Take a front-row seat to all the animal action at this interactive zoo.
If the word “zoo” makes you think of captive animals put on display, a visit to Asahiyama Zoo will completely challenge this notion. Thanks to its unparalleled behavior exhibits — each set in a natural habitat in close proximity to viewers – nearly 1.6 million annual visitors from across Japan and abroad come to see animals do their thing in an environment that’s as close to home as possible.
Located 20 kilometers outside of Asahikawa City, this 37.5-acre modest zoological park is home to 640 animals representing 120 species, including the preservation of endangered wildlife.
Initially opened in 1967, this northernmost zoo of Japan was in danger of closing due to a depopulated area and severe temperatures in both winter and summer. However, its incredible turnaround as the second most-visited zoo in the country (neck and neck with the venerable Ueno Zoo in Tokyo) is accredited to the former facility’s director Masao Kosuge, who turned the animal enclosures into interactive exhibits.
This practice which defies traditional zoo-keeping is technically called “behavioral enrichment” and at Asahiyama Zoo, the end result is front-row access to polar bears feeding during “Mogu Mogu (Chewing) Time,” penguins soaring underwater through transparent tunnels, and spotted seals torpedoing through cylinder-shaped tanks. Aside from the daily feedings and care givings, visitors can observe animals mating and raising their young in naturalistic enclosures – most notably, the scurrying tribe of primates at Monkey Mountain.
Another highlight is a suspension bridge situated above a walkway where red pandas leisurely stroll right above visitors heads from a worms-eye view. During the winter season, the Penguin Parade, held twice daily, will make you go “aww” as these tuxedo-wearing birds waddle their way through the crowds.
While many of the exhibits boost handmade signs and may initially appear low-budget, the creativity exhibited by the zookeepers has done away with the days when animals were exhibited like museum artifacts. A fantastic experience for all ages.