Japan is known for its unique animal encounters. Whether its cat cafes or rabbit island, just about everyone has heard about some Japanese attraction where you can get up close with animals. Here are three of the most unique animal encounters in Japan.
Catch a Squid in Hakodate
The port town of Hakodate on the northernmost island known as Hokkaido is known for one thing in particular: squid. Other than having freshly caught squid, famous dishes containing squid, squid ink ice cream, and even a squid dance, Hakodate even allows visitors to have their own chance to catch a squid.
Within the covered area of the popular Hakodate morning market, there is a vendor with a large blue tub filled with freshly caught squid. Visitors can then pay 600 yen ($6) to catch a live squid, have it prepared, and then eat it. If you’re a poor fisherman, no one took longer than a minute to get a squid onto the fishing line. So I guess it’s worth a shot!
As for the preparation, an experienced fishmonger removes the undesirable parts of the squid, including the ink sack and the unpleasant thin outer layer of skin. She then cuts the (still-moving) tentacles and body down into bite-size pieces, which are then serves with some soy sauce. Then, it’s ready to enjoy!
Feed the Deer in Nara
Just outside of the bustling city of Osaka, the small town of Nara has become a great day trip for locals and visitors alike. The main attraction: the wild deer. While most of the deer are congregated in Nara Park, odds are you’ll catch them at the temples, crossing the street, or even hanging out around the bus stations.
To feed these deer and get the full experience of this unique animal encounter in Japan, you’ll find various vendors and stores selling senbei crackers made for the deer. A pack of about eight crackers only costs 150 yen (about $1.50). Do NOT feed the deer anything other than these senbei crackers, as that could harm their physical health. When you purchase the senbei crackers, try to keep them out of sight. If the animals know that you have food, they will start following you and even lightly gnawing on your bags and pockets to find their tasty treats.
As if getting to feed wild deer wasn’t enough of a unique animal encounter, the deer found in Nara have actually learned to bow! If you bow, they will bow in response. (It has to be pretty close to a proper Japanese bow for them to recognize your attempt.) Be warned though: if they bow, they will expect a senbei cracker in return! (The older deer tend to be better at this – I guess they have more practice.)
Lastly, be smart when you interact with the deer. Know that deer with larger horns tend to be more aggressive. And don’t forget that these are WILD deer. Even though they may act tame, if you taunt them with food, that will likely change the animals’ behaviors.
Watch the Monkeys in Kyoto
In the popular Arashiyama district of the city of Kyoto, you’ll have the chance to experience another one of the unique animal encounters in Japan. At Iwatayama Monkey Park, there are nearly 200 Japanese macaque monkeys. For an extra one yen (about $1), you can buy a small pack of peanuts or apples to feed them! Do note that you’ll only be able to feed the monkeys through a protective cage.
These red-faced monkeys are of all different ages from baby monkeys who were likely no more than a few weeks old to aging monkeys who have started to slow down just a bit. Just like the deer in Nara though, these monkeys are wild. There are safety guidelines that should be followed at all times while within the park.
The cost to enter Iwatayama Monkey Park is 550 yen per adult (about $5.50).
Just as a note, there is a VERY steep climb from the ticket booth to the park. It takes about 15 minutes to the entrance of the park and 25 minutes to the top of the park. (The vast majority of the monkeys are located at the top of the park.) Iwatayama Monkey Park has been kind enough to set up benches along the way for breaks. If you do not feel physically capable of tackling this climb, do not purchase tickets! And, since the park closes at 5:00 p.m., in order to make the most of the park, try to get there before 4:00 p.m., so you’ll have plenty of time to conquer the climb.
Have you ever done any of these unique animal encounters in Japan? Or have you experienced other unique animal encounters in Japan? Tell me about it in the comments! (I promise I’ll respond!)
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