October 6, 2014
And just like that, the rain stopped. Looking around, you wouldn't think that it had been raining all morning. We didn't skip a beat and headed for our first sightseeing destination: Ueno Park.
At the train station, we asked the security officer how to buy tickets for our first subway ride. It was easy to get the hang of it once we learned how to use the ticket machines. Without trouble, we found our way to the famous park.
You couldn't tell that it had been raining all morning.
We entered the park from the southeast corner. The first thing we saw was the Kiyomizu Kannon Temple. Its rich red and gold colors make it hard to miss. From what I've read, it was established in 1631 and dedicated to the goddess of childbearing. This is why this temple is often visited by couples who are trying to conceive.
You must wash your hands before entering a shrine. There is a ladle intended for scooping the water to rinse your hands. There is a proper way to wash your hands and you should never drink the water. I'm glad I read about shrine etiquette before this visit. Learn more here.
After all the morning's downpour, it turned hot and humid. We were sweating and Alan, though he was wearing jeans, was attacked with mosquito bites. But the park was so vast with so many attractions that we were easily distracted from all the discomfort.
As we explored more and more, I asked, "Where's everybody? How is it that there's hardly anyone here?" I soon realized why. All the museums in the park were closed because it was a Monday. Arrgh! How could I have missed that in my research?! Ueno Park is home to the most museums in Japan!
Later I was thankful that we visited when it wasn't so busy with tourists. When we went to other popular tourist sites, they were so crowded that we practically had to elbow our way just to get a good picture.
I had no idea about the scale of this park. There are museums, temples, shrines, pagodas, a large pond, and a zoo. We couldn't have possibly toured the entire place in a day. It is not only the oldest and largest park in Tokyo, but one of the most beautiful. It is filled with Japanese history, culture, and charm.
To better appreciate this park, it helps to understand a bit of Japanese history. The Ueno area was where the Battle of Ueno took place. It was one of the largest battles of the Boshin War between the Meiji Emperor and the Tokugawa Shogun. Read more about it here.
Several large stone lanterns lined up the path as we approached the stunning Toshogu Shrine. I was able to take a photo through the bars of the gate since it was closed to the public that day. Standing next to us was a lone gentleman who was fervently reciting his prayer. He didn't let the gate stop him from completing his pilgrimage.
For me, the most memorable was chancing upon the Bentendo Temple which enshrines Benzaiten, the goddess of fortune. Alan and I had been walking around in search of the boat pond indicated on the map of the park. We were about to give up when I caught a glimpse of a striking temple in the distance.
I later discovered that Bentendo Temple is located on a man-made island in the middle of Shinobazu Pond. This large pond is divided into three sections. On the right side of the temple was one section named Lotus Pond. It was jam-packed with giant lotus plants that you couldn't even see the water.
Inside, the temple was even more astonishing. I took my shoes off so I could walk on the tatami mats and get a closer look. My curious nature nudged me to look around and most importantly, to look up. I'm so glad I did. The Kinryu or golden dragon painting on the ceiling was the most breathtaking to behold.
Like I mentioned at the start of this travel series, we came here to celebrate my birthday. I was born in the year of the dragon. After seeing this on the first day of my Japan trip, I was certain that this was a sign of great things to come.
Check out this short slideshow to see more of the many interesting attractions we found inside the massive park.