Watching paint dry is one thing. Watching penguins strut their stuff on an icy catwalk is another.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather see the latter.
The 10:07 arrival of the Asahiyama Zoo Train was timed to coincide with the 10:30 departure of bus #42, a special direct service from Asahikawa Station to the city’s famous zoo (note that this particular bus only operates on those days when the zoo train is running). Since the bus stop was located about a block away, probably due to the major construction works that were in progress outside the station at the time, I rushed away from the platform and towards the appointed waiting place as fast as my legs could carry me – without actually running, obviously, since the pavements were slick with snow and ice. Alas, a queue had already formed when I got there, so by the time I boarded the bus there was no choice but to stand.
Not usually a problem in itself, standing in a bus . . . except that the zoo was over half an hour away. (Ignore the timestamp auto-plotted by Google on the map that follows – it’s a driving route for private vehicles.)
By the time we reached the main entrance, with its interesting half-deer, half-snowflake logo . . .
. . . my feet were about to declare a full-scale revolt. I mercilessly crushed that budding insurrection and pressed on, making haste towards a snow-lined path at the heart of the zoo compound, ignoring for the moment the various animal enclosures that beckoned temptingly from right and left . . .
. . . because we’re about to be late for the Penguin Walk!
I suppose we were already technically late – the scheduled arrival time of the bus was a few minutes past the first performance slot at 11:00 AM – but I imagine the zookeepers were aware of the timetable and didn’t start until most of us in the bus had joined the growing crowd that lined the edges of the path.
At last, after a bit of eager waiting, and enduring the multiple megaphone-delivered warnings from staff about staying behind the line and not using flash photography and so forth – all very important for the animals’ sake, no doubt, but it can get repetitive – we caught our first sight of the penguins.
There they were, ambling along as penguins do, captivating the crowd with their cruelly crushing cuteness, no less confident upon the ice as professional models upon a catwalk.
And before we knew it, they were ambling away.
Awww. Come back, I wanted to tell them – but they probably wouldn’t have listened. (Or understood, for that matter.) Never mind, let’s move on and look for other critters to ogle.
Not far from the Penguin Walk path was an open-air habitat, where I ran into another animal abounding in adorableness. Say hi and hello to one of the zoo’s resident giraffes.
Awww, photogenic chap, isn’t he? Or she. Haven’t the foggiest idea which, to be honest. In any case, brilliant idea for the staff to line the ledge along the viewing platform with edible leaves, thereby enticing the living exhibits to loom up close and personal in the face of the admiring public.
The habitat also had a special indoor viewing platform on the same level as the giraffe enclosure’s floor, which gave visitors a worm’s-eye view of the beasts.
My, these things were huge. Felt like looking up at a dinosaur.
Another shot of the not-so-dynamic duo, from the upper viewing deck this time . . .
. . . and we’re off to see other fantastic creatures.
The seals were very popular, of course – and their habitat even had a glass-walled tunnel through which some of the residents would dart between one part of the tank to another.
There was a large souvenir shop elsewhere on the grounds, but tourists didn’t have to go there to part with their cash. Gashapon machines stood close by, ready and willing to help drain surplus funds from wallets.
Right, let’s keep going. This hulking prison-like enclosure . . .
. . . hosted a variety of wild beasts. The necessary protective measures – thick glass walls, bars, wire cages and so forth – made getting good shots fiendishly difficult, so all I can recommend is visit this place and see these magnificent creatures in person.
I rather like this one. Not so fierce-looking when the big cat resembles a fur coat hung out to dry.
Oh look, an owl.
Awww, they look so cute when they’re not clamping their jaws around some hapless prey’s throat.
Now I know what deer do when they’re not being served as soup curry. They’re out here playing in the snow.
A special mini-compound of cages and aviaries featured some of Hokkaidō’s native residents.
My, what a huge beak you have, Mr. Bird.
On the aptly named Monkey Mountain (not sure if that’s the official English name, I’m just translating off the Japanese label), the local residents were all huddling together for warmth – and of course grooming.
The polar bears were a majestic sight, both underwater . . .
. . . and above it.
Let’s have a few shots of the zoo compound, just to get a better impression of the setting.
There was so much more to experience than I’ve shown here, but I hope I’ve laid out enough of things to encourage the readership to visit this splendid zoo and see the place for themselves.
As for myself, it’s back to Sapporo by train, enjoying the sight of snow-covered landscapes and icy stations along the way . . .
. . . but we’re not done with Asahikawa just yet. I’ll take you back in a future post to see the city’s excellent winter festival – not nearly as large as Sapporo’s but certainly worth a visit.
And for the evening of 07th February – the day is still quite young, after all – I’ve got a special treat in store: a small but very picturesque winter festival in a port city not far from the prefectural capital. But let’s save that for another post.