Wildlife Friendly Zoos in Japan
Many tourists to Japan have complained about the poor conditions they observe in zoos. Animals in small, bare cages looking unkempt and uncared for. Not all zoos are the same however - here are some of the better zoos we have found in Japan.
Zoorasia is located in Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture. This makes it an easy day trip from Tokyo. It is possibly the best zoo in Japan, opened in 1999 and more spacious than most Japanese zoos. The zoo operates under the theme "harmony with nature" and thus most animals are kept in spacious enclosures that are designed with their natural habitat in mind. The one exception and maybe the only concerning enclosure was the cheetah, it was kept in a very small cage, pacing back and forth.
Zoorasia is split into eight different areas - Asian Tropical Forest, Subarctic Forest, Oceanian Grassland, Central Asian Highland, Japanese Countryside, Amazon Jungle, African Tropical Rainforest and the African Savannah. Each area has different plants and trees and design so you do feel like you are entering a different "world". There are many different animals like leopards, bears, giraffes and elephants. You can bring a picnic and eat at one of the many picnic areas, like by the kid's playground, or you can eat at their restaurants. If you have time left after the zoo, there are several large parks nearby such as the Satoyama Garden, home to beautiful flower festivals, and the Shikinomori Park, a huge leisure space with playgrounds and more.
Opening hours: 9:30am - 4:30pm
Cost: 800 yen
Asahiyama Zoo is in Hokkaido, in Asahikawa City. It's a good place to stop if you're travelling to Furano & Biei, Sapporo or Daisetsuzan. While I wouldn't say it's a top tier zoo, it's still one of the better ones in Japan and has quite a few animals. You can view them up close which is also good for engaging young children. They have an underwater tunnel through the penguin pool and glass domes in the polar bear and wolf exhibits through which you can see the animals right up close. The zoo holds animals from around the world like hippos and apes, as well as native Hokkaido animals such as deer, eagles and wolves.
Opening hours: 9:30am - 5:15pm (shorter in winter)
Cost: 1000 yen
Nasu Animal Kingdom
Nasu Animal Kingdom is located in the town of Nasu in Tochigi Prefecture. Nasu is a great destination for a family holiday, with so many experiences and activities designed for kids. Click here for our "what to do in Nasu" blog.
The Kingdom offers many shows that allow you to see the animals in their natural form, from sheepdogs herding sheep over the green hills to a bird show featuring birds of prey and parrots. The zoo is home to about 600 animals and is divided into two sections, "Town" and "Farm". Town is a large indoor facility where you will find giant turtles walking around freely! Farm is set outside over a vast area - you need a bus to reach part of it. Unlike most zoos, the majority of animals are "farm" animals like horses, sheep and cows. However they also have camels, pandas, seals, kangaroos and more. One nice aspect is that they offer a lot of interaction where kids can pet various animals.
Opening hours: 9:00am - 5:00pm
Cost: 2400 yen (kids: 1000)
Fuji Safari Park
Fuji Safari Park is divided into two - a safari experience and a regular zoo. The safari zone is the highlight, with freely roaming wild animals like bears, giraffes and lions able to wander right up to you. You can take your own car, or ride in the safari bus. You can take the Super Jungle Bus which is equipped with a steel mesh that covers the vehicle's sides and ceiling, making it possible to watch animals clamber over the bus and feed them yourself. The petting zoo area is much smaller and contains safer animals that kids can view and pet. In total they have about 900 animals of 70 different species.
You can combine this zoo with Grinpa, Gotemba Outlets or Shiraito Falls.
Opening hours: 9:00am - 3:30pm (Winter from 10:00am)
Cost: 2700 yen (kids: 1500)
Nagasaki Bio Park
This is a small and interactive zoo where you can feed and touch the majority of the animals. Animals include capybaras, squirrel monkeys and kangaroos. You should bring a lot of 100 yen coins so that you can buy food to feed the animals. They aim to have all animals living as they would in the wild, in their natural environment, and they do a better job than many Japanese zoos. You can combine this with Huis Ten Bosch as there is a free shuttle bus between the two.
Opening hours: 10:00am - 5:00pm
Cost: 1700 yen (kids: 800)
Tama Zoological Park
Tama Zoo is located in West Tokyo, making it the only zoo on this list that is actually in Tokyo. It takes about one hour to get there from Shinjuku, and like Zoorasia features ample trees and nature. It is surrounded by wooded hills, making it a very pleasant place to spend a day. They have three main areas - African, Asian and Australian animals. While the Australian exhibit is a bit lacking, the others are quite good, featuring leopards, elephants and red pandas. If you go in Winter, the giant butterfly dome will raise your spirits and make you feel as if you've entered a tropical oasis. Again in this zoo, the felines seem to be kept in the smallest cages, and the cheetah especially could use a bigger area. Other animals are afforded nicer areas, especially the monkeys.
Opening hours: 9:30am - 5:00pm
Cost: 600 yen (kids: free)