Mentioned in the last week’s post, we had a public holiday to celebrate Culture Day and that free entries were offered at some of the major museums around the country. Here’s how we spent our first Culture Day since we moved to Japan at the start of the year.
What’s Ueno like?
上野 (うえの, Ueno) in the north-eastern neighbourhood in Tokyo is famous for Ueno Park right next to Ueno station. Ueno Park is not just a normal park but a mega park with 1,000 cherry blossom trees, a few temples and shrines, 5 museums and a zoo.
Ueno is also famous for アメ横 (あめよこ, Ame-yoko) which are shopping streets originally filled with vendors selling 飴 🍬- ame – or lollies/candies but it was also a shortening of “America” 🇺where a lot of American products were sold post World War II. Today, busy streets are filled with candies, sneakers, eateries and Japanese souvenirs.
First stop: Snack on the traditional Japanese sweets
Our first stop at Ueno was a shop in Ame-yoko called かるた屋 (Karuta-ya) that sells 都まんじゅう (Miyakomanjyu, or city Japanese sweet called Manjyu usually a mini cake like sweets with red bean paste fillings). Many regions have their own version of Miyakomanjyu but Ueno’s Karutaya has been around since 1950’s and has been a common souvenir when people visit Ueno.
The commonality between the various cities’ miyakomanjyu is that the sweets are made by automated miniature factory. The shop attendant wasn’t happy for people to take photos so I chose not to but it’s enjoyable to watch how it’s made. However, this instagrammer filmed the process so here’s what it looks like:
With the sweets only costing 60yen per piece (around $AUD0.80, minimum order of 10), we bought 10 and mentioned that we will be eating it straight away. The shop attendant packed a little box with manjyu straight from the machine so they were warm when we received it!
Miyakomanjyu isn’t too sweet but you can taste the ingredient’s natural flavour like many good Japanese sweets. We munched on these while we strolled along Ueno Park heading to one of the museums.
Place to visit: Karuta-ya
Opening hour: 10:00am-8:00pm (closed on Tuesday)
Second stop: Feed the mind and heart with art
国立西洋美術館 (Kokuritsu Seiyō Bijutsukan or The National Museum of Western Art, NMWA) located within Ueno Park is Japan’s only national institution dedicated to western art. The building itself is something to admire as it is a World Heritage Site that was designed by Le Corbusier.
There was a massive queue to enter its special exhibition (currently on Habsburg family) but you can skip the queue if you want the free general admission handed out for Culture Day (and also 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month).
The museum’s collections are organised by the era. Start from the 14th century sculptures and weave your way all the way to the modern 20th century. There are quite a collection of Impressionisms which is one of my favourite art movements with rare pieces from Claude Monet as some of the artworks to admire.
Place to visit: The National Museum of Western Art
Location: 7-7 Ueno-koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0007, Japan
Opening Hours: Tues – Thurs, Sat-Sun: 9:30am – 5:00pm, Fri: 9:30am – 8:00pm (Closed on Monday)
Third stop: First the old, then the new
While in the area, I wanted to visit 25k540 Aki-Oka Artisan that is 1km or 12 minutes walk away from Ueno Park.
Between Akihabara train station and Okachimachi train station used to be a car park and a storage under the train line in a neighbourhood where it once flourished with craftsman. Born was 25k540 where Japanese craftpeople hold stores and studios offering a unique shopping experience for those searching for a Japanese made products. Apparently, some shops offer workshops for people to make their own items.
There were shops dedicated to umbrellas, socks, leathers, Japanese towels and many that are thoughtfully created and definitely not mass produced making it an ideal place to purchase gifts and Japanese souvenir🛍.
Place to visit: 25k540
Opening Hours: 11:00am – 7:00pm, closed on Tuesday
Fourth stop: Hit the library…the one you can sip
Admiring so many beautiful French artists’ work at the museum made my husband crave for French food (instead of myriad of izakaya or Japanese casual tapas places that fill Ueno).
Upon researching for a French restaurant, we made a reservation at WineShop & Diner, Fujimaru which was 26 minutes walk away or 15 minutes train ride away from 25k540.
They offer creative French dishes prepared with Japanese produce personally selected by the restaurant team and the restaurant has an extensive wine selection where you can purchase a bottle to either take it home or drink it at a restaurant. The expert staff will guide you through their wine cellar to select a wine to match the meal🍷.
The entrance is a little bit hard to find as you have to walk through a clothes store to walk up to the 2nd floor where the restaurant is located but every meal was amazing 😋. The stand out dish was the 2 hours charcoal grilled onions. Sounds so simple but inventive and tasted amazing.
I’m keen to try the chef’s course and see what will be served!
Place to visit: Wineshop & Diner, Fujimaru
Opening Hours: 1:00pm – 10:00pm, closed on Tuesday and Wednesday
From munching on old school sweets, appreciating culture at a museum, shopping unique artisan products to wining and dining at a French restaurant- Ueno region definitely offers a whole lot of culture.
People who are dedicated to their craft congregate in this area for you to discover and enjoy so why not explore the area for yourself?
Have you been to Ueno? Let us know which stop you’d be interested in visiting or have already!