Hodosan Zoo Nagatoro. I apologize in advance that this is a very frank review leaning heavily on the harrowing observations rather than the positives of this mountainside zoo.
It was very surreal visiting the zoo at top of Mt Hodo. First impressions were good: nice entrance gate, photo props, friendly staff, great views…the taxidermied bear should have set off an alarm. But it wasn’t long until they were ringing loud and clear. Minutes into our visit, we all got quite depressed with the sombreness of this eerie zoo at the top of Mt Hodo.
I don’t normally like to share “bad reviews”, if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all and all that. But in this situation, I would like to warn other parents what to expect. One of my four children, my middle daughter, left this zoo crying, and all the rest of us had tears in our eyes. Another of the kids, my eldest daughter, wanted to go straight to the shrine to pray for the animals. Three days later and we are all still talking about and concerned for the injured animals we saw.
I’m sorry to say…
**Please don’t read on if you don’t like to hear about animals in sufferance or distress.**
Before I get into the negatives and the cause of all of our upset, I would like to point out a couple of things. One, although I can’t find anything online to support this theory, there is a slight chance that this zoo is a type of sanctuary. I hope this is the case and that the injured and troubled animals came to the zoo that way (ie that they didn’t endure their suffering in this zoo).
Two, there are signs up in the zoo to say some of the enclosures are currently undergoing renovations, so please God they plan to improve the conditions for the animals.
Our radars went up when we saw rows of rabbits in cages just inside the entrance door to the zoo (not all of them are caged though), but it was when we heard the Japanese monkeys fighting that we really became concerned and sombre. We headed straight down to the monkey enclosure to see what was causing the raucous. I know monkeys fight in the wild, but I’ve been to several Japanese monkey enclosures in Japan and I’ve never seen anything like this.
We stood at the top of this enclosure for close to an hour in a sort of haze of disbelief and bewilderment. That WHOLE time several of the monkeys fought aggressively. I was quite distraught observing their behaviour, as it is not anything like what I have seen at Chikozan, Takao Monkey Park or any other monkey enclosure in Japan.
It was nothing to do with food or hunger either, because thankfully they seem well fed. You can buy food to give to them from a coin operated dispensing machine. The feed comes in a box made of wafer which the monkeys can also eat. Or you take a bowl of feed from the table beside the dispenser and put a 100 yen in the box. We had bought four capsules of food, one for each of the kids, and like the other families in the zoo, they had been throwing it into the enclosure. There were very few monkeys interested in it.
They seem to have good entertainment too. The enclosure has plenty for them to play with and on. There are lots of climbing areas, ropes and novelty features to entertain them. If they are not hungry and have plenty of entertainment, could it be that the area is too small for the amount of monkeys there are? Or maybe their behaviour is because it is mating season (is it mating season for monkeys!)? Could just one of the monkeys be a bad boy and sets the others off? These were the ideas going through my head as I observed them at that particular point. There was worse to come…
One of my children was the first to notice the injured monkeys. She called out in despair “Oh my goodness Mammy, one of the monkeys is bleeding, please call the zoo keeper”. The monkey in question had a deep fresh flesh wound on his thigh. On closer inspection we realized that quite a few of the monkeys had fresh cuts and / or were limping. Including a baby monkey. There were several monkeys with scars and suspicious skin pigment. We watched them in a somber silence in shock and disbelief for quite some time. It also seemed fitting too, that rather than run away from them and find our happy reserves, that we should wait with them a while in a sort of silent solidarity of their plight.
Eventually it got too much. We moved from the top viewing area, intent on making our way to the other animal pens below. But as we got to the bottom of the staircase connecting the walkway to the lower ground a few monkeys came over to say hello. They sat looking at us and us at them. We felt compelled then to walk along the railings and say hello to some of the other monkeys basking in the sunlight nearby.
Rock throwing monkeys
It was then that two monkeys came charging down the hill within the enclosure screeching loudly. A sound that is constant in this zoo. At first we thought they were fighting with each other. We didn’t realize what the accompanying thudding sounds we heard were. After another two or three it dawned on me… they were throwing ROCKS at us. They couldn’t get the rocks over the wall that was above the fence (weirdly built – wire fence with wall ABOVE it!) . Thankfully the wall is slanted inwards and protected us from their slings. My husband who had clicked what they were doing just as I was vocalising it, quickly herded the kids to a safer area just in case one of the rocks made it over the wall.
The three legged deer at Hodosan Zoo
Our experience with the monkeys was temporarily diluted by visiting the pigs, the sheep and the peacocks. But the mild relief was soon dissipated and worsened when we visited the deers. I actually have tears in my eyes writing this. This image will haunt me for the rest of my life. And my daughter’s too. This is the main reason she was crying.
As you walk from the lowest point (geographically speaking!) of the zoo back up the hill there are two deer enclosures on the right. THe first have a few deer in it, the second – only one deer. We almost missed her/him, too. We were wondering why there was nothing in this medium sized enclosure and I stepped behind a tree to look back down on the other enclosure when I spotted him/her. (I know it’s usually male deer that have antlers, but occasionally women do too.) A lone deer looking up at us imploringly from a nest of leaves.
I called the clan over and we gushed at this magnificent creature. We really got a sense that s/he was happy for us to have stopped by and tried to show it by standing up. We were exhilarated to have such a formidable beast within arms reach, albeit behind a wire fence. S/he had struggled to stand up, but it wasn’t instantly obvious that he is missing a leg. In fact, when I pointed it out my husband and two of the kids insisted it was just the way he was standing that made it look that way. It took awhile for them to see it, but when they did they were as afflicted as I was.
My middle daughter was already crying, but when the deer tried to come over to us we all got tears in our eyes. He can’t move. You could see he was willing himself to move and the shaking of his three working limbs trying to compensate for the front limb he’s missing. He broke our hearts. We stayed with him for his sake, for as long as my middle daughter could bear it. Then left on my eldest daughter’s suggestion to appease all of our heartbreak that we go back to the shrine to pray for the poor crippled deer.
Rabbits with eye infections at Hodosan zoo
On the way to the exit we passed the raccoons and another of three rabbit enclosures. I thought it best to stop briefly to try and salvage this bizarre zoo visit. Unfortunately, I verbalised my incredulous observation that many of the rabbits had eye infections. I was just in utter disbelief that there was something else wrong in this zoo that it came out of my mouth involuntarily. The kids mightn’t have noticed if I didn’t say anything. After that the kids were as resigned as I was and we practically ran out of that zoo.
It took quite some time for the kids to relax again. A visit to the auxiliary Hodosan shrine at the summit of the mountain and the stunning wintersweet blossoms in the vicinity helped relieve their discomposure. A stop for some treats at the rest area helped too. But getting the ropeway back down the mountain was the best solace of all. They haven’t forgotten about the freak show that is Hodosan Zoo, but we’ve talked it out and said prayers for the poor animals we saw. While I would say to avoid this zoo at all costs if you have a sensitive child, I would also say that if you are more hardy to visit it to give the three legged deer some much needed companionship and attention.
Hodosan Zoo Information
Hours: 9.40 am to 5 pm all year round
430 yen for adults, 220 yen for children 6 or over from April 1st 2019 the zoo price for adults has increased to 500 yen and to 250 yen for children.
Access: 7 minute walk from the Hodosan summit ropeway station. It is well sign posted along the way.