When you have limited time to spend in Tokyo, but want to see a wide variety of things, Ueno Park is a great option. Ueno Park is the largest public park, located in the north east part of central Tokyo. The park grounds have a rich history; the grounds used to be part of the Kaneiji Temple (Tokyo’s largest and wealthiest temples) and during the Boshin War the battles were fought on the grounds.
After the war, the park was opened to the public and since has been a very popular to-go place for both locals and tourist. Several museums are located within the park, as well as several shrines and temples and even a zoo. In addition, the park houses over 1,000 sakura trees, making it a popular spot for hanami. We have developed a route for you that leads you along some of the most interesting and/or beautiful spots in the park. Let’s check out the main places to visit!
When you are interested in learning more about the locations, Japanse culture and history, we recommend you discover the area with a guide. We are happy to customise a tour for you, showing you the sights you want to discover! Read more about our private tours!
1. The statue of Saigo Takamori
When you enter the park from the south and make your way up to the two stairs, you will see a very prominent statue on your right hand side. This is the statue of the famous Saigo Takamori, one of the most influential samurai in all of Japan. Takamori was one of the commanders leading the Meiji Restoration in 1868. After a growing discontent with the government, he once more led an army of former samurai in his final battle. Perhaps this story sounds familiar? He was the inspiration of the filmmakers of The Last Samurai!
2. Kiyomizu Kannondo Temple
When you continue your way straight, passing the tomb of the Shogitai Warriors (behind the statue of Saigo) on your right, you will soon see the Kiyomizu Kannondo Temple on your left hand hand side. This temple is one of the most patronised temples of the park Women who wish to conceive children leave a doll here for the 1000-armed goddess Senju Kannon. Or when their wish is fulfilled, women come back to pray for good health and protection.
Many say that Kannon-do Temple resembles the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto! What do you think?
When you stand on the wooden observation deck and look to the right, you will see Tsuki no Matsu, which translates as pine tree of the moon. Look right through it and you will have a great view of Bentendo Temple. This temple was built in the middle of the Shinobazu Pond and enshrines the goddess Benzaiten, he only female member of Japan’s seven lucky gods and the goddess of all things that flow such as luck, wisdom and wealth.
3. Hanazono Inari Shrine
Probably you know the Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, with its famous vermillion torii gates. But did you know, there is also a smaller version of it located in Tokyo? When you make your way down from Kannondo Temple and turn to the right, you will soon see some iconic red torii gates on your left. These belong to the Hanazono Inari Shrine, one of the estimated 30,000 shrines dedicated to the rice kami Inari. The torii gates, that symbolise the path from earth to heaven, were donated by businesses to the shrine. This shrine is also associated with good relationships, both business and private.
4. Sakura-dari street
When find yourself in Tokyo at the end of March/beginning of April, you are in luck! For two weeks, the 1,000 sakura trees will be in full blossom, showing its beautiful colours. There are various kinds of Sakura in Ueno Park, ranging from the early blooming Oh-kanzakura and Kanhizakura to the Shidarezakura and Someiyoshino–Sakura. Ueno Park is one of the most popular places to go for hanami, with Sakura-dori street as it highlight.
4. Bells of Time
Since the Edo Period, people were informed of the time by the bells of time or Toki no Kane. The bell timing system ensured that every day, at exactly 6am, noon and a final time at 6pm, the bell is sounding. Present day, the bell still rings, so when you find yourself at 12pm in Ueno Park, see if you hear the bell sound.
5. Toshogu Shrine
Toshogu Shrine is a shinto shrine that was built and dedicated in 1627 to the memory of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Edo-Shogunate. What makes this shrine very special is the fact that it is still there in old original form. It has survived many earthquakes, fire-bombings and even the Ueno War, that was taking place around it. Perhaps the reason for being still in existence it that is was built on a hill, or maybe because of its construction.
You will be greeted with a facade of gold as you walk towards the shrine and make sure you have a close look at the beautiful creatures that are carved, representing power and resurrection. On both sides of the road you will see many lanterns, a gift from the daimyo when they were employed by the shogun.
6. Ueno Zoo
Opened in 1882, Ueno Zoo is Japan’s oldest zoo and home to some 2,600 animals, including the panda Xiang Xiang, who became instantly famous after being born in 2017. For only ¥600 you can enter the soo and meet the cute giant panda!
7. Museums of Ueno Park
Ueno Park is famous for the many museums that are located on the park grounds. With a good variety they cater to all tastes, and are definitely worth a visit. For those who’d love to learn more about Japanese art and culture, Tokyo National Museum or TNM is an absolute must-go-place.
Tip: at the north exit of the park, you’ll find the art gallery Geidai Art Plaza. Here you can buy arty souvenirs and quietly enjoy a cup coffee on the terrace.
These are just some of the many great options, Ueno Park has to offer. As we said before, when you are limited in your time, but also if you are looking for something to do, Ueno Park is a great option. It features many different interesting locations and you can discover several aspects of the Japanese culture and history.
What is your favourite spot in Ueno Park? Tag us on Instagram or let us know in the comments below!