Unlike many of the animal cafes, parks and zoos that have recently popped up in and around Tokyo, this particular place has actually been around since 1988. It is one I’ve wanted to visit for about five years now and I finally got round to going there last month when I took my animal-loving wife there as a surprise. She actually hates surprises but I remained stubborn and didn’t tell her anything about it until we got off the bus and she could see the Squirrel Gardens come into sight.
The only ever time I’ve been to this part of Tokyo was to see Machida Zelvia in J2 football action and the Machida Athletic Stadium, where they play, is only about 3.5 kilometres further north from this park and is part of the same bus route. The set-up at the squirrel garden is not too dis-similar a layout to Zao Fox Village in Miyagi prefecture where there is a special enclosure where the respective animals can roam freely.
We often see squirrels in the garden whenever we are at the in-laws house in Izu but this was of course vastly different. This section of the park is full of handmade wooden squirrel boxes and the squirrels are everywhere. On entering the special enclosed area, visitors are given a kind of oven-glove to be worn when offering the animals sunflower seeds which are on sale for 100 yen a pack.
There is supposedly a feeding meter at the entrance which indicates the squirrels level of hunger. The earlier in the day it is the more ravenous they are! We were in attendance early afternoon and they seemed fairly hungry then so god knows what they’re like in the morning!
Having never been around squirrels before I wasn’t sure of their behaviour so was taken a little by surprise the first time one jumped on me and ran up and down my arms and legs. It was all great fun though and I really enjoyed feeding them the seeds.
It may be known as a squirrel garden but it is actually rabbits which dominate the section you initially encounter on entry into the place. My wife wanted to feed them so for an extra 100 yen she entered a special zone to play with them. She was more enamoured with the tortoise though and seemed to spend ages with it once she was done with the rabbits.
Machida Risu-en, to use its Japanese name, is also a training facility for people with disabilities and they can be seen doing a range of different jobs in the place like selling tickets and food, handing out gloves as well as caring for the animals.
Although I’ve been aware of the Machida Risu-en for years I have only known about Yakushi-ike Park since I was given an interesting Japanese Gardens in Tokyo brochure on New Years Eve at the Oji Fox Parade. Once we were done at the Squirrel Garden we popped over the road to have a quick look around the gardens. Sadly it was just a bit too early for the cherry blossoms when we were in town.
How to get there: From the North Exit of Machida Station on the Odakyu Line (about 30 minutes west of Shinjuku), go to bus stop #21 (in front of the POP building) and get off at Yakushi-ike which is about 15-20 minutes away. The address is 733-1 Kanaimachi, Machida-shi and it is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (closed on Tuesdays). Entrance is 400 yen for adults.
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