As if the green surrounds of this Tokyo oasis weren’t enough, its museums teem with knowledge
When travelling in Japan, I always make it a point to visit Ueno Park, a relaxing green paradise in the heart of Tokyo.
This spacious public park is replete with sights to see all four seasons of the year. At the end of March you have the fleeting beauty of the cherry tree blossoms, an inspiring experience made all the more fun by the crowds of locals who come out to picnic among them. It’s a vibrant and lively atmosphere.
This month I was marvelling at the expanse of magnificent lotus flowers blooming all across Shinobazu Pond in the park. The Japanese lotus has bigger leaves than its Thai cousin, and rounder petals.
Helping make this spot one of the most beautiful and photogenic in Tokyo is the Japanese people, who don kimonos for the annual summer festival.
The cherry pink of the lotus blossoms on Shinobazu no Ike, to use its Japanese name, contrasts delightfully with the colours of nearby Bentendo Temple, which has a red exterior and green roof. And it’s all bathed in blue at night thanks to decorative illumination.
Shinobazu Pond is large enough to be divided into three sections. In one segment people row about in rented boats. In another they pedal little vessels that look like swans and cormorants. And the third is a preserve for several dozen species of migratory and resident birds.
In addition to hosting constantly changing events, Ueno Park is also home to a great number of museums and galleries. These include the Shitamachi and Ueno Royal museums, the national museums of Western Art and Nature and Science, and the Tokyo National Museum and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.
Not only are the displays in these places interesting and educational, but it’s a constant source of charm seeing Japanese people, with kids in tow or in groups of friends, making the rounds. There always seems to be a sense of joy among them when they’re on outings like this.
I was tempted on my visit this month to go see “Michelangelo and the Ideal Body” at the National Museum of Western Art, but opted instead for the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. It had a pair of appealing shows – a Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita retrospective commemorating the 50th anniversary of his death and an exhibition about bento as a “Design for Eating, Gathering and Communicating”.
Both shows continue through October 8.
Foujita is less known that most of the European artists he chummed with and worked among in Paris early in the 20th century, but he’s a hot commodity at the auction houses today.
The retrospective misses nothing in the career of this prolific painter, draughtsman and designer. You get to see his landscapes, portraits, religious paintings and nudes (including “Milky White Nudes”), which sounds rather irreligious.
The four zones bellow their titles – “A Grand Retrospective of the Largest Scale”, “Foujita Masterpieces from Major Western Art Museum Collections!” and “Leonard Foujita Returns to Ueno!” The final section explains that the artist studied at the Tokyo Fine Arts School (now Tokyo University of the Arts).
The bento exhibition is more than box lunches and segmented food platters, seeking to “rethink the relationship between the arts and everyday life”. Most Thais know what bento is, but few will know about its history and culture.
The bento is regarded as an integral part of the Japanese way of life. Some are lovingly prepared for family members as “gifts” and by their design link the maker to the recipient. And families often eat bento together. In this way it becomes a form of communication, bringing people together.
On display are bento boxes from the Edo period (1603-1868), many inventive bento-theme ideas from past and present and East and West, compelling videos and installations and contemporary artworks that require the visitor’s participation.
Artist Marije Vogelzang spotlights aspects of bento that cannot be seen or touched, extracting the human connections, memories and hopes for the future. She does this by creating a space large enough to enter – a giant bento box that can be explored as you listen to a story told by “the Spirit of Bento”.
The title of Jun Kitazawa’s “Osusowake Passage” refers to the practice of sharing food in small portions, usually while eating bento with others. Toru Koyamada and Yasuhiro Moriuchi delve into communication design involving eating and its future possibilities.
Koyamada shows a record of his family’s day-to-day bento-making routine, demonstrating how such a process can create connections and offer rich learning opportunities. Moriuchi conducts workshops for elementary-school pupils to prepare their own bento from scratch and make a documentary video at the same time. The videos are then shared to tell the tale of each student’s bento.
The writer travelled with NokScoot Airlines.
IF YOU GO
The fastest way to reach Ueno Park is by train to Ueno Station, either the JR Line or Keisei Line.
The park can also be reached from Nazu Station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line or from Ueno-Okachimachi Station on the Oedo Subway Line.