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Ueno Zoo and More: Five Interesting Zoos to Visit!

Tokyo TerryTokyo Terry
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May 20, 2024
The entrance to Ueno Zoo, featuring plastic pandas and bamboo.

If you’re an animal lover in Tokyo, you have most likely visited Ueno Zoo. Its location in the park, surrounded by museums and shopping, makes adding it to your itinerary easy. But there are other locations in Japan with different layouts, and attractions.

Some are just outside Tokyo and can be visited in a day. Others are in other prefectures and require at least a weekend if you don’t live in that area. What species can you see? What are their main attractions and layouts? Let’s look at some of Japan’s most famous animal parks!

Ueno Zoo (Ueno Zoological Gardens)

This Tokyo zoo is famously located in Ueno Park, central Tokyo. Its convenient location and walking distance from JR Ueno, Keisei Ueno, and the Ueno Subway stations make it a popular attraction. Opened in 1882, this site boasts a five-story pagoda on its grounds that predates the main establishment, having been constructed in 1631. In 1958, the Tokyo metropolitan government donated the pagoda to the Zoological Gardens. Notably, this was Japan’s first zoo, and it introduced the country’s first monorail.

A panda at Ueno Zoo.
The Ueno Zoo is one of the most famous sites in Tokyo. Image via Shutterstock

It is regarded as the crown jewel of Japan’s zoos and is associated with the National Museum of Natural History. Because of this, protecting endangered fauna is its primary mission, and it continuously networks with other organizations worldwide. It successfully breeds rare and endangered aye-ayes, pygmy hippos, and Japanese cormorants. Altogether, there are over 500 species here. But Its main attractions are the Hokkaido brown bears, western lowland gorillas, and giant pandas!

Yokohama Zoo (Yokohama Zoological Gardens)

This zoo is a 20-minute bus ride from JR Nakayama station on the Yokohama line. In a 1996 campaign, the public nicknamed it “Zoorasia” before it opened in 1999. The Yokohama Zoological Gardens is the largest in Japan at over half a square kilometer! It needs all this space to achieve its mission of reproducing natural environments from all over the world. It uses as few fences and cages as possible, and the enclosures contain plants from the animals’ native habitats.

A giraffe and zebra at Yokohama Zoo.
This zoo has few fences so the animals can live in a natural habitat. Image via Shutterstock

You can take a safari stroll through climate zones that include the African Savannah, the Asian Tropical Forest, and the Amazon Jungle. There is no glass or bars to obstruct your view or photos. This park has about 600 animals and 100 species. This includes larger specimens like Indian elephants, Sumatran tigers, rhinos, and zebras, which are difficult to find at smaller facilities!

Are you looking for some great snacks while visiting the zoos? TokyoTreat delivers limited-edition Japanese noodles, snacks, drinks, and sweets right to your door so you can enjoy the latest treats directly from Japan!

Tobe Zoological Park

This park in Tobe, Ehime Prefecture, is a 20-minute bus ride from Iyotachibana station. It was previously the Matsuyama City Prefectural Dogo Zoo but was renamed and relocated to Tobe in 1988. Tobe Zoological Park is known for breeding many species. Black spider monkeys, African rock pythons, and green-bellied parakeets were all bred in Japan for the first time at this park. 

A polar bear swimming at Tobe Zoological Park.
This zoo’s highlight is its polar bears! Image via Shutterstock

Today, it contains about 765 animals and 163 species. But the polar bear known as “Peace” is, by far, the most popular. She was born in 1999 and is the first polar bear in the country to be successfully bottle-fed from birth. Her birthday party attracts crowds of admirers every year!

There are also numerous opportunities for visitors to interact with the animals throughout the year. There is a hippo and rhino “skinship” event every Saturday and Sunday; you can even feed the elephants!

Kyushu Wildlife Park (African Safari)

African Safari is about an hour by bus from Beppu Station in Oita Prefecture. It is situated on over 15 hectares of mountainous land outside Beppu City. There are about 70 species on the grounds and over 1,000 individual animals!

A parrot at the Kyushu Wildlife Park.
This zoo is home to an African safari! Image via Shutterstock

Kyushu Wildlife Safari’s primary focus is its inhabitants’ happiness and mental health. It gives them plenty of vast open space to roam and exist happily. Animal-themed “Jungle Buses” travel throughout the park, allowing you to view rhinos, lions, and tigers up close safely!

You (and your pets!) can also camp at the TeePee Camping Ground. You can explore the park daily and listen to the sounds of the lions, tigers, and other species at night!

Asahiyama Zoo

A bus ride from JR Asahikawa Station to this Hokkaido zoo takes about 40 minutes. Managed by the local government, this zoo is also a member of the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA). Home to 700 animals across 124 species, it first opened its doors in July 1967. Since then, its popularity has steadily increased. In 2004, more than 320,000 people visited in August alone, with more patrons than Ueno Zoo in Tokyo.

Penguins at the Asahiyama Zoo in Hokkaido.
Asahiyama has a lot of penguins! Image via Shutterstock

Asahiyama has specimens from all over the world but specializes in those from Hokkaido like deer, eagles, and cranes. There are even wolves (which are now extinct in Hokkaido). The park’s main draw is the many exciting and original vantage points from which you can view the creatures.

Glass domes in the polar bear and wolf enclosures let you observe up close at eye level. A clear tube lets you view seals and penguins as they swim underwater. This is also the most northern zoo in Japan, with the coldest temperatures. So, it was the first to host outdoor penguin walks in winter!

Why should I visit places like Ueno Zoo?

If you’re tired of Tokyo and want to do something different, zoos are a great way to spend a few hours. And if you have time to travel or are nearby, there are many unique wildlife parks outside the city. They’re the perfect destination for observing animals outdoors without going too far from civilization and conveniences.

Flamingos at the Ueno Zoo.
Have you ever been to a zoo in Tokyo before? Image via Shutterstock

They’re also educational; your ticket purchase can help protect endangered species. Going on an authentic safari is expensive, but you can enjoy a zoo visit for a very reasonable price! Do you have any tips for visiting any of these parks? How was your experience? If you have visited more than one, which was your favorite, and why? Let us know below!

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