The Ultimate Japan Bucket List for Animal Lovers

Dominique DiGiacamo studied abroad with ISA in Tokyo, Japan in Fall 2019 and is an ISA Global Ambassador at Rowan University.

Japan is known for many things: the beautiful nature, temples, amazing food, and kind people. One of the things foreigners are surprised about is Japan’s plethora of animal attractions. Whether you want to chill with your favorite animal while enjoying a coffee, spend a few hours exploring a village full of said animals, or even spend the whole day visiting an island inhabited by hundreds of your favorite animals, Japan has many options for its visitors and locals alike! As an animal lover myself, I wanted to highlight my favorite spots in Japan for all other travelers who would love to put spots like these on their bucket list.

My first experience with Japan’s animal hotspots was when I first visited Japan during the summer of 2016 when my dad, brother, and I decided to travel around Japan for 2 weeks for our summer vacation. One of the spots I knew I wanted to visit was Japan’s Fox Village in Sendai. Miyagi Zao Fox Village is located about 3 hours outside of Tokyo. The long trip was worth it since my family and I got to explore the village full of cute foxes while even taking a picture holding some of the fox pups! I would highly recommend this excursion for anyone who has a fascination and love of foxes like I do.

Miyagi Zao Fox Village, Sendai, Japan. June, 2016

On that same trip five years ago, I also had the opportunity to visit and explore Rabbit Island, otherwise known as Okunoshima. This island was a true joy to visit, with hundreds of bunnies roaming all around the island constantly in search of visitors who have brought their favorite food (Only ¥100 or $1 a bag at the boat port you depart from). This island is also a great place to visit for anyone who has a love of history. Its origins date back to when it was once used as a secret location in which Japan tested its poisonous gases both before and during World War II. Rumor is, the island is full of bunnies because when the activities were shut down after the war, the scientists let all of the test bunnies go. With no natural predators roaming the island, the bunnies have now taken it over, becoming a popular tourist spot for foreigners and natives alike to visit! I highly recommend this trip as a getaway trip from Hiroshima for a day in which you can relax, immerse yourself in cuteness, and even stay the night at their hotel on the island if you’d like!

Okunoshima, Japan. July, 2016

After my first trip to Japan, I knew that during my time studying abroad I wanted to visit more of Japan’s famous animal hotspots. Next on my list was the famous Deer Park located in Nara, Japan. During the first two weeks of my study abroad program, there were no classes, which gave my newly found friends and I the opportunity to travel somewhere outside of Tokyo. We decided to stay a few days in a hostel in Kyoto, Japan which is only a 45-minute train ride away from the famous Nara Park. Together, my friends and I spent the day exploring the park and feeding the deer their favorite crackers. The deer were surprisingly polite and will even bow to you in order to ask for a cracker. Nara is also full of beautiful temples and amazing food. I definitely recommend adding this place to your bucket list!

Nara, Japan. October, 2019

During my time studying abroad, my classmates and I took a field trip for our Japanese 2A language class to Machida’s リス公園 (risu koen), or in English known as Machia Squirrel Park. When my teacher announced that we would be taking a trip there, I was surprised! In America, squirrels are normally seen as pests, but in Japan they are regarded as cute and fluffy creatures. This park is located in Tokyo, in the outskirts of the town of Machida. If you want to take a day to get up close and personal with squirrels and buy some cute merchandise, this place is for you! Machida Squirrel Park is also located near a bigger park full of small temples and multiple picnic areas, which makes it a perfect place to relax after your fun day playing with squirrels. I recommend this park for anyone who wants to spice up their animal experience in Japan and see squirrels in a new and different light!

The last animal hotspot I had the pleasure of visiting during my time in Japan was my favorite, Harajuku’s Shiba Cafe! Anyone who knows me knows that I have a “slight” obsession with Shiba Inus…okay maybe a big obsession. Anytime I saw a Shiba Inu plush in Japan, which was almost daily, it took all of my willpower to not take out my wallet in exchange for the fluffy cuteness. The only thing that stopped me from buying more than three was my luggage space. So, you can imagine, when I found out there was a Shiba Cafe only a 40-minute train ride away from my dorm, I couldn’t help but visit. I loved it there so much that I visited not once, but twice!

At this cafe, you can sit back, relax, enjoy a cup of your favorite Japanese beverage and play with an adorable group of Shiba Inu for 30 minutes. You can get this all for just under $9! For any other Shiba Inu lovers or dog lovers like myself, I cannot recommend this cafe enough. After spending time in the cafe and buying some adorable Shiba souvenirs, you can have the rest of the day to explore the bustling shopping district of Harajuku and grab a bite to eat. Harajuku’s Shiba Cafe is a must-add to your itinerary during your next trip to Japan!

If none of these places interest you, don’t worry. There are many other animal hotspots scattered around Japan such as Japan’s multiple cat, hedgehog, owl, capybara, and otter cafes. There is even a Cat Island for all of the cat lovers out there! Japan has so many places to explore and travel, including multiple places filled with cute and fluffy animals that you can play with and enjoy. Whether it be cats, dogs, or exotic animals like a capybara or hedgehog, there are so many animal hotspots to explore. Next time you go to Japan, be sure to add some of these spots to your itinerary for a guaranteed fun time!

Inspired by Dominique’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in an abroad experience? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

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