Appreciating both natural and manmade wonders22 January, 2012 by Chad
Today we’d headed down to Ueno Park to visit the Ueno Zoo. Fortunately, for us our hotel Candeo Hote Ueno-koen was named precisely because it was located beside the park. So far we had only explored so far as the JR train station around the corner of our street, but the park was just behind that. This gave us an excuse to sleep in till rather late.
Going around the upper part of the park brought us to the middle entrance where the National Museum of Nature and Science was. There are at least 4 museums in Ueno Park including the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, which is unfortunately closed for renovations until later this year. Had we more time, would definitely love to visit the other museums here.
Ueno Zoo takes up just the small western section of the park. Prior to today, I’ve never actually been here, or any menageries outside of Singapore. This is on account of all the warnings I get from family members overseas that their zoos are never as decent as the famous Singapore Zoological Gardens or Night Safari.
Entrance costs just 600 yen, exactly half the price for Singapore Zoo. Weren’t expecting a whole lot today. But perhaps for this reason, we ended up being eventually quite pleasantly surprised by both the size and variety of animals on display at Ueno Zoo.
The Giant Panda section was located just at the entrance, undeniably the most popular attraction here . We joined a long queue made almost entirely of families hoping to catch a glimpse at the pair of pandas too. The low entry cost and accessibility of the park made it an ideal spot to spend some family time together over the weekend.
Thankfully, despite the queue size, there was only about a 15 minute wait before we made it to the viewing area. As loved as they are, pandas don’t make the most interesting animals. Both were sleeping soundly this morning. Everyone flocked to this one that faced the windows. The panda occasionally stirred in its sleep. Apart from their stumpiness and ridiculous sense of fashion, pandas don’t look too different from regular bears.
We found a map of the place, then learned that that was only a map of the current zone. Here’s the full map, though hardly in scale. The zoo isn’t nearly as large as Singapore Zoo but as the exhibits are smaller and more tightly packed, Ueno Zoo manages to fit a far greater variety of animals here. So as not to bore, I’ll only upload a fraction of pictures taken today and perhaps leave the rest for another article.
Another thing to note was exactly how close one could get to the animals, with many enclosures being within arms reach. This was probably a result of space constraints and probably not the best for safety.
Of course, it wasn’t all rainbows at Ueno Zoo. Many of the small enclosures kept a single specimen of each species only and this lead to some rather depressing situations. It might had been the intense cold, sheer loneliness or through training, but many of the animals here behaved rather strangely.
For example, despite having a larger pen to itself, this lion here paced around a fixed loop between the two viewing windows to combat the cold and perhaps for some companionship. I noticed a few other animals around the zoo exhibiting the same unusual behavior. If it was simply to keep warm, surely it would had chosen to stay in the sun.
In contrast, the animals who were kept in groups or together with other animals displayed more logical and social traits.
It was already noon by the time we had finished exploring half of the zoo. So we took a short walk to the other half, which surrounded the part of Shinobazu Pond which isn’t used up by the Bentendo Temple. This might explain the assortment of birds encountered here.
There was also a small hanging monorail which covered the distance between the two parts of the zoo which cost 150 yen. But as the terminals were just 300 meters apart, this was more of a novelty meant for the zoo’s younger visitors.
The front most section of this half was dedicated to small critters and a petting zoo. We looked around a small pen labelled “porcupine” which seemed empty, finally noticing that it had somehow made its way up the top of a tree. A couple of red pandas were lazing around in the tree beside it. This one on a nearby branch was busy grooming its tail like a cat. Its rich bright fur made it looks like a mechanical plush toy.
All of the animals here were harmless enough to touch. A part of the area was segmented off for domesticated animals to roam freely around. The barriers you see here were to prevent people from actually entering their habitats, there were gaps in them to allow the animals to venture out as they wished.
Apart from a few sheep, ducks and people running after chickens in an attempt to carry them, most of the animals here preferred to chill out in a stone platform in the center of the area. Being in direct sunlight, this must had been the animal’s equivalent of the heated seats in trains.
While looking, we noticed that each of the goats here carried a tag with their name on it. Suspiciously, I found these two she-goat named “Ran” and “Lemon” side by side. There must be a wota on staff.
Dustpans and grooming brushes were provided which children were encouraged to use. A couple of little kids followed the sheep around sweeping up their litter but eventually grew bored when it was apparent that they could never catch up with the amount the sheep were producing. You had to tread quite carefully around this area.
Read earlier that they had recently brought a couple of alpacas over to Ueno Zoo. I managed to spot the brown one but the white one was nowhere to be found. The shaggy “Moko” was like a walking mop. You could see all the hay and dirt it picked up on its dark fur whenever she laid down to rest.
Being lunchtime, many of the visitors had started to head to the zoo’s canteen and food stalls. The food here was pretty pricey though, so we decided to delay lunch till after we got out.
A souvenir shop here sold the usual omiyage snacks, as well as plush toys of some of the more popular animals found in the zoo and many pandas.
You could see that in contrast to previous photos, this side of the zoo was home to a number of overcrowded enclosures.
Not all of the animals here were friendly. There was also a vivarium and the “World of Darkness”, which was home to creatures like naked mole rats, kangeroo rats, flying foxes and bats.
But outside, we encountered more familiar animals here like hippos, zebras and giraffes. Again, the larger animals tended to be solitary. One unusual specimens was the okapi they had here, which looked like something straight out of a Ghibli movie.
Realizing that we had finally seen every corner of the zoo, it was about time to head to our next destination. Realizing it would be easier to head to Ueno Station from the main exit, we backtracked to the other side. Along the way, we stopped by this pagoda which had a bunch of people crowded around it. From our view of it in the eatery, we later learned that it was some sort of fountain.
Were both pretty hungry by now, having skipped breakfast, so we settled for lunch at the first sign of sustenance. Just outside the zoo, we encountered a small old school hut akin to Singapore’s classic mama shops, except that it also served as a small eatery.
Ordered a couple of servings of their curry. It tasted like the instant home cooked kind. Nothing special but we were hungry enough to appreciate anything. The shopkeeper wasn’t too friendly though.
From Ueno, we took a direct train down to Omiya in Saitama Prefecture to visit the Railway Museum. Despite being another city, the limited express trains brought us there in roughly 20 minutes. From there you have to hop on board a rather expensive small light rail one stop to Tetsudohakubutsukan though.
To enter, you had to purchase an IC card for 1,000 yen from the vending machines outside and use it to get past the gantry. A cheap gimmick, since you eventually had to return the card to the receptionist on the way out.
Some 30 or so different trains and carriages were on display in the large warehouse here. Many of the newer trains could be boarded and explored. There were quite a few families who brought their children here. There were also a few couples and more oddly, museum or train buffs of either gender.
Upstairs, a detailed timeline of rail technology was presented together with supporting antique items on display. The museum also kept another room full of recovered items from more recent history. Another wing of the building featured 3 floors of learning activities for younger visitors. There were also mini-train rides downstairs for the same audience.
Heard that you could try messing with some different train control panels in the museum. We found this area dedicated to that purpose. Sadly, they were less advanced that you’d expect. The controls would simply control the speed at which a video of the train’s route would play. You could also try your hand at more sophisticated simulators but those required an additional fee.
Tried looking around the souvenir shop here but couldn’t find anything of interest. Just the usual themed stationary and snacks. After, we visited a small viewing room where the museum’s last show of the day was about to start.
Here, an eloquent woman “conductor” controlled a rather elaborate model train set at the front of the room. Many current train types were depicted in toy form here. All of the trains started docked in their respective stations, she brought them to live one by one in order of how early they ran while describing the trains in detail.
There wasn’t much left to see, since the museum was preparing to close by now. While it was something that I’d visit once, between the high ticket price and cost to get here from Tokyo, I honestly wouldn’t recommend the Railway Museum to any adult who isn’t a railfan. It’s a nice place to bring with little ones though.
On the way out, the staff took our IC cards and passed us some stubs. There was a dated stamp outside to remind you of the visited date. It would had been nice to be able to keep the card instead.
We returned to Tokyo, stopping by on our way back to the hotel at Akihabara. Until now, we had yet to find the new TRIO store here and would forget to again this evening. We were distracted by a large crowd who had gathered both in and outside the Belle Salle building across the street.
The plentiful light sticks and familiar chants gave them away immediately. Moving closer, I barely made out 5 color coordinated youths at a stage at the far end, identifying them as the members from the pop idol group Momoiro Clover Z.
Staying on was kind of futile, as we could barely make out anything above the sea of people. Many of the group’s die hard fans continued cheering on even from the outside though, their fervent chants audible from every part of Akihabara.
After making a round trip to the far side of Akiba to get a few boxes of waffles from Manneken, we spent the evening mostly grocery shopping at Donki and the supermarket adjacent to the station. Stocked up on quite a bit (but hardly enough) instant noodles and snacks. Would had certainly gotten more, were there more space in my luggage left.
Tried some instant cup noodle yakisoba for dinner, for the reason of getting more should they turn out decent. But common sense would tell you that it would hardly fare well. Both the texture and taste of the noodles ended up being quite similar to instant noodles you’d get in Singapore, which might be unique by Japanese standards. The only saving grace was that the servings were really large. Thankfully we still had waffles.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.