Wednesday, October 5, 2011
10th of August, 2010 - This is the second instalment from Arashiyama Zoo - and we'll see how I go in terms of finishing it off. Still getting over a cold and a heavy bout of working for a living. The first thing I'll say is that Japan is not the first place I'd think of for watching penguins - however that's most probably far from the reality. Indeed, Japan has a somewhat natural affinity to these strange birds of the ice - you just need to google penguins in Japan to see things like the famous Penguin Parade in Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe in Hokkaido.
Arashiyama Zoo's exhibit is a lot less 'exploitative' and features some novel experiences, such as the underwater glass tunnel that allows you to view the penguins in their almost natural environment. The water. Unfortunately for us, when we were there, only a single penguin (out of quite a few) felt the need for a swim. Which was surprising given how hot it was. Did I mention the queues. You have to wait a long time in queues to see any of the main exhibits such as the polar bears or the seals.
Now penguins have a certain grace - especially in water. Baby penguins however are a different story. They just look tragic in their over-sized-mum-knitted-70's-sweaters. I can imagine however why they might be a tasty morsel for sharks, orca and polar bears (who must look somewhat ruefully over at the penguin pen) if only polar bears lived in the southern hemisphere - the penguins natural habitat.
One of the other major exhibits is the seals... where their area features a remarkable underwater tube through which they can swim and observe the visitors as if we were the animals in the cage. Unfortunately the queue for that was about 30 mins or more, and we'd reached our limit. I was satisfied enough to watch the seal show on the surface. It's a hard life being fed a diet of fresh fish every other hour. This brings up one word of warning. Like most Japanese attractions, there's a squillion people there and all waiting in line. In summer time it can be oppressive.
Changing tack slightly... but no less un-Japanese, we then visited the Lion area. This was a good area as it let you get all sorts of different views of the Lion (from close up to long distance views from above).
I had the very distinct feeling that he was looking right down my 250mm camera lens.... just hoping and praying that I'd fall into the Lion's Den and make an early lunch.
Time too cool off... with a taco dispenser. Actually - it was a VERY hot day, and we did have one serious event during the afternoon. T-chan's mother suddenly got quite sick, and we ended up having to go to the first aid centre. Heat stroke. It was something that was afflicting a lot of the people that year all over Japan. And it suddenly became a very real problem. Thankfully, rest, fluid and some time laying down in the air-conditioned first aid room was what was required. Scary.
Whilst Okaasan rested, the rest of us had a quick look around the rest of the zoo (though less waiting in lines). Now as you might remember from my post on Maruyama Zoo in Sapporo, I have a somewhat uneasy relationship with zoos. Even when we go to the Adelaide Zoo, I have a few qualms. I especially feel uneasy when I see the primates in the zoo. We came across the orang-utan enclosure, and there on the outside (I'm not sure if this was intentionally separated) was the big male. There was a look of total resignation and sadness in his eyes. It really did make me start questioning my position on zoos again...
Then again, when we went inside, there was another moment that seemed to wipe away any feelings of sadness. The young orang-utan was in fine form.... and I have to admit that I was totally captivated as was L-kun and T-chan. Whilst the grumpy old Dad may have been a little less than inspiring, the child was just a bundle of life.
It's also interesting to see how similar the relationships between our hairier cousins and our own families. I'm sure T-chan has felt like this on many an occasion. Not entirely sure what's going on, but having the sense that something bad was about to happen at any instant.
Outside, we checked out a few other animals enclosures... the deer were nice, and I'd not see impressive horns like this up close before. Of course, if you've ever been to Nara you would have experienced enough deer to last a lifetime.
Now we come to the final sorry tale of the day... T-chan and I had taken L-kun to visit the giraffe or kirin which is also the name for the mythical asian animal that adorns the beer of the same name. Well - we were quite surprised to find that the enclosure was designed in such a way that the giraffe could literally bend over the fence and grab branches from the crowd. And do you think that they were lapping it up. The kids were going crazy.
And I have to say that this is one father who let the love for his son make him do something he knew he shouldn't have. I joined in. And yes, lifted L-kun up so that he could feed the giraffe which was one of the things that really excited him. He just wanted to do it more and more. Now I am a sensible, well educated adult that knows that captive animals most probably aren't adapted to eat any old vegetation... so feeding them isn't such a good idea. I know this - but still I let L-kun try.
Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder... and a rather agitated Japanese man was telling me that it wasn't safe... to which I rather foolishly replied that it was ok, I was holding my son well. To which he replied that he wasn't talking about my son. The penny dropped... he was criticising me for feeding the animal. At which point I had to think - well, yes, it was something I would have agreed with (if I hadn't been touched by the glowing smiles of my son). But I also felt a strong sense of anger. He hadn't said anything to anyone else that was there. Just the foreigner. The person that he felt that he could chastise... though I will be careful not to ascribe too many cultural stereotypes to this. Of course, my indignation might have been more vocal if it wasn't for the fact that I knew he was most likely right. I do wonder however about the zoo's clearly tacit approval of the behaviour... I can't believe that this was the first time that feeding the giraffe has happened.
Japan is very friendly - but in a culturally restrained mono-culture, I sometimes do feel that it's very easy to stand out. I'm sure every foreigner that lives in Japan feels the same way, but most probably have much more disturbing stories.
Changing the subject... you never know what you'll find in a zoo. Interestingly, mushrooms (of fungi more broadly) do not belong to the plant kingdom (or the animal kingdom for that matter). Rather they come from same sort of family that spawned (pun intended) yeasts and moulds. Japanese mushrooms are well known for their psycho-active qualities... but I'm sure they're also know for their ability to be mistaken with poisonous mushrooms. One of my favourite dishes to make is mushroom risotto - not sure what the reaction would be to these sorts of ingredients however.
Well - we come to the end of the Arashiyama Zoo story... it's a great place to visit if you're in Hokkaido and either have a car, or willing to catch the train up to visit Asahikawa (there price's a little expensive however ranging from 4940 yen for a discounted "free seating" ticket - with half price for children). The train take just over 1.5 hours from Sapporo. For me, it'd be cheaper and more enjoyable to hire a car for the day if there's more than one of you going.
But remember - it can get quite hot (and humid) in summer, and the queues can be extraordinary. Take plenty of liquids (especially water / sports drink) and be patient. Asahiyama Zoo is one of the most popular in Japan - and the enclosures are nice - and much nicer than in some Japanese zoos that I've seen. It is however a zoo, so if you don't like animals in captivity, it may be one to avoid.
If you go up however, be sure to pop in to at least Biei on the way back to Sapporo if you're doing only a day trip.... which leads on to my next post....