Even if you’re not crazy about animals, Asahiyama Zoo (旭山動物園) is one of the attractions in Hokkaido you won’t want to miss. Located in central Hokkaido in the Asahikawa (旭川) prefecture, the zoo is home to about 700 animals. What’s really great about the zoo is its unique design which allows visitors to interact and see many of the animals up close.
Part of the snow leopard enclosure, for instance, consists of a cage extension built about 2 meters above ground. You can practically stretch up your hand to touch the felines’ fur. It isn’t an advisable thing to do, of course, but the thought of being in such close contact with a leopard is amazing. The lion’s enclosure is pretty impressive too. Instead of having to view them from afar, you can view the big cats behind a layer of glass.
While the zoo isn’t big, be prepared to spend at least half a day visiting each of the animal enclosures. The penguin and polar bear enclosures are very popular so make sure you make time for those. In Winter, (December through March), visitors from Japan and around the world visit Asahiyama Zoo for the famous Penguin Walk. Apparently, the walk was designed to give the chubby birds a workout so they don’t become too obese and inactive during the cold season.
How to get to Asahiyama Zoo
A day trip to Asahiyama Zoo from Sapporo is quite doable. Take the JR Hokkaido train heading to Asahikawa. Take buses 41, 42 or 47 in front JR Asahikawa Station. It takes around 40 minutes to get there and costs JPY440 one-way. The last bus leaves the zoo at around 4pm.
Alternatively, you can also take the Asahiyama Zoo Train from Sapporo to put you in the mood. The train departs Sapporo at 8.30am. For JPY6,130, you get a round-trip JR train ticket with non-reserved seating section between Sapporo and Asahikawa, round-trip bus ticket between Asahikawa Station and Asahiyama Zoo, and admission ticket for the Asahiyama Zoo. There’s no need to change for an admission ticktet at the zoo entrance. Check the schedule here.
The delicious ramen at the Asahiyama Zoo is definitely worth a mention. Apparently, it’s quite a draw for the visitors too.
Asahiyama Zoo is closed for maintenance on certain days in Summer (typically around early April) and Winter (normally around early November) to prepare for the seasons. The dates vary from year to year, so it’s best to check the zoo website for the most updated schedule.
If possible, avoid the school holidays and weekends as the zoo can get very packed during those times.