Location: Nagoya, Japan
Highlights: Koala exhibit, nocturnal animals exhibits
Children Friendly (4): This category gained points as the exhibits for the most part allowed easy viewing for the children. There’s a children’s petting zoo, plenty of statues and lots of exhibits which are quite close to the animals. This zoo did however have a number of exhibits which would be easy for children to climb on fences and railings and potentially get injured. This zoo also had a number of steep hills and quite a few stairs. I imagine there are quite a few tired little legs by half way through the day.
Animal Diversity (10): This zoo had more diversity than I originally expected, in a variety of ways. Not only did they have the typical big draw animals (giraffes, elephants, lions, etc.) they also had variety within those! Both Asian and African elephants, river and pygmy hippos, two species of rhino, and approximately five different species of bears. They also had a huge reptile and amphibian house as well as a fish building. There were also a number of species which I’ve rarely seen in other zoos such as koalas and chimpanzees.
Animal Viewing (8): During the visit there were very few animals that I did not see. Either in the main exhibit or in their indoor enclosures the majority of the animals were in view of the public. Within the exhibits they were also usually pretty visible. Some exhibits were fairly overgrown which made some of the smaller animals more difficult to spot.
Animals Happiness (4): I was hugely disappointed by this category at Higashiyama. This zoo seemed to be half old style zoo (animals in pits with little enrichment) and half new and improved (larger enclosures, natural environment). A lot of the exhibits were probably deemed ‘natural’ and ‘advanced’ 20 years ago but standards since then have changed dramatically. The polar bear exhibit was a sad sight, virtually no enrichment and almost entirely concrete made to look like ice flows. I witnessed stress behaviours in the elephants involving pacing and rocking. Many animals which tend to be in groups in the wild were housed individually (some of the wolf exhibits and the lions for example). The new exhibits however were great. The koala exhibit in particular was very well done. The reptile and amphibian house was spacious with natural environments in each enclosure. Another thing I noticed was that almost all the ‘off exhibit’ areas were on display as well. This is a fantastic idea to showcase the conditions when the animals are indoors and allows visitors to always see the animals. HOWEVER, the off exhibit areas were often very small and dingy. This also never allows the animal to be out of the public eye and for some species/individuals this can be very stressing. Overall for this category it looks like they’re taking steps in the right direction but they have a long way to go.
Photography (4): I was amazed at how poorly the photography was in this zoo. Almost all the glass was dirty, steamed up, or had awful glare. The fencing used was a huge hindrance to taking photos. Often there were many layers of fence and/or glass at varying distances making it virtually impossible to get a clear shot through. The exhibits which seemed newer tended to have better barriers and therefore better resulting shots of the animals but much improvement needs to be made. If you’re wanting great shots of the animals this is not the zoo for you.
Layout/Map (6): The map of the zoo was well done. Simple and to the point it wasn’t overly busy. It also had small cartoons of the animals by their exhibits which made it easy to spot what animals you were going to see/if you wanted to see a specific animal it was easy to pick out. The layout of the zoo however was quite weird. It was basically divided in half but the two areas were not necessarily divided by any specific guideline. Some areas tended to have a region theme (North America) and some by a species theme (bears) but it was all mixed together. Also there was not a clear route to take. We often had to back track to see animals we missed, or criss-cross through to ensure we saw everything.
Hours (7): The hours are quite good. Open the same times every day making it easy to remember/follow. They are closed one day every week however and a couple days at the end of the year. Being open year round is fantastic but I did take off points for only being open until 5 every day. This makes it hard for a lot of people to visit during the week and in the summer especially it doesn’t fully make sense to close that early.
Price (10): This zoo is cheap! I was amazed by how little it cost especially for the size of it. At a price of 500 yen (~$5.00) it’s worth it to stop by even for an hour or two. They do have discounts for groups and for memberships if you plan on visiting often.
Food (8): Like I’ve noticed during my time in Japan so far food is constantly available. Vending machines AND food stalls were around virtually every turn of the zoo. If you were hungry you didn’t have to go far to find something to eat. Prices were a little high but that’s typical of most zoos/attractions in general. The food variety was quite good with sit down restaurants and plenty of vendor stalls. It was slightly different in that the food was clearly not run by one company, many stalls selling similar things were placed right beside each other.
Website (7): This is slightly difficult for me to judge seeing as I don’t know Japanese but their English information on their website was sufficient. They also seemed to have a good layout with plenty of information. Plus fun cartoons!
Gift Shop (7): Like the food, gift shops were everywhere! Around every turn there was another one. They all tended to have similar gifts inside but sometimes there was a distinct featured animal (usually what was near by). There were not really any souvenir type products being sold (more expensive, higher quality). It was mostly toys, stuffed animals, and smaller items mostly geared towards children.
Quiet Areas (8): This category benefited from the poor layout. With lots of pathways and open spaces there were plenty of spots to put benches and picnic areas! There were even plots covered in fake grass to picnic or where the children could play.
Safety/Cleanliness (3): Seeing that a lot of the exhibits were in the older style quite a few seemed run down. Fencing was not of the greatest quality and there were often tarps and boards propped up areas and providing ‘roofing’. Japan in general is quite clean in terms of litter so that was not an issue. In terms of safety there were not always railings or barricades near steps or drops. Pathways were also uneven frequently. In terms of hills there were a number that were quite steep which could be quite dangerous for young children, those with disabilities and those pushing strollers.
Extras (6): There is an education building near the front of the zoo which had some neat presentations for children (and adults too!). There were also educational signs and interactive areas throughout the zoo. Feedings happened throughout the day during out visit which was great to see some of the more sedentary animals being more active. The grounds of the zoo is actually half botanical garden so those wanting to see more of the flora side of wildlife would love the area. There is also the large tower on site as well to see the grounds (and much of Nagoya) from a birds eye view.
Overall (6.6): Overall the zoo has a good core structure but has a lot to do to become truly world class. The variety of animals was fantastic but their exhibits needed a lot of work. If you’re visiting to see a lot of animals and get a view of some botanical gardens this is for you. If you’re wanting to practice your photography or are used to AZA/CAZA certified zoos in North America you will be sorely disappointed.