Ueno Park Walking Tour (Self Guided), Tokyo

The Ueno Park, next to the Ueno station in Tokyo, is a public outdoor space equally popular with the locals and tourists. The park is home to more than 1,000 cherry trees, which makes it a site of pilgrimage during the cherry blossom season which usually falls upon late March and early April. Other attractions within the park include several museums, namely: the Tokyo National Museum, the National Science Museum and the National Museum of Western Art.

If you're keen on historic architecture, you will be pleased to discover the ancient Kanei ji Temple Pagoda, Tosho-gu Shrine and Shinobazu-no-ike Bentendo Temple on the park ground, too. This self-guided walking tour takes you to explore these and other notable sights that the Ueno Park has to offer.
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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
1
Saigo Takamori Statue

1) Saigo Takamori Statue

The Saigo Takamori Statue is a bronze statue of the man revered in Japan as the last of the great Samurais. It depicts Saigo Takomori in hunting attire with his faithful dog at his feet.

Saigo Takamori was a Samurai from the Kagoshima Prefecture who was a commander of the imperial forces and played a leading role in the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1864. The defeat of the Shogunate resulted in the Meiji Restoration. After the shogun defeat the new government began to reduce the powers of the Samurai and Saigo organized a historical rebellion where a small band of samurai fought the well equipped forces of the central government. The samurai were defeated and Saigo committed Seppukku or Japanese ritual suicide. Though his movement was vanquished, he was regarded as a hero by the people and the government pardoned him and erected his statue in 1898. In 2003, a movie called the last Samurai immortalized the story of Saigo Takamori.

The bronze statue of Saigo Takamori stands in Ueno Park in front of the place where he fought his most glorious battle, the Battle of Ueno. Today, he is still admired by the people as the last great Samurai who embodied all the values that traditional Japanese people admire.
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
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.
3
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.

Opening hours: Mon-Sun: 10am-5pm
4
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.

Opening hours: Tue-Sun: 9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
5
National Science Museum of Japan

5) National Science Museum of Japan

The National Science Museum in Tokyo is Japan’s only nationally administered museum. It is also a research facility and studies are conducted in the fields of natural history and the history of science and technology.

The National Science Museum was opened in 1871. It is located in the North East corner of Ueno Park. It began as the Ministry of Education Museum and later became the Tokyo Museum, the Tokyo Science Museum and later the National Science Museum of Japan. From 2007, the official name of the facility is the National Museum of Nature and Science.

The recently renovated museum has a vast collection of natural history exhibits and interactive science and technology presentations. Pre-Meiji scientific developments in Japan are also portrayed. Visitors are greeted by a beautifully preserved steam locomotive and a life sized blue whale. There are two buildings housing the collection. The new building has dinosaur skeletons and a display on the diversity of ocean life. There are interactive scientific displays including a room with tilted floors and mirrors to show how the sense of space works. The third floor resembles a real time wood with stuffed animals and children are encouraged to play with the exhibits. The old building showcases the flora and fauna of Japan and has an exhibit portraying the stages in the process of evolution. The entire museum offers both recreational and educational activities for children of all ages and their parents.

Opening hours: Tue-Sun: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Tokyo National Museum

6) Tokyo National Museum (must see)

The Tokyo National Museum is the oldest and the largest repository of art and culture in Japan. It is also an education and research facility and has many books and documents relating to Asian art with a special focus on Japanese art and archeology.

The Tokyo National Museum began as a 20-day exhibition in 1872 within the Taiseiden Hall, a former Confucian Temple. The show was held by the Museum Bureau of the Ministry of Education. The objects displayed, formed the initial permanent collection of what later became the Tokyo National Museum. After the exhibition, the collection was moved to Uchiyamashita Cho and later to its permanent building in Ueno Park.

The Tokyo National Museum today, has five buildings. The Honkan with the Japanese Gallery was designed by Watanabe Jin and is a designated an important cultural property of Japan. It has 24 rooms displaying Japanese artifacts from 10,000 BC till the 19th century. The Tokoyan houses exhibits from other parts of Asia in 10 rooms and seven regional levels. The Hyokeikan inaugurated in 1909 is used for events and temporary exhibitions, the Heiseikan has a vast collection of Japanese archeological objects and the Horyu Ji Homotsukan contains treasures donated by Horyu Ji to the imperial household. The Museum has over 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.

Tip:
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".

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9:30am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

7) Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

Established in 1926, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is focused on Japanese art. The Museum has two major exhibitions. The first one features contemporary artists and displays oil paintings, traditional-style Japanese paintings, sculptures, crafts, graphic designs, calligraphy and others. The second exposition is more special and is organized in cooperation with newspaper and TV companies in the Museum Gallery.
Opening hours: Tue-Sun: 9:30 – 17:30
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
Ueno Zoo

8) Ueno Zoo

The Ueno Zoo is the oldest zoological park in Japan. It covers an area of 35.2 acres and houses over 2600 animals.

The Ueno Zoo was established in 1882. At first it had old fashioned cages where a range of species were housed. Today it has changed the layout and animals live and roam in habitats resembling their original homes. The zoo has received many species from abroad to provide an educational and recreation space for locals and visitors to Tokyo. From 1972 to 2008, there were giant pandas that attracted both Japanese and international visitors. Today, it has gorilla woods and a tiger forest. The mammal house has many unique nocturnal species and the Vivarium has an array of reptile and amphibian species. The Shinobazu Pond within the park is a unique habitat for the rare endangered native Japanese cormorant. There is a petting area where small children are allowed to play with goats and other farm animals.

Visitors also come to the Ueno Zoo to view two historic buildings. One is the five storey Kan’ei ji pagoda, the last surviving part of the once prosperous Kan’ei ji temple and the stone Tea Ceremony House used during the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate as a place of entertainment for the ruling classes.
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
Kanei ji Temple Pagoda

9) Kanei ji Temple Pagoda

The Kanei Ji Temple pagoda was part of one of the two funerary temples in Tokyo. The temple was destroyed in the battle of Ueno where Tokugawa was defeated by the imperial forces resulting in the Meiji restoration and only the Pagoda remains.

The Kanei ji temple and pagoda were built by the monk Tenkai in 1625. It gets its name from the Kan’ei era when it was erected. The land was donated by the second Shogun, Hidetada and the five storey pagoda was constructed to ward off evil spirits from entering Edo Castle. At the time it was a prosperous and powerful temple with over 30 buildings within the complex. It was the chief place of worship and the burial place of the Tokugawa family from the time of the fourth shogun and six of the 15 shoguns were buried in its cemetery.

Today, the five story pagoda within the Ueno Zoo bears witness to the temple that once flourished here. The top of the Kan’ei ji Pagoda commands breathtaking views of the city. The four statues of the Buddha enshrined within it have been removed to the Tokyo National Museum. The nearby Tokugawa cemetery is closed to the public but can be viewed from the street.
Sight description based on wikipedia
10
Tosho-gu Shrine

10) Tosho-gu Shrine

The Tosho Gu Shrine is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun who founded the city of Tokyo. It is one of the few structures in the city that is preserved in its original state.

The Tosho Gu Shrine was built by a warrior, Todo Takatora who was a vassal of Tokugawa Ieyasu. It was later expanded by Hidetada, Ieyasu’s son and his grandson, Iemitsu redesigned the shrine and caused the lavish decorations that adorn the buildings within. It has over 12 Buddhist and Shinto buildings. It contains the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu and two other influential statesmen, Toytomi Hideyoshi and Minamoto Yoritomo.

The main gate is the Karamon which is a Chinese style structure with gilded carvings of birds and flowers. The Haiden is the main hall of the Tosho Gu Shrine where ceremonies are conducted. The hall is surrounded by a 170 meter long carved wooden wall called the Mizu Gaki. The path leading to the shrine is lined with 50 large copper lanterns and large stone lanterns. It contains some beautiful paintings including murals by the Edo artist, Kano Tan Yu. After the Meiji restoration, a park was designed around the Tosho Gu shrine. It proved to be a wind break that protected the structure from the many fires that ravaged Tokyo. Visitors can buy good luck charms near the shrine to bring them good health and prosperity.
Sight description based on wikipedia
11
Ueno Daibutsu

11) Ueno Daibutsu

Ueno Daibutsu (上野大仏) was an Edo-period giant seated statue of Shaka Nyorai in what is now Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan. Of bronze and dating to 1631, it was restored after earthquake damage in 1640, a fire in 1841, and again after the 1855 Edo earthquake. Heavily damaged during the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, when the head was toppled, much of its bulk was melted down for reuse during the Pacific War. In 1972 the face, stored in Kan'ei-ji, was put on display in its former location.
Sight description based on wikipedia
12
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.
13
Shinobazu Pond

13) Shinobazu Pond

The Shinobazu pond is a natural water body in Ueno Park, Tokyo. It was once a lagoon lake of Tokyo bay formed about 1800 years ago.

In the 15th century the pond in Ueno Park was named Shinobazu Pond by the locals. It is located on the south west of the park. It has a circumference of about 2 kilometers and a surface area of 1,100,000 square meters. There are three sections. One is called the Lotus pond and during summer, this section is completely covered with Lotus plants and flowers. The second section is the Boat pond. Visitors can rent rowing boats and swan pedal boats for a lazy ride around the pond. The third section is the Cormorant pond that is an extension of the Ueno Zoo. It is a natural habitat for native Japanese cormorants. There is a man-made island in the middle of Shinobazu Pond with a shrine dedicated to the Goddess of learning, music and arts, Benzaiten.

The Shinobazu Pond is home to a variety of fauna including tufted ducks, pochards, black headed gulls and northern pintails. It also has many species of fish. Recently alligator snapping turtles have started breeding in the pond. There is a waterside music hall where concerts and other events take place through the year.
Sight description based on wikipedia
14
Shitamachi Museum

14) Shitamachi Museum

The Shitamachi Museum showcases life of working class Japanese in Tokyo during the 1920s and 30s before World War II. It seeks to preserve a way of life that has all but disappeared today.

Shitamachi was the lower plain near Edo castle. Merchants, craftsmen, sailors and fisher folk lived in small wooden tenements in the location. Asakusa is the last remaining area that resembles the Shitamachi, today. The museum paints a realistic picture of life and the culture of old Edo through original exhibits donated by erstwhile residents. It was opened to the public in 1980.

The Shitamachi Museum has two levels. At the entrance is a replica of a house of a merchant who made and sold wooden clogs called Geta including a hand pulled cart or rickshaw used in old Edo. There is also an old tenement shared by two families who own shops. A well and washing board resembling the ones used in old Edo are found near the house. The second floor has individual exhibits including toys, artifacts, kitchen utensils, board games and pots and pans used during festivals. A notable exhibit is the entrance to a Japanese public bath called the Sento that was a donation by the original owner.

Opening hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 9:30am - 4:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia

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