15 Best Things to Do in Ueno, Japan
See also: Best Things to Do in Tokyo
As the cultural heart of Tokyo, Ueno has long enjoyed standing as one of the most zestful districts to visit in Japan.
Its central park is a sprawling patch of tranquility and has a high concentration of attractions that are often flocked by tourists.
In many ways, Ueno feels like an alluring part of Tokyo where time freezes.
With a warren of streets ever-beaming with activity, Ueno is a place you will never get tired of exploring.
To help you discover the best of the district, here's a list of the best things to do in Ueno, Japan:
Greet the Animals at the Ueno Zoo
Constituted as part of the country’s modernization drive, the Ueno Zoo is the oldest in Japan.
What began as a humble genesis soon transformed into a world-class wildlife center that is now home to a wide species of animals and birds.
That being said, the prime attraction here certainly has to be the giant animals.
While this zoo is a gateway to the wild, it also offers visitors a chance to inspect the marvels of nature in a leisurely manner.
With a whopping 63 main sections, expect nothing less than expansive spaces at the Ueno Zoo.
This is further enhanced by enclosures that bear a resemblance to the resident animals' natural environment.
One rather underappreciated element at the Ueno Zoo is its historical architecture.
A few of its most noteworthy structures include a decrepit front gate built in true Versailles fashion, a traditionalistic Kankan-tei treehouse, and a staggering five-story pagoda.
Explore the Burgeoning Blossoms at Ueno Park
Situated right in front of Ueno Station, Ueno Park (officially known as Ueno Onshi Park) is an excellent base for exploring the district.
Initially, it was a part of Kaneiji Temple, Ueno's most emblematic shrine.
It isn't easy to think of a place that has as many attractions as this park.
Today, Ueno Park is perhaps one of the district's most celebrated tourist attractions, thanks to the many museums, art galleries, and shrines that dot the pathway—and most importantly, its heart-stirring cherry blossoms.
If you are visiting during the spring, expect to see burgeoning blossoms of sakura trees.
Meanwhile, if you happen to be in Ueno during the fall, your eyes will be blessed with a verdant landscape of crimson and gold.
Bearing a close resemblance to the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto, the Kiyomizu Kannon Temple stands tall within the Ueno Park.
Towards the southwestern side of the park, the Shinobazu Pond provides an amass of salmon-pink lotus flowers.
All these together make Ueno Park quite the catch.
Shop till You Drop at Kappabashi
Situated between Ueno and Asakusa, Kappabashi is popularly known for being a supply store mecca.
Well over a hundred years old, it prides itself with over endless shops devoted to cooking trade.
Well-nigh a kilometer long, it is easily one of the best places to shop till you drop.
Here, you get to experience the quintessence of the Japanese culture beyond the mainstream tourist attractions.
Getting here is effortless, as it can be accessed from three different stations: Ueno Station, Inaricho Station, and Tawaramachi Station.
Kappabashi also prides itself on the over-and-above perk of being close to prominent tourist hotspots, such as Ueno Park and downtown Asakusa.
Even if you are not into kitchenware, Kappabashi will not fail to delight you.
Here, you can relish the deliciousness of Japanese cuisine amid much fun and excitement.
A side street roundabout to the Asakusa area would be very well worth your time if you have time left.
Pay Your Respects at Nezu Shrine
Nezu shrine is set amidst luxuriant foliage, a bayou of carp, tracts that are underpasses of small shrine archways, and exquisite, attractively colored wooden structures that echo Japanese aestheticisms in all its age and grace.
Word has it that this shrine is modeled after Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, and a number of its structures have been designated as Important Cultural Properties of Japan.
A peculiarly memorable characteristic of this shrine has to be its count of modest, cardinal torii Shinto shrine exit gateways that shroud the avenue on the highland atop the main shrine, mimicking a tunnel effect.
Nezu Shrine boasts the crest of its springtime beauty and exquisiteness when its renowned azalea bushes blossom pink and white.
This is a particularly magnificent sight in the month of April.
During this time of incalculable beauty, the shrine also marks itself as a venue for customary Japanese weddings.
Stroll along the Charismatic Shopping Paradise of Ameyoko
One of the preferred pursuits of many a visitor while in Japan would be to go on a shopping spree, trucking in a galore of wonderful goods and offers as they can.
When in Ueno, the best place to do that is none other than Ameyoko, a spirited market street that trails alongside JR Ueno Station and Okachimachi Station.
Modern-day department stores are undoubtedly a gratifying way to range over the infinite options for Tokyo shopping, but if you are seeking an experience with a fragment of character and appeal, Ameyoko could be an extraordinary alternative.
Bearing a post-war aesthetic, the street provides visitors a walk through history just as much as it offers some of Ueno's best shopping.
This busy street features many small retail businesses that sell almost anything your mind can conjure into existence: general groceries, seafood, essentials, discount clothing, and accessories, among many others.
You will also find many stalls that cater to downtown Tokyo snacks and a large number of affordable restaurants, cafes, and bars.
Visitors are encouraged to try out the rich array of international fares available here, such as Turkish, Korean, and Indian cuisines.
Cherish Artworks at the National Museum of Western Art
Founded in 1959, this museum primarily houses European and American art.
With over 6,000 sculptures and paintings dating as far back as the Middle Ages to as recent as contemporary times, the National Museum of Western Art is a sight to behold.
Fashioned by celebrated Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, the National Museum of Western Art is among the very few museums in the city that boast works by Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Rubens, and Van Gogh.
As if the museum's artistic prowess weren't already arresting enough, its architecture is a whole other matter on its own and is particularly stunning.
Owing to its brilliance, this spectacular structure was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2016.
So, while in Ueno Park, consider spending time exploring this remarkable museum.
Witness Artistic Prowess at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum has marked its presence as early as 1926 in the beautiful surrounds of Ueno Park.
With its six sprawling galleries, this museum beckons a lot of crowds.
The Museum Gallery is where exceptionally special exhibitions are held, while the other five galleries are rented out temporarily by groups to showcase their works.
It displays a constantly altering array of several artistic genres that includes paintings, sculptures, installations, and even calligraphic works that showcase works of modern-day artists both from Japan and overseas.
The newest exhibitions even feature works of Leonardo da Vinci and El Greco.
Although entry to the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is completely free, you may have to pay a premium to see specific exhibitions.
Get Your Hands on the Anime Goods at Yamashiroya
Situated adjacent to the south-central exit of JR Ueno train station, Yamashiroya stocks a great deal of fun-size toys, marionettes, gadgets, games, and puzzles.
When inside Yamashiroya, get ready to be awed.
Your jaws will drop at the number of toys you'll see no matter where you set your eyes.
Inside this seven-story building, you will see everything from Japanese staples to pro models like Star Wars, DC, and Marvel.
Right before you make your entrance, get ready to be greeted by a myriad of top capsule vending machines.
Part of the charm here comes from the seriously crammed insides; the building would be packed to the extreme.
Even the elevators are tiny and occupied most of the time.
So, if you are in a rush, the most convenient option would be, without a doubt, to take the stairs.
Spend a Relaxing Day by the Shinobazu Pond
If you want a sultry date spot, there's no better place to go than the Shinobazu Pond.
Situated within Ueno Park, the pond has been sectioned into three parts.
This makes it convenient for you to visit the duck pond and the boating space all in one go.
From July until August, the pond sees the blossoming of lotus flowers.
Even if you happen to visit during another time of year, it will be quite satisfying to take in the sight of the tranquil lake from the comfort of the benches laid alongside it.
During spring and summer, you can even rent out boats and paddle around the lake.
Have a Walk to Remember in Yanaka Cemetery
Founded in 1872, Yanaka Cemetery is located close to JR and Keisei Nippori stations.
With a staggering scope of 100,000 square feet, it is contemplated as one of the largest cemeteries in the whole of Japan.
According to legend, the land required for the construction was taken from the Tennoji Temple.
While you are here, you will not feel as if you are walking down a cemetery but instead on a picturesque pathway surrounded by breathtaking sakura trees that lay a canopy over the graves and pretty flowers.
For the culture-vultures, it will not be the land's beauty that satiates you; this scenic necropolis also marks the burial ground of one of the most celebrated figures in Japanese history: Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of Japan.
Empty Your Pockets at Ueno Koreatown
Only a three-minute walk from Ueno Station, Shin-Okubo is hailed as the official Koreatown of Tokyo.
Although it is not as far-reaching as Yokohama’s Chinatown, visitors are still highly encouraged to come here for the scores of delicious restaurants that serve authentic Korean fare.
Surely, Ueno’s Koreatown has a few scores of things that will fuel your interest.
This street has been around for as long as you can imagine and stands as a refreshing change of scenery amidst Ueno's rich Japanese culture.
If you were to take a stroll around Koreatown, you would see vendors selling things in tiny bottles, most of them handmade and authentic.
Enjoy the Feline Company at Neko Maru Cafe
With a great location that is effortless to find and reach, the Neko Maru Cafe offers visitors a unique experience in a lot of ways.
This animal cafe offers a much-needed respite if you are overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of Ueno.
Home to more than 30 cats, Neko Maru Cafe is the best of its kind, as cat cafes have become a sensational phenomenon that has spread across Japan like a bushfire.
Although reservations are not required, it would be best to make one if you plan to visit the cafe on a weekend.
Have a Hearty Meal at Kamonka Ueno Bamboo Garden
When in Ueno, you will not run short of eateries that will satisfy your cravings.
If you ever feel hungry, head to Kamonka Ueno Bamboo Garden.
The selection of Chinese fare here is commendable.
The ingredients are sourced from different parts of China, and therefore the authenticity remains unblemished.
Some of their best-loved menu items include their Extra Spicy Stir-fried Chicken, Sesame Dumpling, and Almond Jelly.
The restaurant even boasts an English-speaking staff who will happily guide you through the menu.
Treat Yourself to Beer and Bar Chow at Yanaka Beer Hall
Do not be deceived by its name—Yanaka Beer Hall is not your typical hall.
It is more of a pre-war Japanese house.
In spite of its phenomenal historic frontage, you will find the bar inside to be impressively modern, rendering it quite a first-class place to spend your time.
The bar specializes in a delicious amber pilsner, so do miss out on the opportunity to try it.
It goes particularly well with the Japanese-styled barbecue snacks that are prepared here.
If you are planning to visit, make sure to check out the opening time beforehand, as it tends to change every now and then.
Also, there is only space for about 20 people at a time.
That being said, the Yanaka Beer Hall is very well worth seeking out for a unique drinking experience.
Enjoy a Hot Spring-Like Foot Bath at Momi no Yu
Momi no Yu has fast become one of the most sought-after destinations amongst Tokyo locals as well as tourists.
This unique cafe stands in the quiet corner of the spirited Ameyokocho and offers spa facilities.
Here, you can eat while receiving a sort of foot treatment called ashi-yu.
By submerging your feet in this hot spring-like foot bath, you get to experience the distinguishing benefits of a hot spring.
The charge for the treatment is dependent on the time.
As a complimentary service, you also get a five-minute relaxing massage.