Ueno Zoo is the most-visited zoo in Japan. It is located in a peaceful green space right in the heart of Tokyo, refreshing the bustling city with gentle natural beauty. Ueno is the oldest zoo in Japan, founded in 1822, and has dedicated itself to educating visitors about diversity and conservation issues, as well as giving loving attention to over 3000 animals that call Ueno home.
The zoo is divided into two spaces, the East Garden and the West Garden. The East Garden has dedicated living spaces replicating the natural environment of the animals it houses – gorillas meander in forests, bears roam foresty hills and seals lie on rocks next to mock oceans. The West Garden hosts larger enclosures for giraffes, zebras and hippopotamuses, as well as an amphibian and reptile house where visitors can get up close to everything from lizards to crocodiles. There’s also a special area for children, where they can pat and feed domestic animals like goats, llamas and cows.
The most popular animals in the zoo are, without doubt, the Giant Pandas. Given to the zoo in 1972 as a symbol of the normalisation of relations between Japan and China, the pandas are part of a breeding program with other zoos around the world, including Beijing and San Deigo Zoos, to work towards the indefinite conservation of the gentle giants. Other favourites include native Japanese animals, including the unique Japanese Giant Salamander in the Vivarium and some 40 macaque monkeys that can be seen playing, feeding and grooming in the monkey house. Over 500 species are represented at the Ueno Zoo, making it a great place for kids and adults alike to visit.
The zoo is well-signed in English, and there is also English-language printed and audio guides available upon entrance. Plan to spend a minimum of two hours here – longer if you have children – and see if you can combine your visit here with another great sight - the Ueno Zoo is right near the national museum, art museum and science museum, offering great opportunities for a full day visit. The zoo itself is also sprinkled with traditional Japanese buildings, from temples to teahouses to historic buildings dating back to the Edo period.