Metropolitan zoos and aquarium have been pioneers among zoos and aquariums in Japan. Ueno Zoological Gardens was opened in 1882 as Japan’s first zoo; Tama Zoological Park was the first in the world to introduce a safari park style area; Inokashira Park Zoo is home to Japan’s oldest elephant; and the opening of Tokyo Sea Life Park (Kasai Rinkai Suizokuen) sparked a boom of giant aquariums.
To adequately respond to the changing conditions surrounding the metropolitan zoos and aquarium and to better satisfy the expectations of citizens, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in September 2011 released the Master Plan for Metropolitan Zoos, which sets the vision for the metropolitan zoos and aquarium and outlines measures to achieve it. Based on the master plan, the Bureau will compile a new “zoo stock plan (a breeding plan for animals at the zoos)” to contribute to the conservation of wildlife, and implement improvements according to the location and nature of each facility, so that the zoos and aquarium will remain up to date and attractive to visitors.
Ueno Zoological Gardens
Beyond its role as a metropolitan facility, Ueno Zoological Gardens is also a zoo that represents Japan, having contributed to deepening international relations and other initiatives. In 1972, a pair of giant pandas came to the zoo as a gift from the Chinese government to commemorate the normalization of diplomatic relations. Japan’s first zoo to exhibit giant pandas, Ueno Zoological Gardens has so far raised two cubs successfully. Over the past 41 years, the zoo has had a total of 10 giant pandas. Presently, there are two, Ri Ri (male) and Shin Shin (female), and the zoo is working to have them breed.
Ueno Zoological Gardens has also been dedicating its efforts into the conservation of other endangered species such as the western lowland gorilla, okapi and Sumatran tiger.
The zoo showcases animals in a variety of settings to satisfy visitors. In the zone called “Polar Bear and Seal Oceans,” polar bears, sea lions and seals demonstrate their natural behavior. The “Bear Hill” zone offers visitors a rare opportunity to see Japanese black bears in hibernation, and the “Aye-aye Forest” area exhibits the animal endemic to Madagascar.
Tama Zoological Park
Tama Zoological Park, which was opened in 1958, takes advantage of its natural setting to breed wild animals. It is renowned in and outside Japan for its successful breeding of animals which need vast spaces, such as orangutans, snow leopards, and cheetahs.
The Lion Bus service in the Lion Garden, the world’s first safari park style exhibit opened in 1964, still attracts many visitors.
Conservation is one of the main roles of a zoo, and to this end, the Wildlife Conservation Center was established at Tama Zoological Park in 2006. The center’s involvement is not limited to the breeding of rare species conducted at metropolitan zoos; it is also actively engaged in conservation efforts in their natural habitats. For example, the center shelters and breeds Japanese crested ibises in cooperation with the national government and other parties. As a result of successful breeding, ibises born in Tama Zoological Park were among those brought to the skies of Sadogashima Island of Niigata Prefecture, where ibises have been released into the wild since 2008.
Also, metropolitan zoos have been leveraging their keeping and breeding techniques for the Oriental white stork to support the conservation efforts of the “Kanto Municipality Forum for Oriental White Stork and Japanese Crested Ibis,” whose members are 29 municipalities of four prefectures (including Chiba and Ibaraki) in the Kanto region. In December 2012, Tama Zoological Park sent a pair of Oriental white storks to Noda City, Chiba Prefecture, which launched a housing and breeding facility for the birds as a starter initiative of the forum.
In April 2013, the zoo opened the “Asian Plains” zone, where gray wolves and Przewalski’s horses live in a habitat close to their natural one.
Oriental white stork
Tokyo Sea Life Park (Kasai Rinkai Suizokuen)
Opened in 1989, Tokyo Sea Life Park is among the first giant aquariums in Japan. In its exhibitions and educational and research activities, the aquarium has been playing a leading role among similar facilities in this country.
Its achievements include: the long-term keeping of tuna; the exhibits of creatures that live in Tokyo’s seas stretching from Tokyo Bay to the Ogasawara Islands; the world’s first bluefin tuna spawning in an onshore tank; and breeding of the Shuttles hoppfish, a type of mudskipper whose number in Tokyo Bay decreased. The aquarium has been utilizing such experiences for its educational activities as well.
In August 2011, Tokyo Sea Life Park became the first aquarium in the world to exhibit ocellated icefish, a species that lives off Antarctica and has transparent blood, and also succeeded in having the fish naturally spawn in the tank in January 2013. Tokyo Sea Life Park also exhibits other species that cannot be seen in other aquariums in Japan, or the world.
Inokashira Park Zoo
Located in the lush green environment of Inokashira Park in Musashino, Inokashira Park Zoo offers visitors a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. It is a much loved zoo that is frequented by many repeat visitors, and which features as its symbol the Asian elephant named Hanako who was born in 1947.
In addition to its captivity and breeding program to preserve the endangered Tsushima leopard cat, which it conducts in cooperation with the Tsushima region that is the cat's natural habitat, the zoo also conducts educational programs aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of the cat's habitat conditions and efforts to protect it. The zoo's aquarium presents exhibits of the living creatures that inhabit Japan's freshwater regions, and is working to breed and protect the Japanese rice fish, frogs, and other species that are seemingly common but in fact are facing extinction. The aquarium has had much success in programs to protect Japanese wildlife.
In October 2011, the zoo completed and opened the "Ikimono Hiroba" (wildlife encounter field) where visitors can observe and collect living creatures within the zoo.
As the zoo's other name Bunkaen (Culture Park) suggests, in addition to animals, the zoo also features botanical gardens, sculptures, and many other attractions that can be enjoyed by many different people.
Asian elephant "Hanako"
Tsushima leopard cat
Visit Zoo Campaign
The "Visit Zoo Campaign" was launched in 2010 in order to make the four municipal zoos and aquarium more appealing and exciting, and to attract a larger number of visitors. A campaign logo was created, and an active campaign was carried out to promote the attractions of the zoos and aquarium. Facility hours were extended, the number of operating days was increased, and other steps were taken to boost the number of visitors. From July through September 2011, the "Take the train to see them all! Zoo and Aquarium Stamp Rally" was conducted in collaboration with railway companies.
From December 2011 through March 2012, the "Limited-Time Winter Special Discount for the Municipal Zoos and Aquarium" campaign was conducted. This campaign offered a special 20% discount on entry fees during this period so that people would rediscover the appeal of the municipal zoos and aquarium in wintertime.