Ueno Park: More Than Just A Walk In The Park | CoolJapan

From the outside, there seems to be nothing beyond Ueno Park aside from greenery and buildings dotting approximately 35.4 hectares of land.

However, one needs only to venture further to discover that there is more to Ueno Park than meets the eye. Amidst stretches of lawn and clusters of soaring trees, the park sees spring mature to summer as the last of pastel pink fades from the foliage.

Ueno Park trees
It is almost impossible to tell the trademark cherry trees apart from others as they line the winding pathways.

(Photo from: Unsplash/unsplash.com)

In spring, this clearing is awash with visitors here to appreciate the cherry blossoms.

People who usually flock to the park during springtime for the best flower-viewing (hanami) spots, now gather for the summer festivities.

Ueno Park stalls

Breathing life to these summer festivals are rows of stalls peddling snacks and drinks, entertainment and other trinkets. 

Basking in the carnival festivities, people come decked out in colourful yukata as they bear armfuls of water yoyo balloons, snacks and other prizes harvested from the numerous traditional game stalls.

One of the museums at Ueno Park
(Photo from: Wikimedia Commons/commons.wikimedia.org)

Beyond satiating the park-goer’s outdoor fun and play, Ueno Park houses numerous museums that provide sanctuary to ancient relics borne of land that threads time and connects the dots across the ages.

Among them is the National Museum of Western Art, which, in spite of its home in the East, is the only national museum in Japan exclusively for Western art. Its modern architecture stands in contrast against the foliage.

Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Eugène Delacroix gather here by the grace of Japanese businessman Kōjirō Matsukata who built a tremendous private collection in his lifetime. His fine taste and eye helped him foster a deep friendship with French Impressionist artist Claude Monet, whose work dominates a large portion of this fine collection.

Saved from ruin during the second World War, Matsukata’s collection found temporary sanctuary in Europe, until the French returned the artworks to Japan in a magnanimous move. This museum thus symbolises peace and reconciliation between two polar cultures.

Today, Matsukata’s collection continues to inspire generations of artists far and wide.

The Main Gallery of the Tokyo National Museum stands at the heart of Ueno Park.

Looming over the rest of the park is the Tokyo National Museum, highly regarded as the predecessor of the other museums across Japan.

Its identity as an encyclopedic establishment extends to an art assemblage so comprehensive, it cannot be contained under one roof. Exhibits of art and antiquities primarily of medieval Japanese background and extensively East, Central and Southeast Asian backgrounds are spread out over six separate galleries within walking distance of each other.

Exploring the Honkan (Main Gallery) feels akin to having boarded a time machine. To be able to behold the relics of bygone eras encourages the imagination about the life led by the Japanese in the distant past.

A katana on display at one of the museums at Ueno Park

Certain ceramics seem purely decorative, while other pieces hold significance for certain families. The magnificent katana of legendary samurai gleam in reverence behind bulletproof glass, resting peacefully in retirement from the wars centuries ago. 

Today, these physical remnants of the past are displayed here at the Tokyo National Museum and so easily available to the eyes of the public. The sole purpose of educating the people and encouraging personal development extends to all the establishments and museums that share Ueno Park.

Ueno Park

What strikes as novel is how different Ueno Park is from what anyone expects of a park. The answer perhaps lies in its founding father, the Japan-based Dutch doctor Anthonius Franciscus Bauduin. He had envisioned a recreational space for the people to encourage living beyond day-to-day survival. This vision became Ueno Park in 1873.

Today, his bust bears Japan’s gratitude and sits atop a pedestal edging a grove of trees where Dr. Bauduin may, in spirit, continue watching over generations who seek Ueno Park for tranquillity, recreational stimulation, and cultural cultivation.

This is indeed so much more than a park.

  1. 1.Ueno Onshi Park
  2. 2.National Museum of Western Art
  3. 3.Tokyo National Museum
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