Why do guidebooks send people to Ueno for all the wrong reasons? For example, if you go during cherry blossom season, chances are, all you’ll see is this:
Ugh! But all is not lost – if you buy a ticket for the Tokyo National Museum (specializing on Japanese art and antiques – check here to see what special exhibition will be on while you’re there) and mosey out back to their secret garden…
The other hack for Ueno Park during o-hanami is to go at night. They hang lanterns in the trees along the main promenade and the crowds are thinner, despite it being WAY better than daytime.
But the Tokyo National Museum is only one of the attractions clustered at the end of the park. I usually skip the other art museums unless there’s an exhibit I particularly want to see, but I can’t resist stopping into the National Museum of Nature and Science to visit the All Things Especially Japanese building.
Open: Every day, except closed Mondays (but if Monday is holiday, the museum is open on the Monday and closed on Tuesday), and also closed from 12/31-1/3
Hours: 9:00 – 17:00, open late on Fridays until 20:00
Admission: Adults: ¥620, Children (up through high school): Free
But not all the attractions of Ueno Park cost money – the Ueno Toshogu Shrine is a surprise of a golden bauble with a nice red-and-gold pagoda.
There’s also a charming summer festival in July that includes a nighttime parade and floating lanterns on the Shinobazu pond. For this year’s dates, check the Tokyo Cheapo website July events page.
And while you’re over near the pond, there’s a charming small museum called the Shitamachi Museum that lets you wander through the streets and step into the rooms of a bygone Japan. This little timewarp takes you back to the Meiji Era (1868-1912), which is after Japan opened to the West, but before any of the world wars took their toll.
Open: Every day, except closed Tuesdays
Hours: 9:30 – 16:30
And although I wouldn’t usually recommend wasting precious Japan time visiting a zoo, they do have pandas.
Open: Six days a week, closed Mondays, on the day after national holidays, and from December 29 – January 1. Open other holidays.
Hours: 9:00 – 17:00 (Last entry 16:00)
Admission: Adults: ¥600, Seniors (65 & older): ¥300, Students (13-15): ¥20, Children (0-12): Free.
Outside Ueno Park, there’s one shopping experience I do make a special trip all the way to Ueno for, and it’s NOT THIS:
But you should visit Ueno for this toy store. Since the renovated Kiddyland in Harajuku has sadly become filled with international brand goods (I can get Snoopy and Barbie back home, thanks), Yamashiro-ya is my go-to emporium for only-in-Japan toystuffs.
…and, uh, stuff like THIS.
Read a novel set in Tokyo