Japan - Ueno Zoo Giant Panda Sign
Travel Guides

Tokyo Animal Attractions

I’ve already told you about some of the really cool activities that I did when I was in Tokyo… but now it’s time for the animals! By now you must now how much of an animal lover I am, so here are the fun animal activities I found!

Looking for more advice about Japan? Check out my Cultural Impressions and Travel Guide!

Visit a Cat Café

Japan - Akihabara Cat Cafe

Unless you’re living in a cave (and if so, how are you on the internet?), you’ve heard about the famous cat cafés in Japan. To be clear, they extend beyond cats. There are cafés for owls, parakeets, hedgehogs, dogs, bunnies, and even snakes! When I was planning my trip to Japan, I knew I had to visit one.

So… What is a cat café, exactly?

Okay, so it’s not a full-on café like you would expect anywhere else. There is no food served. Most of the cafés actually only have vending machines. You can choose a drink, and bring it inside while you play with the kitties! For as long as you want. I’m getting ahead of myself…

Japan - Akihabara Cat Cafe Vending Machine

So the café we visited was Cat Café Mocha in Akihabara. Mocha is open from 10am to 10pm year-round. The café charges a 350 yen fee for ‘unlimited’ beverages plus 200 yen per ten minutes of visiting. That means at a minimum you’ll pay 550 yen (a little over $5). At the entrance, you’ll get a pair of slippers to put on and a locker to store your belongings. After you put your stuff away, you’ll see two vending machines offering both hot and cold drinks (and even one soup!). Since it’s unlimited, feel free to visit the machines as often as you’d like to refill your beverage!

I want to play with the kitties!

Japan - Akihabara Cat Cafe Mocha

Okay, you’re ready! Put on your slippers and enter the cat room. When we visited there were about 24 cats roaming around. Want to know their names? There are tablets located around the room that tell you about the cats – their names, birthdays, and breeds. You’re allowed to pet them, take photos (without flash), and even give them treats (for a fee). This particular café limits visitors to ages 13 and older – so no little ones allowed!

Japan - Akihabara Cat Cafe Chairs

I loved the atmosphere of Mocha – with a self proclaimed “log house” theme, it definitely gave that type of vibe. There were seating options all over, and a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the colorful sights of Akihabara. If you’re looking for more things to do, you’ll find shelves of manga to read and some video game consoles to play. Or you can just watch the cats run around and jump up to the various shelves and landings around the room. I could do that all day. (And you can! The total cost for visiting maxes out after 2 hours at 2,400 yen for the day.)

Words of advice

Japan - Akihabara Cat Cafe

One piece of advice – keep track of what time you entered the room. Since you’re charged every ten minutes, you’ll want to know when you’re about to pay more. And they count the time it takes to get your things from your locker before you pay. Other than that, enjoy! It was definitely a fun experience. We ended up spending about half and hour there for just under 10 USD.

Art Aquarium

Located in Ginza, the ‘5th Avenue’ of Tokyo, the Art Aquarium is such a wonder to see. A concept brought to life by artist Hidetomo Kimura, the art aquarium attracts millions of visitors each year to see the changing exhibition. Since 2007, Kimura has been redesigning the exhibit and uses traditional Japanese goldfish (kingyo) to exemplify Japanese culture.

Japan - Tokyo Art Aquarium Ceiling

Being such a popular exhibit, plan to spend a bit of time waiting in line to get in – and it will be crowded. But that doesn’t take away from the art! 2018’s exhibit began with a short hallway with goldfish in the glass ceiling. Such a unique perspective to get! The main exhibit was a very tall ‘bowl’ with water pouring out of several spots into smaller bowls below. Goldfish are in exquisitely designed bowls/containers/tanks all around. And it really feels more like an art museum than an aquarium!

An aquarium or a nightclub?

In the evenings, Art Aquarium turns into Night Aquarium and features music from some of the most popular DJs in Tokyo! Definitely another experience to be had. Unfortunately, the aquarium is not open year-round, as it often gets redesigned while it is closed. So be sure to check the website to see if it will be open when you’re in town!

Maxell Aqua Park

Japan - Maxell Aqua Park

Speaking of awesome aquariums, Maxell Aqua Park is another one worth checking out in Tokyo! This aquarium combines modern technology with aquarium exhibits to bring interactive displays. It is very cool to experience.

The front entrance has a large tank with digital displays overlaying the glass. From the name of the aquarium to a fireworks show, it’s the first sign that this aquarium isn’t like the rest.

Japan - Maxell Aqua Park Frozen Beer

A little way into the aqua park, you’ll find Coral Café,a small café serving drinks. I can’t say that I’ve been to many aquariums serving beer, so I had to partake! The café offers a few specialty cocktails, so I chose the frozen Kirin beer mixed with juice. When the bartender placed my drink on the counter, she also hit some button to make it look like a firework (of lights) exploded over my cup! So fun! It doesn’t take much to amuse me…

Jellies!

After the café (where you can sit at tables with fish inside them), you’ll come into the jellyfish exhibit. Jellies of all varieties fill tall cylindrical tanks that are lit up in different colors across the dark room. The colors change and occasionally go all white. It’s incredibly peaceful to watch.

I still love dolphins

Maxell Aqua Park Dolphins

Do yourself a favor and watch the dolphin show. I know, I know. You’ve seen dolphin shows at aquariums before and they are all the same. Well this one isn’t. This one is flawlessly executed with several dolphins and trainers working together on a really well choreographed show. From the water that falls from the ceiling, to the expertly trained dolphins, it’s such an enjoyable experience! Take fifteen minutes to rest your feet and be entertained.

All of the exhibits are very well designed and you can tell they care for their animals well. The other spots that I enjoyed the most include the wonder tube (an underwater tunnel) and the goldfish exhibit with hanging Japanese lanterns.

Discounts!

Japan - Maxell Aqua Park Goldfish

If you’re staying at a nearby hotel, you can show your hotel keycard for a discount on your admission. You can also get a (slightly smaller) discount for showing receipts from some of the other local attractions. If you’re planning on being in Tokyo for a while, it is definitely worth investing in an annual passport – it’s less than the cost of 2 admissions!

See the Pandas at Ueno Zoo

Well of course I had to visit a zoo while I was in Tokyo – two aquariums just weren’t enough! 😉 I had a few options, but ultimately decided on Ueno Zoo because they are known for their giant panda exhibit.

Okay, so it was pouring rain that day. Visiting a zoo was not the ideal choice, but it was the only day we had the chance in our schedule. So we got up early and made our way to the zoo – which took a lot longer and cost more than we expected. I’m pretty sure our Uber driver either got lost or took a wrong turn… I don’t know. But the day didn’t start so great.

Japan - Ueno Zoo Giant Panda Sign

I wasn’t expecting this…

Japan - Ueno Zoo Pandas

When we got inside, we expected to go right over to the pandas to see them. Nope! You have to wait in line. Seriously. And it’s a long line. The estimated wait to see the pandas was an hour and a half when we got there. In the rain. Luckily, once you got so far into the line, there were pop-up tents to keep some of the rain off of you. Also, the line moved a lot quicker than expected (about 45 minutes) but I think that’s because people were spread out in line to take advantage of the tent cover!

When we finally did get to the pandas, we were told we couldn’t stand – we had to keep the line constantly moving. Bummer. I mean, I get it, but still… There were three pandas split between the two exhibits. All. Three. Were. Sleeping. Double bummer. While I’m glad I did it, I still think the giant panda exhibit at the Smithsonian Zoo is a lot better.

The rest of the zoo made up for it

While I was slightly disappointed with the giant pandas, I have to admit that the rest of the zoo more than made up for it. The zoo is pretty large with a mixture of indoor and outdoor spaces, so we managed to dry off occasionally. But the best part? The other animals! Having been to so many zoos all over the world, I don’t often see animals I haven’t seen before. But I did! My favorite? The Shoebill Stork. So interesting looking! I also loved the macaque exhibit – a big ‘mountain’ for the macaques to climb on and chase each other around. There was also a stoop for them to sit on where you can see their weight! Clever.

Visit an Owl Forest

Japan - Owl Forest

Okay, this one isn’t in Tokyo. Not even close. But, it was so unique that I have to share! Located on the boardwalk near Huis Ten Bosch amusement park (apparently Michael Jackson’s favorite place to visit in Japan), is a row of shops, restaurants, and interesting places to visit. Since I didn’t have enough time to make the admission to the amusement park worth it, I just wandered around, listening to Thriller being played over the loudspeakers (I wasn’t kidding about the Michael Jackson thing…), when I came across an owl forest.

So… What is an owl forest?

Like a cat café, but without the food and with owls instead of cats. Not really a forest either. It was just a small room, but with decor to make it look like it’s full of trees – and owls. (Side note, I do have to say that I was disappointed to see the owls chained to the branches by their feet, but they did look very well cared for.) You could purchase a ticket (just over $5) at the vending machine outside (I’ve told you, Japan really likes their vending machines!) and step through the thick plastic sheets to go inside.

Once inside, they ask you to sanitize your hands and show you how to properly pet the owls – gently with the back of your hand. The woman explained that some owls have signs that they are ‘resting’ and asked me not to touch those owls. Other than that, enjoy!

So many different owls!

There were several different types of owls in the ‘forest’, and I was happy to see that they all had names and descriptions of the types of owls they were. The place was pretty small, so you could easily see them all as well as the staff and other visitors. The woman who worked there was so happy to help people know more about the owls and take photos for them – particularly the ‘Harry Potter owl’! (Yes, there was a snowy owl that looked like Hedwig.)

Once I finished walking through and getting my photos, I was offered a chance to hold one of the owls.


Side note: when I was a little girl I was terrified of owls. I thought one was outside my window watching me sleep every night. When I grew older and realized that this was impossible because there were no trees or ledges outside my window, I got over it. But there were a few dark years when owls and I were definitely not friends.

Japan - Owl Forest with me

Back to the forest… As a little girl I never would have held an owl. But as a grown, independent woman – why the heck not? So I put on the protective glove and held the cute little guy. The worker got some photos to prove it before I ventured on to the nearby shops.

Have you been to any animal attractions in Tokyo? What did you do? Tell me all about it in the comments!

Tell me your thoughts!

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