During our recent trip to Japan, we spent quite a few days in Tokyo. In fact, we started our holiday from Tokyo (at that time we stayed in Asakusa) and we finished it off in Tokyo as well. From there we flew to Italy and we were back a month later, as we stopped in Tokyo for a couple of days on our way back to Sydney. Tokyo is a huge metropolis and each area has its own characteristics. At the end of our Japanese vacation, we decided to stay in the Ueno area and explore the city from there. Actually, to be precise, we stayed at Yanaka which is an area a couple of train stations north of Ueno. Today, I will share my little Ueno guide with all of you! I will cover Ueno, Yanaka and Akihabara. So let’s start.
Ueno’s most famous attraction is its large park, located right next to Ueno Station. This was the first ever western style public park in Japan.
One of the main attractions of the park is Kaneiji Temple, which was destroyed during the Boshin War. The remnants of the original temple complex, such as its five storied pagoda and Toshogu Shrine, are scattered around the park.
The Toshogu has a beautiful golden door and gardens full of flowers.
The Kiyomizu Kannon Temple was originally built as part of Kaneiji Templeas well. Its design, including a wooden balcony extending from the hillside, was inspired by the Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. The temple is home to an image of the goddess of conception, and is particularly popular among women hoping to have children. It also has a little series of red tori that reminded me of Fushimi Inari.
Another beautiful spot is the Shinobazu Pond.
On an island in the middle of the pond you can find the Bentendo temple, dedicated to Benten, the goddess of good fortune, wealth, music and knowledge.
Other attractions of the park include the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum. It is also home to Ueno Zoo.
Besides, Ueno Park is one of Tokyo’s most popular cherry blossom spots with more than 1000 cherry trees lining its central pathway. The cherry blossoms are usually in bloom during late March and early April and attract many hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties. Unfortunately, as we visited the park at the end of our holiday, the cherry blossoms had already withered, so we could not see this in person.
Not far from Ueno Park, you can visit Ameyoko, a busy market street along the Yamanote Line tracks between Okachimachi and Ueno Stations.
The name “Ameyoko” is short for “Ameya Yokocho” (which means candy store alley), as candies were traditionally sold here. “Ame” also stands for “America”, because a lot of American products used to be sold here on the black market in the years that followed World War II.
Today you can find almost anything in this street: clothes, fresh food, dried fish and spices and it is PACKED!
Akihabara is famous for its many electronics, anime and manga shops and maid cafes.
Probably the biggest electronics shop is Yodabashi, but there are also many smaller shops that line the main Chuo Dori street. They offer everything from the newest computers, cameras, TVs, mobiles, electronics parts to second-hand goods and electronic junk.
Recently, many anime and manga shops have appeared in the area too. In addition to shops, maid cafes have also become popular in the area. Maid cafes are cosplay themed restaurants where waitresses dress up and act like maids or anime characters and are popular with both men and women.
Our ryokan was in Yanaka, a residential area 2 stations north of Ueno.
It is one of the few districts in Tokyo where the old time atmosphere still survives. And, to my kids’ delight, it’s full of cats!
To get to our ryokan we had to walk through Yanaka Ginza, a shopping street with shops that sell everything from groceries to clothes and toys. There are also a few snack shops that sell sweets, rice crackers, fish cakes, karaage, korokke, gyoza etc. and are quite cheap.
I quite liked the area, as it wasn’t very touristic and there were actually many locals shopping for their daily groceries here. This Tofu shop was always packed with people and they were actually making tofu right there!
Another beautiful spot is the Yanaka Cemetery. Many of the tombs are nicely decorated and the paths are well kept.
In fact, it makes for a tranquil stroll. So much so that there is even a playground in there for kids to play!
The grave of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of the Edo Period, is also in the cemetery.
The Tennoji Temple is right next to the cemetery and there is a big bronze Buddha statue on the left of its main building.
FOOD IN YANAKA
Probably the only reason why I will stay in a different area the next time I visit Tokyo is the lack of choices in food in the Yanaka area.
I thought there were good options for lunch or a quick dinner as the shops in Yasaka Ginza sell sweets, rice crackers, fish cakes, karaage, korokke, gyoza etc. But we did not find any izakaya or restaurant where we could sit down and have dinner.
Also, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the big shop that sells all sorts of fried food… I thought they were a bit rude with tourists (which was very strange for Japan!) and they also tried to scam us by giving us less cash back when we paid. So beware!
There are also a little supermarket, a bottle shop and a few convenience stores that can be quite useful.
In Yanaka, we slept at Annex Katsutaro. It is a modern looking building next to Yanaka Ginza.
The hotel is small, but nice and clean. It is very near Sendagi station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line, and it’s less than 10 minutes away from Nippori station on the JR Yamanote line. Also, from Nippori station you can catch the Keisei Skyliner that takes you to Narita airport in just 35 minutes! So, location-wise it was very convenient.
The room was big enough for the 4 of us (we had a “family room”), and it had a HUGE bathroom… compared to the tiny micro bathroom we had in Asakusa. Probably though, the next time, I’d choose Asakusa again, as I fell in love with the Sensoji area! 😉
We even had a Yukata each to wear for the night and all the usual toiletry sets you find in Japanese hotels, like toothbrushes and toothpaste, razors etc…
I recommend Annex Katsutaro for a budget friendly option in a nice residential area and especially if you are travelling in and out of Narita.
RESOURCES ON MSM
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HOW TO GET THERE
The easiest way to get to Ueno is by subway. Ueno station is on the Ginza and Hibiya lines and JR Yamanote line.
Akihabara is on the Hibiya line and JR Yamanote line.
The best way to get to Yanaka is by subway. The closest stations are Sendagi on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line and Nippori station on the JR Yamanote line.