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ASG Guide to Ueno Park Tokyo


A view from a swan boat - my back getting wrecked.

Sakura (cherry blossoms) are a thing in Japan - in the early spring each year, the sakura trees blossom with beautiful white, pink, and purple-ish flowers that change the nature of the parks and cities. It’s a time to celebrate Spring, an unspoken time when everyone comes out of their homes and offices to enjoy the blossoms together.

The ubiquitous close-up of cherry blossoms with blurred background;)

And, one of the places most flock to, is Ueno Park in Tokyo. This park (an analog would be Central Park in Manhattan) is the first city park in Japan, established in 1873.


Not only is it a sprawling park with little lakes and forested grounds - but a nexus of culture. Facilities include the Tokyo National Museum, National Science Museum, National Museum of Western Art, University Art Museum, Ueno Zoo, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum amongst other facilities.

{GETTING THERE}


The JR train line is the main station at Ueno Park, with its Ueno Station. The station exits immediately to the entrance of the park, so no need to feel you will get lost, look carefully for the exits that clearly line out the Park. (I think you’ll know quickly if you go out the wrong way. ;P - ditto for Kyoto Station.)

As you exit, you will note the Tokyo Metropolitan Festival Hall and the entrance to Park straight ahead. The Park has no fee - but expect a fee for anything else, from the Zoo to the Museums.


{STREET FOOD}

The bridge is to the right, the Zoo ticket booths behind me.

The street food is actually relegated to a few areas, so don’t expect to see a ton of stalls. Also, I don’t know if I’d recommend it necessarily to go as some sort of street food haven - this is more about the camaraderie. Not having a sprawl of stalls is probably not a bad thing - like most of Japan, it’s orderly, it’s clean, and relegated to a few areas that make sense and organized. By our visit, we saw three main strips of food stalls, the first and most vibrant is the Shinobazunoike Benten-do shrine, the next is actually right before it, but we found it typically hosting goods and not as much food (but check it out as it may change) and that is near the Zoo ticket booths. The other one we caught was near the Fivefold Pagod of Kan’ei-ji Temple, where there were plenty of blankets around the park common areas - there was a run of stalls lining that main strip - along with fun offerings. On our visit there was kabayaki ( eel with rice), tamagoyaki (simple, sweetish egg omelet), and, a line for, various omurice variations - these are the chubby egg omelet with a lots of filling.

Try things you don't normally get - what's the purpose of travel?

First things first, make sure to do a round (or two) to get a lay of the land. Ueno Park is not difficult to navigate, but it is large. There are a lot of winding paths, going up and down little hills - so it is possible to miss swaths of the park if you don’t explore. On your rounds, enjoy the Sakura trees and ubiquitous selfies - keep an eye out for the food offerings and places to sit. Japan street food is traditionally a clean simple hand-food experience - expect to see potatoes, corn, meat skewers, and sweets all within a hand-sized bag or on a stick. The orderly nature of the place frames even its food.


We recommend the skewers for sure. I am always in the mood for a potato dish, so shaker fries or other seasoned potatoes are an easy option for me. Save room for sweets - there is plenty of options and each is picture-perfect in its own way. I’ll be honest - I want filling sweets - so custard taiyaki (filled waffle) or sweet, rice drinks fit the bill. As you will do a lot of walking, keep in mind that facilities in the Park are there, but are sometimes difficult to find - as are trashcans. Expect to hold your trash until you find appropriate bins -for festivals these are outlined and are to follow adherence to trash type. (Let’s follow that example in the States!)

Take photos of both your food and the booth to remember what you had, it can be so easy a transaction it is easy to forget - you may also want to mention to yourself any notes or surprises you find. In ASG’s experience, unexpected or innovative food catches our eye.


The good news is that you will have a great time - but you must make sure to commit a few hours to the place. You could do a half-day at Ueno Park easily.

{WRAP UP / TIPS}


Ueno Park is huge and offers quite a lot - if you plan it out. It is a popular spot to visit on Vernal Equinox Day, which is the national holiday kicking off the start of spring. Get a different view of the cherry blossoms by hopping on a boat on the lake. The 30min boat rental will cost roughly 700-800 yen. Because of its litany of Nationa Museums, its various monuments, and its food options - you can find plenty to do here. Also, look for special exhibits before you go - there was a Gaughan exhibit that we only found out about when we got there.


Pace yourself! Walking in Japan is a strenuous task and one does not simply say ‘I’ll take a walk’ - nothing is short, and everything is big. We’ve added a few resources to review.


  • Having not been to Japan on a National Holiday (Vernal Equinox) we were pleasantly surprised that the night before was pretty live all around town (we were in Shibuya). The next morning was dead quiet - probably until after lunch. If we knew this, we could have taken more advantage of it - and knew that most restaurants were not open in the morning at all.

  • Areas around Ueno Park are not easily outfitted for benches, tables, or chairs - totally fine. But it does offer a challenge when you are eating. If you find a spot, snag it and use it as a staging place for you and your crew. If not, you may be sitting on any free patch of concrete as we did. Keine problem for ASG - we’ll eat upside if we must.

Keep in mind that Uneo Park is adjacent to the Taito City and Akhibara areas - so make plans accordingly. You may be able to fit in visits to both areas including Ueno - so mapping out your paths or trains in advance is recommended. Getting around Japan is easy, from a ‘not getting lost perspective’ - but, because you will spend a lot of time on foot, you really want to make sure you have a purpose on where you are headed and how to get there - note what the native Japanese do, very telling!


Considering rail and bus travel, a tip we learned on this trip is to carry a pocket-sized composition-type notebook and a small pen. Using maps.google, mapping out routes in advance, making key notes as you go, then jotting down exits - are all essential. Then, as you take breaks, right down any special shops, restaurants, stalls, etc - even vending machines - will only help you navigate and make the most of your trip. An example of this was finding a ramen place in a pinch - you just can’t ‘find’ one - if you really want something, you’ll have the options, but you may want to do just that little research beforehand to make sure you hit the highly rated ramen place that you can write home about…or a blog about. :D Then, a free souvenir, is a listing of all the places you visited - and we love free!


All in all, you will have a great time in Ueno Park and explore a microcosm of street food. We had a delightful taiyaki, fresh meat skewers, beautiful desserts - all with Sakura trees and swan boats across the lake to enjoy…

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REFERENCES:

[References derive from March 2023 trip to Japan.]


OPEN: 5:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.

(no trespassing after hours)


ADDRESS: Ueno-koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo.

3-chome Ikenohata, Taito-ku, Tokyo.




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