Land of the Rising Sun? More like, Land of the Animal Park Take Over. Whether it’s because the animals are native or whether it’s just a blatant tourist trap, Japan seems to have an obsession with creating full on parks, villages and even islands completely dedicated to certain animals. Here’s 8 (out of the literal dozens) of Japan destinations that animal lovers will go crazy over.
1. Zao Fox Village
Unlike most European legends, which sees foxes as cunning and thieving tricksters, Japanese Mythology depicts foxes as long living creatures of wisdom, and in some cases even magical. Naturally, they’d top a list of must-have animal parks in Japan.
Cute, fluffy and free roaming, there really isn’t anything to hate about this Japan destination. Just a one-hour drive from Sendai, you could spend the day feeding and ogling hundreds of bushy-tailed foxes. You can even pet a baby fox in the park’s designated petting zoo!
2. Nara Deer Park
Nara’s deer park located in the city’s centre, barely a ten-minute walk from the station, had been one of the more unique of the Japan destinations for tourists for many years. The deer roam the city centre freely amongst the city dwellers making a very bizarre, yet refreshing, sight to behold.
So the legend goes, the deer in Nara were made sacred by a visiting god, when he rode down a mountain on the back of a white stag. Because of their divine heritage, killing the deer became a terrible offence. Nowadays, they’re no longer god-like, but are protected.
3. Jigokudani Monkey Park
The monkey that enjoys a soak in the hot springs as much as the next human- also known as the native Japanese Macaque- also known as the very adorable snow monkey.
Jigokudani is an incredible Japan destination that resides in Nagano, one of highest cities in Japan with an incredible altitude of around 370 metres. Bit chilly us in the Winter, but perfect for a snow monkey! You can catch them easily soaking in the hot springs, but still be careful. While Macaques are fairly docile as far as monkeys go, they’re still monkeys. So, man handling here.
4. Okunoshima Island (Bunny Island)
Out of all the Japan desintations on this list, Okunoshima is probably the most mysterious. How the famous bunny island got to be the way it is today is a very fuzzy history, and I’m not even talking about the rabbits.
Originally chosen for its isolated location, Okunoshima was the testing ground for chemical weapons during WWII. Some believe the rabbits were used as test subjects and were either released or escaped into the depth of the island after the war concluded. Nowadays, the dark history behind Okunoshima is covered in layers and layers of fluffy tails and ears. And when I say layers, I’m talking hundreds.
If you like rabbits, then this is will be heaven for you. The island has a strict no dogs and cats rule for the safety of the island’s cute residents. You’ll be up to your eyeballs in button noses and whiskers!
5. Tashirojima Cat Island
Japan actually has numerous places dedicated to cats, including 11 islands and countless cafés littered all over the country. But Tashirojima really is the cat’s meow!
It’s the land where all those dead curious cats were revived- I’m joking. The cats were introduced by fishermen for pest control, and, in classic fashion, they bred and very quickly the island’s cat population reached dizzying heights. Talk about letting the cat out of the bag…I’m mean really, what a cat-astrophe!
6. Izu Shaboten Zoo
As far as Japan destinations go for animal lovers, this one is really special. Izu Shaboten is not your ordinary zoo, many of the animal are free roaming allowing for incredible up close and personal experiences.
But by far the most popular attraction is the second hot spring loving animals on this list, the capybara. During the winter you can catch them burying themselves in their very own spa to escape the cold!
7. Kakegawa Kachoen
Flowers, birds and vibrant colours. Whose idea was it to cross a botanical garden and a bird exhibit anyway? Because I love it!
In Shizuoka Prefecture, Kakegawa Kachoen remains a very understated gem. With hundreds of colourful birds sweeping through the air, mmoving freely from room to room it feels just like you stepped into a paradise land. Special bird feed can be purchased at the park, and if you’re feeling brave, why not try getting closer for a great photo-op!
8. Nishikigoi Village
In the more reclusive and uncharted of thes animal Japan destinations, in Ojiya, you’ll find the birthplace of what is now known worldwide as the Nishikigoi carp. Years and years of careful selective breeding and nourishment have created the marbled scales and muscular body of the fish we know today.
Looking at the koi up close, with their bright colours and their massive size, will make you believe they were born out of some fairy tale of mythical land, because they’re just that stupendous. But in Nishikigoi where they can be found in schools swarming in the clear waters, you’ll find it hard to believe you’re not in a fantasy world.