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A Course to Discover the Architecture of Ueno

From the great works of masters to the basics of Japanese architecture, introducing architectural sites to see.

A Course to Discover the Architecture of Ueno

From the art museum designed by Le Corbusier or the mansion designed by Josiah Conder and built by the highly skilled carpenters of Japan, to the shrines and temples designated as important cultural properties, Ueno is home to numerous famous works of architecture that have attracted visitors throughout the ages. The National Archives of Modern Architecture, with architect Tadao Ando as its honorary director, was completed in 2013. Anyone, not only architectural enthusiasts, can relax as they explore the beautiful structures whether having a walk or enjoying lunch, or perhaps even as part of their normal stroll through the Ueno area.

START

Tokyo Bunka Kaikan exterior

Tokyo Bunka Kaikan exterior

11:00

1

Listen to a morning concert at a venue featuring
the modernism architecture of Kunio Maekawa

The architect Kunio Maekawa (1905-1986) was the leader of modernism architecture in Japan. Entering Ueno Park from Ueno Station, you are immediately confronted with the massive concrete eaves of the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, which was designed by Maekawa in 1961. As one of the few architects who studied under Le Corbusier, the influences of his teacher can be seen in his use of color, such as the red walls and blue ceilings.

The interior of the building features numerous points of interest, such as the concrete pillars with wood grained patterns designed to blend in with the park background, the lobby floor tiles based on a leaf motif, the gold relief designed by the sculptor Masayuki Nagare, and the intentionally and randomly placed light fixtures. A morning concert is performed once per month in the cave-like Small Hall. The rock-like objects on the wall, designed by Nagare, function as echo plates, which allow concert goers to enjoy a special audio experience praised by musicians throughout the world.

Lobby

Lobby

Floor tiles designed after a tree leaf motif

Floor tiles designed after a tree leaf motif

The Small Hall that evokes the image of a cave

The Small Hall that evokes the image of a cave

The wall designed by sculptor Masayuki Nagare

The wall designed by sculptor Masayuki Nagare

1

12:30

2

Enjoy lunch at The National Museum of Western Art
designed by master architect Le Corbusier

After the concert, head to The National Museum of Western Art across the street from the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan. Here you can view the only work of architecture left in Japan by the master architect Le Corbusier, which features many of his signature techniques such as pilotis and a rooftop garden. The museum was opened in 1959. Three apprentices of Le Corbusier, Kunio Maekawa, Junzo Sakakura, and Takamasa Yoshizaka, also cooperated to design. You can enjoy lunch at the museum’s cafe restaurant, Café Suiren. Relax as you enjoy your lunch while viewing the building and courtyard outlined in glass windows.

The shrine building at Ueno Toshogu Shrine

The shrine building at Ueno Toshogu Shrine

13:45

3

Admire the gorgeous and beautiful architecture of
the Edo Period at Ueno Toshogu Shrine

After enjoying the modernism architecture at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, travel back into the past for a tour of temple and shrine architecture. The next stop is Ueno Toshogu Shrine, found to the west of Ueno Park. The structure was built in 1627 during the Edo period. The building we see today dates from 1651 when the temple was rebuilt, and has thus stood for over 350 years. Ueno Toshogu Shrine is a rare and valuable example of Edo architecture that survived the war. Among its characteristic features are the vibrant colors of gold, vermillion, and agate, and the sacred beasts motifs such as dragon and bird guardians.

Ueno Toshogu Shrine consists of a Shinto shrine building featuring glorious sculptures on the exterior, and a large gate (karamon) in the kara hafu style. All of the features on the site have been registered as important cultural properties, including bronze lanterns, the see-through wall featuring engraved wild mountain animals and plants on the upper section, and maritime animals on the lower, and the large granite torii gate.

Ueno Toshogu Shrine

  • Address: 9-88 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo

  • Telephone: 03-3822-3455

  • Free entrance

The gate at Ueno Toshogu Shrine

The gate at Ueno Toshogu Shrine

The see-through wall at Ueno Toshogu Shrine

The see-through wall at Ueno Toshogu Shrine

The bronze lanterns at Toshogu Shrine

The bronze lanterns at Toshogu Shrine

The large granite torii gate at Toshogu Shrine

The large granite torii gate at Toshogu Shrine

Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple at Kan'ei-ji Temple

Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple at Kan’ei-ji Temple

14:30

4

Relax and enjoy a peaceful view of Shinobazu Pond
from Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple at Kan’ei-ji Temple

Built in 1625, Kan’ei-ji is a massive temple that boasted an area of over 1 million square meters at the center of Ueno Park during its golden age. Today there are still more than 10 temple buildings and pagodas remaining within Ueno Park. Among them, Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple is a red painted temple nestled on the banks of Shinobazu pond. The deck of the temple building emulates that of Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, and the photogenic qualities of its structure have been featured in numerous Ukiyo-e paintings. Standing on the deck, you can see Shinobazu Pond and the blue copper-plated roof Benten Temple at its center. Take your time as you enjoy the beautiful view, which was counted among the One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.

Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple

  • Address: 1-29 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo

  • Telephone: 03-3821-4749

  • Opening hours: 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM

  • Free entrance

2

3

Benten Temple at Shinobazu Pond

Benten Temple at Shinobazu Pond

15:00

5

Visit Benten Temple in Shinobazu Pond by
heading toward the blue copper-plated roof

After coming down from the deck at Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple, walk toward Benten Temple that you saw in the distance in Shinobazu Pond. Benten Temple is a temple for the worship of Benzaiten (Saraswati), one of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japan. Constructed at the center of Shinobazu Pond in 1625, it is said that people used to take a boat to reach the temple at the time. A stone bridge was later built to allow anyone to worship this temple. While the original building was later burned down in war time, the Rokkakudo was rebuilt in 1958. Today, the red painted building serves as a symbol of Ueno.

Benten Temple at Shinobazu Pond

  • Address: 2-1 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo

  • Telephone: 03-3821-4638

  • Free entrance

Exterior of the Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Gardens

Exterior of the Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Gardens

16:00

6

The lavish Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Gardens designed by Josiah Conder, which juxtaposes Japanese and Western architecture

To close out this architectural tour, why not visit the Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Gardens, a leading work of Josiah Condor who brought Western architecture to Japan. The spacious grounds adjacent to Ueno Park are spread over more than 16,000 square meters. It was built in 1896 as the home of Hisaya Iwasaki, one of the businessmen representing Japan and the third president of the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu. The interior is based on the Jacobian style, but also includes touches of the English Renaissance style as well as Islamic motifs. There are many features worth seeing, including the balcony covered in ceramic tiles by Minton in the UK, the wallpaper that uses Japanese leather paper, and the beautifully sculptured columns.

The Japanese building, built in the traditional Shoin style, once surpassed the Western building with which it is collocated, but today only the great hall building remains. It was built using varieties of wood, such as Japanese cypress and chestnut, which are difficult to obtain today.

The billiards room connected to the Western building by an underground passage is designed after a Swiss mountain cottage, a style that was extremely rare in Japan at the time. Adjacent to the lavish Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Gardens is the National Archives of Modern Architecture, completed in 2013. Visit both if you wish to gain a deeper understanding of Japanese architecture.

Western-style residence (central staircase)

Western-style residence (central staircase)

Tiles by Minton in the UK

Tiles by Minton in the UK

Japanese-style building (Ceiling designed after the bottom of a boat)

Japanese-style building (Ceiling designed after the bottom of a boat)

Billiards room

Billiards room

GOAL

Route description

上野文化の杜のたのしみかた