Introducing Ueno & Around
Ueno and the northern neighbourhoods of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi (aka Yanesen) form a large area that can take up the best part of a day to explore. Start at Ueno-kōen, taking the Ueno Park exit from Ueno Station. Boasting a wealth of museums and shrines, and some phenomenal cherry-blossom viewing, Ueno Park is the perfect antidote to the urban grind. Don’t miss the Tokyo National Museum and the National Museum of Western Art, a short walk apart.
Ueno Hill is famous for a last-ditch defence of the Tokugawa shōgunate by an estimated 2000 loyalists in 1868. Devoted to preventing the restoration of the emperor, these adherents stationed themselves at Kanei-ji, a grand temple compound on the hill. They were duly dispatched by the imperial army, and the subsequent Meiji government decreed that Ueno Hill would become one of Tokyo’s first parklands.
Although rising real estate prices and recent gentrification have erased most vestiges of the old atmosphere, Ameya Yokochō, to the south of the station, was once the site of the largest postwar black market and still holds true to its proud roots even if the goods are now legit. It’s full of Japanese housewives and hawkers haggling over fish and produce, as well as foreign merchants selling everything from Turkish kebabs to Chinese-made bags.
For a far slower vibe, Yanesen, north of Ueno Park, seems stubbornly stuck in the past. This temple-thick area, famed for its stray cats and cemetery, seems more like Kyoto than Tokyo. Walking its gentle hills and lanes is a very refreshing way to spend an afternoon or morning.