My favourite part of Tokyo so far has undoubtedly been Ueno Park. Stepping right from the train station, I found myself surrounded by gorgeous greenery. Fields, trees and gardens, a big lake full of ducks and fish, even a zoo, though I didn’t attend.
Dotted around the park are temples and shrines, each one a beautiful work of art in itself. Outside one is a remarkable five-storey pagoda, and the sobering Hiroshima flame. A single, tiny fire which has been kept burning since the atom bomb ignited it back in 1945.
Walking around these places of worship and spirituality, surrounded by quiet people and genuine respect and dignity, I feel a little uncomfortable taking lots of pictures. I do find it more relaxing to take these places in without taking a large number of photos, and most of them have already been well documented online. There are plenty of tourists walking about waving selfie sticks, but there’s a certain smug satisfaction to not joining them.
The real highlights of Ueno Park are the museums. The National Museum of Science and Nature spreads technology, fossils, exhibits and educational materials over several floors, reaching up into the tall building as well as deep down into multiple basement levels. I was astounded by the rooms full to bursting with dinosaurs, whales and samples. I stood mesmerised for some time seeing cosmic rays on a cloud machine. The fascinating exhibit on Japanese Nobel Prize winners was informative, and a walkthrough of the evolution of life on Earth and development of human civilisation was moving.
Next door, the Tokyo National Museum is even more impressive. Walking through the gates, it opens up like a University campus. Multiple large buildings, each with a different theme of exhibits, are spread over gardens and water features, tea rooms and pieces of historical architecture.
In one exhibit, archaeological finds took me through Japan’s whole inhabited history, from prehistory and the Jomon civilisations all the way until the waning days of the Samurai. Another, smaller and more modern building contained a collection of beautiful Buddhist treasures. The two most major buildings were the Asian and Japan buidings.
The former collected artifacts and exhibits from China, India, Egypt and all across Asia. It was a huge and impressive collection. The latter was the centrepiece of the museum, collecting samurai armour and swords, works of art, outfits and statues and paintings from the whole span of Japanese history. A wonderful collection and a real journey to explore.
Ueno Park is astounding. I tried fried chicken, chocolate coated banana and even a phenomenal pizza, all from street vendors. I explored millennia of history, I saw incredible sights in and outside of the museums, and all for incredibly low prices. A real taste of the old Tokyo, right on the periphery of the modern megacity.