Gritty, crowded, packed with stalls of all kinds—Ueno is, at first glance, not the prettiest place in the world but its unique character gives it an admirable vibe. Traditionally Ueno was not a glamorous place, it belonged to the working class people, in contrast to the merchant and aristocrat areas of old Edo with more elaborate architecture.
The first time I visited Ueno Park was with my friend Indy and Ryo who had recommended the area to us. We had just gone to Akihabara, which while impressive in its expansiveness and dizzying use of bright neon lights, was not super attractive to me given that I do not care about manga as much as other people. To be quite honest I was not expecting much due to night having fallen and the cold of the approaching winter bearing down on us. Yet this area, I genuinely loved because there was so much diversity of food in the little corridors that used to be black markets in the years after WWII. Ameyayokocho (Ameya alley), one of Ueno’s many streets was famous for its sweets and candies (ameya) as well as for black market goods from the American military. As the three of us walked around there were all sorts of interesting things such as military uniforms, bags and sweets that could be found there. Countless restaurants, food stalls and vendors lined crowded streets where everything from dried fish, to candies, to Chinese chilies and fresh crabs could be found for sale. To someone like me that enjoys walking around open air markets to look at local seasonal produce, the streets of Ueno were a literal Heaven on Earth. Lastly we checked out the temples of Ueno Park which were illuminated by the warm gentle glow of the orange lamps. Alas on that first visit we simply had but a taste of all Ueno offers.
After not having seen my Japanese buddies for awhile, I contacted my friend Moeka to ask how she was doing. We ended up planning a trip to Ueno Park and I invited my UCEAP friends Inna and Indy to tag along. My unceasing love for Ueno is what propelled me to return and our visit there conveniently coincided with the changing leaves that colored the area with a beautiful fiery orange color. As we walked around, we saw many food stalls and an event centering on ninjas and fighting styles which was exhilarating to watch despite the large crowds. After walking around and listening to Inna and Indy argue as usual, we went to the Natural History Museum that was free for students on the day we went. It was fantastic to witness all the artifact from ancient Japan, as well as those from more recent periods such as the Edo era. After completing our tour of the museum, we went outside to walk in the gardens behind the exhibit building. The grounds themselves held replicas of old buildings, stone gardens and a beautiful koi pond that gave these grounds a very tranquil, peaceful feeling. Following a long day at the museum, our group went back to magical Ameyayokocho to get something to eat and chat for awhile as the rain outside passed before going back to Totsuka.
Visiting a third time, yes I visited one last time, taking Deborah, Inna, Ryo and Indy to explore. At Ueno station we saw a giant panda figure that was inside a massive glass case for some reason. We also accidentally wandered into the red light district, for which Ryo apologized quite profusely. The others wanted to buy some souvenirs and personally I’d say Ueno is a good place to look. It was cool to look at all the toys and figures that were in some of the stores. My personal favorite was a Darth Vader figured made to look as though it had samurai armor. Now you might be thinking, wow you must really like this place to write a post and visit three times. I don’t think you understand friend, Ueno is one of the greatest places in Tokyo with so much to offer from zoos to museums, temples, restaurants, beautiful opportunities for scenic walks, the list is endless. I was only able to scratch the surface of this magical place. Forget Disneyland, for me Ueno is the happiest place on Earth.