As someone who commutes through Midtown Manhattan every day, I'm used to crowds and being surrounded on all sides by massive buildings. But with almost 38 million people, the Tokyo metropolitan area almost makes New York look like a satellite city. If you're staying in the center of Tokyo, you can hop on a train and travel for an hour in a few different directions, get out, and still be in an area surrounded by skyscrapers and packed with people.
That's fine, but after several days, it can start to feel a bit oppressive. That's especially true in the summer, when the humidity hits you like a wall even at 6am, and the temperatures hover close to 100 degrees F.
If you're in the Tokyo area and in search of an escape to the countryside, Zao Fox Village is well worth considering—particularly if you enjoy being surrounded by cute animals.
Getting there isn't quick (it takes about three hours total one way), but it's not all that difficult, either. You'll take a Shinkansen (that would be a spaceship-like speedy bullet train) from Tokyo, past Fukushima to Shiroishizao station in Miyagi prefecture.
From there, you'll need to take a cab to Zao Fox Village. There may be cabs waiting for customers when you exit the train station. But if not you can ask for one at the nearby tourism office. The ride from the station to the village takes about 20 minutes.
When we went in 2015, admission prices were 700 yen for adults and 400 yen for children. Be sure to bring extra cash, though. Because you can also pay (100 yen) extra to pet a fox (touching the foxes in the main area is expressly forbidden), as well as buy food to feed the foxes and rabbits, which are located in a separate area.
Now, if you're excited by cute animals (and why would you come here if you aren't?), the first thing you'll notice when entering the main area are the dozens of foxes.
Most of them were lounging around on the summer afternoon when we were there, trying to deal with the heat.
The second thing you'll probably notice (if you didn't catch a whiff of it before you made it through the gate) is the ever-present smell of urine. There seem to be well over a hundred foxes in various sections, and the enclosed space where the socialized adults roam is quite big.
But given foxes natural prevalence for scent marking and the sheer number of animals here, there's probably no easy way to mask the pungent scent of fox pee. I would, though, guess the smell is probably less strong in the winter. In the summer, it's almost overpowering at first, but my wife and I got used to it quickly.
To the right of the entrance are several fairly large communal cages where the young foxes are kept until they're old enough and properly socialized.
The main area is a large, open pen on sloped ground full of trees. Because the foxes love to burrow, the ground is mostly bare dirt. There are also large rocks for the foxes to climb on, and several roofed sections, both large and small, for the foxes to shelter in (or under) during rain, snow, or the hot sunny weather that was happening when we were there.
Remember that you aren't supposed to touch the foxes in the main area (you can see the cute sign that warns against this below). Most of them wouldn't make this easy anyway, as they tend to move around constantly whenever they're close to people. But that doesn't mean the foxes won't touch you—or your stuff.
When I sat on one of the many rough wooden benches, one fox came up behind me in a matter of seconds, grabbed the strap of my backpack with its teeth, and started pulling. Another fox was fascinated by my wife's umbrella. These animals are very curious, and obviously intelligent.
As much as I enjoyed my time here, not everything about the Zao Fox Village was positive. Aside from the smell, some of the foxes were penned up in small cages for unknown reasons.
The rabbits there (which you can also feed carrots) had a fairly large area to run around in, which was walled off from the foxes by massive wire fences on all sides. But there were a pair of large ravens on display that were clearly very agitated. The two birds looked healthy, but they were jammed into a cage that gave them no room to fly, or even much room to spread their wings.
I hope that they have a much larger enclosure that they get to spend many hours a day in. Ravens are extremely intelligent animals, some of which can even learn to make and use tools. Honestly, there doesn't seem to be a reason for the birds to be penned up here at all. I saw plenty of similar wild ravens on our three-week Japan trip. And a few of them let me get nearly as close as I was able to get to these birds. But of course the wild ravens have the ability to fly away if people make them uncomfortable. Not so for these poor caged creatures.