In and around Ueno Park you will find many of the most interesting museums in Tokyo, all conveniently located within a short distance from each other.
Ueno is a perfect destination if you want to spend a day educating yourself about everything from art to science, or learn about what life used to be like in historical Tokyo.
Tokyo National Museum (東京国立博物館 Tōkyō Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan)
Perhaps the biggest and most renowned museum in Tokyo. This museum has been displaying domestic and international art and historical artifacts since 1872, and has been located in Ueno Park since 1882. Aside from displaying a permanent collection of around 114,000 items, the museum also conducts research and educational activities. Consisting of five separate buildings, there are exhibitions focusing on many different areas such as Japanese and Asian art, archeology, and pottery. Most of the permanent exhibitions have English descriptions, but unfortunately the same is not always true for the temporary exhibitions.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum (東京都美術館 Tōkyōto Bijutsukan)
The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is a major cultural institution that has had a presence in Ueno since 1926, with the founding aim of promoting the advancement of art for the sake of city’s residents. The museum was recently renovated, and reopened in 2012. Inside, you will find six galleries displaying many different genres of art, by both domestic and international artists. The museum also has a shop and a restaurant that you can visit without needing to pay the admission fee to the exhibitions. Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is closed every first and third Monday of the month.
National Museum of Nature and Science (国立科学博物館Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan)
As the only museum in Japan entirely dedicated to nature and science, here you will find everything from dinosaurs to exhibitions on biodiversity, as well as hands-on exhibits relating to magnetism and electricity. There are also full-scale airplanes and satellites where you can get a good understanding of the marvels of modern technology. The museum is divided into two parts – A Japan gallery and a global gallery. In total, there are more than 14,000 items on display.
National Museum of Western Art (国立西洋美術館 Kokuritsu Seiyō Bijutsukan)
As the name suggest, this museum is dedicated to Western artists. The museum owns a considerable amount of impressive art, by celebrated artists such as Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh, with some of the pieces on display in the permanent exhibition. There are also temporary special exhibitions. The building itself is worth a mention too, designed by Le Corbusier its beauty has been said to rival the paintings inside. The museum opened in 1959, and the building became a listed World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2016.
Shitamachi Museum (下町風俗資料館 Shitamachi Fūzoku Shiryokan)
If you want to experience a slice of what life in Tokyo was like in the past, we strongly suggest you pay a visit to the Shitamachi Museum. Shitamachi is the term used for Tokyo’s lowlands in the eastern parts of town. This area was for the most part inhabited by the lower classes, such as artisans and merchants. In the museum you can visit full scale traditional homes, as well as the interior of a traditional candy shop. There’s also a section where you can play with charming showa-era vintage toys. The entrance fee is only 300 yen, and there are often English speaking volunteer guides available.
Ueno Royal Museum (上野の森美術館 Ueno no Mori Bijutsukan)
This museum is operated by the Japan Art Association, the oldest art association in Japan dating all the way back to 1879. The Royal Museum has no permanent exhibitions, but exhibitions are often held in collaboration with other museums around the world. The Royal Museum also organizes some of the most prestigious art competitions in Japan, including the Ueno Royal Museum Grand Prize Exhibition.
University Art Museum (東京藝術大学大学美術館 Tokyo Geijutsudaigaku Daigaku Bijutsukan)
The University Art Museum is a part of the Tokyo University of the Arts and was founded in 1887 as a collection of art materials for educational purposes. These days, the collection is one of the biggest in the country, and includes over 29,000 pieces, 22 of which are designated national treasures or important cultural properties. The current building opened in 1999, and holds both permanent and temporary exhibitions.