Visit Japan's oldest zoo: Tokyo's Ueno Zoo

When it comes to history and diverse sets of animals, Tokyo's Ueno Zoo is one of the best! Ueno Zoo is not only Japan's oldest zoo, but it is also the home to many rare and endangered species, such as the famous Giant Pandas and Galapagos tortoise, a trip worth making.

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There are various ways both adults and children alike can have fun in the great outdoors, and one of them is to visit the local zoo! Who can resist the cute monkeys up in the trees or the magnificent roaring tigers? Not to mention that there are always unique animals in the zoo depending on the rarity of the species. Ueno Zoo in Japan is most famous for their giant and oh so adorable pandas! It also boasts the extremely rare Galapagos tortoise. 

History of the Zoo

One of the oldest zoos in Japan is Ueno Zoo, which was established in the early 1880s. It had been a part of the National Museum of Natural History until Japanese civil servant and environmentalist Tanaka Yoshio converted it into a public zoo for both locals and visitors to enjoy. After World War II, Ueno Zoo was renovated so the cages wouldn’t look as daunting as it was before. The Japanese government made the zoo look like a natural habitat that animals would stay in. 

Currently, the zoo has over 3000 animals of different species. The highlight of Ueno Soo is the two rare giant pandas: Ri Ri and Shinshin. These giant pandas were brought over from China in 2011 and their names were chosen through a public poll. These giant pandas gave birth to a cute baby panda in 2017. 

※ Tokyo Zoological Park Society, "Ueno Zoological Gardens"

Apart from the giant pandas, Ueno Zoo is also home to a variety of different animals. From aardvarks to elephants to tigers and gorillas, name it… Ueno Zoo probably has it! The Japanese government also made it a point to make Ueno Zoo as natural as possible by removing the cages (if applicable) so the animals can be comfortable in their homes. 


Aside from the giant pandas, here are some other interesting animals in the Ueno Zoo.

1. Galapagos Tortoise 

The Galapagos Tortoise is considered as the world’s biggest land tortoises. Historically, there are only three tortoises in Japan, and two of them are in Ueno Zoo. The tortoises at Ueno Zoo are named Taro and Kamekichi. Because these tortoises can grow very big and heavy, watermelon, which is a favorite treat for most Galapagos tortoises, is used to lure them to move. Ueno Zoo staff have uploaded this scene, as well as videos on how they move the tortoises when watermelon doesn’t work, to their official Twitter account in the past. Taro is the oldest animal at the zoo at 91 years old (as of 2020) while Kamekichi has been at the zoo the longest out of all of the animals. 

2. White-mantled black colobuses

White-mantled black colobuses are one of the unique monkey breeds that Ueno Zoo features. These monkeys have very distinctive facial features and hair. They are mostly vegetarian, choosing to munch on leaves. These primates are socially inclined and often are in groups, which is why tourists and guests of the Ueno zoo love looking at their fascinating group!

3. Okapi

If you are in the mood for something unique and interesting, be sure to check out the Okapi because it is a crossbreed between a Zebra and a horse. Its legs are like that of a zebra while it has the body and mane of a horse. Another interesting fact is that the Okapi is not exactly closely related to either the Zebra or the horse, it’s actually more related to the giraffe. The Okapi at Ueno Zoo has been at Ueno Zoo since it came from Wild Animal Park in San Diego in 2001. It is a rare animal in itself but Ueno Zoo is one of the only places you can see it in Japan making the experience even more special.

4. South American Tapir

Another unique animal that the Ueno Zoo features is the South American Tapir. The tapirs are a close relative to the rhinoceros but don’t look all that similar. They are most known for their interesting snouts, which help them eat branches, leaves, and small fruit. Baby tapirs have a color similar to that of a giraffe with brown fur and white streaks to blend into their environment, but these white streaks fade as they grow up. Tapirs are considered to be in danger of extinction, which is why it’s special for many visitors to Ueno Zoo to see them. 

For zoo visitors who want to have an up-close interaction with some of the tamer animals that Ueno Zoo has, a petting zoo is also available! The petting zoo has a lot of cute animals such as goats, sheep, and chickens, guinea pigs and even capybara that people can go and interact with. 

Opening Hours and Directions

Opening hours

The opening hours of Ueno Zoo are from 9:30 AM to 17:00 PM. It is important to note that tickets will only be sold until 16:00 PM. Ueno Zoo is also closed every Monday, and if Monday is a holiday, it is closed on the following day. It is also usually closed during Tokyo Day on October 01 and New Years holiday break from December 29 to January 01. Ueno Zoo is located at the easily accessible Ueno Park, in Taito-ku, Japan.

※ Tokyo Zoological Park Society, "Ueno Zoological Gardens"

The closest station and recommended station

Tourists who are going to visit Ueno Zoo are recommended to stop in the JR Ueno Station as the Ueno Park is just a few minutes away from the station. From the JR Ueno station, there are signs directing people towards Ueno Zoo which provides easy access, especially to first-time tourists or foreigners. 


Ueno Zoo offers a lot more activities than the usual animal watching and sightseeing. It is a great way to spend weekend afternoons with both family and friends. Foreigners in particular can be exposed to a wide variety of unique and exotic animals such as pandas, bears, and tortoises. Indeed, Ueno Zoo is the place to be for a fun-filled afternoon with nature and the animals when visiting Japan, especially if you are with family and kids!

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