As spring starts to raise its oh-so welcome head, it’s time to abandon the confines of the indoors and embrace the glorious outside before that stifling summer heat reclaims the land. One great way to enjoy the fresh air whilst entertaining the family is to take them out to one of the city’s zoos. There are six – count that, six! – to choose from.
Let’s start at the start with Japan’s oldest – and probably most famous – Zoo. Established in 1882 and situated and land bequeathed to the city by the Imperial family slap-bang in the middle of the city, Ueno Zoo is as convenient as it is evidently popular. It is a world class zoo home to some 2,600 representations of over 460 species, some of the most popular being the western lowland gorilla and the Sumatran tiger (pictured). However the current stars of the show are most undoubtably Lily (リーリー) and Shin Shin (シンシン) the two Giant pandas for who, if reports are to believed, are currently in the mood for love, raising hopes of the cub-less pandas successfully breeding for the first time in 10 years. The zoo is split into 63 sections including the Gorilla Woods, Tiger’s Forest and a petting zoo. To navigate your way around the vast space you can ride on Japan’s first monorail.
The Tama Zoological Park, to give it its full name, was originally opened in 1953 as part of Ueno Zoo. However today the park, making the best of the topography of the luscious Tama Hills, stands at nearly four times that of its neighbour (52 ha, compared to the 14.3 ha), meaning that the animals have more freedom to roam about as if it were their natural environment. The grounds are split into three major ecological areas – the Asiatic Garden, the African Garden and the Australian Garden, – as well as a vast Insectarium. Amongst its stand out points must be the fact that it was the first zoo in Japan to not only raise koalas – always particularly popular in this country thanks to their evident cuteness – but having a Lion Bus, from which you can see the lions in safari-esque conditions.
But vast tracts of land and searching out big game may not be your family’s cup of tea – particularly if you have small children – then the Edogawa City Natural Zoo in Edogawa’s Gyosen Park may be more suitable to your family’s needs. Featuring smaller animals such as rabbits, hamsters, peregrine falcons and seals, it also has a display of aquatic animals that live locally in the Edo River, but their signature animal is the adorable red panda. On each animal there is detailed description of their lives and habitats to encourage learning for all ages, but best of all it is free to enter!
If your area of particular interest is the animals and wildlife of Japan, then Inokashira Park Zoo is worth checking out. Two zoo for the price of one it is separated into two sections, the first being a squirrel and duck sanctuary that specializes in breeding and releasing mandarin ducks into the wild. The second enclosure houses all the other animals such as red-crowned cranes, Amur cats, rhesus monkeys and Yaku deer, the latter of which range freely. One other draw is Hanako the first Asiatic elephant to come to Japan following WWII, although the conditions in which Hanako is kept have recently given the park some international notoriety.
A zoo with a goal “to nurture affection for nature by introducing children to animals,” Hamura Zoological Park is a pleasant though smallish zoo that you can find your way around in as little as two hours. Like the zoo in Edogawa, it is ideal for small children: to the left of the entrance there is a petting zoo in which children can hold chicks and guinea pigs and there is a large playground and picnic area in which you can sit and eat your lunch. On the animal front small is very much the way forward with lynx, red foxes, wolves, prairie dogs, and wallabies, while there are a few giraffes, zebras and emus.
Okay, so Ōshima Park Zoo isn’t strictly in Tokyo, but instead is on the (relatively) close island of, you guessed it, Ōshima. Home to 50 species of animal it is a zoo that does a wonderful job of encompassing its natural environment. The walk through Flying Cage is home to 15 species of bird and using the island’s camellias and Ōshima Cherry trees, is the largest of its kind in Japan. Perhaps the jewel in the zoo’s crown is the 300m Monkey Hill, made of naturally formed volcanic lava rock and through which a bridge bisects giving visitors various angles from which to view the primates.
By Mark Guthrie
Image: flickr.com "Khunde - Sumatran Tiger" by Harimau Kayu (AKA Sumatra-Tiger) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified