My husband had a business event in Oita prefecture the other day so with little on our schedule, my daughter and I tagged along too. The plan was to occupy ourselves at Harmonyland, the Hello Kitty themepark and a mecca for Sanrio fans.
Unfortunately, Harmonyland happens to close on a Thursday. And we were in Oita on a Thursday.
So it was back to the drawing board. Yufuin, the town where we were staying, is a lovely place for a stroll and a dip in the onsen, but as much as my three-year-old LOVES her hot springs visit, one can only spend so much time soaking in the tub. Luckily, we had another option.
If you follow the blog regularly, you know I am not a huge fan of zoos or animal parks. So I was hesitant about heading out to the African Safari Park north of Yufuin. Couple that with the fact that the entrance fee is fairly steep (¥2500 per adult, thankfully 3 and under are free) and I was not exactly eager to check it out. But we had plenty of time to kill and my daughter loves seeing animals, so we figured we’d give it a try.
The park turned out to be even pricier than anticipated, as I opted for the doubutsu bus (animal bus). You pay the park’s fee when you first arrive and before you even exit your car, rather like a toll booth on the highway. When given the option of either riding the bus or using my own car to drive around the park, all I could envision were hungry lions encircling our Honda, pawing at the windows in search of food. No thank you. Doubutsu bus – for an additional ¥1100 – it was.
The bus is truly an “animal” bus, decked out to look like various inhabitants of the African savannah. (We rode in a rhino.) The seats run down the middle of the bus as two back-to-back benches and the windows are covered entirely with bars and screens. Small sections of the windows open so that food can be passed out to the animals.
Yes, each rider is given a tray of food and a set of long-handled tongs. The food consists of pellets, biscuits, raw sweet potatoes, mikans (oranges) and raw meat. At several stops in the park, the animals would flock over and we would pass out the food via the tongs. The elephants got the sweet potatoes, the giraffes the mikans, and the lions – of course – were given the meat.
Despite my conflicted feelings over feeding captive animals, I have to admit that the African Safari Park does excel in one thing – the animals here have PLENTY of space. Zoos in Japan are notorious for having some pretty sad cages and enclosures, especially for their larger animals, but these animals had acres and acres of room to roam. Grassland, trees, a handful of manmade concrete shelters for the animals to use in inclement weather … as far as habitats for captive creatures go, this one is admittedly very good.
Contrary to the steep price, there isn’t much else to do at the African Safari Park without paying an additional fee. There is a cat house, a dog rodeo and an area for pony rides, but all involve forking over more money.
For visitors to Japan, it’s safe to give this park a miss. It’s a considerable expense for one person, let alone an entire family, and there are other things to occupy you in the Oita-Beppu area. For residents, it’s worth considering a visit here if you’ve grown disillusioned with the conditions of the average Japanese zoo. The Beppu tourist office might have discount coupons; the office in Yufuin seemed to think that was possible.