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Lovable Pandas & Tokyo Zoos

Pandas are an eternal idol of Tokyo. They attract crowds to Ueno Zoological Gardens, aka Ueno Zoo, not only from across Japan but also from across the globe. This edition draws on tips from the education officer at Ueno Zoo to explore why visitors find pandas so cute. Don’t miss the selection of original Ueno merchandise and sweets in panda motifs. Also, discover the three zoos in Tokyo other than Ueno Zoo. With the advent of spring, it’s the perfect time to pay a visit to adorable animals.

Ueno Zoo: Japanese Hospitality for Everyone From Penguins to Pandas

It’s not uncommon for visitors to Tokyo to be so impressed by life in the city that they start to think about moving here. While it’s true that the city’s amazing restaurants, beautiful gardens, and non-stop urban energy make life for Tokyo’s human population quite pleasant, what about the city’s animal residents? A trip to Tokyo’s zoos reveals that life is also pretty good for the wide variety of animals that also call the city home.

Ueno Zoo, founded in 1882, is the oldest zoo in Japan. It’s located in Ueno Park in Taito Ward, a traditional part of the city that’s also home to Sensoji Temple, the traditional Yanaka district, and bustling Ameyoko-cho market. Ueno Zoo has gradually grown over its 130-year history and is now home to more than 3,000 animals from around 450 different species.

Ueno Zoo houses monkeys, elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, giraffes, gorillas, polar bears, zebras, kangaroos, flamingos, penguins, tortoises, and more, but its two most famous residents are, without doubt, its two giant pandas, Li Li and Shin Shin. The pair came to the zoo in 2011, where they spend their days happily napping, playing, and eating bamboo. Lili and Shinshin spend more than half of their time dozing, but when it’s time to eat they’ll get up, grab a piece of bamboo, and start munching. After eating, they like to climb trees, dangle from their panda jungle gym, or take a stroll. According to the zoo’s educational outreach department, the pandas’ bamboo is trucked in from the Izu Peninsula, and each panda eats about 30 kilograms of it every day.

Close to the pandas’ quarters is a traditional five-story pagoda, which marks a part of the zoo housing animals found only in Japan. The land that is now Ueno Zoo used to be part of the grounds of a large temple, and the pagoda, first built in 1663, is a remnant of that history. In these very Japanese surroundings are animals like Ezo deer, tancho red-crowned cranes, and various wild birds. The animals come from all over Japan, and some even hail from the far-flung Ogasawara Islands, which were recently added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Although its residents maybe less exotic than the animals living in the zoo’s main area, the Children’s Zoo in the western section of Ueno Zoo is sure to delight younger visitors. The Children’s Zoo is connected to Ueno Zoo’s eastern section by pedestrian bridge or a very short monorail ride. Here, friendly staff and volunteers help children learn about animals by letting them pet and interact with mice, goats, rabbits, chickens, pigs, and even a very patient miniature horse.

The best time to visit Ueno Zoo, advises the zoo’s education outreach department, is in the morning right after the zoo opens or the late afternoon hours before it closes. Many of the zoo’s animals like to take midday siestas, so it’s better to avoid midday visits if you want to see the animals at their most active.

All the animals at Ueno Zoo, from the baby mice in the Children’s Zoo to Taro the Tortoise who, at 85 years old, is the zoo’s oldest resident, are cared for by a team of dedicated staff and volunteers. Every year, alternating between Ueno Zoo and Tama Zoo, staff practice emergency response training to ensure visitors and the animals will be safe in the event of a fire or earthquake. When a zoo animal celebrates a birthday, the zoo celebrates by preparing a “cake” made of the animals’ favorite foods. (If you’ve ever wanted to see a panda eat a bamboo birthday cake, come to the zoo on July 3rd for Li Li’s birthday or August 16th for Shin Shin’s birthday.) When zoo animals pass away, their souls are commemorated in a yearly memorial service held in early autumn and enshrined at a cenotaph inside the zoo grounds.

A visit to Ueno Zoo is a chance not only to appreciate the diversity of the world’s wild animals but also to see that Japan’s famed hospitality extends even to its animal guests.

Visit Information:

Accessibility: The zoo is almost completely accessible to visitors using wheelchairs or baby strollers. Diaper change facilities are easy to find, there are three nursing rooms for feeding babies, and rental strollers are available for 300 yen each per day.

Services: Coin lockers are available to store luggage (extra large lockers are available). The zoo also loans multilingual audio guides to visitors at no charge.

Foreign visitors holding a "Welcome Card," which you can receive upon showing your passport, or a copy of the Tokyo Handy Guide pamphlet available at tourist information centers, receive a 20% discount on entry to the zoo.

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