Kichijoji – an area west of Tokyo, just next to Suginami-ku, has the reputation of being one of the most popular Tokyo neighbourhoods to live in. It has been topping the charts for years now, either being no.1 or in top 3 and it’s easy to see why. It’s not as pricey or busy as central Tokyo, and yet it’s lively, fun, authentic and connected to major stations like Shinjuku and Shibuya.
The lovely Inokashira park located south of the station is one of the biggest draws. This park, has a beautiful forest-like feel to it. With its series of natural walkways and grass area, it makes you feel like you are immersed in some natural landscape, even though it’s just 20 minutes away from Shinjuku by train. The park also features a beautiful pond along with a series of romantic swan boats for couples to enjoy (although an urban superstition says that couples who take a swan boat along the river are doomed to break-up afterwards). However, a relatively hidden wonder in this park is its zoo – with many people not noticing it, or skipping it, and they are truly missing out.
The path to the park and the zoo is the same – lined with an assortment of cute coffee shops and small restaurants, as well as fashion shops. The Kanda River runs parallel to the park, and feeds into the harmony. As soon as you reach the pond and cross the bridge, the swan boat pier will be on your right, and the Aquatic Zoo entrance on your left.
The Aquatic Zoo is only one half of Inokashira Park Zoo, housing mostly birds and aquatic animals. The other park is called Main Park and houses more mammals, forest birds etc.
— 井の頭自然文化園［公式］ (@InokashiraZoo) September 16, 2019
Inokashira Zoo is not like Ueno Zoo or other big zoos. Animals seem to have more space, and it’s like the park and the zoo have merged into a single blend of nature. This offers visitors a unique and tranquil atmosphere to enjoy. Within the zoo you will find not only animals, but also lovely open green areas, a wonderfully ornate statue museum and a traditional ceremonial tea house, reminiscent of Kyoto. The Main Park houses two cafes with lovely outdoor seating.
— 井の頭自然文化園［公式］ (@InokashiraZoo) October 8, 2019
Most of the animals housed in Inokashira are native animals to Japan. The zoo does not have big animals like tigers, elephants and the like – although Inokashira did have a very famous and beloved elephant called “Hanako”, the first Asiatic elephant to come to Japan after WWII. The elephant was donated to Japan by the Indian government, but sadly, Hanako passed away in 2016. The zoo has dedicated a large area to her memory with a series of photos, her preserved old enclosure and other memorabilia. There is also a statue of Hanako right next to the bus rotary area when you exit Kichijoji station.
Inokashira Zoo boasts a wonderful interactive squirrel enclosure where visitors can walk in. Here you can see several squirrel families as they go about their daily routine of eating food and scurrying up trees. Inside the enclosure are several guides who can explain the behavior of these cute animals. The zoo also has a guinea pig petting area where you can always see lines of parents with excited children.
— 井の頭自然文化園［公式］ (@InokashiraZoo) August 8, 2019
Other Japanese critters in Inokashira Zoo include rhesus monkeys, fennec foxes, Japanese serows, martens, red-crowned cranes, otters, wildcats, porcupines, capybaras, deer, and, of course, the iconic Japanese Raccoon Dog – the tanuki.
These mischievous, not so clever, creatures are well known in Japanese legends, and in the stories they can even shape change into humans! They have been written about in ancient literature. Studio Ghibli even made film about their fight against a human housing development in Tama called Pom Poko. The reality is that these animals, like the fox, have a howling style which mimics singing. They eat meat scraps and are primarily foragers. They are shy and rarely seen – although often heard, and inhabit many forest areas especially in Tohoku. They have grown to ‘live’ with humans, but are usually not as successful as foxes.
— 井の頭自然文化園［公式］ (@InokashiraZoo) May 5, 2019
Located within 10 minutes walk from Kichijoji JR Station and linked by a quaint street, Inokashira Park Zoo is one of those places to relax, and enjoy tranquility with some cute Japanese animals. It does not have the rush or crowds of Ueno Zoo, rather, it is a zoo that perfectly blends into its surroundings; making it a most magical place to visit.
It is very affordable too – entrance tickets are priced at 400 yen for adults, 200 yen for seniors 65+, 150 yen for highschoolers and free for children under the age of 12. It is also free for disabled people, and groups and foreign tourist get discounts.
The admission is free for everyone on May 17 (Inokashira Park Zoo’s Anniversary Day), May 4 (Greenery Day), and October 1 (Tokyo Citizens’ Day).
The ticket provides you entry to both zoo parks, the aquatic one and the main one. Since the zoo closes rather early, 5 pm in summer and 4 pm in winter, you can split your visit in 2 parts while using the same tickets – meaning you can enter the Aquatic area and the Main area on different days.