When you ask a Japanese « What is there to see in Asahikawa? », they will often tell you « The zoo of course! »
It’s been over 50 years since the zoo was built and it’s still growing day after day. Even locals take pleasure in visiting the zoo.
That’s why we proudly present you the enthralling Asahiyama Zoo!
When you’ll be done reading this you’ll (maybe) want to go straight up to the zoo!
What is Asahiyama Zoo?
Asahiyama Zoo is a zoo opened on the first of July, 1967. It is located in Higashi asahikawa-cho Kuranuma, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaido.
At its beginning the zoo was joint with a theme park and a ski resort which was popular among locals and the nationals.
However the popularity eventually went down, the number of visitors drastically dropped and a lot of people thought that was the end for the zoo.
And yet, the zoo recovered from this desperate situation thanks to the hard work of the zoo keepers and the staff.
The secret behind the zoo’s popularity
The reason why Asahiyama Zoo became famous is greatly due to the media coverage.
Seeing the animals behind a cage’s grids are the norms in a zoo but Asahiyama Zoo wanted to overturn theses norms and allow the visitors to see the animals the most clearly as possible in their naturals habitat according to the season.
From this novative idea was born the « behaviour exhibition », which is the secret behind the zoo popularity.
The Omnomnom Time
When you enter the zoo, the first thing you will see is the « Omnomnom Time » signboard.
In the zoo you can see penguins, polar bears, seals, orang outang, Ezo deer, white-handed gibbon, flamingo and many other animal being fed at different time in the day.
This exhibition is one of the most popular, so be fast if you want to see the omnomnom time of your favourite animal from a good place!
However, the Omnomnom Time isn’t just about watching the caretakers feeding the animals.
The zoo keepers will also tell you about what kind of food the animals like, how much do they eat and even how they eat.
And while you are listening to those precious informations, you can watch the restless animals who are waiting their food, which is incredibly cute.
The penguins aquarium
In the penguin aquarium we can see 4 races of penguins:
-The king penguin
-The gentoo penguin
-The humboldt penguin
-The rockhopper penguin
In the penguin aquarium there is a walk-in tunnel going through the water tank. There you can see the penguins « flying » in the water all around you.
The Polar Bear Aquatic Park
In the polar bear aquatic park, there is a big window from which the visitors are able to see through the pool. The window was also designed to deceive the bear into thinking that the humans heads are seals. This is why sometimes the bears are diving at full speed to the window. Seeing this big animal splashing into the water can be very impressive.
Moreover, there is some capsules that allow you to see the polar bear habitat from a seal's perspective, it’s called «sea’s eye » and with some luck, you’ll see a polar bear from only a few centimeters away!
The lesser pandas hut
Asahiyama Zoo’s hidden idol is the lesser panda. Going back and forth from its hut and the trees by scampering on the suspension bridge, a lot of people are worrying that by going near the animal it will flee. But it doesn’t, and we suspect that the lesser panda is hiding something from us!
Sleeping on the suspension bridge, only a touch away, this striped tailed little animal is melting everyone’s heart!
The zoo at night
Furthermore, to see the animals from a brand new perspective, Asahiyama Zoo is open even at night every summer during o-bon festivities.
Since summer is hot, a lot of animals are sleeping during the day and a great number of visitors are a bit disappointed. On the other hand, during the night, when the temperature drops the animals are more active. Even the always-napping lion and panther are lively at night! And sometimes we can hear the wolves howling through the calm-but-active night. This is why the zoo is open the night during summer.
Usually the zoo is open until 5:15 pm (the last entry is until 4pm) but at this time of the year the zoo is enjoyable until 9pm.
During those pleasant times of summer, going to the zoo after work may be a good idea.
Since the insects are also active during these times and speaking from experience, we recommend you to bring your mosquito repeller with you.
The zoo in Winter
Every year, between November and December the winter zoo begin. The opening time may be short compared to summer but seeing the zoo under the snow is typical of an Hokkaido zoo.
Animals like penguins and polar bears usually live in snowy area, so by coming to the zoo in winter you will be able to see these animals in their ideal, natural habitat.
If you say snow, we say penguin! One of the most enjoyable thing in the winter zoo is the penguin walk. Just under your eyes you can see tottering (and sometimes sliding on their belly) penguins. We can almost say that the zoo is only open for them!
With the sun setting early in winter, the zoo’s paths are decorated with « snow candles » showing a different scenery from usual.
■Eat in the zoo
« Since I’m here, I want to have fun in the zoo all day! »
« But... I’m hungry »
Don’t worry! We have many places where you can eat high quality food!
■Zoo Kitchen Co・Co・Lo
When you get through the main entrance, at your left, you can see Zoo Kitchen Co・Co・Lo. You can eat here Asahikawa’s special ramen, stuffed croquettes, menchi-katsu (deep fried ground meat patty), sausages, etc... All the ingredients used in kitchen are fresh and local.
■Asahiyama Zoo Club and the bread cottage
Just a little farther from the main entrance, in front of Totori's Village there is the bread cottage. We can eat here the infamous sweet and soft melon bread. If you come at the right time, you may be able to eat it piping hot!
Image： Facebook official web site
Only a few meter away from the western entrance, Taniguchi’s farm, Farm Zoo, is making udon noodles, ramen and light meals from organic cultivation. Its organic tomato curry and organic vegetable curry are very appreciated from the visitors.
■The rest area
The rest area next to the seal aquarium allows you to buy soba (buckwheat) and udon noodles or even Japanese curry with meal tickets.
■GARDEN TERRACE LION
Located outside the zoo but nearby the eastern entrance, you have to temporarily leave the zoo to eat at the GARDEN TERRACE LION. To leave temporarily the zoo, you only have to ask the staff at the exit to get a re-entry stamp.
It is a restaurant run by the Taisetsu Beer House and uses local ingredients. There are several kinds of lunch for children and thus is recommended to family with children.
■Eating outside of the zoo
As said earlier, if you want to temporarily leave the zoo to eat outside, you just have to ask the staff at the exit to get a re-entry stamp and you will be able to continue your visit afterward.
■Asahiyama Snow Village
When leaving by the eastern entrance soon you will come to see a log-house, this is the Asahiyama snow village, where you can eat Japanese food such as ramen, udon noodles, genghis khan (sheep meat barbecue) butadon (pork on rice), etc...
Moreover, during the winter, winter sports and activities are available there. Activities like snow rafting, snow banana, ski or sledging are waiting for you!
Thus, after enjoying the zoo, you can stop by the lodge to eat a hot meal and then do some winter sports.
Right downside the parking lot of the eastern entrance is located SA・KU・RA, a reasonably priced restaurant where you can eat a daily lunch set, Hamburg steak, butadon (pork on rice), etc… Several deserts like ice cream or traditional zenzai (sweet azuki beans soup with mochi) are also available.
As soon as you cross the traffic light down the slope of the zoo, you will notice a white bear board where « Shiroi Koibito » is written. This is Tokuichiban.
« Since I am in Asahikawa, I want to eat ramen! »
If you think like this, then this is your place! Even people who doesn’t have the intention to go to the zoo comes to eat here, well-liked by ramen lovers, we believe that it is a safe bet to recommend this place here.
At 5 minutes from the zoo street while walking toward the station, you will find a green-roofed restaurant. This is Esperio. Western meals, like pizza, pasta and Hamburg steak on skillet are very popular. Ice cream takeout is also available.
So, what did you think of Asahiyama Zoo?
Aren’t you impatient to come and see the animals and eat delicious food?
Asahiyama Zoo is Asahikawa’s pride and one of the most emblematic sight-seeing spot of Hokkaido.
Of course, Asahiyama Zoo have many more fascinating secrets that wasn’t listed here and waiting for you to be discovered!
Translated from Sorami's article.