Japan Has A Squirrel Garden + It’s Everything You’d Hope It Would Be

How long before these parks spring up stateside?

March 24, 2016
squirrel
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In the U.S., we spend a lot of time defending fruit trees from pesky squirrels, but in Japan, people pay to visit the rodents at designated gardens where the animals enjoy top billing. The most famous is Machida Squirrel Garden in Tokyo, which also features guinea pigs, rabbits, and tortoises. Anyone visiting a squirrel garden, or risu-en, can watch, pet, and feed the fluffy creatures. A tourist’s video showing children feeding squirrels sunflower seeds while wearing oven mitts (presumably to protect against biting). You’ll also catch a glimpse of the squirrels’ brightly painted homes, which are nailed to posts and trees. Prepare yourself for cuteness overload.

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“The animals at these squirrel gardens are mostly non-native species,” says John Koprowski, a professor of wildlife and conservation management at the University of Arizona and a noted squirrel expert. Koprowski, who visited several of the gardens during a sabbatical in Japan, says the species you’re most likely to encounter are the Pallas squirrel (a native to Southeast Asia) and Siberian chipmunk (native only to Hokkiado, the northernmost Japanese island). Over at Inokashira Park Zoo in Tokyo, which has a captive breeding and conservation program, you can walk through an enclosure of native Japanese squirrels. 

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Tourist destinations spotlighting cute animals aren’t totally new, though. In Japan alone, you can find bunny cafes, bird cafes, cat cafes, and even a couple of reptile cafes. The cat cafe trend hit the states a few years ago with Cat Town Café in Oakland, California—rivaled only by Amsterdam’s The Catboat, the world’s only floating animal sanctuary.