“This had better be good…” I quipped while standing outside the entrance of Asahiyama Zoo 旭山動物園, waiting for it to open, in the cold of winter with rain pelting down.
On all accounts, it was a dreary, overcast Winter’s day. After a short walk to the Sapporo train station from Keio Plaza Sapporo Hotel, we took a 1.5 hour train ride to Asahikawa Station. From the Asahikawa Station, we had to catch a public bus to the zoo. The entire journey took 2 hours+ on public transport complete with 2 young kids in tow bundled up like Chinese Bak Zhang (rice dumplings).
We didn’t expect the bus ride from Asahikawa Station to the zoo came in a small non air-conditioned 20-seater. It had all of us cramped like Japanese tuna in a can. By the time we reached the zoo entrance, the rain fell. Quite honestly, I wasn’t impressed with the entrance at all – being one of Japan’s famous zoos, the entrance was incredibly modest with only two small turnstiles for admission. There was no proper waiting area for visitors. So yes, THIS had better be good. And it actually was! In fact, looking back, we would want to do visit the zoo again despite the hassle of getting there. Read on to find out why:
1. Encounter with native wildlife:
Unlike the zoos which we are used to in Singapore and Australia, you get to see native wildlife animals up close surrounded by snow and in sub-zero temperature. In this zoo, the animals aren’t in a ‘large fridge’ and we viewing them in hot humid climate. We are in fact in THEIR climate and seeing them in their natural environment. It’s special.
Aside from the Penguins, Seals and Sea Lions (lots of them!), the other unique animals we saw include:
– Arctic Foxes
– Snowy Owl (wow… right out from the Harry Potter movie set!)
– Red Pandas (So very cute…and lots of them too!)
– Japanese Crane (Very mystical)
– Winter Wolves
– Snow Leopards and more…
2. Getting up-close…really close:
In Asahiyama Zoo, you can get really up close with the animals. Some are a mere few inches away…including the wolves and leopards! Highlights include a glass tunnel through the penguin pool that allows visitors to observe the birds’ underwater flights, and small glass domes in the middle of the polar bear and wolf enclosures that can get visitors right among the animals. It was certainly very interesting to get up in a bubble enclosure right INTO the Winter Wolves’ lair and having them lie right on top of the bubble enclosure! Like wise with the polar bear’s as well.
For the Snow Leopards, we were inches away protected by two layers of steel cage. It was awesome being able to see these majestic beasts, the intricate patterns on their fur and bodies and those eyes…this is truly an experience like no other! My kids were absolutely enthralled too. The animal enclosures here are adopt a very open concept – the animals are not restrained behind acrylic walls but rather in open air, self-contained enclosure. This way, we truly could marvel at these animals.
3. In their natural habitats:
Being in Hokkaido and seeing these animals in snowing winter, it really felt like we were the visitors visiting the animals in their own ‘home’. An authentic experience which we highly recommend. Kudos also to the landscaping of the zoo, it was designed so well incorporating the undulating terrain and doing away with well-paved roads. Walking through the zoo make us experience what it’s like to trek in the winter animals’ natural habitats.
4. Children’s Farm: A petting zoo of sorts, here at Asahiyama, there’s not only 1 but 2 dedicated spaces for kids to get up close to feed and touch even, docile barnyard and domestic animals such as sheeps, goats and hamsters. Do check the timing for petting and feeding. There are educational sign boards and exhibits for kids to be engaged throughout the zoo trails.
5. Penguin Parade: Only during winter. In fact from mid-Dec onward, the penguins will waddle through a designated paths daily at pre-set timings. The zoo was also one of the first to organize penguin walks in winter. We were too early to see the parade during this trip as we were there in early December. We were, however, able to see another different Penguin Parade at another Hokkaido zoo. More about this in another post.
Tips on visiting Asahiyama Zoo:
1. Be early – The zoo’s ground is large. Plan to be there early (the queue starts before the doors open!) to make full use of the day (you’ll need it) to see the animals.
2. Wear warm, comfy outfit and shoes – Walking, walking, walking…yes, lots of it right from the moment you leave your hotel room till night. It can be chilly as the zoo is 90% outdoors so dress your kids in warm and preferably waterproof outerwear and shoes. We bundled Dana and Buddy in Uniqlo’s HeatTech range of winter wear and it kept them snug and smiley throughout our zoo trip!
3. Be prepared for rain and snow: We went in winter and it was raining / snowing. We did not bring any umbrellas or ponchos (kept in the room…argh!) so we had to buy them from the souvenir shop when it opened. Not cheap, about S$7 for a disposable one.
4. Prioritize: There are many types of animals in the zoo including those we could commonly see in Singapore like Giraffes and Monkeys. Plan and prioritize which animals you’ d like to visit. For us, we skipped the Giraffes, Hippo and the Monkeys. Even with 6 hours, we barely seen all the animals in the zoo.
5. Eat there: The eatery inside the zoo serves pretty decent food ranging from udon to bento sets. They are quite tasty and affordable. Besides, the central eatery provides a good place to rest…with free-flow of warm green tea for customers. Excellent!
6. Be punctual: The Japanese public transport system is famously punctual and that applies to the Asahiyama bus plying the zoo and Asahikawa Station. The bus going back can get quite crowded, so make sure you’re at the bus stop at least 20 mins before the bus arrives to be among the first in queue. You wouldn’t want to be kicked-off a full bus and waiting at the bus stop in frigid cold for the next bus to come.
7. Bring snacks and strollers (if you can): Kids (and adults) tend to get peckish easily in the cold temperatures so snacks will keep everyone as you explore the zoo on foot. Strollers can be life-savers for toddlers who tire easily and demand to be carried. Some paths may be snow-laden so a sturdy stroller which provides good maneuvering (like the Babyzen Yoyo+) is recommended.
The Asahiyama Zoo is well worth a visit despite the hassle of taking public transport there. The experience of seeing rare winter animals up close is truly an unforgettable experience. The zoo itself is very well designed. If you can afford the budget either join a day tour to go there or rent a car. Not to be missed.
Getting There From Sapporo:
Take the JR train from Sapporo Station to Asahikawa Station (about 85 mins; we use www.hyperdia.com to plot our routes). Then, take bus number 41, 42 or 47 from Asahikawa Station to Asahiyama Zoo. The one-way ride takes 40 minutes and costs 440 yen. There are about two buses per hour. We bought our tickets from the Tourist Visitor Centre inside Sapporo Station which include the JR train tickets, bus tickets and zoo admission tickets.
Mid October to early November: 9:30 to 16:30 (entry until 16:00)
Mid November to early April: 10:30 to 15:30 (entry until 15:00)
Looks good! Such a treat to see them against the snow. Am bookmarking this for my future Hokkaido trip (when my boy is out of diapers because I really can’t imagine changing diapers when they are in Ba Zhang!).
Angie. S says
Haha….thanks for your candid comments. Yes, we survived with Buddy still like a Ba Zhang (Dumpling)…not that bad actually. Anyway….all’s worth it when we see the kids loving the place.
Bumble Bee Mum says
Love your detailed post on Asahiyama Zoo. I’ve never finished seeing all the animals there on a single visit either.. they close so early in winter!
Angie. S says
Thanks! We would go back there again at the drop of a hat! It’s such an interesting and informative place. Everyone got educated!
We don’t usually visit zoos when we go overseas, kinda like a habit of ours. But a zoo visit during winter looks absolutely gorgeous. Love your photos as always. David!
We have never encounter the animals in Winter before. Love the owls and fox, especially the snow leopard!
Just curious, is the Tiger and Giraffe accustomed to cold weather?
Debs G @ Owls Well says
Seems like this is clearly an old-fashioned zoo designed for the delight of visitors. I wonder what their breeding and conservation programme is like compared to our local zoo.
Katherine Sng says
The zoo visits looks more interesting in the winter climate as it looks and feel different from our zoo here in Singapore. Certainly a great addition to an itinerary when planning trips to a cold climate destination.
Absolute delight to see these beauties in the snow. Amazing!
Your post makes me long for a trip to Japan. Those animals are beautiful!
Pooja Kawatra says
Your photos already took us to Japan and beautifully captured. Love the details about the zoo and good for parents.
Geraldine Guo says
What an eye-opener to a winter themed zoo! This place definitely goes into my bucket list for kids!
Ai Sakura says
Zoos are so interesting already but it’s really extra special when you get to visit and see the animals in the snow too! What an experience!
AI @ Sakura Haruka
Hi, really love to see ur kids enjoying Hokkaido. My kids love winter too so thinking of visiting Hokkaido and its going to be our first Japan trip so we not gonna spend the entire week in hokkaido (Wanna experience Tokyo too :-). Can you suggest the must visit places to fit into my short 4-5 days in Hokkaido.
P/S loving you writing style, simple yet very good and informative.
Angie. S says
thanks for dropping by our blog. We are very encouraged to know that you found our post helpful and you like David’s writing style. For 4-5 days in Hokkaido, this is what we recommend:
In order of our preference:
1. One Day in Otaru/Sapporo (Morning: Otaru followed by Evening: Winter White Illumination at Sapporo Odori Park)
2. One Day in Asahiyama Zoo
3. One Day in Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe
4. Mininum 3 Days 2 Nights in a Family-Friendly Ski Resort that is nearer Sapporo for your kids to join ski school (such as Rusutsu ski resort and Tomamu ski resort). Niseko is further away.
Hope this helps. You can also refer to our overview here: https://www.lifestinymiracles.com/2017/07/hokkaido-diy-holiday/
Hi, love your detailed post. *thumbs up* Its save me a lot of time to plan my self drive itinerary for my upcoming Hokkaido trip 🙂
May I know how much does it cost for the return trip to Asahiyama Zoo (train+bus) from Sapporo? I might consider to join the day trip if the cost about the same, the day trip which include Blue Pond, Aoi-Ike in Biei as well.
Thanks in advance.
Hi in each month going is the best
Hi thanks for visiting, could you clarify your question please. Thanks.
Hi i am going to Hokkaido in early oct and is wondering if such time is a good one to visit to this zoo as i heard tat penguins will not be avai during this period, not too sure about other animals. Besides, will it be costly if i choose to travel by car rental instead of train in Hokkaido? Lastly, would it be a lot more time savings to stay nearby the zoo as you mentioned that the travelling time from sapporo station to this zoo took about 2 hrs plus. Thanking in advance.
Hi, thanks for visiting. As winter would not have started in October I would think that certain winter activities would not be introduced yet. For Asahiyama, their penguins traditionally come out in late Dec for the Penguin march (a real treat). You will need to check with other travellers who have travelled there in October to find out. Yes, it would seem to be more costly to travel by car but largely also depends on how big your group is – if it’s a large group to share the costs of the car then the difference would be marginal. To travel by train requires some coordination and planning as the train lines there can be confusing for first timers (even Singaporeans) and the trains depart on time so…depends on your travel preference. Finally, there is a town near the zoo and it would certainly save time and there are museums and other outdoor activities to do there if that is what you’d like to experience. Staying in Sapporo will give a different feel – shopping, restaurants etc… For us, we did a day trip and was back by nightfall. The zoo closes early anyway so…you’ll have plenty of time to travel back unless you like to take it easy. In winter there’s the Winter Illumination in Sapporo which we went to after the zoo, it was very nice. Hope it helps!
Ivory Chong says
Thanks for sharing. Especially the tips given which are very helpful when planning a trip esp with preschooler. Keep posting more. Its great to see and read more of such post that I have the courage to plan a trip to Hokkaido. Thumbs Up!
Your blog is great! We’d need some advise and appreciate if you can help us.
We are planning a trip to Hokkaido in Feb 2019. We will visit Asahiyama zoo and can reach before the zoo opens (we are staying overnight at Asahikawa). But we also need to leave latest by 13:30 if we want to catch the hotel shuttle bus to Sounkyo region. We have a 3yo and 5yo. Do you think we can finish looking at the exhibits (or at least the must see ones) + penguin parade by then?
Our alternative is to skip Sounkyo totally but brave a 5 hr bus ride from Asahikawa to Lake Akan with 2 active children.
Thanks in advance!
Angie. S says
Hi Shin thanks for complimenting on our blog. It’s quite hard work to blog after each trip so we really appreciate kind comments like yours.
Regarding your query on the Asahiyama Zoo visit. First, a word of caution: the winter in Feb will be full-blown, bitterly harsh in Feb so be prepared for the extreme cold. You will not be able to explore the entire zoo in 3-4 hours but you can prob catch the first penguin parade (pls check the most updated schedules closer to your date of visit). We’ve not visited Sounkyo region but I heard it’s quite scenic. You can tell your kids you’ll bring them back to this zoo again the next time your family returns to Hokkaido.
Hello Angie and family,
First of all just want to say that your blog is a life saver for last minute people who barely had anything plan for the family trip in the upcoming month *cry*. Your blog is details I’m thinking to print them out before we go so we can get it handy on hands >.<
Just want to ask, do you buy your JR ticket before hand (like JR pass) or you just get the ticket from the counter for this Asahiyama Zoo trip? Thank you so much before!
Angie. S says
thank you for your compliments for our blog. It’s so heartening to know our experiences have benefitted other travelling families.
For us, we walked to the JR counter the day before our zoo trip and bought it in person before hand so that we can proceed to the trains directly (avoiding the morning rush crowds). The staff are impeccably helpful. Have a Happy New Year and a wonderful vacay in Japan!
Hi, may i know how do you purchase the zoo ticket?
Hi, we arrived early to purchase the tickets when it opened. Not sure if that can be done online these days but you may wish to check. Thanks for dropping by!
Thanks for the informative post on Asahiyama zoo. You also brought your kids to Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe too. We are planning a trip to Hokkaido in early December. We are still drafting the itinerary – if we have time for only one attraction, which one would you recommend? We are traveling with three boys. Thanks!
Angie. S says
good morning. It’s so exciting to plan for a family trip. Personally, we enjoyed Asahiyama Zoo more and spent an entire day there, from opening to closing. We had v little time at the Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe as it was a stopover. Given longer time, we might have enjoyed it more. Have a safe and memorable time in Hokkaido!