Walking Tokyo's Wild Side

Zoorasia's Douc Langur monkey
Courtesy of Zoorasia

It's an urban jungle out there, but if you thought the most exotic Tokyo wildlife came was an evening in Shibuya with a bunch of kogaru orange girls and some Hawaiian nanpa, think again. Tokyo and its surrounding areas probably contain more zoos than any other major city.

Zoos help to educate people about what's going on in the animal kingdom by housing endangered animals until their population can be secure again, and by letting urban souls of all ages see them, smell them and watch them, to make them more than just a picture in a book or on TV. Many zoos are heavily involved in conservation efforts, and new additions like Zoorasia's permanent breeding center are sure to help, not hurt, animal populations in the wild.

One personal request I make is that, when visiting any of the below zoos, please show respect for the animals: Don't smoke in the zoo, feed the animals, bring in your own pets, and do use the trash cans. There's nothing sadder than watching macaques fight over who has the right to chew (and possibly choke on) a plastic bag that someone lazily left on the ground nearby, as I unfortunately witnessed on a recent trip to Ueno Zoo. Melanie C. Redmond

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The monorail at Ueno Zoo
Photo by Melanie C. Redmond

Ueno Zoo
Tokyo's most famous zoo, the main attractions here are the three giant panda, but fans of scarier-looking animals such as reptiles will enjoy the new Vivarium, which opened July 20, and is home to the zoo's gators and lizards. The setup involves being able to walk around a central exhibit and watch them swim, sleep, and stare back at you.
9:30-4pm, closed Mondays. Adults JY500, students JY200. 9-83 Ueno Koen, Taito-ku (03-3828-5171). Nearest stn: Ueno. Map available in Japanese, English and Korean.

Inokashira Shizen Bunkaen Park
This place seems like a park with a low-budget zoo thrown in as an afterthought, with an unusually large duck collection, one lonely elephant and a few spinning children's rides. Only seriously recommended if you're bored with nothing else to do in Kichijoji.
9:30am-4:30pm (last entry 4pm). Adults JY400, students JY150. 1-17-6 Gotenyama, Musashino-shi (0422-46-1100). Nearest stn: Kichijoji, JR Chuo or Keio Inokashira lines. Map in Japanese only.

Tama Zoo
By far the most enjoyable zoo I have visited. The animals are displayed in their native environments, which means you'll see monkeys in trees, not cages, and have to board a special bus to drive through the lions' territory. Besides the usual collection of animals, split into the Asian Garden, the Australian Garden, and the African Garden, there's also an Insectarium with nocturnal animals and mounted specimens of insects. Tama Zoo also offers plenty of shade and refreshment spots, so you can feel comfortable visiting on a hot day.
9:30am-5pm (last entry 4pm), closed Mondays. Adults JY500, students JY200. 7-1-1 Hodokubo, Hino-shi (0425-91-1611). Nearest stn: Tama Dobutsu-Koen (50 min by Keio line to Takahatafudo stn., transfer to Keio Dobutsu-en line. During spring and summer holidays, 40 min by direct train from Shinjuku stn.) Map available in English or Japanese.

golden takin
The rare Golden Takin being bred at Zoorasia
Courtesy of Zoorasia

The newly opened Zoorasia in Yokohama has seen more than 740,000 visitors since its opening on April 24. Only half the projected 53.3 hectares are open, but there's more than enough wildlife in the zoo's open environment to make you feel you've left Japan and joined a safari! "We want people to see not just the animals but the surrounding wildlife as well," says one zoo official. "We don't want to just put them in a box like other zoos." Zoorasia is also home to some animals that are not only rare, but have never been seen in Japan before, including the okapi - a small giraffe-like animal of which there are only 140 left in the world - and the Baku golden turkey. In total, there are 300 animals and 60 different species at Zoorasia.
9:30-4:30pm (6pm in summer), closed Tuesdays. (Open everyday during spring and summer vacations.) Adults JY600, age 16-18 JY300, age 6-15 JY200. 1175-1, Kamishirane-cho, Asahi-ku, Yokohama-shi (045-959-1000). Homepage.
Buses from Tsurugamine and Mitsukyo stns (Sotetsu line), Nakayama stn. (JR Yokohama line). Map available in English and Japanese.

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