Pandas, Polar Bears and Cherry Blossom: Exploring Ueno

10 Days in Tokyo

This is the first of a number of posts about my experiences in Tokyo from March to April this year, during the beautiful cherry blossom season.  The trip was my first experience of a long haul flight (the longest leg was 14 hours on a plane) and also my first time out of Europe!

I’d read somewhere that Ueno was one of the less desirable areas of Tokyo, which before my arrival to our Ueno-based hotel had me just a little bit worried.  Yet by the end of my trip, it would become one of my favourite places!


After the long flight, and an afternoon of rest, we kick-started the trip the following morning by exploring the local area on foot.


We had breakfast people-watching in the park, before walking the short distance to Ueno Zoo.  The entry fee – 600 yen – was unexpectedly cheap considering the number and variety of animals they have, and it was our first attempts at some full sentences of Japanese!  I was really excited about seeing some animals I’d never seen before.

Ueno Zoo Pandas

The first animals we encountered were the two resident pandas.

Ueno Zoo Pandas

Unbeknownst to us, Ueno Zoo was hiding more than just panda bears… The highlight was definitely stumbling across the polar bear exhibit, where we experienced a polar bear swimming in front of our viewing window before climbing out and chewing on a toy right above our heads.

Ueno Zoo Polar Bears

Ueno Zoo Polar Bears

I was also fortunate enough to get some bear close-up shots.  We were winding our way around the bear exhibits, when an elderly Japanese man gestured for us to follow him.  He led us to a little window, which was tucked out of view, where the enormous bear stood, looking right at us!

Ueno Zoo Bear

One thing I had read before visiting the zoo was that there has been some controversy surrounding the size of the enclosures.  I thought this might be an overreaction until I saw some of the enclosures myself – a few of them were really quite depressing.  I think the most startling of these was the hippopotamus, whose face was buried in the one corner that seemed to allow it any privacy from the crowds – it was awful to see.  I appreciate that space is scarce in a city location, but it was my one and only criticism of an otherwise brilliant day trip.

Gorilla Ueno Zoo

Red Panda Ueno Zoo

We only spotted the Red Panda when we were preparing to leave. We ran down the bridge we were on and managed to snap a few photos. It seemed to be a favourite animal as the enclosure was swarming with visitors!

After Ueno Zoo, we followed our noses down a long street of vendors selling food, and visited the Toshogu Shrine, our first real taste of Japan’s beautiful architecture.

Street Vendors Ueno

Toshogu Shrine Ueno

Ueno Ema

Ema plaques at Toshogu Shrine.


The day was drawing to a close, so we used up the last few hours in the National Museum of Science and Nature, which is also in Ueno Park.

Blue Whale Ueno


We didn’t get to complete the whole museum before closing time, but it was still interesting to see some pieces of Japan’s history and the beautiful architecture inside the museum – the stained glass windows were a personal favourite of mine.


Has anyone else visited Ueno? Did you fall in love with it as I did, or were there other parts of Tokyo you preferred?

Next up: A Day in Akihabara and Asakusa

Happy adventuring!


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