Museums and cherry trees galore! These are what await you at Ueno Park. It offers a veritable smorgasbord of visual delights – art, architecture, nature – all rolled into one.
Ueno Park is a large park found at the Ueno section of Taito-ku in Tokyo. The park's official name is Ueno Onshi Koen, which means 'Ueno Imperial Gift Park'. An appropriate name, as this was established by an imperial land grant from Emperor Taisho. It officially opened in 1873 and is Tokyo's first public park.
At this park, you get to feast your eyes on the extensive collections housed at the Orient Museum, the Tokyo National Museum, the Tokyo National Science Museum, the Shitamachi Museum, and the National Museum of Western Art. Whew! That is quite a collection!
These museums offer some of the best collections of Japanese art and culture in Tokyo. Tokyo National Museum is Japan's premiere museum and houses art objects from the Jomon period until the 20th century. The National Museum of Western Art, as the name suggests, focuses on western art starting from the 15th century to the modern period. Its main draws are the art from the Matsukata Collection plus the original The Thinker by Rodin. The Tokyo National Science Museum, on the other hand, is a chockfull of displays covering natural science, technology, and the physical sciences. Children will enjoy getting their hands on the interactive exhibits available. The Shitamachi Museum, although small, offers highly fascinating displays of Ueno life in the early 20th century. You get to look at recreations of houses and shops plus a wide array of cultural artifacts.
It is also home to the Ueno Zoo, Japan's first and most popular zoo. It also offers the most extensive animal collection in the country, including the Sumatran tiger, the gorilla and the giant panda.
Ueno Park is also famous for its cherry trees, which number over a thousand. In fact, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, this is a celebration that greets the coming of the new season. This is also where crowds of locals come to relax and unwind.
Upon entering the south entrance of the park, you will see Saigo Takamori's statue, who figured prominently during the late Edo and early Meiji periods. He was instrumental in the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The statue depicts Takamori walking his dog.
Further on, you will find the Toshogu Shrine, built in honor of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was responsible for establishing Tokyo as the country's capital. Tokugawa Ieyasu also founded the Edo shogunate, which wielded its power over Japan from 1603 to 1867. Large stone lanterns line the path towards the shrine and add to its fascination.
Nearby, you will find the Kiyomizu Kannondo Temple, which houses a secret image that is only shown in February. The tranquil Shinobazu Pond also perfectly complements the cherry trees that abound in the park. Its waters are filled with lilies and waterfowl. There is also a temple for the goddess Benten standing right smack in the pond's center.
Be sure to visit Ueno Park in April, when the cherry blossoms paint the trees a pearly white and when the heart can delight at such beauty. However, if you cannot go at this time, there is no need to fret, as there are still plenty of attractions in the Park to scintillate and entertain.