Japan is one of the most unique places I have been in the world. As a self confessed nature nerd I’m happy to tell you it offers some unforgettable experiences with animals that can’t be found anywhere else. The Japanese have a long and isolated history making their relationship with the wildlife a very special one. Whether it’s bathing with a monkey or stroking a shark, you’re sure to find something truly unforgettable.
1. Sip coffee at a hedgehog cafe
Yes there are cafés in Tokyo where you can sip coffee while playing with hedgehogs! It’s as cute as it sounds with food available to buy for them, exercise wheels and little nap areas if they get tired. It is recommended to wear gloves though as they can be a bit prickly! You can choose to go to a dedicated hedgehog cafe like this one in the Shinjuku district. Or head around the corner for otters, chinchillas, bunnies and hedgehogs all in one place. Time is limited though so make sure you fit them all in!
2. Shake hands with an otter
As mentioned above otters can be found in cafés. But shake hands?! Surely not! But yes the smart little critters have learnt to get their favourite snack by sticking their super soft little paws out of the enclosure for a handshake. Visit a cafe like Harrys or this random aquarium on a rooftop, anything is possible in Tokyo!
3. Pet sharks and rays
No it doesn’t sound safe. But as you watch a 5 year old Japanese kid having the time of thier life petting a stingray you figure it must be, right?! Osaka has one of the best aquariums in the world and one of the largest ‘ocean tanks’ with stunning whale sharks and huge mola mola. Just when you think it can’t get any better there is a gigantic open topped tank where you are encouraged to gently pet a variety of rays and sharks. There are cleaning stations, rest areas and watchful eyes making sure the animals welfare is a top priority. Check it out on maps here!
4. Visit the snow monkeys at a thermal spa
The small mountain town of Yudanaka doesn’t have a lot going on other than some thermal hot springs and some beautiful traditional Ryokans. But people flock here in the winter from nearby Nagano for one reason. The huge troop of snow monkeys living here and their strange love of a particular hot spring. And they are completely adorable!
If it’s a bit too far out of the way for your time in Japan head to Arashiyama park in Kyoto. Here you can find a delightful family of snow monkeys. It’s us that are in the cage at this national park. When inside you can feed the monkeys peanuts and other snacks bought from the park. But you can also walk around the monkeys territory freely as people have done here for generations.
5. Hang out with deer at Nara park or Miyajima island
Nara park is home to beautiful temples, wide open green spaces and a fair few hundred deer. Buy rice crackers from local ladies at stands and the deer will come to you for a snack! Watch out for the boisterous bucks at the main entrance as they’re not afraid to ask for food (they bite and headbutt!). Instead save some snacks for the deer further in to the park and at the Nigatsu-do Temple. Here you can see the deer acting more naturally but without their regular wariness of humans.
Miyajima island is also home to some friendly deer. Most tourists visit for the floating Torii gate but stay for the deer, shiba cafe and delicious food on the main street. A perfect day trip!
So there we have it, 5 of the top experiences you can have with animals in Japan. People here love to get up close and personal with the animals. It’s part of the everyday culture that helps to teach people to care for animals. The love you see for them during these interactions with the locals an tourists alike is truly heartwarming!
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