Izu Shaboten Animal Park
If you ever find yourself occasionally zoned out by the proliferation of animal parks or zoos in Japan, wait until a monkey runs up your back at Shizuoka Prefecture’s Izu Shaboten Animal Park.
The nearly 60-year-old park is a draw for tourists in the already-popular Ito city area offering a chance to feed leaves to llamas, chill with capybaras or gawk at the gargantuan shoebill bird. But it also boasts a huge collection of cacti, as shaboten or cactus is actually in the name. First things first, though: Everybody loves the free-roaming squirrel monkeys.
If you wish to feed them and avail of a photo opportunity, staff will be present at various locations around the park several times a day and have plastic containers of food for sale. Sometimes the monkeys will be bold enough to run off with the containers, so be prepared. They are fearless and will climb up to your shoulder to perch and wait for the food, if need be. Certainly, a highlight of the visit, and if you aren’t smiling over the whole experience, best stick with the cacti.
Beyond the monkeys, for ¥200, you can have the immediate attention of some of the park’s residents who are eager to enjoy snacks right out of your hands. Peacocks, parrots and penguins are all on site and up close. The bird enclosure has exotic aves all with every hue imaginable like a psychedelic festival of feathers. There are almost too many inhabitants and one might wonder as to the compatibility of such varied species. The shoebill looks like a Dr. Seuss character and has a fearsome and contemplative gaze, but he seems to be content, he’s been observing the comings and goings for 35 years.
The capybaras, as in any park, are the main attraction for adults and children, alike. There’s a family of free-range rodents who will roll over to get their bellies scratched. As with any wild animal, the staff are on hand to see that they are treated with respect and not harassed. From November to April, the placid giants get to relax in an open-air hot bath which delights onlookers, as well as the capybaras.
Animal boat tours on the canals around the eight artificial islands will reveal primate families such as chimpanzees, lemurs and spider monkeys. The boats can fit a human family of up to five. Your water safari may make you thirsty, so there’s choice of five different restaurants to eat and drink at while at the park. Food on offer includes capybara burgers (not actual capybara!), flamingo pasta and cactus green curry.
If the multitude of animals becomes overwhelming, there are the 1,500 cacti to marvel at and you can even buy one or many to take home. You should put aside half a day for your trip to the park, as there’s so much to see and do. Nearby, you can ascend (via chairlift) nearby the Mount Omuro for the view. And don’t forget the park is dog-friendly if you want to bring the pet.