No matter how old I feel, I'll always be a little kid inside the confines of a great zoo, and Tama Zoo is a great one indeed. Animals have always seemed to have it all figured out and the enclosures at the Tama facility respect that, offering the space and comfort of a natural habitat. What I know for sure is this, the real hosts of the Tama Zoo are comfortable being themselves, where tigers run, rhinos wade within a few feet of us and orangutans swing dramatically above the enthused cries of the crowd. On a recent trip to the Tama Zoo, I expected the norm but was given much, much more.
In the savannah style enclosure of the African Habitat, giraffes, zebras, antelope, white pelicans and ostriches cohabit the expanse, giving you the feeling you're a bit closer to being in the wild than it may seem. Chimpanzees fish for termites with sticks and swing through the large outdoor structure as they would in their natural habitat.
In the Asiatic Garden, orangutans swing directly above the crowd and tigers watch guests while pacing the hillside they occupy, ready to challenge each other for the largest share of meat with roars and paw swipes. Golden eagles perch in the trees around a deep-seated waterfall and rhinoceros wade within feet of guests.
You can find wombats, laughing kookaburras and more under the star set ceiling of the Koala House, an indoor excursion lit to resemble the calming dim of a planetarium. Outside are red kangaroos, emus, a food vendor and a playground for kids.
In the Insectarium, fireflies, hummingbirds, flower mantises, stag and tiger beetles swarm, allowing an up close inspection of insects at work.
The 129 acre park blends animal habitats right into Hino City's natural landscape, with plenty of space to give the larger animals room to be themselves. An observation deck provides a view over the Elephant and Lion Garden enclosures and if you forgot to pack a lunch, the central food stand offers meals for reasonable prices.
Entrance to the park is 600 yen per adult (children 12 and younger are free), and I was still excited after six hours, a day well "spent" in my book. Lunch was surely reasonable, with a variety of items asking no more than the larger of coins in your pocket. For an additional 350 yen one can hop on a bus running rounds with a pride of lions, plenty of opportunity for fellow photo-buffs to come face to face with the king.
All in all, I'll be going back. The wide, winding paths and slow drift into each exhibit relaxed me into thinking I'd see it all in one day. I kept my map of Tama Zoo tucked in my back pocket and let it happen upon me by chance, choosing left or right at each intersection as it came. In stark contrast with the easygoing pace of a park underestimated was the variety of genus tucked naturally into each hill and furrow. Red Pandas ran next to raccoon dogs and animals I didn't even recognize. Truly a treat for the tourist and local alike.