Tokyo is a wonderful place to visit. It’s everything a modern metropolis you would expect it to be— and more! Despite being the concrete jungle that it is, what’s truly impressive is how well the city has managed to incorporate nature into its cityscape. This is evidenced by the number of parks in the capital, creating some of the most amazing city views. One such place is Ueno Park in Taito-ku in central Tokyo. Known for the many shrines, temples and museums within its grounds, as well as being home to Ueno Zoo, it also features Shinobazu Pond.
With a circumference measuring two square kilometers, Shinobazu Pond is one of the many notable green oases that the Japanese capital boasts of. The sprawling pond is the perfect place to head to for people who just want to slow down from a hectic day in Tokyo. One of its sections, the lotus pond, gets taken over by lush lotus leaves in the summer you can even barely see the water underneath.
People come to the park for a variety of reasons. As the area is framed by cherry trees, it’s a sight to behold when the trees go in full bloom in spring. Some people come here to cool off during warm and humid Tokyo days by paddling one of the swan boats occupying another section of the pond. Others come here to enjoy the different species of birds that frequent the area.
A pond steeped in history
The pond has been around for centuries and is often associated with the Edo period. While the current one is natural, in the past, the area it encompasses was significantly larger. Back then, there used to be a river that flows into the pond. Over the years, the pond has seen some modification. There was even an instance when it was drained by accident during a subway construction project.
Also, the area surrounding the pond used to be occupied by temples. They were intended to provide a defense to the northeast side of the Imperial Palace, which was considered unlucky. The temples were positioned as such because the pond and its waters serve as a natural protection against fire. Unfortunately, most of the surrounding temples were destroyed in the Boshin War in the 19th Century.
While the lotus pond remains one of the most popular sections of Shinobazu Pond, it has plenty of features to cater to the interests of the visitors that come by.
The pond shares its northern boundaries with Ueno Zoo. It’s a popular place for families to head to thanks to the variety of animals that can be seen here. The zoo also holds the distinction of being the oldest in Japan. It’s also famous for being the very first successful zoo in Japan to successfully witness the birth of a panda. The section the zoo shares with Shinobazu pond is especially notable for being home to Steller’s Sea Eagles and many of the zoo’s birds.
This is the largest section of Shinobazu Pond, situated in its northwest area. The section is aptly named as in the summer, it gets covered in lotus blooms. So much so that it is sometimes impossible to see any hint of the water below. A few of the lotus flowers found here are species you cannot find anywhere else in Japan.
If you want to come to the pond when the lotus flowers are blooming at their peak, time it around July to August. However, the flowers are known to only open in the morning, from 7 AM to 9 AM. By noon, the flowers will retract. If the blooming flowers are really up high on your agenda, make sure to come early. The magnificent view of the blooms will be more than worth your effort though.
Situated along the east section of Shinobazu Pond is the Boat Pond section. It’s called such due to the many boats available for rent to visitors that want to paddle along the pond waters. The ride is a relaxing experience and many people come here during hot days to cool off and enjoy the beautiful sights around. It’s also a very popular activity among couples that visit the pond.
Another section of the pond, the Duck Pond serves as a habitat for the birds, ducks, and other waterfowl that frequent the area. Hundreds of birds, some from the nearby Ueno Zoo can be found here. This part of the pond is a favorite among bird watchers. Each season, a variety of birds can be found here, which makes for a magnificent bird-sighting experience.
Located in the center of the pond, Bentendo Temple can be seen, situated on an islet. The place of worship is dedicated to Benzaiten, the goddess of water. She is also the deity of everything that flows including eloquence and music. Many people also associate her with romance.
Surrounding the temple are unique monuments including one intended for glasses or megane-no-hi as well as one for knives or hochozuka. Some people also bury personal belongings in some of these monuments— something that is typical in the areas surrounding the pond.
Enjoy a boat ride
Paddling across the pond is one of the many activities that visitors enjoy when they come here. The boat rental spot is easy to see. It’s the spot bordering the boat pond and the lotus pond. Just head into the entrance to rent a boat. It’s a great activity to do and the wonderful sights around make it more than worth it. Aside from the beautiful natural scenery around the pond, you can also get a glimpse of the imposing skyscrapers of Tokyo, the towering Tokyo Skytree included, in the distance.
The boat rides typically last for 30 minutes and can be a really fun way to spend the day. You can even get into a race with some of the ducks and birds lazing about n the pond waters— if you can paddle fast enough, that is. It is a unique experience and a great way to see the many different bird species in the area closer. Couples that want some private time will appreciate the experience. Families with kids will adore the excursion.
There are a few boat options for you to choose from. Rowing boats can take up to three adults and is available for a 30-minute ride. You can also extend your paddling time with an added charge for every additional hour. Cycling boats can accommodate 1 child and 2 adults and then there are the ever-popular swan boats, which can hold up to 2 adults and 2 kids. Boat rentals typically open at 9:30 AM and will stay open until around 6 PM. This can vary, however, depending on the season.
Delightful views of cherry blossoms
One of the best times to visit the pond is in spring. Cherry blossom season in Japan usually starts around late March, sometimes around early April. If you want stunning front-row views of the fleeting blooms, one of the best places in Tokyo is Shinobazu Pond. The temple and the pond happen to be framed by hundreds of cherry trees. They’re a feat for the eyes when the flowers burst into an explosion of delicate pinks and whites in spring— the perfect hanami spot.
However, be aware that spring isn’t the time for the lotus flowers to blossom as they only do in the summer. In spring, the waters in the pond will probably just be covered by some brown-colored brush. It is still a lovely sight, nonetheless, especially with the area filled with light pink petals.
A pretty sight for all seasons
While summer and spring are special times to visit Shinobazu pond for its lotus and cherry blooms, the park is a delight no matter the time of the year. Over its long history it has inspired artists and its beautiful lotuses have been depicted in ukiyo-e paintings. If you ever find yourself strolling along Ueno Park on a warm and lazy summer day, head over to Shinobazu Pond and see for yourself what makes it the special spot that it is in the heart of Tokyo.