On a weekend, I had a whole day to spent in Tokyo. However, I was unsure where to go: I did not feel like shopping or to browse a museum, and I was too lazy to look into my guidebook and do some research what to visit. Finally I decided to go to Ueno park, which allowed me to postpone the decision making for a later moment: Ueno park is full of museums, it is large enough for a nice walk in the sunshine and there are many shopping opportunities in the surroundings.
I went first to Kyomizu Kannon-do. This temple is a smaller version of the famous Kyomizu-dera in Kyoto and the structure dates back to 1698, which makes it one of the the oldest original buildings in Tokyo. It has survived disasters such as the great Kanot earthquake of 1923 and the air raids during WW2. Many other famous temples or shrines in Tokyo are rebuild, such as the Meiji Shrine or the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, so this is the opportunity to visit an original Edo era building.
The temple is located on a hillslope overlooking the lily pond in the southwest of Ueno Park. It is rather small and the platform reminds indeed its famous big brother in Kyoto. The platform offers a nice view towards the pond. On the balustrade of the veranda is a branch, tied together to form a ring. I have seen such ring structures at others temples too. It might have a meaning, but my guidebook and google did not tell anyting about it.
I strolled further north along some streets and some small tori caught my eye. They led to the Hanazono Inari shrine. After passing the tunnel of red tori, a few steps lead down to a small square surrounded by shrine buildings and containing some trees. Some (or all?) of them are plum trees. When I came again there beginning of February, some of them were already starting to bloom. This might be therefore a nice hidden spot to see some early ume blossoms.
Not far from Inari shrine is the Toshogu shrine, which is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu. The style of the buildings ressembles the famous Toshogu shrine in Nikko. At that time (Sep 2013) it was unfortunately closed due to renovation works. If you don’t have occasion to visit Nikko, the Toshogu shrine in Ueno is maybe a good opportunity to get an idea how the Nikko shrines look differently compared to other shrines. The style is much more colorful and elaborate as can be seen on the gates which are decorated with painted carvings of animals and plants.
Finally I had to decide what next. Museum or the zoo? The weather was nice, so I directed my steps to the zoo. It’s main attraction are two giant pandas, so you’ll see a lot of panda-related merchandise in the zoo’s shops.
I queued into the waiting line for the pandas’ compound. Fortunately, the line advanced rather quickly because an employee gave orders through a megaphone, telling the visitors to move on or to step further away from the compound if they wanted a longer look. The permanent noise made me nervous, so I wondered how the pandas dealt with that. Indulge it stoically?
The pandas itself were not so exciting, they were sleeping when I came. Maybe you are lucky and catch a glimpse when they are fed?
I somehow liked the giant turtle, it looks so small but compare it to the size of the adult man holding its child on the right!
Otherwise, the zoo is quite nice to visit. It is big enough to spend there 3 hours, if you have the ambition to go to every compound. The buildings housing the night animals are really dark, you’ll need a moment to get used it and even then, be careful not to stumble accross some children.
Some enclosures seem well equipped, others ressemble a prison cell, such as for some monkey species. It is always sad to see animals confined in such small places but nevertheless, it is interesting to see them so close. It was also exciting for me to hear the roaring of the lions.
If you are tired, you can take the Monoral, which connects the East and the West part of the zoo.
Infos about Ueno park and the zoo can be found on the Japan-guide website (link)
Address: Ueno Park, Tokyo
How to get there: TX from Tsukuba to Akihabara, then take Metro or JR Yamanote line
How far from Tsukuba: ~1 hour by TX and JR train
Who should visit? Ueno Park is worth a visit if you are in Tokyo for the first time and if you have half a day to fill. Don’t miss the museums, though, which I did not mention in this post at all. The zoo is nice but maybe only interesting for those who have a lot of time or travel often to Tokyo.
Have you already visited Ueno Park? What do you like most there?