Last weekend on my backpacking journey through Shizuoka prefecture to see Carpainter perform in Hammamatsu, I decided to stop in Izu to see the infamous hotspring-loving capybara of Japan. Izu Shaboten Zoo is one of the few places in the world where you can get up close with these large adorable rodents and see them bathe in a natural hotspring filled with oranges (which are a specialty of this prefecture). Native to South America, capybaras are mammals with webbed-feet that are quite well-mannered around humans and other animals. Like platypuses, capybaras enjoy being both on land and in water with a diet consisting of mostly grass and dried plants. The ones at Izu Shaboten are easy to approach and very entertaining to watch in the bath!
Exploring Izu Shaboten Zoo
In addition to capybaras, there are also a number of other rare animals housed here including red pandas, kangaroos, unique species of birds, and reptiles. I’ve been to a lot of zoos in Asia, but I highly recommend this one because it’s less like a zoo and more like a wildlife conservation area. The natural habitat of each animal is preserved as much as possible and they all seem to be in great health. Being up close to kangaroos reminded me of my trip to Australia last summer! This place truly didn’t feel like Japan because other zoos in this country are comparably small in size.
I spent the most time in the Capybara Rainbow Pen (an area separate from the bath) feeding and petting the ones that wanted attention. You can purchase capybara grass for 200 yen and they will be eternally grateful for your kindness!
Outside from the capyabaras, I enjoyed watching the red panda diligently march on its tree branch. A Japanese couple beside me describe its movements as “ゴロゴロ” (I love accidentally overhearing people so I am able to learn new words everyday).
Another of my favorite places was the cactus garden, because you can purchase cheap capybara pots and customize your favorite cacti to take home. Just all of the detail that was put into this attraction amazes me:
You can also take a boat ride around the park because it has a small river that runs through it and leads to other areas, but I chose to explore most of the park on-foot so I could capture more angles with my GoPro. I would recommend spending at least 3 hours here because there is a lot to see and do━especially if you are a photographer.
Eating a Capybara Burger
At the Gibbon restaurant found near the entrance of the zoo, no one eats alone!! That’s because there is a huge stuffed capybara sitting at every table to keep you company. I came here on Valentine’s Day, so this cabybara date made it the most memorable one of my life. Getting back to the food—the burger was made of fresh bread and was delicious (I customized mine to be vegetarian). If I had more room for food I would have tried the omelet rice duck because it looked pretty aesthetic from the menu picture. For a full list of restaurants, please see the official site.
Buying Capybara Souvenirs
My apartment in Tokyo is already full of stuffed animals that friends have won for me, but I could not pass up the chance to buy an adorable stuffed capybara holding an orange here. I also bought some chocolat baumkuchen (cake) for my friend. Everything here was extremely well-priced compared to other zoos because I only payed around 1200 yen for the plushie and 800 yen for the cake. I already want to come back in the summer to buy more capybara merch! Also, the restaurant signs here made me laugh:
Right beside the Izu Shaboten Zoo stands Mt. Omuro, which is an inactive volcano you can take a lift up for 700 yen. Since I decided to go to the ropeway in Atami, I skipped this attraction, but it is worth seeing if you have time. There are cute little shops you can look at while you’re waiting for the bus too.
Getting to Izu Shaboten Zoo
From Tokyo Station I took the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Atami, then the Ito Line to Ito Station, and finally a local bus to the zoo. This costs around 5000 yen and takes 2.5 hours. You can easily do this as a day trip, but I spent 3 days in this prefecture because there are a number of things to see besides the capybara (which I will get into in my next articles).
Entrance to the zoo is 2300 which may seem expensive, but with the diverse number of animals they have here I think the price is fair.
Izu Shaboten Zoo, 1317-13 Futo, Itō, Shizuoka 413-0231
Izu Shaboten Zoo was by far my best experience with animals in Japan because I got the chance to pet capaybaras in addition to seeing other rare species. The zoo has a adorable theme with the hotspring and petting zoos which makes it a suitable attraction for all ages. Since it’s more remote from the major cities of Japan that means it’s less crowded. If I decide to go again, I will combine this with a trip to Shirahama Beach which is a little further south of here. I will be writing more about my adventures in Shizuoka Prefecture over the next coming days, so please look forward to them because this is only the beginning!