Shinobazu Pond and Bentendo Hall in early spring
If you want to get a feel for old Tokyo, Ueno (上野) in the Taito district is a good place to start. Entirely lacking in high-rise condos or whiz-bang shopping malls, by Tokyo standards it's distinctly downmarket, but that means that eating, shopping and drinking are all affordably priced. Safety is not an issue, but the areas to the southwest of Ueno station has a high density of sex-clubs etc. with active bouncers and prostitutes soliciting their trade. Ueno has excellent connectivity not just around Tokyo, but to all of northern Japan as well.
Ueno Station was at one time the place from which steam locomotives chugged off to the snowy northeast, but now the Shinkansen just make a brief stop. Ueno Station is the starting point of the JR Joban line, and the JR Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku lines stop here as well.
The Keisei Skyliner and most Keisei limited expresses from Narita Airport terminate at Keisei Ueno Station, just south of the larger JR station.
Tokyo Metro's Hibiya and Ginza subway lines (stations H-17 and G-16) underpin both stations, with direct connecting passages to each.
Saigō Takamori, walking his dog
Ueno Park (上野公園 Ueno-kōen), adjacent to the station, is home to most of the attractions in the area, including the Ueno Zoo and a concentration of Japan's best museums. In cherry blossom season, Ueno Park is Tokyo's most popular spot for outdoor hanami parties.
Tokyo National Museum
東京国立博物館 Tōkyō kokuritsu hakubutsukan, . Daily 9:30AM-5PM, closed Mondays. General admission ¥600, university students ¥400, high school and younger free. Special exhibitions charge separate admission fees.
The Tokyo National Museum is a gigantic complex that houses almost 100,000 art objects covering Japanese history from the Jomon period to the 20th century. Some descriptions are in English. Admission includes access to the following buildings:
- Honkan is the main museum which is notable for the breadth of its displays. It displays works of artistic and historical value value, including Buddhist statues, calligraphy, tea ceremony art, swords and armor, folding screen artwork, noh and kabuki-related items, and ukiyo-e woodblock prints.
- Heiseikan is an archaeological museum which displays excavated items, such as pottery and burial statues from early periods. Heiseikan also houses special exhibitions.
- Toyokan (CLOSED through 2012 or so) exhibits art from east Asia, India and Egypt. Some exhibits are on display in the gallery called Hyokeikan.
- The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures houses art donated by Horyuji temple (near Nara) in 1878. The modern museum building, designed in 1999 by Yoshio Taniguchi, is worth a visit for its own architectural merits.
- National Museum of Western Art, . Daily 9:30AM-5PM. Houses an extensive collection of Western art, including the original of Rodin's famous The Thinker. Entry ¥420; free admission on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of each month.
- National Science Museum (国立科学博物館 Kokuritsu kagaku hakubutsukan), . Recently re-opened in a new building, focuses on the living world, with life-sized representations of practically every life form the earth has ever seen, from the blue whale (outside the old building) to hundreds of exotic insects. There are also sections covering technology, the physical sciences, and hands-on exhibits for children, as well as the stuffed and mounted body of Hachiko, of Shibuya statue fame.
- Shitamachi Museum (下町風俗資料館), near the southeast corner of Shinobazu Pond. A small museum that offers a glimpse into life in the area in the early 20th century, with re-created houses and stores, and cultural artifacts.
- Saigō Takamori Statue (西郷隆盛像). Near the main entrance to the park from JR station stands an unassuming statue of a pudgy man walking his dog. This is Saigō Takamori, a famous samurai general best known for leading the doomed Satsuma Rebellion against the Meiji government (and the inspiration for Hollywood blockbuster The Last Samurai). These days, it's the canonical place for meeting people at the park.
- Ueno Zoo (上野動物園). Tu-Su 9:30AM-4:30PM (last entry 4PM). Has over three hundred animals. ¥600.
- Shinobazu Pond (不忍池 Shinobazu-ike), adjacent to Ueno Park. Full of water lilies and waterfowl and has the picturesque little Bentendō Hall shrine, dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten, in the middle.
- Ameyoko (アメ横). A packed shopping bazaar full of stalls selling almost anything you can imagine. It runs roughly south of Ueno station along the inside of the JR Yamanote line tracks to Okachimachi station. If you are looking for a more typically "Asian" market street in Tokyo, with bargaining expected and friendly vendors trying to out-shout each other, this is it. Definitely a good place for souvenirs for friends back home. The district got its name in the post-war years from the American blue jeans and other items that were sold on the black market.
Temple and cherry blossoms, Ueno Park
There's plenty of cheap food to be found all around Ueno station, including a large number of food stalls near the shrine on Shinobazu Lake.
In cherry blossom season, the local favorite is grilled rice dumplings known as dango (団子), slathered with either a sweet and salty soy-based sauce or chunky red bean paste. As the terse Japanese proverb says, Hana yori dango, or "Dumplings are better than blossoms".
- Yayoiken (やよい軒), Higashi-Ueno 3-37-9 (on Asakusa-dori, 2 min from JR Ueno), . 7AM-11PM. Cheap and cheerful grills served on a hot teppan iron plate, with all the rice you can eat. Plastic food models plus a coupon machine with pictures make ordering easy. Morning sets from ¥350, full meals from ¥580.
- Konaya Curry Udon, 7-1-1, Atre 2F, . 11AM-10:30PM. Excellent bowl of curry udon from this small chain of restaurants with a few locations in Tokyo. A bowl of curry udon with tempura and a drink is about ¥1500.
- Ueno Seiyōken (上野精養軒), in the Ueno Park grounds, . Opened in 1877, this was one of the first Western restaurants in Japan, serving French cuisine befitting its stature. Lunch from ¥2400, dinner ¥10000+.
Ueno is low on clubs, but heavy on traditional bars and seedier businesses.
"Without sake, what is the meaning of cherry blossoms?", proclaims a famous haiku poem. The profound truths contained within are experimentally tested every spring, when more or less all of Ueno Park disappears under a sea of blue tarps, picnicking secretaries and sozzled salarymen.
- Tōrindō (桃林堂), Ueno-sakuragi 1-5-7, . 9AM-5PM. A little off the beaten track but just a short walk from the Tokyo National Museum, this traditional shop serves tea ceremony tea (¥450) without the ritualized fuss and delectable Japanese desserts (¥150+) to go with them.
- Tasuichi (plus one). Down the street from the 0101 department store is an extremely small but very friendly stand-up bar. They serve good food, have cheap drinks, speak some English, and are very friendly to foreigners. A great place to go if you are traveling by yourself, know some very basic Japanese and want to make friends with a local or two, but this is not a club. The surrounding area is filled with similar places.
- The Warrior Celt, 3rd floor 6-9-22. Known locally as the hangout for a few good beers in a typical British pub atmosphere. Expat crowd as well as Japanese drinkers. Say you found the place off Wikitravel for a little something special. ￥600-1000.
Only hotels within walking distance of Ueno Station are listed here. See Taito for a listing of hotels elsewhere in the district.
- Oak Hotel, Higashi-Ueno 6-1-2 (two blocks north from JR Ueno stn Asakusa exit, tucked into an alley on the left), . Small, but clean and efficient rooms, free internet PC's, a collection of travel books, a coin laundry, and an English-speaking staff make it a useful stop for foreign visitors. Guests with their own LAN-enabled laptops/netbooks can get free internet access in the privacy of their own rooms; just borrow a connection kit from the front desk. Located near Inarichō Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line) and the Kappabashi-Dori kitchenware street. Ueno Station is a long but manageable walk away. Student priced single rooms with private bathrooms start at ¥5880 and Twin rooms are available.
- Tsukuba Hotel Ueno (ツクバホテル), Moto-Asakusa 2-7-8 (1 min from Metro Ginza Inaricho stn, 8 min from JR Ueno), ☎ +81-3-3834-2556, . Old but functional business hotel offering small but cheap rooms. Free wireless, free PCs, coin laundry, used to dealing with foreigners. Western-style single rooms with en-suite bath from ¥5250, Japanese-style tatami rooms with shared bath from ¥4000.
- Sutton Place Hotel Ueno (サットンプレイスホテル), 7-8-23, Ueno, Taito-ku (from JR Ueno station, Iriya exit, cross the street to Iwakura High School; continue to the end of that block; turn left at the next traffic light; hotel is on the left. 2 min walk total.), ☎ +81-3-3842-2411 (fax: +81-3-3842-2414), . checkin: 3PM; checkout: 12PM. Mid-range hotel, in the Renaissance Group. Rooms have en-suite toilet. Staff speaks English. Breakfast included. Free internet access in the lobby. The hotel is located in a quiet street in Ueno, 2 minutes walking from JR Ueno Station and 5 minutes walking from subway Ueno station (see map on web site). from ¥7000.
- Kinuya Hotel, 2-14-28 Ueno, Taito-ku (3 minutes walk from JR Ueno Shinobazu exit), . A great hotel for backpackers, staff can speak English. Two PCs with internet access are available at the lobby.
- Villa Fontaine Ueno, 2-4-4 Kojima, Taito-ku, Tokyo, ☎ +81-3-5339-1200, . Mid-range hotel. Rooms have en-suite toilet. Staff speaks English. Simple breakfast included. Free internet (through LAN cable) in rooms. Rooms are quiet and pleasant. 5 minutes walking from subway Shin-Okachimachi station. from ¥7900.
- Tokyo Tourist Information Center, in the Keisei train station outside the ticket gates, . Daily 9:30AM-6:30PM. A good source of tourist information, this office is geared for foreign visitors, so all materials are in languages other than Japanese and all staff speak English.
- Akihabara — the mecca of geek culture is two stops away by JR Yamanote Line
- Asakusa — Tokyo's top temples are two stops away by Metro Ginza Line
- Bunkyo — Tokyo University and a slice of Old Tokyo are within strolling distance of Ueno Park
|Routes through Tokyo/Ueno
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