The Tama Zoo has a park-like setting and is serene and quiet on weekdays. It’s fun and easy with children, making for an inexpensive morning outing. One of my favorite exhibits is the butterfly house. It is in a huge, terraced greenhouse that is perched on the edge of a hill. A big tree graces the middle, and walkways lead down to a small pond. The most amazing thing, though, are the thousands and thousands of butterflies. The place pulsates to the beat of butterfly wings. My children love to get their faces up close to the butterflies, perched on tropical plants. Another highlight is the “Lion Bus.” (¥350 per adult, ¥100 per child.) As the glass-sided bus drives through the lion field, lions often jump up on the windows, which makes for great pictures.
A favorite spot for us is the picnic tables located between the lions and elephants, in the Africa section of the zoo. From this shady spot you can see down into the lions’ den and hear them roar at the lion buses. This is the perfect place for a packed lunch or an ice cream cone from the nearby vendors.
The chimpanzees are a must-see. There is an indoor viewing area where the chimps hang out. It is great for getting an up-close look at them and even interact with them through the glass. But the Koala house can be skipped, in my opinion. The barren, indoor environment in which they are kept doesn’t match the loveliness of other habitats at this zoo. After traversing this hilly zoo you’ll feel like you got a workout.
On a weekday it took me just 40 minutes drive out, leaving at 9am from the Fussa gate. Returning around 1pm was a bit faster. Parking costs ¥500 to ¥1000, or you can take the monorail, which you catch in Tachikawa. (The zoo recommends taking the train, especially on weekends when the lots may be full.) Clean bathrooms are everywhere, including family bathrooms with children’s potty seats. Strollers for little ones a must, as they are likely to get tired going up and down the hills.
Hours: 9:30-5pm. Closed Wednesdays (Thursday if Wednesday is a public holiday). Admission for adults is ¥600. Children under 13 are free. Tama Zoological Park, 7-1-1, Hodokubo, Hino-shi, Tokyo 191-0042. Phone: 042-591-1611. www.tokyo-zoo.net/english/tama. Sarah Straus, 2012.
DIRECTIONS: Turn right out the East Gate, then left at the first light. Take this road for about 1km, until it ends at a “T.” Turn right. Stay on this road, Rt. 59, (under a set of railroad tracks and across another set — about 5km), until you reach the Tamaohashi Kita intersection. (Daihatsu dealer on far left.) Turn left here, onto Rt. 29, Shin Okutama Kaido. Turn right when you reach the the Tappibashi Kita intersection, onto Rt. 149. The monorail track will be overhead now. Stay on 149, following the monorail, until you reach the Tama Dobutsu Koen intersection, which has a large monorail station on the right. You’ll see parking lots ahead on the left.
(Leaving from Fussa Gate? Turn left onto Rt. 16 and follow it until it turns sharply to the right, toward Hachioji and the Chuo Expressway. Instead of taking this right turn, go straight. You are now on Rt. 29, Shin Okutama Kaido. Continue as directed above.)
TRAIN DIRECTIONS: Take the Chuo line from Fussa to Tachikawa Station. Exit the station via either the North or the South Exit. Get on the Monorail. Take the monorail to the Tama Dobutsukoen Exit. The zoo is very near the exit. Travel time is about 50 minutes.
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