Winter in Hokkaido Part 7 – Asahiyama Zoo

(This post is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.)

Day 3 started very early for us. Today, we are going to the Zoo! Asahiyama Zoo, located in the town of Asahikawa, about 137 km from Sapporo. When we first arrived at the airport on our first day, I bought a ticket package that include unreserved train to Asahikawa, bus to the zoo and zoo entry ticket for JPY 6,130. We had really wanted to get the Limited Express Zoo Train that is decked out with animal decor, but it had been sold out. So we had to settle for a regular train.

Weather today is expected to be snowy throughout the day. Whether snowing or not, each time we go out, we have put on the whole amount of clothes and accessories… Something about the weather. During our time here, it averages about -10 degrees during the day. The lowest we experienced was -17 degrees, so it is important to dress appropriately. But after two full days here, we were more or less quite acclimatized to the weather already. The first day, though, was quite tough to endure.

Weather forecast today is going to snowy throughout the day.

(the trees in front of our hotel look so nice in the snow)

So back to our itinerary.

The zoo takes 90 minutes from Sapporo, and the earliest train leaves at 8.30am so you need to be earlier to get to the zoo early. By the time we got to the station, there was already a long line of people. We also lined up in the wrong row, so it meant we couldn’t get a seat on the crowded train.

(everyone wants to go to the zoo!)

(looking forward to seeing animals)

When the train arrived, everyone got on board. Obviously, we had to stand, and let me tell you, standing for 90 minutes in a crowded train is quite tiring. So if you want to avoid it, get a reserved ticket, then you’re assured of a seat. Though do bear in mind it costs a lot more. But actually the train ride passed quite fast as we got to enjoy the scenery. The Hokkaido countryside here is wide open and covered with snow for up to 6 months in a year. Houses are few and far between.

(Hokkaido countryside)

Once we got to the Asahikawa JR station, it was a scramble to get out to the line for the bus. Outside, it was snowing quite heavily. There are many bus routes for this small town, but there is only ONE long line, and that’s the one going to the zoo. Usually, there are only 2 buses per hour, but due to the tourist season, they added special shuttle buses. Though the line was long, it moved quite fast since there was a constant flow of buses coming. The bus ride normally takes 45 minutes, but since this was a special shuttle bus (which did not stop at other bus stops), it took only about 30 minutes.

(see how long the line for the bus is?)

We reached the zoo at 11.25am, just 5 minutes before the penguin parade. The zoo workers directed the incoming crowd down to a separate entrance that went nearer to the penguin parade.

What’s the penguin parade? That’s the biggest attraction at this zoo. Twice a day during the winter months, the zoo staff will lead a group of cute penguins on along a set path in the zoo. This attraction is very popular, people with crowd along the sealed off pathway long before the appointed time. The parade takes place at 11.30am and 2.30pm daily.

(penguin parade!)

Other than the penguins, the zoo is famous for a few other attractions, all of them animals found in very cold climates. There are polar bears, red pandas, snow wolves and more penguins.

The seal enclosure is very fun. Stand at the vertical tube and wait for a seal to swim up…

(this seal vertical tube is really impressive)

The polar bear also gets his own underwater gallery. This guy is really playful and knows how to entertain the crowds.

(the polar bears are really playful and entertaining)

So we went exploring the animals. Walking outdoors in the snow is a little dangerous with the many steps and slopes, so do take care.

(red panda!)

The wolf enclosure has a special viewing bubble glass. We lined up for it, but unfortunately the snow obscured the glass and we couldn’t see anything. You can the enclosure in the pic below.

(winter is coming)

(can you spot Hedwig in the snow?)

(the zoo is quite small and can be covered in half a day)

(Rudolph’s long lost cousin, Adolph)

(more penguins than you can imagine)

(you can get really up close to the cute penguins)

After about 2 hours, it was time to take a break for lunch. There is only one restaurant in the zoo, though there are a few more small stations that sell snacks and drinks. The restaurant is located at the entrance, so we had to walk back to where we started. The restaurant is rather small, too small, in fact to cater for the massive crowds. First you need to place your order using the vending machine, then pass it to the ladies at the counter. For snacks and drinks, you can collect it immediately, but for food, they’ll give you a buzzer.

This was our order of chasu shoyu ramen, the Hokkaido specialty.

(our zoo-themed shoyu ramen)

We were still hungry after that, and since the lines for the vending machine had thinned out, so order some snacks while waiting for the heavy snow outside to subside.

(karaage fried chicken and potato croquette)

After lunch, we went to the penguin tunnel. This is also another of the attractions in the zoo, watching the different types of penguins zipping through the water from below.

After that at around 2pm, we decided to go back to Sapporo.

In conclusion, the Asahiyama Zoo is a worthwhile trip from Sapporo. It is quite small and can be completed in a few hours (even if you visit ALL the animals). Getting here can be tricky and time consuming, so its a good idea to get the ticket package from JR, or spend a night Asahikawa. If you’re coming in the summer, they don’t have the penguin parade.

Next – Tanukikoji Shopping Street

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