There are many interesting and unique places to visit all across Japan. It is a beautiful country that is rich in natural resources, especially in flora and fauna. There are some unique species in Japan that you can’t see anywhere else in the world. For example, Japan’s Ogasawara Islands (小笠原諸島) are often referred to as “the Galapagos of the East” due to the number of rare species found there. Most of these animals are endangered due to increasing human contact and loss of habitat, so it is rare to find an animal park dedicated to these species. However, there are other parks for certain animals with an adequate number. Let’s delve into them a little further!
You may have heard of Japan’s famous cat island, Tashirojima (田代島), that is infested with cats. Similarly, there is a rabbit island called Okunoshima (大久野島), where thousands of rabbits roam freely everywhere. There are monkey parks all across Japan where you can find a variety of monkeys, one of which is the famous Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑) in Nagano (長野).
There are horse farms, cattle ranches, emu farms, fish breeding centers, and many more scattered across Japan. Apart from these naturally or commercially formed habitats, there are also parks specially formed with government support to create a protective environment for some animals.
Here are four unique animal parks in Japan to visit if you are an animal lover. If you are not an animal lover, you can still find these places interesting because of the rarity of the creatures living here.
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Alpacas are camelids native to the South American Andes mountain range. Camelids are a group of species that include llamas, camels, and alpacas. An alpaca is basically a small llama. They are found in Ecuador, Northern Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. They are mainly reared for their fur which is used to make hats, blankets, scarves, etc. They have been domesticated by humans a long time back and are also consumed as food in the Andean region.
Alpacas are completely new to Japan. It is only until the late ’90s that these animals were brought to the country on a chartered plane from Peru to Nasu of Tochigi (栃木) Prefecture. Alpacas live in high-altitude grassland areas with relatively low temperatures. Nasu is located right amidst volcanoes and is famous for its hot springs and highlands. Although summers in Japan are slightly unbearable for alpacas, the Nasu area is still the best place for them to survive. With an altitude that is 1,000 meters above sea level, this place is very cool and beautiful.
If you want to see these rare animals, you must visit the Nasu Plateau located northeast of Tokyo (東京). In fact, the alpaca farm in Nasu is the largest one in entire Japan. The population of alpacas has doubled since they were brought in. You can see different types of alpacas posing with visitors for photographs in the farm. Although alpacas are friendly creatures, they get easily annoyed and they usually spit if they are angry.
Do not miss the opportunity to visit the 25,000-square-meter alpaca farm in the town of Nasu. Many Japanese people are slowly getting to know about this rare animal. These alpacas are being shown on TV and on YouTube for Japanese people to be familiar with. Due to their increasing popularity among local tourists, there are new farms being opened up.
In Shizuoka Prefecture (静岡県) of Eastern Izu (伊豆) lies the small city of Ito where a Mexican themed shaboten (Japanese for “cactus”) park is located. Famous for its natural hot springs, the Izu area attracts thousands of visitors every month. These hot springs also attract wildlife such as monkeys in the winter. There is one custom-made hot spring that is considered special in the park due to the rare species that likes to soak in here. It is the capybara, the world’s largest rodent.
Capybaras also come from South America and are not native to Japan. These are friendly vegetarian mammals that usually live in deep forests and savannas near rivers or ponds. These are larger than guinea pigs but way more agile than expected. They can run as fast as a healthy wild horse. They can also swim underwater by holding their breath for up to five minutes. Countries like Venezuela have many capybara farms where they are grazed for meat.
Although not endangered, capybaras face a serious existential problem due to illegal hunting. Because of their friendliness, many people make them as pets, especially in America. They are adaptive to different climates and allow humans to touch them. However, it is not a good idea to kiss them or take them closer as some may cause viral infections. Japan had never seen these creatures before until they were brought from South America a few decades back.
The Capybara Onsen at Izu Shaboten Zoo is attracting hundreds of visitors every week. You can actually swim along with the capybaras in the onsen. You can pet them and take pictures with them. Since they feed on grass, you can actually buy some and feed them. Winter in Japan is the best time to soak in the Capybara Onsen. There are many other animals and birds in the zoo besides capybaras. Located on the beautiful footsteps of Mt. Omuro (大室山), the Izu Shaboten Zoo is a must-visit for nature lovers.
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The Kandachime is a group of wild horses that live in the harsh weather of Cape Shiriya (尻屋崎) in Aomori Prefecture (青森県). It is amazing to see these horses stay in cold weather in winters withstanding record low temperatures. The Shiriya area has a couple of Kandachime horse farms where they are left in the wilderness. Although these are wild animals, they are extremely friendly. They occasionally come near tourists and let them feed them carrots. There is no best time to visit these horses as you can see them roam all year round, especially on the farm near Cape Shiriya Lighthouse.
The main breed of horse you would see here is the Dosanko (道産子) breed. Dosanko horses are native to the Tohoku (東北) region of Northern Honshu (本州) and Hokkaido (北海道). These are one of the rarest and most beautiful horse breeds in the world. Depicted in limelight throughout Japanese war history, Dosanko horses are a symbol of royalty and the way of life of people in Hokkaido. Sometimes, the people of Hokkaido are called as “Dosanko” because of this.
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Mt. Zao (蔵王山), located between Miyagi (宮城) and Yamagata (山形), is known for its snow-capped fig trees, ski slopes, and beautiful lakes. The Fox Village in Zao is one among the few fox sanctuaries in the world. Usually, one gets to see foxes in zoos or in the wild. However, hundreds of different breeds of foxes are chilling at this village. Designed to be more like a park, this place is visited by both local and foreign tourists all year round.
There is an Inari shrine (稲荷神社) at this village which is the reason for the creation of the Fox Village. Foxes are considered auspicious apart from being labeled as clever and cunning creatures in Japan. You can find fox iconography at most of the Inari shrines across the country. Although foxes are dangerous creatures, you can actually feed them at the Zao Fox Village. Foxes here are bred, too, with the help of conservationists.
These are just some of the unique animal parks in Japan for you and your family to visit. All these parks are located amidst nature and are open to the public all year round. If you are looking for a calm adventure or a picnic in the middle of nature, you should definitely pay a visit to these places. Also, if you are bored of routinary owl and cat cafes, take a backpack and proceed to these four amazingly interesting parks to spend time with special creatures.