Ueno Park

Things to do, eggs to lay.


I needed another six months in Tokyo at least. There’s so much to see and do, even if you’re not into museums. I AM into museums (not just because they’re air-conditioned but I barely scratched the surface and I was a committed museum-goer whilst I was in Japan. There are  many temples and shrines to see ranging from the small neighbourhood shrines to large imperial temples, plus so many other places of interest: a spa/thermal bath amusement park, Tokyo Disneyland, the Sapporo beer factory, Sake-making tour, kimono trying-on events, ikebana (flower arranging) classes, tea ceremony, Kabuki, the Robot Dinner Theatre, Panasonic Centre, the Tokyo Tower, Roppongi, Asakusa, the Imperial Palace, my old neighbourhoods, Sumida River Tour, not to mention all the local festivals, sumo tournaments, shopping and Obon (festival of the ancestors) which I’ve always wanted to see. My mum was going to come to Tokyo to visit us because she loves Japan (and probably missed the grandchild too). She visited Japan in 1990 when I was living there and we had a fabulous time touring all over the place…though I was exhausted and had to rest when she went home! This time around it wasn’t the best timing as the heat was a big factor–my mum is an intrepid traveller but brutally high temperatures with high humidity isn’t her cup of tea. I can’t imagine it being anyone’s cup of tea though, unless you’re on a beach somewhere.

I really wouldn’t recommend coming to Japan in the summer. Ever. It’s too hot to enjoy so much of what Tokyo and Japan has to offer. I’d come for the cherry blossoms in the spring or for the shichi-go-san festival (3-5-7) in the fall which is when girls (age 3 and 7) and boys (age 5) go to the shrines in full kimono for a ceremony…cutest thing ever! The weather is decent in both the spring and the fall and at least you can go outside without perishing from heat exhaustion!

In the photo, Karis is leaning against the ad for an exhibit I wanted to see but didn’t get time. The Tokyo National Museum is in Ueno Park…I walked past it on my way to the National Museum of Western Art but even I have my limits. Can’t do two large museums in one day. Smaller ones (like the Bridgestone, L’Orangerie in Paris) yes, but most of the museums in Ueno Park are huge and deserve at least a day to themselves. Not that you’d be staying at the museum for the whole day, but it certainly takes a dedicated art lover with a pliable mind to take in two large museum’s worth of art in one day 😉

Art Attack. Ueno Park, part 4.

national museum of western art

If you’re into art, Tokyo is a great place to be. Not just Asian art, but ALL art. Back in the heyday of the Japanese economy, there were many successful companies and businessmen in Japan. Many of whom bought art. The National Museum of Western Art came to be as  a result of one of those early and inspired collectors, Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950). Matsukata was a wealthy shipbuilder, who was educated in America (Yale) and travelled widely in Europe. He began collecting in the middle of WWI and continued until the late 1920s. His goal was to create a museum to share these great works with the public and indeed, he began plans to do so; however, the economic crisis of 1927 forced him to sell the majority of his works except for an unknown number of pieces that remained stored in Europe. Many works were lost in an undocumented fire in the UK, but the French government confiscated approximately 400 works stored in France as enemy property at the end of WWII. They were housed and cared for at the Musee Rodin and eventually returned to Japan by the French in 1959 with the proviso that a museum be built to house them. Thus the National Museum of Western Art, designed by Le Corbusier, opened in 1959 to showcase the Matsukata Collection.

The museum itself is an amazing building filled with natural light, pillars to allow the free flow of air, a large ramp (instead of a staircase) from the entrance to the first floor to encourage visitors to take in the vista of the changing levels, various mezzanines and long horizontal windows. Le Corbusier created the modular system of proportions and used it to design the museum. Click here for more on Le Corbusier and his design.

So back to the museum. It was lovely, the art was beautifully displayed, it wasn’t crowded and it was mercifully cool. The had a special exhibition of rings (jewellery) from the Hashimoto Collection which was very well done as they incorporated clothing and paintings that corresponded to specific pieces which made it much more interesting…I find endless displays of jewellery and artifacts a little tedious. The Louvre comes to mind. A heathen, I know.

Anyway, this is only one of many museums with Western art in Tokyo. Last week I went to the exhibits at The National Art Center, but there’s also The Bridgestone Museum of Art (yes, the tire company) that has an amazing collection of 19th century European art; and the Sompo Japan Museum of Art (yup, an insurance company) that houses one of Van Gogh’s Sunflower paintings and other 19th century European painters as well as Japanese artists. Not to mention the amazing collections of Asian art, sculpture, Japanese woodblock prints, contemporary paintings and installations, calligraphy and don’t forget the PAPER MUSEUM! Stay tuned…

One step closer to the nunnery. Ueno Park, part 3.

Ueno TempleApparently there are many temples and shrines in Ueno Park. This one, Benten-do is the only one I had the actual strength to visit. Based on the fact that it had a big gong in the building, I figured it was a Shinto shrine. Shinto is a general respect for all the gods…sort a pantheistic approach and co-exists easily with Buddhism in Japan.

Upon entering, there is usually a fountain to purify yourself. You are meant to rinse your cupped hands, one at a time and then your mouth. You must transfer the water from your cupped hand to your mouth, not directly from the ladle as that would make the ladle impure for everyone else. Spit the water on the ground. I don’t see people spitting that often…must be one of those customs that is going by the wayside.

You can light incense and put it the sand in the incense-burner thing (Japanese name unknown). You light it (buy it first) and then wave it around to blow out the Ueno temple 2flame but not actually blow out the flame. The smoke is believed to be powerful and healing and people usually waft it towards themselves.

When entering the main building, the offering hall, take off your shoes if it’s indoors.  Actually, you have to take off your shoes at a lot of places that are indoors in Japan, particularly temples and shrines. Approach the Offertory box and throw your coin in. If there is a gong that’s when you ring it to get the attention of the gods. Then you bow twice (some say this is when you make your wish in your heart), clap your hands twice, bow again and pray for a bit.

If you are at a Buddhist temple, there is no gong and you shouldn’t clap as you are praying to the Buddha to help you attain salvation/nirvana not to a group of gods. I guess is that Buddha does not like to be summoned by clapping or loud gongs.

There are very cool little bookmark-like things as well as things that look like cell phone charms. These are called O-mamori and are good luck charms that can be quite specific types of good luck (new job, success on exams, health, wealth, marriage, baby etc). There are also fortunes you can buy called Omikuji that are good or bad luck. Traditionally you would leave the bad luck ones at the shrine thereby ridding yourself of the bad vibes whilst the good luck ones were taken home…but apparently you can increase or multiply your luck by leaving a good fortune at the shrine (which is what I did). The wooden plaques are called ema and you write your wish on the back and hang it on a special spot at the shrine. So there you have it…what to do at a Japanese shrine or temple should you happen to run across one 🙂


Ueno Park is big. Part 2.

liliesThe water lilies are amazing! It’s like a forest of water lilies if you can have such a thing. Apparently Ueno is not the best part of town…lots of sex shops and weird bars but not really an issue during the day. I did meet a very friendly transvestite whilst admiring the water lilies, but she/he just wanted to know where I was from, if I liked Japan and if I needed any help finding anything. On my way to the Shitamachi Museum there was an area with people selling used goods. It looked like a bunch of junk so I didn’t spend much time. Also it seemed that there were mainly drunk men hanging out in the area.

Back to the water lilies. I had no idea they could get so tall. They cover the entire pond/lake and are a lovely oasis of green in the middle of the (sort of dirty) city. The wave around in the breeze and the light is amazing. Monet would have appreciated them 🙂

Ueno Park is big. Bigger than I remembered. Part 1.

ShitamachiAnother art gallery/museum day today. It was ridiculously hot and the museums are like refrigerators so I thought it would be a practical expedition. I had taken a few notes on Ueno Park earlier and noticed that there were a lot of museums there AND quite a few temples and shrines as well. It never sounds that big on paper. I think it would realistically take a few days to see them all. It’s huge. Like Stanley Park but with museums. Maybe bigger.

I headed out at 1pm, paid my 200Y and hopped on the Yamanote line which is the circle line that goes around the city. It’s above ground and I wanted to check out the scenery which is why I chose it instead of the subway. So arrived at Ueno and thought I’d head to the Shitamachi Museum first (free with my Grutto pass). Exiting the station, the heat is like a wall…so ridiculously hot.

The Shitamachi Museum was pretty cool. Very small. It’s a replica of what the area would have looked like in the Edo period showing houses that ordinary people would live in as well as the merchant class and the working class. Much like the old-fashioned street scene at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. Sorry the pix are a big blurry but I couldn’t use the flash. You could actually take your shoes off and walk around in the rooms. Very little floor space but super-organized. Not that I expected anything less 😉