Tama Zoo, Ueno’s larger sibling03 June, 2014 by Chad
Though it took more than halfway into the trip, it seems that we were finally kicking into the holiday spirit, being able to finally visit some new sights. This morning we’d wake up relatively early and head out to the western edges of outer Tokyo to visit Tama Zoo before retiring to Akihabara in the evening for dinner and to settle some shopping requests.
The Tama Zoological Park is is one of two government own zoos in Tokyo. Tama zoo was originally part of Ueno Zoo, though perhaps in the sense of DisneySea being part of Disneyland, since at 52 hectares, Tama Zoo is 3 times as large as its Ueno counterpart (and twice the size of the Singapore Zoo). Despite this, like Ueno entry to the zoo is an affordable 600 yen (or approximately $7.20).
It was slightly more than an hour away from our hotels, such that Randy, Gage and myself arrived at Tama past 11 AM. Allan was back to his idol events so wouldn’t be joining us for the rest of the trip, while Chisaki feared that she wouldn’t be able to make it in time so would give it a miss.
You can start getting into the zoo mood immediately at Tama and even the toilets at the Tama Dobutsuen station is decorated to the theme. Had a rather embarrassing but somewhat amusing accident at the toilet here.
Since they were located side by side and were rather similar, I ended up pressing the handicap assistance button in the toilet instead of the flush and the train staff came running hurriedly to the toilet just as we were leaving.
Given its layout, there is no clear cut way to explore Tama Zoo. Needless to Tama Zoo was quite large and none of us had been here before, so we wandered around leisurely. It didn’t look quite as big on the map, but we’d soon learn that it was hardly to scale.
Tama Zoo attempts to make use of its large grounds for a more open concepts compared to other zoos in Japan. This creates a more welcoming atmosphere but has the side effect of requiring quite a bit of effort to traverse, since the zoo is located along the side of a hill. Sadly the weather was rather gloomy this morning and it was rather cold, so most of the animals weren’t too active.
We started with the central area of the zoo, making our way towards the back. The number of parallel paths meant that one would need to make quite a few rounds in order to cover the whole place.
For the most part, the animals in the central area did not seem to positioned in any real order. Various species indigenous to Japan were placed alongside other iconic animals. There were also a great number of bird species with a large walk through aviary and other small plots dedicated to feathered creatures.
Hurried through the aviary on account of all the bird shit. Continuing on, we found ourself at the back center end where many of the zoo’s Australian animals were kept. Stopped at a vending machine at a rest stop where Randy and Gage picked up some Haagen Dazs ice cream. For some reason they had the urge to eat ice cream whenever it was cold.
Just beside the food and rest area was the kangaroo enclosure. Not the wisest of placement since you could smell the creatures from far away. The place was surrounded by tall cages to keep the animals in, but you could otherwise enter with only a small fence between you and them. Large kangaroos are wouldn’t what I would call cute. Really dirty creatures, doing their business on their own food. The kangaroos were quite active though, with a couple getting into a fight while we were there.
Nearby there was building housing the zoo’s koalas and nocturnal creatures from down under. Quite a bit of the zoo’s exhibits seemed to be focused on animals from Australia. The animals here were much cuter than the ones outside.
Outside of the koala area and further up a hill there was a picnic area with some kookaburra. Weather wasn’t suited for such though and there weren’t many other people in the zoo today apart from a handful of families. We messed around here for a while but despite our attempts the kookaburra here would not laugh.
Eventually we moved on to some of the zoos more interesting animals. A woman was camping in front of the zoo’s two young snow leopards. The creatures were very active playing with each other. One of them had a penchant for sitting at the top of the enclosure and looking out for activity, not unlike my own cat at home.
It was approaching feeding time for all of the animals, which might explain why they seemed more active. But at the same time, the drizzle from earlier had developed into a downpour. We made our way back to the front of the zoo in search of some shelter and hopefully some food since it was also well past lunch time for us. Realized on the way back that we still had quite a bit of ground uncovered.
We found shelter at a small activity area come rest area by the entrance to the zoo. The lone cafe here sold a meager selection of overpriced beverages and snacks. Picked up a microwaved hotdog while Randy got some corn snacks and much needed coffee. A lesson to take away from this is that you should almost always bring your own food (from a nearby combini or like) when visiting such places like zoos and aquariums in Japan. While entrance fees in Japan are greatly subsidized, their in house dining options often leave much to be desired.
After a while the rain eventually let up a little so that we could make an attempt to look around the rest of the zoo. We got as far as the nearby insectarium.
Tama Zoo has an impressive collection of insects. The insectarium is actually made up of two separate buildings. The first we would enter was a air-conditioned building, the first floor of which was home to various insects that you could touch. The upper levels had a colony of ants, various camouflaging insects and a dark cave-like room with glow worms. Given the open concept of the zoo was a little worried about the dark room, thankfully the worms were kept behind glass.
The exhibits were all very educational and make for an enjoyable visit for inquisitive minds. Apart from us there were a couple of Caucasian-Japanese families with young children here who breezed through the live specimens and insect museum.
The separate building across housed cases for more insects and a spacious butterfly park. Outside there were 4 boxes of covered completely of locusts of increasing sizes.
It was getting dark and closing time by the time we were done with the insectarium, so we wouldn’t be able to cover the other half of the zoo. Visited the souvenir store at the front of the zoo. While it had an extensive lineup of zoo and animal themed goods (some of which were identical to Ueno’s and more) we didn’t purchase anything. Instead it was back to the train station and a trip back to central Tokyo.
We’d spend the rest of the late afternoon and evening over at Akihabara, stopping by first at the AKB48 Cafe and theater shop in Donki. Gage needed to get a Takahashi Minami calendar for a friend back home. Unfortunately the official shop was all sold out so we’d have to look elsewhere around Akihabara. Since the night was still young we’d have quite a bit of time to spend looking around. We’d find a generous supply of them over at Sofmap.
Managed to pick up a signed copy of Kawaguchi Haruna’s first book over at TRIO in Akiba Culture Zone. Had missed the chance to get an autographed copy when it first came out and had had trouble finding one since.
Eventually hunger took over (we had yet to have lunch after all at the zoo) and it was time to get some grub. Given the hunger, we’d unanimously agree upon Go! Go! Curry!. The fast food place remains our favorite curry place to this day, with their trademark thick sauce and generous servings. It’s a pity that the franchise didn’t catch on over here in Singapore, as Singaporeans tend to favor and associate the watery type of curry as being more “Japanese-y”. Definitely dearly missed.
Went with the regular katsu curry (780 yen / SGD$9) since was afraid that wouldn’t be able to finish, and surprisingly downed it quickly. Randy and Gage went with major sets that come with everything the store has to throw at you for an affordable 1000 yen.
Satisfied from the hearty dinner, we’d work off the meal by taking a look around a few remaining stores before retiring back at our hotel for the night.
Overall it’s difficult to give a fair account of Tama Zoo because of the poor weather. Perhaps we’d get to take another look again the in future but for now it’s hard to recommend it over the more conveniently located Ueno Zoo. Instead, it feels much more like an accompaniment to the former. For now I’d recommend giving both a visit if you really have the time and love animals, though if you’re hard pressed for time Ueno Zoo will likely be the better option due to its location.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.