Ueno Park

Like much of Tokyo, Ueno park is a huge bundle of contradictions. While the park is home to the zoo, the Tokyo National Museum and numerous shrines, cultural and historical points of interest, it is also home to Tokyo’s homeless population.

Besides spending some quality time with the pandas and penguins at the zoo you’ll want to be sure to visit a few key attractions including:

The month of April, when all of Tokyo seems to celebrate cherry blossom season at the park — it can get wild in the park.

The statue of the legendary Samurai Takamori Saigo and his dog. Saigo was a 19th century samurai who led a revolt against the Meiji regime. This is the statue Gen. MacArthur wanted removed because he was afraid it would incite too much nationalistic pride. Ultimately he left the statue where it stands after an enormous public protest.

Also of interest is the Toshugo Shrine (circa 1651) and its path of giant stone lanterns (gifts from feudal lords).

The Kiyomizu-Dokannon Temple is where women wishing to become pregnant come to pray to the Goddess of Mercy (fill in your own punch line). Those who’s prayers are answered return to pray for the health of the child. Many leave dolls behind as a sort of offering. Once a year (in late-September) the dolls are gathered up and burned during a Buddhist ritual.

Harajuku Park

Harajuku Park is legendary for the culture clash that presents itself there on Sunday afternoons. Years ago some Rockabilly Rebels began dancing to old 50’s music and the rest has become an international legend. The truth of the matter is that these Japanese Rockabilly geeks are not aging so gracefully. The Sunday afternoon band scene also seems to have died out somewhat. On a recent Sunday afternoon the park was flooded with black clad death rockers advertising their devotion to something called “Lunasea”.

If you’re looking for a relaxing afternoon in the park, this is the place to be. If you want to view young-trendy Tokyo in action, leave the park and wander around the surrounding streets of Harajuku.