How To Go To Zao Fox Village: Squeeee Capital Of The World

Yes, it's a real place!

Yes, it’s a real place!

Jaded denizen of the interwebz that I am, there’s not much that makes me leap out of my chair and scream “WANT!” but when I first saw a picture taken at Zao Fox Village, I had to drop everything and figure out a way to get there.

Yesterday, I finally LIVED THE DREAM!

Hello, human!

Hello, human!

It’s far from Tokyo – five hours by car – so we didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon. As soon as we got there, we bought admission tickets at the counter (¥1000) and a few little baggies of fox food to take into the fox enclosure (¥100 per baggie). As we stepped outside and saw the cages in the courtyard, I understood how it feels to win the lottery: in addition to the usual number of swoonworthy kitsune, 86 new foxlings had been born since March!

This is what a nearly unbearable amount of squee looks like.

This is what a nearly unbearable amount of squee looks like.

Pinch me! Pinch me! This anime-esque fox mama & baby are real!

Pinch me! Pinch me! This anime-esque fox mama & baby are real!

After we managed to tear ourselves away from the foxlings, we went through the door into the main habitat, which is a grassy, tree-covered hillside. Visitors are allowed to walk around freely, although you are only allowed to feed the foxes from the elevated platform. (Otherwise, anyone walking into the enclosure would be mobbed, and not in a good way. The foxes are so cute and fluffy, it's easy to forget they are predators with wicked sharp little teeth.)

After we managed to tear ourselves away from the foxlets, we went through the door into the main habitat, which is a grassy, tree-covered hillside. Visitors are allowed to walk around freely, although you are only allowed to feed the foxes from the elevated platform. (Otherwise, anyone walking into the enclosure would be mobbed, and not in a good way. The foxes are so cute and fluffy, it’s easy to forget they are predators with wicked sharp little teeth.)

Although they're wild animals and petting is forbidden, some of them are curious little buggers, and they'll come right up to you to investigate (and give you that sad panda look to test your resolve not to slip them a little treat before you get to the feeding platform. heh.)

Although they’re wild animals and petting is forbidden, some of them are curious little buggers, and they’ll come right up to you to investigate (and give you that sad panda look to test your resolve not to slip them a little treat before you get to the feeding platform. heh.)

Once they hear the crinkle of food baggies being opened, foxes come running from all quarters and assemble eagerly below.

Once they hear the crinkle of food baggies being opened, foxes come running from all quarters and assemble eagerly below.

Me! Me! Pick me!

Me! Me! Pick me!

I was surprised by how many different kinds of foxes there were. Not just the red kind, but black ones and brindle ones and white ones too.

I was surprised by how many different kinds of foxes there were. Not just the red kind, but black ones and brindle ones and white ones too.

The fastest jumper gets the prize. (Thank you, Kendall Bailey, whose jumpy fox picture turned out so much better than mine!)

The fastest jumper gets the prize. (Thank you, Kendall Bailey, whose jumpy fox picture turned out so much better than mine!)

I've never seen a fox for more than a few fleeting moments in the wild, but since they're related to dogs, I expected them to be dog-like in more than just looks. I was so wrong. The ones at Fox Village not only grin like Cheshire cats, they move like cats and their cries aren't bark-y at all. In fact,

I’ve never seen a fox for more than a few fleeting moments in the wild, but since they’re related to dogs, I expected them to be dog-like in more than just looks. I was so wrong. The ones at Fox Village not only grin like Cheshire cats, they move like cats and their cries aren’t bark-y at all. In fact, “cry” is a perfect way to describe it – at times, they sound eerily like babies.

In the wild, foxes are nocturnal. So, for every fox running around at three in the afternoon, there must have been five foxes sleeping. In fact, when I first stepped into the fox habitat, I was like, wait, where are they? The place looked deserted. Then foxes began peeking out from behind the trees, and I saw that little piles of fur were curled up everywhere, sleeping in shady spots.

In the wild, foxes are nocturnal. So, for every fox running around at three in the afternoon, there must have been five foxes sleeping. In fact, when I first stepped into the fox habitat, I was like, wait, where are they? The place looked deserted. Then foxes began peeking out from behind the trees, and I saw that little piles of fur were curled up everywhere, sleeping in shady spots.

Of course, they can still redline the squee-meter, even while sleeping. (And if you're wondering about the one on top who's having a bad fur day, it's not because she's sick – she's moulting. Starting in April, they begin to shed their winter coats, because even a fox doesn't want to be wearing a fox fur during the steamy Japanese summer.)

Of course, they can still redline the squee-meter, even while sleeping. (And if you’re wondering about the one on top who’s having a bad fur day, it’s not because she’s sick – she’s moulting. Starting in April, they begin to shed their winter coats, because even a fox doesn’t want to be wearing a fox fur during the steamy Japanese summer.)

Before we left, we did the most only-in-Japan thing of all: hold a baby fox. It's ¥300 to have pix taken with the cutest of the cute, and the money goes to help care for and feed all the foxes at Zao Fox Village. (Foxlings are born in March and April, so if you're lucky enough to be there at that time of year, you can hold one too!)

Before we left, we did the most only-in-Japan thing of all: hold a baby fox. It’s ¥300 to have pix taken with the cutest of the cute, and the money goes to help care for and feed all the foxes at Zao Fox Village. (Foxlings are born in March and April, so if you’re lucky enough to be there at that time of year, you can hold one too!)

Note: To be honest, I was a little worried about what I’d find when I got to Fox Village, because a few online reviewers thought the foxes weren’t being treated well enough. I was relieved to discover that all the foxes I saw looked fat and happy, and lived in a huge grassy area filled with structures and toys to sleep on and play with. I can also report that there were filled water troughs sitting around everywhere.

In addition to the big landscaped habitat, there were quite a few foxes in cages in the courtyard beyond the cashier. Those animals were either being treated for illnesses (one looked obviously under the weather because it had an ear infection) or were mothers with kits. The mothers can become quite aggressive after their babies are born, so they’re separated from the rest of the population for everybody’s safety.

And just in case you haven’t gotten enough foxes yet…

Fox Village Videos are here

and

Fox Village In The Snow is here!

How To Go To Zao Fox Village

Hours: 9:00 – 16:00

Open: Every day of the year

Admission: Adults ¥1000, Children (6th grade and younger): Free

Map

Getting there from Tokyo:

• The easiest way is to take the bullet train to Shiroishizao Station (use the Train Finder website to plan the best/cheapest way to get there from your local station) and stay overnight in the town of Shiroishi at a hot springs inn, then take their shuttle bus to and from Fox Village. Recently (according to the Fox Village website), the Yakushinoyu inn was offering a Fox Village package, which costs ¥7500 per person for a one night stay. You can call this number to make reservations and check to see if they are still offering the package: 02-2448-4126 (Note: When I went back to Fox Village in the winter, they weren’t offering the package. I suspect it’s a seasonal thing, because winter is pretty quiet in Shiroishi, tourist-wise.)

• The next-easiest way is to take the train to Shiroishizao Station and then catch a taxi from the station. It’s about a 20-minute ride, and costs between ¥3500 and ¥4000, each way. The cab drivers don’t seem to mind driving out to Fox Village at all, and you can arrange for them to come back to pick you up at a certain time, if you like (which is especially handy if you don’t want to make a phone call in Japanese AIEEEEE). Fox Village really is out in the middle of the nowhere, so it’s a good idea to have an exit plan, since you can’t really go out and hail a cab on the road outside when you’re ready to leave.

• If you’re really on a budget and want to take the bus, you’ll need to go on a Tuesday or a Friday, because that is the only day the public bus goes from Shiroishi (NOT Shiroishizao) train station to Fox Village. The bus costs ¥200 per person. It leaves Shiroishi Station at 7:58 a.m. and arrives at the Kawaragodamu bus stop (outside Fox Village) at 8:55 a.m. Be sure to mention to the bus driver that you are going to Fox Village (Kitsune-mura) or he won’t stop. There is only one pick-up in the afternoon, at 1:55 p.m. The staff at Fox Village will show you where to wait for it. The bus arrives back at Shiroishi station at 2:32 p.m. Note: I checked the train schedule, and the first bullet train from Tokyo arrives at 8:26 in the morning, too late to catch the bus to Fox Village on the same day. Unless you arrive the night before, you’ll probably have to take a taxi to Fox Village. You can still save money by taking the bus back in the afternoon, of course.

It’s always good to doublecheck Fox Village information before you go, in case there are any special circumstances (road closures, etc.) so here is a link to the English page on the Fox Village Website.

What to do when you get to Fox Village:

• Buy your tickets inside at the reception desk. It costs ¥1000 for adults (children are free). You can also buy snacks to feed the foxes (or carrots to feed the bunnies)  for ¥100 per baggie at the desk. The person at the desk will explain the rules in Japanese. Here is what she says:

– Hide the food when you are walking around in the fox habitat and only feed the foxes from the platform. (This is so they don’t learn to mob visitors – the foxes are not tame, and they can bite, so if they learn to grab food from visitors, it will be too dangerous for visitors to mix with the foxes anymore.) Children are especially vulnerable, so please be sure they understand this rule. 

– Don’t stick your fingers into the cages. Even baby foxes bite, and fingers look especially appetizing to them.

– If there are baby foxes that are available to be held for photo ops, they’ll tell you how much it costs and when the cut-off time is for “Fox Hugs.”

• After that, go through to the courtyard beyond, where they keep the foxes being treated for injuries/infections and the baby foxes (Mar – July). They will show you the door to the fox habitat to your right.

• You can roam freely around among the foxes in the habitat, for as long as you like.

• Afterwards, exit through the gift store, where they sell all kinds of Fox Village candy, good luck charms and souvenirs.

Here's the swag I couldn't resist on my way out!

Here’s the swag I couldn’t resist on my way out!

It’s long trip to see the foxen, which makes it the perfect time to start bingeing a new mystery series set in Japan…

seriesfoxen

Watch the trailer for the first book (0:52)

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Tokyo