Miyagi Zao Fox village in Shiroishi is what made us decide to visit other places than Tokyo on our second trip to Japan. We stumbled upon a video about it and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I have a special thing for foxes, not because I find them cute (even though I obviously do) but I grew up with foxes around my grand-parents’ land. We would sit perfectly still and silent in the kitchen and watch them come and go. After a few generations of foxes, they got so used to us they would just sit in front of the house in the middle of the afternoon. And when I moved to London in the snow, in the night, the first thing I saw when I got up on that morning was a big fox sitting in the back garden looking at me. I took it as a good omen. You now see that I had to go to the fox village!
It is in a fairly remote place, two hours north of Tokyo and there isn’t much else around. But it was surprisingly easy to go once you gather the right information and you can do it in a day from Tokyo. First you’ll need to check the train time on Hyperdia from Tokyo station to Shiroishi Zao station. It will be the train going to Sendai as the main stop, which is a major city very close by. Then you can either turn up with your JR pass as I explained here or you will need to go to a counter in a station to book your ticket. Have a look on here to check their opening hours and closing days.
Plan to bring some food, either a snack or a full meal, and join in with the other commuters. It is a sort of tradition to eat on the train and you can even buy special trays in the supermarket. Men will also have a drink as it is legal to drink alcohol anywhere in Japan. And also once you get to Shiroishi, your options will be very limited. There is a convenience store in the station and a 7Eleven a bit further but it seemed to be about it.
When you arrive at the station, head out and grab a taxi. There was a couple waiting when we arrived but if not there is a JR counter inside and they can call one for you. They are prepared for tourists so even if the driver doesn’t speak English, just say “fox village” and he’ll take you there. You probably wouldn’t even need to say anything, most people are here for that reason alone. You will need to have cash to pay the taxi, which will cost you ¥3,900 each way for a 20 minute ride. There is also a bus going there but the times are very limited and it makes your planning a bit trickier.
Once you get there, there is an entrance fee of ¥1000 and you can also purchase little bags of food for the foxes and carrots for the other animals around: goats, rabbits and guinea pigs. You’ll need to put all the food in your pockets to go in. The lady will explain to you in broken English that you can only feed the foxes in a designated area, you can’t touch them and you can’t crouch close to them. They are still wild animals.
In the first area you’ll find all the goats who you can pet and they will follow you if you have food. It is completely open air but brace yourself, the smell is strong. In the entrance there are a lot of cages, big ones, with foxes. I gathered they were either the sick ones or the young ones they keep separated. It did feel a bit over populated and I’m not too sure how they control the mating. Once you get into the main area of the sanctuary, foxes are free roaming everywhere. There is a paved path you can follow around, you’re not allowed on the grass but the foxes will be everywhere. Including sleeping in a ball in the middle of the path and they won’t even flinch if you walk by them. There are several species of foxes, red, white, black ones and the best time to go is in winter as they will be extra fluffy and majestic. If you’re lucky you’ll even get snow. There was a tiny bit when we went.
In the designated feeding area (where you are at height in a little wooden hut) you can get the food out and they know what’s going on, they will be waiting for you to throw them food. They are obviously fed, as most of them didn’t bother coming, but you’ll always have a few ready for a treat. It was just so adorable having them looking up at you.
One thing I have to point out is that we noticed a lot of them were injured. Not by people, but it is a fairly small space with a lot of foxes and very few places for them to hide and fights are bound to happen. You might even witness one or at least hear some warning cries. If you have never heard a fox’s cry, look it up, it will haunt you. It did feel like there were too many of them for the space and they were very much exposed which is not in their nature. I was also very uncomfortable with the fact that some of the foxes they use for people to take pictures with are chained.
When you feel ready to go, you need to exit through the gift shop, let them know you need a taxi and they will give you a ticket. And when your number is called a taxi will be waiting for you. We didn’t know that but you basically need to wait until someone arrives to be able to go. So we waited for a while and there was a few people in front of us. It wasn’t too long but bare that in mind for the train back. We just missed one by about 5 minutes and we had to wait 40 minutes for the next one. On the way back we got talking to two guys from San Francisco and shared the taxi. If you’re not shy, go for it, ask someone if they want to share the cost with you.
We got back to Tokyo in the late afternoon and saw the sun set on the countryside. It was a great experience to be travelling outside of Tokyo and take the Shinkansen.
So, is it worth it? I have mixed feelings about the place. I adore foxes – and animals in general – and I loved being able to be so close to them and look at them so freely. But it is also the reason why I didn’t love the place, I was expecting the place to be a lot bigger and not so cramped. And I didn’t expect all the cages and for some of them to be attached. If you like zoos you will probably like the place, otherwise you might feel the same as I did. But travelling north of Japan was amazing and if you have the time I would recommend maybe staying somewhere like Sendai overnight and visit a bit more. I’m looking forward to doing so next time!