Hello everyone, hope you’re good! Another info post for you guys, I know I can be a bit biased with what I write about, so I am trying to broaden my Japanese blog content by learning about different topics other than those related to my interests!
Today’s topic however is still pretty biased because it is about animals, and I am a big animal lover! Who doesn’t love animals?? I swear every time I look up something about Japan – pictures, videos, blog posts etc. I always come across someone talking about the animal paradises of Japan! I am determined to visit Japan at least once in my life (Tokyo!) but if I get the opportunity to go again then I definitely want to take a day or so out to visit one of these places to experience some truly awesome up-close animal action!!
So Japan has at least four main ‘animal havens’ that I see mentioned a lot:
Rabbit Island – Okunoshima island, Hiroshima prefecture
Fox Village – Mountains of Shirioshi, Miyagi prefecture
Sika Deer of Nara Park – Nara Park, Nara prefecture
Cat Island – Tashiro Island, Miyagi prefecture
Let’s start with the Rabbit Island, Okunoshima! It’s a small island located in the inland sea of Japan in the Hiroshima prefecture. There are lots to do including campsites, walking trails, a hotel, golf course and historical sites, but the main attraction of the island is that it is often called ‘Usagi Jima’ which translates as ‘Rabbit Island’ because it is inhabited by hundreds of wild rabbits who now are so friendly and tame, they will approach you in the hope of being fed. For just 620 yen and a 12 minute ferry ride from Tadanoumi port, you too can be chased and smothered by rabbits!
A lot of the reviews are positive with everyone claiming it to be a fun and charming experience, especially since the bunnies are super friendly and chase you for food! Someone advised that you should go early in the morning when the rabbits haven’t been fed by other people otherwise you’ll find yourself chasing them, and another commented that the place where you buy your ferry ticket has a shop nearby that sells vegetables for you to give to the rabbits, they’ll even chop it up for you!
So cute right!? But despite this being a paradise for bunny lovers, this island has a very dark history surrounding it that not many people, besides some Historians, outside of Japan knows about until you visit…
The island was originally home to a chemical munitions plant that was built over the period of 1927-1929, despite Japan being a signatory on the Geneva Protocol which is a treaty prohibiting the use of chemical and biological warfare in armed conflicts. Apparently Japan went to great lengths to keep the plant a secret, even as far as removing the island from maps; the chemical weapon facility on the plant mainly produced mustard gas and tear gas.
The fact that the island was isolated increased the security of the plant and reduced the risk of disaster since it was far enough from mainland Japan. Employees were not told about what was being manufactured and suffered harsh working-conditions with some even suffering from toxic-related illnesses. At the end of the war, documents were burned and the gas was disposed of by either burning, burying or dumping, and people were told to keep the secret of what originally was produced on the island. Ruins from the plant can still be found across the island, including the power station, but entry is prohibited because it is considered too dangerous.
The Poison Gas Museum on the island was built in 1988 to educate people on not only the disastrous effects that poison gas has on people, but also the island’s role as a poison gas manufacturer for much of the chemical warfare that was carried out in China during WWII.
Scary, don’t you think? To most of us outside of Japan, the island seems so innocent because of the bunnies that live peacefully but it has a dark past that will haunt many people. WWII definitely scares me, it is such a gruesome part of modern history especially Europe’s history *shudder*. So when you get bored of feeding the rabbits (although that might seem difficult to do), perhaps you could take a stroll around the historical sites and indulge in a bit of history with an English tour guide of the Poison Gas Museum for a fee of 100 yen?
Anywho let us get back to the rabbits! They were the test subjects of the chemical facility but those tested on were apparently killed when the factory was demolished, so according to Murakami Hatsuichi who was the former director of the Poison Gas Museum, the current rabbits have nothing to do with the chemical plant. Some say that these rabbits are the descendants of those that were deliberately set loose after the war, and others believe that 8 rabbits were bought over by children who just continued to breed ‘like rabbits’!
I’m not sure why the island is covered in rabbits, no one seems to know the true story, regardless the fact that there are no predators on the island (and dogs and cats are not allowed to be brought over by tourists) and the high breeding rate that rabbits have, it won’t be long until their numbers reach into the thousands! That’s fine, more rabbits for us!
Next up is the Zao Fox Village, located in the Miyagi prefecture in the mountains near Shirioshi; it is a preserve that is roamed freely by up to 6 different fox breeds, and visitors can enter and interact with them!
Kitsune is the Japanese word for fox and they are a common subject of Japanese folklore as being intelligent, magical creatures; some say they can transform into women, which if you have an interest in Japan then you probably would’ve seen Japanese women with foxtails at some point, and it is thought that the more foxtails a fox has, the older and wiser it is. With this known, it is understandable that there are lots of people in Japan that respect these animals as part of their culture!
Omg so cute! Have you ever seen the video of the excited fox?? Please do check it out! This place does not have a sad history, however upon reading the reviews I come back to you with mixed feelings on the place. It appears that, as many have described, this is a place with good intentions that were poorly executed; many believe that this is not a reserve or sanctuary for the animals, but merely a tourist attraction. Some have complained that the animals looked in poor condition with injuries whilst others stated that the poor condition could just be loss of their winter coat and the injuries from fighting which they would do naturally in the wild. If the owners like to leave the foxes be unless absolutely necessary, then perhaps their condition is purely that which they have created themselves, however if the owners aim to look after the foxes then it appears they are not caring for them appropriately.
The reviews are mixed but one thing I didn’t like the sound of was that ill foxes and kits were kept in tiny cages and being rotated for viewing, but someone else defended that this probably isn’t as bad as it sounds with the ill foxes needing to be kept away from the healthy ones. Someone else pointed out that the healthy and cute animals were kept at the front to grab your attention and deeper into the enclosure was where all the older and less attractive looking animals were kept. With the tiny cages, I wasn’t fond of what they looked like from the photos but the majority of photos show healthy, relaxed foxes; this could just be the result of people only wanting to take photos of the cute, fluffy foxes rather than the mangy ones but many of the reviews encourage you to visit during the winter when they have their full winter coats and are rolling around in snow.
I feel I have to mention that so many were saying that if you like animals then it would break your heart to visit the place and that it had been ‘glorified’, but does our will to interact up-close with wild animals overcome the desire to see them free and healthy? Is this part of human greed and desire? Here in the UK, foxes are part of our wildlife and are shy creatures; you see them more in the cities than you do in the wild, but even I wouldn’t mind seeing a cute fox up-close.
If the poor care of the foxes doesn’t put you off then perhaps the price will; the costs for this place is as follows:
- 1000 yen per ticket
- 100 yen per bag of food
- 300 yen to hold a fox pup
- 8000 yen round trip by taxi
That’s over £50.00 for one person to go, it will be even less if you are sharing a taxi with others. That might not seem like much, especially to us here in the UK who can spend up to £70+ on a day out at a zoo or wildlife park and paying up to £40.00 on a ticket alone (for a single person I might add), but at least then you get all the joys of restaurants, shops, shows and other entertainment; this might seem too expensive for some but as mentioned earlier, logic might go straight out the window by the thought of being up-close to foxes and the opportunity to hold a baby one.
Once you get in, the staff will explain to you with signs the rules before entering, there is a small petting zoo-like part at the beginning before the main enclosure, and there is also a gift shop and a shrine on site; the area is scenic although can be difficult to get to if you don’t speak Japanese.
A lot of people have been put off by the price and many say that overall it is not worth going, which is a shame because the idea of meeting foxes up close is a really cool idea, but would be cooler if they were free like the bunnies on rabbit island or if enclosed, looked after properly. I guess it is a personal view kind of thing, I’ve still read lots of reviews who described it as a unique experience, but after reading the reviews I highly doubt that I will be going no matter how unique it is.
Oh, so far it hasn’t seemed that chirpy yet has it? We’ve got gassed out bunnies and mangy foxes so far, perhaps the Sika Deer of Nara Park will be better?? Deer aren’t particularly interesting creatures because they are fairly common, here in the UK you’ll find that deer make up for a lot of the animals in wildlife reserves because they are easy to obtain and care for since they are part of our wildlife. However, I find them beautiful creatures because they are so sweet and innocent, and above all they are incredibly shy which makes seeing them difficult let alone interacting with them. Quite often I see them in the fields in the evening on my train ride home, but I’ve only encountered them a couple of times fairly close in the wild. I guess this is why they are a popular tourist attraction because in Nara Park, you can hand-feed them they are that tame!!
Nara Park is a public park located in the city of Nara in the Nara prefecture; it is at the foot of Mount Wakakusa and because it is open to the public, it is free! There are temples and once-private gardens surrounding the area with approximately 1,200 Sika deer roaming the land. The deer were considered sacred and divine after it was said that a God named Takemikazuchi-no-Mikoto arrived on Mt. Mikasa-Yama riding a white deer. Apparently if you killed one of the sacred deer, you would be punished with a death sentence! This ended in 1637 and the deer lost their divine status but instead were seen as national treasures that were to be protected.
Visitors can feed the deer by hand by purchasing ‘deer crackers’ for 150 yen; reviews claim the deer are even as cheeky as tugging at your shirt for more! Many have commented that it can be a little unnerving being surrounded by 5-6 deer at a time that are tugging on you and beating at your trousers for food, especially those with antlers; there are signs around the park warning visitors that these animals are still wild and that they can bite, kick, butt and knock you down.
Young children should be kept close and it is advisable that you do not feed them your own food, so it is probably best to eat your own food elsewhere as they are drawn by the sound of potential food. Apparently some deer have even LEARNED TO BOW for food, how cool is that!? Even though I called them common earlier, I still see deer as being rather majestic animals (maybe because of Bambi, I don’t know the Great Prince is so handsome and royal lol) and I think it would be really amazing to have a deer bow to me!
Apart from the deer, there are lots of compliments about the area itself being beautiful and ‘warm’ with lots of praise for the beautiful temples and gardens. People of all ages will enjoy the visit as you can come and go as you please with no set route to take! There is also the Nara National Museum which is open most days 09:30-17:00 and costs 520 yen for a general admission, children go free! But most will agree that the main attraction is the deer, so make sure you have plenty of deer crackers on you!
Last but not least we have the ‘Cat Island’ which is actually Tashirojima also located in the Miyagi prefecture of Japan. This island is rather small and is inhabited by roughly 100 people but a much higher number of stray cats! Apparently the locals believe it to bring good fortune and wealth by feeding and worshipping the cats, and since there are no predators on the island, and bringing dogs over is strictly forbidden, the cats have dramatically increased in number! There is a concern that the island may become abandoned in the near future what with it also being labelled a ‘terminal village’ since the majority of those living on the island are elderly of ages 65 and over; it also has the possibility of being struck by a tsunami since it was affected by the Tohoku tsunami that struck in 2011. Luckily it has gained a bit of popularity with it being known for its furry friends, so people like to visit to feed and watch the free-roaming cats, which in turn brings tourism and money to the island – hey guess what, I guess their worshipping of the cats for wealth did work since they are the main reason for the tourism! Funny that.
The story of how the cats came about goes something like this – the island was well known for raising silkworms for silk but with mice being a natural predator of silkworms, they brought cats onto the island to help keep the mice population down. Fishing is also popular on the island and sometimes fishermen would travel to the island and stay overnight; they became fond of the cats that would visit the inns and beg for scraps, and overtime the fishermen would observe the cats with superstition for predictions of the weather and fish patterns. The cats populated and those on the island saw the cats as good luck, so one day when a rock fell and accidentally killed one of the cats, a fisherman who felt sorry for it decided to bury it and enshrine it roughly between the two villages in the middle of the island; the shrine is known as Neko-jinja.
Cat shrines are popular in the Miyagi prefecture with there being at least 10, as well as 51 stone monuments in the shape of cats which are concentrated in the areas where silkworms were raised; there are also cat-shaped buildings which also gave the island its other name ‘Manga Island’. This is just one of the many cat islands in Japan – Aoshima, Ehime prefecture is another example of a cat island.
Other than that, there isn’t really much to know about the island, similarly to rabbit island it’s just an island overrun by cats that you can come and feed. Apparently the devastation from the tsunami is still obvious, so buying food and souvenirs from the local shops really helps out the locals; many have described the island as being friendly and an enjoyable walk despite the 1,200 yen each way per person ferry ticket, but if you are hoping for something more other than lots of cats, a pleasant walk and a shrine, you’ll be disappointed.
Overall I think my favourite place to visit would be Nara Park! Although it takes a little while to get to from Tokyo (where I would end up staying if I visited), I think I would find it far more exciting than the other animal havens. Cats don’t particularly excite me, especially on a fishing island, and the foxes and rabbits are cute but I don’t think they would be as exciting as deer! As I said, deer in the UK are incredibly shy and I have always been a fan of Disney’s Bambi so I think I would enjoy them much more, plus THEY BOW. I mean come’on, how many animals do you know that will bow to you for food or as a thank you for food!? Plus the park is not only free but beautiful with lots of shrines, gardens and a museum, I think you get more for your buck if you visited the Sika Deer of Nara Park!
Hope you all enjoyed this post, I had so much fun learning about the different animal havens that Japan has to offer; all of the photos were found on the internet and all credit goes to those who own them! At some point I’ll look into the animal cafes that Japan has but this has been pretty animal heavy so probably at a later date. Which of the above would you like to visit?? I’d like to know! Until next time~♥