Asahiyama Zoo

The cold record has been broken. Today the thermometer read -11.5 degrees centigrade at the zoo. In fact I saw it read -12.9 in central Asahigawa as we rode past in the bus.

Look, I know Russians, Canadians and Antarcticans will laugh at such puny numbers, but you have to remember that we aren’t prepared for such things. My nose was numb, my ears were numb, my fingers were numb from removing my gloves to film video. B and Alex we cold. I was cold!

We were at Asahiyama Zoo outside of Asahigawa in the mid northern part of Hokkaido. The zoo is best known for showcasing animals from the colder regions of the world, though it has a number of other species as well.

There were no reserved seats available for us on the Super Kamui Express heading to Asahigawa and we had to put up with separate seats for most of the trip. I think I’ve heard more Mandarin than Japanese since arriving in Sapporo. Hopefully it’s just because of Chinese New Year, but if I’d wanted a holiday in China (and forgive me, but I really don’t) I would have booked there. It’s not their behaviour, which has generally been very good, just their numbers. Note that many of the visitors hail from Taiwan (a place I do enjoy visiting),  once ruled by the Japanese.

The scenery outside was snowy, but there are different degrees of snow and this was really thick. Gorgeous.

After arrival at Asahigawa we all packed into a bus for the half hour ride to the zoo. Each animal house was labelled a “museum” and generally had indoor or sheltered and outdoor viewing areas for major animals.

We started with the penguins, where four species are housed together, amusing us with their antics. A seal show came next. We couldn’t understand what was being said, but it was fun watching the seals slither around for fish. One seemed so fat that she could barely make it back under the ice without rolling.

The polar bear is a magnificent creature highly threatened by climate change, but this lady looked bored, pacing back and forth following the same path. It was sad to watch.

The red pandas were as cute as red pandas always are and the arctic fox was curled up asleep.

Across from that was the Fierce Animals House. A Hokkaido brown bear looked as bored as his polar compatriot, but the three Amur Tigers housed together were constantly play fighting with each other, the most active I’ve seen such creatures.

However, it was the snow leopard that proved the most dangerous to the crowd. Sounding like a giant cat, which he is, he prowled the tops of the cage, then marked his territory by sending out a giant stream of pee on to an unsuspecting visitor. Then he did it again to another.

Giant cat pee on your clothes and mobile phone. Eeew!

The pack of timber wolves also started howling, perhaps unhappy being upstaged by a cat.

We returned to one of the restaurants to have lunch, fighting with the crowd for tables and to order. Deer patties and lamb donburi didn’t go down too well, though I rather enjoyed both.

We had already seen some Hokkaido sika deer in one enclosure and on the train ride in I had spotted the eviscerated carcass of one by the tracks, everpresent black crows circling for a meal.

The Japanese cranes danced, reptiles and amphibians bored and the owls and eagles delighted. The tanuki (racoon dogs) were lacking their most prominent attribute according to statues, but were still cute, as was the giant hare.

What really captivated Alex and made the trip worthwhile for him were the chimpanzees. There were five of them inside (fortunately as it made watching them bearable) and the young ones swung and climbed. An older chimp threw himself against the glass several times to scare onlookers while the oldest continuously beat a drum.

We had to hurry out to catch the penguin parade, where a group of penguins march along a long ice path. Bit colder than Phillip Island.

Across the way a hippo waddled around outside. Not a species known for cold climates! Neither was the orangutan and baby, who remained indoors.

Then Alex insisted on going back to see the chimps again. We could only give him a limited time as the park was closing at 3.30 pm and we didn’t want to be last in line at the bus stop.

Well, we were the first standing in the bus. It was snowing as we walked down to the stop and snowing as we drove back. B didn’t want to stay in the beautiful modern architecture of Asahigawa Station for dinner and we just missed one train heading back to Sapporo. We made sure we were first in line for the next train back and snagged some good seats in the front car after the cleaners had removed ice from outside the train and around the doors.

On the opposite platform was a young man with a camera and tripod photographing trains. The densha otaku are certainly dedicated in Japan.

The light quickly faded and I slept a little on the train before awaking to watch the lights amidst the snow drifts. So beautiful!

The area around Sapporo station was light up and snow fell quite heavily, coating us in white.

Dinner was ramen from atop JR Tower, then we quickly purchased desserts from the basement of Daimaru, which was closing at an early 8pm.

Alex has turned a bit picky and didn’t want to eat ramen, so he ate macaroni salad from a convenience store.

We finally ate the apple we bought in Kakunodate. So huge, so juicy. Wow.

Tomorrow off to Hakodate. The long way around. Don’t tell Alex.

(Again the camera photos are uploading slowly, so phone photos only for now.)

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