It used to be the central point to start a journey to the northern parts of Japan and was a focus for trade for many years. This is also a great part of the city to find some slightly less expensive accommodation if you're traveling on a budget.
Ueno's Black Market History
In times gone by, after WWII, Ueno gained the reputation of being the black market area of Tokyo.
Items and goods were purchased from US military personnel and then sold at the open air market, without government permission.
Today, this part of the city is a mix of modern culture and old style Japan. The open air market street is still thriving, only now the type of commerce that takes place is approved by the necessary authorities.
As well as shopping, you will find a range of museums here, a beautiful park and a zoo.
Ameyoko Shopping Street - Anything Goes!
Ameyoko shopping street is only a 5 minute walk from Ueno station and is easily recognizable from the street entrance sign shown in the first picture above.
This is a great place to spend a couple of hours just wandering around the stalls and taking a look at the variety of goods for sale.
There are plenty of produce stalls like the green tea stand on the left. Some foods are particular to specific seasons and, as a result, fetch prices that sometimes seem impossible.
Stalls are set up to sell that one item alone with competing vendors calling out their prices and trying to attract your attention in a bid to close the deal. During melon season, for example, it's not unusual to see fruit on sale in presentation boxes for as much as ¥15,000 (that's just short of $150) each!
People buy them as gifts for friends or business partners to say thank you, win favor, build relationships, and so on.
Duck down one of he side streets or alleyways and you'll sometimes find some hidden gems. There are leather stores, bag shops, shoes, jeans, jewellery, perfume... the list goes on.
Ramen and various noodle shops are dotted all around the area and it's worth stopping to try some of the local fare and recharge your batteries before continuing with the bargain hunt.
Ueno Museums - Art, Science and More
This area also boasts the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Modern Art, the National Science Museum, as well as the smaller Shitamachi Museum. All are worth visiting depending on where your interests lie.
It's worth planning which ones you'd like to visit and then spend the day making your way around your selected choices. All the museums are signposted from Ueno station and are not hard to find.
Be aware that many museums, displays and other public exhibitions are usually closed on Mondays. It's best to avoid this day if you can to avoid disappointment.
In addition, if the Monday happens to be a National Holiday, then the rest day will be moved to the following Tuesday.
Ueno Zoo - The Biggest Zoo In Tokyo
The zoo is right next to the museums so it's easy if you want to include this on your agenda for the day. The zoo includes a variety of birds, a reptile area, along with the usual assortment of bears, elephants, big cats, etc.
I've go to be honest at this point and say that Ueno Zoo is not one of my favorite places.
The animals are all housed in quite small pens that made me feel uneasy as I walked round. I'm sure that everything is done to ensure the animals comfort and Ueno Zoo does have a good reputation.
I guess it's just me - so I'll leave this one up to you.