Throughout history, the fox has been one of the superstars of folklore. You can’t casually pick up a volume of fables without reading of the latest Reynardian outrage – usually relating to the poultry shed and always involving cunning and/or sneakiness. Yet, as a Kiwi, I always had to rely on the illustrations that usually accompanied said texts in order to get a feel for this seemingly mystical creature. For while most of the globe has access to some form or other of fox, e.g.; Red; Ethiopian; or even Arctic; New Zealand is an outlier being pretty much fox-free.
So, on a recent family trip to Japan, I had the chance to rectify this anomaly with an up close and personal experience during a visit to the Miyagi Zao Fox Village in Shiroishi. And, while it is possibly not as out-and-out bizarre as all the Maid Cafes, Robot Restaurants and wacked-out Harajuku Bridge haircuts you can see in Tokyo, the Village is still a glittering example of Japanese weirdness. For where else in the world would the locals build a town to be populated by 100 or so wild animals?
I must admit it truly is an unusual experience to walk amongst so many feral creatures even if they seemed more interested in sleep than in our presence. And, while I am no afficionado of cuteness, these cat/dog hybrids certainly red-line the charm-o-meter with all their fluffy fur and “smiling” faces. Resist every urge to pat one in the Village part however as, despite all the cuteness factor, these are still wild animals and are certainly capable of sinking their razor-sharp teeth into your soft – and yummy – human flesh. If you really do want to pet one, you can for a small fee as the keepers run regular holding sessions during the day with a selection of tamer animals.
So, the next time you’re in Tokyo, don’t just limit yourself to hanging out in the fashion boutiques of Ginza, student cafes of Shibuya or blues bars of Ebisu – get out of the city and see some of the real Japan. In all its weird glory.
How to get there
If you’re going from Tokyo:
- Take the Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) to Shiroishi-Zao station
- Grab a taxi from the carpark outside (apparently there is supposed to be some form of shuttle bus – but no one I spoke to had ever seen it!) This will take about 30 minutes and cost around ¥4200. You can order a return cab from the Village Reception easily enough.
- Alternatively; it might be just as easy to hire a car and drive there. The roads are pretty quiet during the day and whilst they’re a bit narrow and windy at times, especially once you get onto the hill, they’re certainly no worse than some of our rural roads!
Dress warmly if you are there in the colder months, as there could well be snow on the ground. Be careful about taking photos as some of the staff don’t always like it.