses a diverse range of artworks, including twentieth-century sculptures and Japanese calligraphy pieces.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is renowned for hosting high-profile temporary exhibitions, featuring artists like Tarō Okamoto, Isamu Noguchi, Edvard Munch, and Tsuguharu Foujita. It also showcases international art from renowned museums such as The Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The museum holds around 280 exhibitions annually, including blockbuster shows and thematic exhibitions featuring both established and emerging Japanese artists through initiatives like the Ueno Artist Project.
Ueno Zoo

8) Ueno Zoo

The Ueno Zoo, Japan's oldest zoological park, spans an area of 35.2 acres and is home to more than 2600 animals. It was established back in 1882, initially featuring traditional cages to house a variety of species. However, it has undergone significant changes over the years, transitioning to a more natural layout where animals inhabit habitats resembling their original environments. The zoo has also actively acquired species from abroad, making it both an educational and recreational destination for Tokyo locals and visitors alike.

Notably, from 1972 to 2008, the zoo hosted giant pandas, drawing in a considerable number of Japanese and international visitors. Today, it boasts attractions like the gorilla woods and a tiger forest. The mammal house exhibits a range of unique nocturnal species, while the Vivarium showcases a diverse collection of reptiles and amphibians.

Within the park, the Shinobazu Pond stands out as a unique habitat, providing a refuge for the endangered native Japanese cormorant. Additionally, there is a designated petting area where young children can interact with goats and other farm animals, adding to the zoo's appeal.

Beyond its animal attractions, the Ueno Zoo also offers visitors the chance to explore two historic buildings. The first is the five-story Kan’ei ji pagoda, the sole surviving remnant of the once-thriving Kan’ei ji temple. The second is the stone Tea Ceremony House, which served as a place of entertainment for the ruling classes during the Tokugawa Shogunate era.
Kanei ji Temple Pagoda

9) Kanei ji Temple Pagoda

The Kanei Ji Temple pagoda used to be part of one of the two burial temples in Tokyo. However, during the battle of Ueno, Tokugawa was defeated by the imperial forces, which led to the Meiji restoration. As a result, the temple was destroyed, and only the pagoda remains standing.

This temple, along with its pagoda, was constructed in 1625 by the monk Tenkai. Its name comes from the Kan’ei era when it was built, and the land for the temple was donated by the second Shogun, Hidetada. The primary purpose of the five-story pagoda was to protect Edo Castle from malevolent spirits. At its zenith, the temple complex was quite prosperous and influential, comprising more than 30 buildings. It served as the main place of worship and was the final resting place for the Tokugawa family members, starting from the fourth shogun, with six of the 15 shoguns buried in its cemetery.

Today, the five-story pagoda stands within Ueno Zoo, serving as a reminder of the once-thriving temple. From its top, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the city. The four Buddha statues that were housed in the pagoda have been relocated to the Tokyo National Museum. While the nearby Tokugawa cemetery is not accessible to the public, it can still be observed from the street.
Tosho-gu Shrine

10) Tosho-gu Shrine

The Tosho Gu Shrine is a sacred site dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the inaugural shogun who established the city of Tokyo. It stands out as one of the few remaining structures within the city that has retained its original form.

The shrine was originally constructed by a warrior named Todo Takatora, who served as a loyal retainer to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Over time, it underwent significant expansions, with contributions from Hidetada, Ieyasu's son, and later a redesign by Iemitsu, Ieyasu's grandson. This redesign introduced opulent decorations that adorn the shrine's buildings. Within the complex, there are more than 12 Buddhist and Shinto structures, including the final resting places of Tokugawa Ieyasu, as well as two other influential figures, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Minamoto Yoritomo.

One of the prominent features of the shrine is the Karamon, the main gate, characterized by its Chinese architectural style and embellished with gilded carvings depicting birds and flowers. The Haiden serves as the central hall for conducting various ceremonies, and it is enclosed by a 170-meter-long intricately carved wooden wall known as the Mizu Gaki. As visitors approach the shrine, they are greeted by a pathway adorned with 50 sizable copper lanterns and substantial stone lanterns. The shrine also boasts a collection of exquisite paintings, including murals created by the Edo artist Kano Tan Yu.

Following the Meiji Restoration, a park was designed around the Tosho Gu Shrine, serving as a protective barrier against the frequent fires that plagued Tokyo. Visitors to the shrine have the opportunity to purchase good luck charms, believed to bestow good health and prosperity upon their possessors.
Ueno Daibutsu

11) Ueno Daibutsu

Once part of a colossal (approximately 6 meters in height) bronze statue of seated Shaka (or Shakyamuni) Nyorai, Ueno Daibutsu is only its face that remains. Perched on the hill of Mount Daibutsu, adjacent to Ueno Seiyōken, the iconic image is surrounded by a pagoda-style prayer tower dedicated to Yakushi Buddha and a shrine.

The history of Ueno Daibutsu is marked by numerous disasters. Originally erected in 1631 (during the early Edo period), it sustained multiple damage and subsequently underwent restorations after the 1640 earthquake, a fire in 1841, and then another earthquake in 1855.

The statue maintained its integrity until a disaster struck again during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, causing its head to topple. Sadly, in the aftermath of the earthquake, a significant portion of the statue was melted down for reuse during World War II as metal donations became necessary. The head and torso, saved after the quake, were stored at Kanei-ji Temple in Ueno with the hope of future reconstruction.

In 1972, the face was put on display at its original location. Since the early 2000s, students preparing for exams have been coming here to pray in front of the face, which they say brings success. Consequently, it has earned the nickname "Great Buddha of Success" Additionally, it is also affectionately referred to as the "Qualified Buddha" because the relief on its face is "non-falling," a homonym with the Japanese word "non-failing," signifying the hope of passing exams.
Shinobazu-no-ike Bentendo Temple

12) Shinobazu-no-ike Bentendo Temple

The goddess Benzaiten is honored by the Shinobazu-no-ike Bentendo Temple in Ueno Park. This Buddhist temple stands on an island in Shinobazu Pond.

Benzaiten was the only female among Japan's Seven Lucky Gods. As a river goddess, her temples are almost exclusively built near water. She is also the goddess of dance, music, wealth, wisdom and words.

Shinobazu-no-ike Bentendo Temple was once part of the Kan'ei-ji Temple, which was destroyed during the Battle of Ueno in 1868. Few of the structures that were part of that complex were able to survive, which makes Shinobazu-no-ike Bentendo Temple even more unique.

This temple was constructed in 1625 by a Buddhist monk, Tenkai. It was inspired by Enryakuji, a Buddhist temple near Kyoto. Tenkai ordered the planting of lotuses, the Buddhist symbol of purity, which continue to grow in the nearby Lotus Pond today.

Near the temple are a number of stone statues. The Biwa is a lute-shaped instrument that represents Benzaiten. Ugaijin, the god with the head of a man and a body of a serpent, is the god of harvests and fertility.

Visitors to Ueno Park will find plenty of sites to see. They may want to plan an entire day or even two full days exploring the park. Those who are short on time should make sure they find their way to the Shinobazu-no-ike Bentendo Temple so they may honor Benzaiten.
Shinobazu Pond

13) Shinobazu Pond

Shinobazu Pond, situated within Tokyo's Ueno Park, is a natural body of water that originated around 1800 years ago as a lagoon lake connected to Tokyo Bay. The local community named this pond Shinobazu Pond during the 15th century. It can be found in the southwestern part of the park and boasts a circumference of approximately 2 kilometers with a surface area spanning 1,100,000 square meters.

This pond is divided into three distinct sections. The first is known as the Lotus Pond, which, during the summer, becomes completely adorned with lush Lotus plants and vibrant flowers. The second section is the Boat Pond, where park visitors have the opportunity to rent rowing boats and swan pedal boats for a leisurely excursion around the pond. Lastly, there's the Cormorant Pond, an extension of the Ueno Zoo, serving as a natural habitat for native Japanese cormorants.

Within Shinobazu Pond, there exists a man-made island, housing a shrine dedicated to Benzaiten, the Goddess of learning, music, and arts. This pond is not only a serene environment but also a thriving ecosystem, home to various fauna including tufted ducks, pochards, black-headed gulls, and northern pintails. It also hosts a diverse range of fish species, and more recently, alligator snapping turtles have been observed breeding in the pond.

Additionally, there is a waterside music hall where concerts and various events are held throughout the year, adding to the cultural and recreational appeal of Shinobazu Pond.
Shitamachi Museum

14) Shitamachi Museum

The Shitamachi Museum provides a glimpse into the lives of working-class Japanese people living in Tokyo during the 1920s and 30s, a period just before World War II. Its primary aim is to preserve a way of life that has largely disappeared in modern times. Shitamachi was an area situated in the vicinity of Edo Castle, characterized by its small wooden tenements where merchants, craftsmen, sailors, and fishermen resided. Today, Asakusa is the only remaining area that still retains some semblance of the Shitamachi lifestyle.

This museum offers an authentic representation of life and the culture of old Edo, showcasing original exhibits donated by former residents. It was first opened to the public in 1980 and consists of two levels. As you enter, you'll encounter a replica of a merchant's house, where wooden clogs known as Geta were crafted and sold. Additionally, there's a hand-pulled cart or rickshaw, which was a common mode of transportation in old Edo. Nearby, you'll find an old tenement shared by two families who operated shops. Adjacent to the house, there's a well and a washing board reminiscent of those used in old Edo.

On the second floor, you'll discover individual exhibits, including toys, artifacts, kitchen utensils, board games, and various pots and pans used during festivals. One notable exhibit is the entrance to a Japanese public bath known as the Sento, generously donated by its original owner.

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