Asahiyama Zoo became famous in Japan by drawing out the natural ecology and behavior of animals and incorporating it to the “behavior display” method. Many people come to the zoo every day to see lively animals. Here are some tips on how to efficiently tour the very popular zoo with many visitors.
Three entrances to the zoo located on the mountain slope
The northernmost zoo in Japan, Asahiyama zoo is located in the outskirts of Hokkaido Asahiyama City.
Many animals are located at the foot of the mountain to the middle area, so using the front or west gate is convenient. The west gate is closest to the middle area, however there are no free parking lots and only private paid parking lots. Also during the crowded period such as the weekends and summer holidays, it is easier to secure parking space at the east gate. Most group tours and tour busses will use the east gate.
The best time to visit the zoo is right after they open. The later you go, the harder it is to secure a parking lot close by. Also there is a higher chance to see energetic animals in the morning.
Let’s head into the zoo!
First let’s head to the Kaba-Kan (Hippo House). Make sure to get there before they fall asleep!
Hippos are nocturnal and are asleep during the day. If you don’t get there early, you won’t be able to see them active.
A highlight here is the indoor pool that is 3m deep. You can get a side or bottom view of the hippo in the water!
To create an environment close to their natural habitat, warthogs and ostriches are kept in the Kaba-Kan.
The reticulated giraffe also lives in the same environment as the hippo, so the Kirin-Sha (Giraffe House) was build right next to the Kaba-Kan. The Kirin-Sha also has other animals that live in the same environment such as the pelican and helmeted guineafowl. And they live in the same space as the giraffes.
Keeping animals living in the same natural habitat in the same space, they call this the symbiosis exhibit, which is a unique method used at Asahiyama Zoo. The same kind of exhibit is used at Azarashi-Kan (Seal House) and Kumozaru & Capybara-Kan (Spider Monkey and Capybara House).
Check the Mogu-Mogu Time and head to the Hokkyoku Guma-Kan (Polar Bear House)
You can’t miss the mogu-mogu time (feeding time) when visiting the zoo! Feeding time is the best time to see the animals in action!
The feeding schedule for animals are set in the morning. The feeding time for each animal is displayed on their website and a bulletin board in the zoo. Use this as a reference to tour around the zoo.
A mogu-mogu time you can’t miss is the polar bear! Usually you can’t witness the huge bears diving in the pool or swimming. However during the mogu-mogu time they place the food in the water and you can definitely see them swimming around!
The viewing space for the polar bears is in front of the water tank indoors of the Hokkyoku Guma-Kan. With limited space, they have put restrictions on entering the area. After about 10 minutes the next group goes in. Also polar bears aren’t really slow eaters, so it is better to get there at the start of mogu-mogu time to make sure you can see the action.
There is another highlight here, you are able to view the polar bears walking around through a capsule called the seal’s-eye.
You must see the seals swimming in the glass pipe if you visit the zoo!
The Azarashi-Kan (Seal House) is located adjacent to Hokkyoku Guma-Kan, its natural enemy. A popular viewing spot in the building is the Marine Way, the glass pipe.
You can see seals swimming in a huge pool from inside the facility. A thin pathway is connected from the bottom of pool, which leads to the surface through the glass pipe.
Since seals are mammals they have to go up and down to get fresh air, so seals frequently use the glass pipe.
The Marine Way is a popular spot and there are always people gathered here. If you plan to get here when it’s not that crowded, stop by right after the seal’s mogu-mogu time.
Mogu-mogu time is conducted outdoors, so during this time there aren’t any seals in the pool. So the inside viewing space is empty at this time. However as soon as the feeding time is over, all the seals go back in the pool. This is the best time to head to the Marine Way a more leisurely viewing experience.
To the next highlight, Pengin-Kan (Penguin House)
Across the Azarashi-Kan is the Pengin-Kan. The penguin walk conducted every winter when it snows is very famous. I’m sure many people have seen pictures of this even before!?
Even when it’s not snowing, you can see the cute penguins swimming up close.
A highlight in the Pengin-Kan is the underwater glass tunnel!
A good time to comfortably visit the Pengin-Kan is during the mogu-mogu time for polar bears and seals. Hard to choose between mogu-mogu time and the penguins. It all depends on when the mogu-mogu time will be held on that day.
Also for the penguin walk held in the winter, many people stand by the walking route in the freezing weather. If you want to look at the penguins up close, it might be better to secure a spot early on, and make sure to stay warm!
Breaks, Lunch and Gifts!
With all the walking around, you will definitely need a break. In zoo there are various places to take a break, eat lunch or buy gifts. Some places are near the main gate, west gate, Azarashi-Kan near the center and east gate.
One thing to think about is when to eat. Everyone will probably try to eat around the mogu-mogu time and due to this most places will be packed.
If you want to relax and eat at a restaurant it’s not a major issue, however if you want to see as much as you can in the limited time, we recommend eating something like or ordering takeout.
At the Chuo Shokudo (Central Diner) you can eat ramen and buta don (pork rice bowls), but we recommend the Mogu-Mogu Lunch Pack. You can choose between Jingisukan Karaage Don (deep fried lamb rice bowl), Imo Buta Don (Imo Pork rice bowl) and Imo Buta Sukiyaki Don (Imo Pork sukiyaki rice bowl). You can eat the lunch pack in the store or eat outside on the lawn or bench. The lunch box can also be used as a gift. If you want something easier to eat, we recommend the menchi-katsu (deep-fried ground meat patty) made with Yezo deer.
One thing to note, you are not allowed to eat in front of the animals. You don’t want to provoke the animals with human food.
Next to the Chuo Shokudo is the Chuo Baiten (Central Shop). Here you can purchase limited goods, snacks and gifts.
The Banana Cookie are individually wrapped and is easy to share. A popular item is this with practicality for students.
View the origin of the Asahiyama Zoo
For a period of time the zoo had a decline in visitors and reached a point of almost closing, however they looked over their method of displaying animals and implemented the behavior exhibition. With this they were able to successfully recover. The first behavior exhibition was completed in 1997 and it is the Totori no Mura (Totori Village) near the main gate.
The entire facility with trees is covered with a net, so water birds can flying around freely. When you enter the zone, it feels like you are walking around a river in the forest! It resembles being out and nature and it doesn’t feel like you are in a huge bird cage.
After Totori no Mura opened, new facilities were established, such as the Pengin-Kan and Azarashi-Kan, and it slowly increased the number of visitors. Now it is a very popular sightseeing spot in Hokkaido attracting people from all over the world.
We were only able to share just a part of the zoo. There are many lively animals and even newborn babies.
Japan’s northernmost zoo that attracts people from around the world. Make sure to check the mogu-mogu time and have fun!
Entrance Fee: Adults (high school students and above) 820 yen (tax included), middle school students and below – free
Summer Period – April 28th ~ October 15th 2018 9:30 AM ~ 5:15 PM (admission until 4 PM), October 16th ~ November 3rd 9:30 AM 4:30 PM (admission until 4 PM)
*August 10th ~16th has the Yoru no Doubutusen (Nighttime Zoo) from 9:30 AM ~ 9 PM (admission until 8 PM)
Winter Period – November 11th 2018 ~ April 7th 2019 10:30 AM ~ 3:30 PM (admission until 3 PM)
Closed: November 4th ~ 10th 2018, December 30th 2018 ~ January 1st 2019
*The dates may vary from year to year, please double check on the official website
Written by : Nobuhiro Kawashima