JAPAN: Oita Prefecture, Beppu (African Safari Wildlife Park/ アフリカンサファリ)

Having written about the Fuji Safari Park in Shizuoka earlier, I would like to introduce you to yet another safari park in Japan that is popular with both adults and children.  Located about an hour from Beppu Station is The African Safari Wildlife Park (アフリカンサファリ). Situated on the island of Kyushu, Beppu City in Oita Prefecture is popular with tourists because of its many onsens (hot spring baths). The sprawling African Safari Wildlife Park is just a few miles outside of Beppu City on the Tsukahara Plain (Tsukahara Kogen) and is equally popular.

Open year round, the park affords visitors the opportunity to view the animals either from the safety and comfort of their own vehicles or from within a safari park bus. Unlike other zoos, the animals of the safari park roam freely and it is the humans who are restricted.

The safari park buses are designed to look like enormous exotic animals. Their large windows are protected by heavy gauge wire and visitors can feed the animals through the bus windows. If you drive your own car through the park you are  not permitted to roll down your car windows or get out of your car under any circumstances.

The safari park is divided into multiple zones because while some animals are allowed to mix freely, others have to be kept separate from each other. It is easy to understand because lions, for instance, are the natural predators of gazelles and cheetahs may not get along with the tigers, etc. There are “neutral zones” in between the various habitats.  This design enables the park rangers to send back any animals who may have followed the cars or park buses and may potentially end up in a different zone.

The cost of your admission includes a food tray with various treats for the animals roaming the park.  Instructions on how to feed the animals is in Japanese however, the animals themselves will clue you in on what treats they will accept as they are known to refuse something that is out of their ordinary selection of food items. You will be given a pair of long-handled tongs to pass out the treats with.  Understandable, as you will be feeding carnivorous animals in the park who may confuse your hand as part of their treat!

There is a petting zoo area within the park as well with the typical creatures you will find in other petting zoos.

The safari park is open from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM (March 1 to October 31) and from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM (November 1 to February 28).  There is a night safari offered on a limited basis from 5:00 PM – 7:20 PM. Admission is ¥2,500 for adults and ¥1,400 for children. Please note that there is an additional charge for the safari buses. The rate is ¥1,100 for adults and ¥900 for children.


Location:            2-1755-1 Ajimumachi Minamihata, Usa-shi, Oita, JAPAN

Web page:

Please visit to purchase my book, “A Blogger’s Guide To Japan,” where you can read about the Fuji Safari Park and many other interesting destinations in Japan.  The book is available in print and electronic format.












JAPAN: Shizuoka (Fuji Speedway)

I’ve always contended that Japan has something for everyone and this holds true for die hard race fans too. Whether you are a fan of Formula One or Nascar, you will be interested in the motorsport track built in the foothills of Mount Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture. The track was built in the early 1960s and has been the gathering place for speed demons far and wide.

Fuji Speedway, as it is known, was originally designed to host Nascar-style races in Japan. However, due to lack of funds only one of the bankings was actually designed and the track was later converted to a road course. The banked turn is known as “Daiichi” and has resulted in several major accidents over the years. After a double fatal accident in 1974 which took the lives of Hiroshi Kazato and Seiichi Suzuki, a new part of the track was added to counteract the problem.

In 1976, Japan hosted its first Formula One race at Fuji Speedway featuring a dramatic battle between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. You may remember the film directed by Ron Howard called “Rush,” depicting the competitiveness between the two drivers. Lauda ended up withdrawing from the race due to dangerous conditions.

James Hunt

James Hunt

Niki Lauda

Niki Lauda

In 1977, Gilles Villeneuve was involved in a crash that killed two spectators which lead to Formula One abandoning the Fuji Speedway. Ten years later, when F1 returned to Japan, it was held at the Suzuka track instead. It wasn’t until 2007 that F1 finally made a comeback at Fuji.

The track continues to be a popular racing venue and is often used for national races. In 2000, Toyota purchased the track from Mitsubishi Estate and the track underwent major re-profiling in 2003. It has hosted the NISMO Festival and the Toyota Motorsports Festival which takes place one week before the NISMO event. Fuji Speedway has also been the venue for the Udo Music Festival over the years.

There is a drifting course near the track which was built under the supervision of “drift king” Keiichi Tsuchiya at the time the Fuji track was being refurbished. You will also find a mini circuit there known as the Toyota Safety Education Center.

So visiting Shizuoka is not merely about the beautiful views of Mount Fuji. As you can see, there is much, much more.

JAPAN: Shizuoka Prefecture/ The Fuji Safari Park (富士サファリパーク)

When most people think of safaris, I am almost certain that no one would think of the lowlands around the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji in Japan! Yet, the Fuji Safari Park in Susono City located at the foot of Mount Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture offers just that!

The Fuji Safari Park opened in 1980 and was the first safari-style attraction of its kind in Japan. The park is divided into two zones: The Safari Zone and The Free Contact Zone. The latter is a zoo consisting of enclosures for smaller mammals and a petting station. The Safari Zone is divided into seven sections which houses bears, lions, tigers, cheetahs, elephants, rhinos, etc. Visitors can tour these sections in several ways including their own car, a rental vehicle or a bus.

The buses are decorated to resemble animals and contain wire netting over the windows. Passengers are provided with vegetables, pellets and meat which they can feed to the animals at close range. There is an additional charge for taking the bus, which includes the food to feed the animals. If you drive your own car through the park you are instructed to keep your car windows and doors locked at all times and it is easy to understand why. If you encounter a problem, rangers in SUVs are present to help. It takes approximately 30 minutes to drive through each of the seven sections. There are 4WD sport utility vehicles equipped with a navigation system available to rent as well. The rental fee is ¥5,000 and the vehicles seat up to seven passengers. A valid driver’s license recognized by Japan is required for renting these vehicles.

From April through October, the park offers a night safari. Visitors are provided with night-vision equipment to observe the animals in their nocturnal setting.

For an additional fee, visitors can participate in horse drawn cart rides, pony rides and have their pictures taken with baby animals. There are also cat, dog, rabbit houses and a guinea pig area where visitors can spend time holding and playing with the different animals.

If you get hungry, there is a large canteen-type family restaurant on the premises. There are also several food stalls selling everything from hot dogs to shaved ice. If you choose to pack your own picnic lunch, there are plenty of benches and seating outdoors where you can enjoy your meal.

Lastly, you need not leave the park empty handed as there is a nice souvenir shop too.

The safari park is easily accessible via the Tokaido Shinkansen, exit the Mishima Station. From there, a local bus will transport you to the park within 30 minutes or so.


The tiger pudding is a popular item at the restaurant

The tiger pudding is a popular item at the restaurant

Web Page:

Address:             2255-27 Aza Fujiwara, Susono-shi, Shizuoka

JAPAN: Regional Dishes (Kanto & Chubu)

In part  three of our adventures with kyodo ryori (郷土料理) / Regional cuisine, we visit the Kanto and Chubu Regions of Japan.


The Kanto region consists of seven prefectures and is very densely populated.  Tokyo and Yokohama, two of Japan’s largest metropolises are located within the Kanto region. The Chubu region, next door, is comprised of nine prefectures including: Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama, Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu, Yamanashi, Nagano and Niigata.


The Kanto dialect is the standard Japanese taught in schools. As the political, economic and cultural center of the nation, the region sets the pace that the rest of Japan tries to follow.

Known for its beautiful mountains, Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps, Chubu is divided into three distinct sub regions: Tokai, Koshinetsu, and Hokuriku. Three sub regions mean three different dialects and the food culture is different for each region as well.

For instance, in rural communities in Nagano and Gunma, you will find something called Inago no Tsukudani.  Inago is a type of grasshopper that is stewed in sweetened soy sauce. In many souvenir shops within the area, you will find this delicacy packaged to bring home to your loved ones and friends as omiyage (souvenirs). Other regional fare popular in Nagano (Shinshu) is Oyaki and Soba.

Inago no Tsukudani

Inago no Tsukudani



Soba Noodles

Soba Noodles

Oyaki is basically a flour dumpling stuffed with vegetables seasoned with miso and soy sauce. The type of vegetables used vary with specific areas within Nagano.

Nagano is synonymous with soba noodles. Anywhere you go in Japan, the locals will tell you that you haven’t sampled soba until you have had Shinshu Soba! The area’s highlands are perfectly suited for growing buckwheat which is then ground and mixed with fresh, clean water flowing from Nagano’s mountains and the taste is quite remarkable if I say so myself!

But getting away from some of the more “exotic” kyodo ryori, other regional food items associated with the Kanto and Chubu regions include: Hoto (udon noodles stewed in a miso-based soup with vegetables such as kabocha, potatoes, mushrooms and sometimes meat), Monja Yaki (a savory pancake similar to okonomiyaki but much runnier. It is eaten directly off the grill using a special metal spatula.), Masuzuhi (associated with Toyama, it is sushi rice steamed in bamboo leaves with trout placed on top), Sauce Katsudon (pork cutlet, breaded and fried placed on top of rice with special with Worcestershire sauce), and Tekonezushi (Cuts of red-meat fish, such as skipjack tuna or bluefin, are placed in a soy-flavored marinade, then arranged on top of vinegared rice. This is garnished to taste with slivers of green shiso leaf, ginger root or nori seaweed.)



Monja Yaki

Monja Yaki



Sauce Katsudon

Sauce Katsudon



This list is by no means an all-inclusive list of kyodo ryori associated with these two regions but an introduction and a mere starting point for discovering all the wonderful delicacies the Kanto and Chubu regions have to offer.  So go forth and be adventurous! Have you heard the term, have chopsticks, will travel?

Japan: Kanagawa (Hakone-en Aquarium/ 箱根園水族館)

Ashi no Ko or Lake Ashi is a scenic lake in the Hakone area of Kanagawa Prefecture. The area is known for its splendid views of Mount Fuji, numerous hot springs, historical sites and ryokan (inns).

Located at the edge of Ashi no Ko you will find Hakone-en, a 53,000 sq. ft. recreation complex operated by Prince Hotels & Resorts, consisting of an aquarium, shops, restaurant, barbequing area, theater and much more.

Opened in 1999, the Hakone-en Aquarium is home to 450 species of fish, approximately 32,000 total, collected from the lakes, rivers and oceans all over the world. The facility features both salt water and fresh water aquariums. The fresh water section displays over 2,000 rare fresh water fish from 150 species including the African Lungfish. The salt water section houses a massive tank measuring 56 ft. in width and 36 ft. in length. This tank is home to over 20,000 salt water fish. The Hakone-en Aquarium is known as the highest aquarium located above sea level in Japan. Consequently, seawater is transported by tanker from Numazu City in Shizuoka twice daily to meet the aquarium’s requirement of 20 tons of sea water per day.

The salt water fish are fed once every weekday and twice on Saturdays and holidays. Visitors flock to view the divers swimming together with the fish underwater during feeding time.

Aside from the massive collection of fish, perhaps the biggest attraction at the aquarium is the Baikal Seal Square area where the seals are famous for a routine involving so-called drinking in the hot spring pose. The seals are floating in the water holding a cypress bucket with a sake bottle placed within and a small hand towel placed on their heads. The scene is just beyond description and really merits being seen to be believed. The seal show takes place twice on weekdays and three times per day on Saturdays and holidays.

You can easily incorporate the aquarium in to a day trip from Tokyo as it is merely an hour and 43 minutes by train from Tokyo Station via the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen.  Exit the shinkansen at Odawara Station and switch to the Romancer (Hakone 83) to Hakoneyumoto Station.

The aquariums hours of operation are from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM and the admission charge is ¥1,500 for adults and ¥750 for children aged 4 through elementary school level.







Feeding time








Gift shop



Address:          139, Motohakone-cho, Ashigarashimo-gun

Web page:

Japan: Shizuoka (Life size Thomas The Tank Engine)

Thomas the Tank Engine, the lead character in the British television series “Thomas & Friends” is so popular in Japan that there are already two theme parks dedicated to him. However, fans of Thomas the Tank can now enjoy the character one other way thanks to the Oigawa Railway Company (大井川鐵道) located in the Shizuoka Prefecture. On July 2, 2014, the Oigawa Line unveiled its life-size version of Thomas the Tank Engine and during its maiden run past tea fields and the Oigawa River, seventy-two lucky kindergartners from the Goka nursery school were invited to share the journey with local government representatives, the media and travel industry representatives.

Kikansha Tomasu, as it is known in Japan, will run 52 roundtrips between Shin-Kanaya and Senzu stations on the Oigawa Line from July 12th through October 12th. Tickets are already sold out in advance and that fact should not come as a surprise according the company officials, as hundreds of children used to show up at the station to watch the train’s test runs.

A C11-227 locomotive similar to the one which was transformed into Thomas the Tank

A C11-227 locomotive similar to the one which was transformed into Thomas the Tank

Thomas the Tank

Thomas the Tank



The life-size Kikansha Tomasu was conceived by the the Oigawa Railway, which is famous for its old-fashioned steam locomotives, as an effort to drum up tourism and keep people interested in steam trains. They collaborated with Sony Creative Products to transform a C11-227 steam locomotive into the Thomas the Tank Engine. The company took into consideration the many small details in producing an authentic looking Thomas, including painstakingly ensuring that the smoke coming from the locomotive was its trademark white color, and not discolored by the occasional black plume.




The company also dressed up a second engine as the Japanese locomotive, Hiro, a new character who made his television debut in season thirteen of Thomas and Friends.

Although you may not get a chance to actually ride Thomas the Tank unless the company receives cancellations, you may be able to catch a glimpse of him making his run through the tea fields if you happen to be visiting Shizuoka through mid-October.


A special Thomas the Tank bento box available for purchase during the journey

A special Thomas the Tank bento box available for purchase during the journey