The sprawling Ueno Kōen (Ueno Park) is an urban refuge with pathways that wind past centuries-old temples and shrines. In March and April of each year, more than 8,000 cherry trees come into bloom and the park becomes a prime hamami (cherry-blossom viewing) location, with picnic parties lining the walkways.
Now one of the city’s most extensive green spaces, the park was originally the grounds of the Kaneiji Temple, one of the city’s largest and wealthiest temples. Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun, built the Kaneiji Temple and subtemples in the 1600s to negate evil spirits from the northeast. In 1873, five years after the battle of Ueno, the last supporters of the shogun were crushed by imperial forces and the government designated Ueno a public park.
Ueno has been a popular cherry blossom viewing spot since the beginning of the Edo era (1603-1868). Within the 530,000 square metres are over 8,000 cherry trees and a number of different species of sakura (cherry blossom) that bloom in the Spring. Some of these trees even have their own names, such as the Shushiki Cherry Tree, which gained its name from a haiku written by a 13-year-old girl, whose pen-name was Shushiki. She wrote 井戸ばたの桜あぶなし酒の酔, which is loosely translated to “the cherry tree near the well is dangerous to drunken fellows”. The cherry tree in Ueno park that stands near the well was then named “Shushiki Cherry Tree”.
At the southern tip of the park stands Shinobazu Pond (actually three ponds), which is an annual stop for thousands of migrating birds. The pond has been featured in many well-known paintings and visitors can rent rowing boats to paddle out towards the floating lotus plants and take a closer look at Benten-dō, a temple dedicated to Benzaiten (the goddess of everything that flows, including music and water).
The park is also home to a number of museums, including Japan’s oldest museum, and a zoo.
Ueno Park can be accessed from a number of stations, however most visitors use Ueno Station, which can be reached by the JR Yamanote line to Ueno (Ueno-koen & Shinobazu exits).
Points of interest within Ueno Park
- Tokyo National Museum
- National Museum of Nature and Science
- Shitamachi Museum
- Shinobazu Pond
- Benten Hall
- Gojo Shrine
- The Great Buddhist Pagoda
- The Pagoda
- Rino-ji Temple Imperial Cemetery
- Tokyo Metropolitan Festival Hall
- Japan Art Academy
- Ueno Royal Museum
- The Tomb of the Shogi Tai
- Baseball ground
- Ueno Daibutsu
- Tokyo Bunka Kaikan
- The official Tokyo tourism guide – Tokyo Handy Guide
- 2017 Spring Tokyo Guide
- Lonely Planet Japan
- DK Eyewitness Travel Japan
- Wanderlust Pocket Guides – Best of: Japan