Why Zao Fox Village is NOT the cutest place on earth

Why Zao Fox Village is NOT the cutest place on earth

~I visited many animal spots in Japan, like the snow monkeys and others I will still talk about. But if you read my Japan itinerary  you noticed that I didn’t mention anything about Zao Fox Village. However I did visit it… and that is why I am writing about it now  ~

You must have seen those videos passing through your feed at least once by now. Adorable foxes playing together in a village in Japan. It is portrayed as “the cutest place on earth” and everyone is going mad about it.  Also I must admit, even I was enchanted by it at first.

While planning my trip I started reading more about it and the more I read the more negative critics I encountered. My view on it started to change a bit. The whole time  during planning the trip I was always in doubt to visit the fox village. Even in Japan, 2 days before actually going, I wanted to skip it. But as it was on the way back from Cat Island to Tokyo, so I decided to go see for myself how it really was.

But first… some fox facts

There are about 12 kinds of foxes world wide. The most common one is the Red Fox. They are flexible animals that can adapt to any environment from forests to mountains, farmland and even urban areas. They are omnivores, meaning they eat about anything and they are notorious for killing extra prey and burying it for later. This activity is probably how the “sly” signature got attached to the fox, although, foxes, in general, are very bright and intelligent animals.

Foxes live in small groups, or even alone. They don’t have the kind of intense social structure we connect with other canines like the wolf and the dog. Unlike their relatives, foxes are not pack animals. When raising their young, they live in small families (called a “leash of foxes” or a “skulk of foxes”) in underground burrows. Otherwise, they hunt and sleep alone…

Last and obvious fact: foxes are wild animals! They are not meant to be pets. The last case of domesticating foxes took about 50 years of experimenting and breeding when they finally allow people to pet them and show more pet like behavior. Yes yes I know there are exceptions where people have pet foxes, but it is not a common thing.

What is Zao Fox Village?

It is a place in the mountains, near the town of Shiroishi in the Miyagi prefecture in Japan, where you can encounter many foxes together. Or as they put it on their website: “The rare 6 types and over 100 fluffy cute foxes will always be there for you!!” And it is true, you can find all 6 types of foxes there and they are fluffy and cute. Oh… and they always look like they are smiling!

They call it a sanctuary for foxes and the main part inside of the village is a kind of open-air fox preserve where foxes roam freely outside and where you can enter! The entrance is 1000 yen per person and for a extra 100 yen you can buy a small pack of fox food to feed them inside. And if you really want that fox experience you can pet one for an extra 400 yen!

Before you enter though ,you get many rules to follow. Because as we already know foxes are still wild animals! So you have to be careful all the time when you are inside.

 

Sounds so cool and cute! But why are you saying it isn’t?

Now here is where it starts and reality breaks in…

As you enter all you see are: caged and chained animals, including goats and the “pet” foxes. This already sets a really bad tone to the place. As we are walking I realize these very small cages are there to benefit the foxes. They are the “hospital” keeping the injured or any that need special treatment separately from the rest …Oh ok..

I couldn’t stay long on that entrance filled with cages and foxes acting crazy in them. There is also no green to be found, and I even felt sorry for the goats chained so tightly.

So I decided to enter the open air area. And as soon as I enter I see a fox approaching and some foxes playing and I gain some hope again. But walking further I just realize the foxes are fighting. The only interactions I saw was sleeping or bullying/ fighting foxes, specially around the feeding area.

Oh that feeding area was terrible too. You enter on a platform and watch about 30 to 50 foxes sitting there and waiting or fighting. The pack of food you get looks more like bunny food: a few small compressed cylinders. So you have to throw that little thing for all these foxes… of course all you get is fighting foxes under that platform. It’s all just so sad to see.

We stayed less than an hour there.. and it took us one hour in total getting there and going back to Shiroishi-Zao station by taxi only.

The Entrance

 

The Hospital

 

Ready to attack

 

Feeding platform

The biggest problem in Zao Fox Village

In my opinion it is the quantity… there are just way too many foxes in a small space like that. They say over a 100 foxes, but it could easily be around 300 that we saw (including the caged ones). I imagined the open-air place to be much bigger, as they are situated in the mountains.

Like I said it before in the facts: foxes usually don’t live with that many together. And they like to hunt and sleep alone. Sure foxes can adapt very easily, but you can not convince me that they live there at ease with each other. It’s like they live in constant stress with others. We also saw a few cases of bullies stealings sleeping spots and such. One of the reasons that their “hospital” is full with injured ones is probably the continuous fighting.

Sneaking in on another chilling

 

Ready to take over

“And stay gone”.. the one chilling there before tried 3 times to reclaim his spot fighting… but failed

 

So they don’t do anything good?

Of course they do! It is not like they are abusing or exploiting the animals. They take good care of them, or at least try to.

The Zao Fox Village also have researches going on parasites and diseases and they respect the natural habits of the fox such as the “cruel” baby cub departure (this means that at some point the parent fix denies access to the cubs from their burrow and even attacks them until they stay out and go live on their own).

An other thing is that the foxes inside the village can live up to 14 years! As in the wild usually it is around 2 to 5 years. They are also bred in there obviously, so the population will never be endangered.

But the thing is… they can do better, they can do so much better!

Sleeping cages in the open area

What can they do better?

Foxes get a pretty bad reputation for being tricksters in many cultures but in Japan they’re also believed to be magical beings and messengers of Inari Okami, the Shinto deity of fertility, prosperity and rice. You would expect the Japanese to respect these animals to the fullest and provide a healthy environment for them.

Having cute foxes to interact is something unique and special. I loved seeing them in real life and they do look fluffy and cute. Zao Fox Villages overall idea is great, the execution however is poor.

So what they could do better is:

  • The quantity of foxes need to drop! Or they have to expand that area by at least 4 times.  I am sure seeing 30 or 40 foxes still is very impressive for us normal beings. And the ones living there would have so much more space. Or maybe they can introduce a “let it free again” program, but the problem with these rates are that the villages around the hill will not be pleased with so many foxes around!

 

  • That chained display of pet foxes and even goats need to stop. If they must keep goats in there, they should provide a green spot, and let them in there freely. Same for the bunnies, even though as pet animals their cages were alright. But keeping the pet foxes chained though, there is no excuse for this. I even read online someone saying “you can hold a cute sleepy fox on your lap” and this makes me doubt the credibility of them being correct with these animals for the “petting”. Needless to say I didn’t pay the extra charge to hold a drugged-or not drugged fox.

 

  • They need to better the fox food and the way to give it to them. Come on, what they give is barely food…  I got more bunny food in a bag when I went to Bunny island than I got for these foxes! It looks like they just want to let you experience the gesture of throwing something to the mass of foxes below you (so you can see them look up) instead of actually feeding them. If they really want that interaction of human feeding the foxes, they need to come up with a better concept.

 

  • Oh.. maybe NOT sell fox fur that comes from cruel Norwegian fur farms in the gift shop?

 

Final thoughts

If you want to visit it, by all means: go. I am not breaking the place and their goals down, I am just giving it an other reality than social media is selling.  This is also why I wanted to go and check it out myself before saying it is a good or bad place. So in my case I think it’s a bad executed place, that can be turned into something good for these foxes if they expand and better the inside structure for all animals.

But if you are not into petting zoo type of places: don’t go
If you expect tamed foxes: don’t go
If you expect it to be a heaven for the foxes: don’t go
If you are looking for a cute place and not only the cute foxes: don’t go
If you don’t want to spend loads of time and cash on taxi/train/entrance/food and that ridiculous petting option: don’t go

The fox world is a cruel world, but at least it’s free. By keeping them longer alive but captured, I doubt if that is really the way to go for a “sanctuary”.

I think the happiest fox we saw that day, was the one we saw on our way back crossing the road.

 

Psssst: Don’t forget to check out the post with my 21-day Japan Itinerary !

 

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37 Comments

  1. May 6, 2017 / 16:47

    Wow, I’d never even heard of this place! Really glad you were able to shed some light on it – it definitely sounds like there are a few issues they need to work on. Thanks for sharing!!

    • jessikat
      Author
      May 6, 2017 / 17:03

      Thank you for reading! I love animals and it saddens me that it gets promoted as the best place on earth, while it isn’t..

  2. May 6, 2017 / 21:42

    oh wow.. it’s crazy how marketing can make a place look and seem SO different! Having that many, you think they’d know to expand the area to give them a larger place to roam.

  3. May 6, 2017 / 21:54

    Those JVloggers I watch (Rachel & Jun, Abroad in Japan, Sharla, etc.) made the village look like such a cute place. But I did notice the foxes fighting in the vlogs which was concerning. It’s interesting to hear your thoughts on what the place is really like. It sounds like there are way too many foxes living there. Hopefully the village will make some changes so that living conditions for the foxes will improve. It’s sad that some of them are chained. 🙁

    • jessikat
      Author
      May 6, 2017 / 22:11

      I know right? They probably get sponsored by it or whatever. Even when we were there, there was this filming crew for an online internet channel to promote it.. so sad.. it isn’t all great things inside. I really don’t get the ones that are chained either…

      • dimm0k
        January 10, 2018 / 17:06

        I don’t know much about foxes, but I did visit this place and did see some foxes with fresh battle scars that was a bit alarming to me… that said, isn’t it sort of natural for foxes to battle each other in the wild especially when you have so many together?

        • jessikat
          Author
          January 10, 2018 / 17:21

          Yes 100% they will fight as they are not pack animals, they should cut back on the foxes or open more space there for them

  4. May 7, 2017 / 07:46

    Thank you. I will be saving this to share when I need to refer someone to why this place isn’t wha they think it is. I also shared it in a group I am in Women For Ethical Travel. I think these kinds of posts are important to bring light to the issues with these places.

  5. May 8, 2017 / 11:53

    Thank you so much for writing such an honest review about your experience. As mentioned above, I’ve seen so many popular travel bloggers rave about this place. It’s getting to the point where we should hold these people (with such a large platform of followers) accountable for their misinformation.

  6. May 8, 2017 / 21:40

    I’m sickened by bloggers who glamorize places like this. THanks for the honest review!

  7. Krae
    December 20, 2017 / 19:18

    Just heard of this today. I appreciate your take on it, I’m glad actually to hear that it is not as bad as I at first assumed, but like you it isn’t a place I’d be happy to visit. But then, I’m not a fan of zoos either.

    • jessikat
      Author
      December 23, 2017 / 17:17

      Thank you for reading! It is not that bad, but in my opinion not good enough to be promoted like this

  8. Amanda
    December 30, 2017 / 21:32

    Did you share your concerns with the sanctuary itself. It does sound like they maybe need to get in a zoo consultant or something and maybe make individual runs or do something that approximates a more natural environment. Also that is unbelievable that they sell fox fur from Norway in their gift shop. Disgusting. I would think people going there would be anti-fur and wouldn’t be interested in such baubles of torture. As all humans should be.

    • jessikat
      Author
      December 31, 2017 / 00:34

      I did on some points but they didnt really understood me :/

  9. Seraphin
    January 6, 2018 / 04:14

    Thanks for your review. This allows me to see “the truth” about this place. I have been to some animals places in japan, which it was overrated or over marketed. The worst I been so far is Japan monkey center in Inuyama. The monkeys are kept in small cages, leaving them little space to move.

    • jessikat
      Author
      January 7, 2018 / 13:31

      Oh my that is so sad!

  10. Martin Kopecky
    March 11, 2018 / 21:34

    I saw the “cute” fox village advertisement on facebook and I had doubts from the beginning. Thank you for confirming that.
    Even though I am not to forbid all zoos, these one is just terrible and I really regret the animals.
    But I am affraid of if they close it because of fair treatment, I do not think the owners will restore the foxes back, I guess they just kill them which will be very sad. But who knows, it may occur for the animals better than living in captivity.

    • jessikat
      Author
      March 11, 2018 / 21:44

      I totally agree that the local would probably kill them if all released at once.. They just need to make the place bigger and stop the unethical stuff. Make the place better for the foxes rather than for humans- thank you so so much for reading and making a difference with this mind set

  11. Chris Ridlam
    March 29, 2018 / 05:14

    Visited this location today and can confirm everything in the article. Drove like three hours from Tokyo because my wife wanted to see the “cute” foxes. Instead we saw a sad spectical of foxes living in poor conditions, many of which were bloodied and mauled from the constant fighting. The entire outdoor facility is poorly maintained, reeked of fox urine and encourages the worst type of animal behaviour where by feeding the foxes they are entirely unafraid of humans. I made the mistake of purchasing the fox food and was immediately surrounded upon entering the enclosure by a bunch of semi aggressive foxes. It’s just a bad situation in my opinion that could easily lead to being hurt. I definitely don’t recommend this tour if you have children. We stayed for less than an hour, entirely not worth the trip.

    • jessikat
      Author
      March 29, 2018 / 07:54

      Thank you for sharing your experience, more people should know that it is not cute at all. You are totally right this is a bad place to go with your children! Not worth going there at all. It makes me sad that the possibility to make it a great place is there, but it just doesn’t change 🙁 poor foxes

  12. Martin
    April 19, 2018 / 02:32

    What do you expect?! They are foxes! They are Savage animals not pet animals. If you go expecting a loving friendly environment is just stupid.

    • jessikat
      Author
      April 20, 2018 / 05:11

      Exactly!

  13. April 27, 2018 / 07:49

    So glad I read this – was thinking of going during my stay but this would not sit well with me – funny how we get such an image of a place in our minds through social media- thanks for setting it straight!!

  14. Hayley
    April 30, 2018 / 23:01

    A friend just came back from Japan and visited this place. Oh god, when I saw the photos of her (in the obligatory fluorescent raincoat) with a fox on her lap , I immediately thought ‘drugged fox’. She also had the same thought at the time too and wasn’t sure about the whole thing.

    Foxes are wild animals, not pets. They’ve never been domesticated. We have a local red fox where I live in central London. Yep, in a big city. There are many here, I even saw one in broad daylight walking along the Thames river, minding his/her own business with hundreds of people about. They are still wild and people should respect them as wild animals.

    Unfortunately there are many places like this, even in modern wealthy countries like Japan.

    • jessikat
      Author
      May 1, 2018 / 06:38

      Yeah it’s sad. I know they have good intentions, as they save some foxes in bad conditions from the wild and all that.
      But putting them in an other bad enviorement is not really a solution. And their only income comes from tourists, but there is no need to add that pathetic ‘ pet a fox’ option into this.. they executed so badly

      • Gary Condra
        July 19, 2018 / 11:15

        Foxes have been domesticated, however, they still retain far more of the wild in a domesticated fox than one might expect. As for foxes being solitary that’s also a falsity, they tend to live in small family groups and only some breeds are, like the Arctic Fox, are solitary. The reason a lot of people assume foxes are solitary is because they prefer to hunt alone.

        As you’ve mentioned Zao Fox Village has a problem with the size of the village compared to the population, if they increased the area then much of the fighting would subside as families formed dens and territories. It’s likely that the increased presence of more foxes in the small area and reliance on humans for easy food, which places a lot of stress on that and has caused a breakdown of the typical fox family dynamic from evidence I’ve seen.

  15. MrElegante
    May 9, 2018 / 22:22

    Someone will always find something to complain about.

    This place is VERY cute. I just got back from my visit.

    It is unfortunate that they sedate the foxes for petting. I’m betting it’s a necessity – if they don’t have a paid option, people will pet the foxes in the pen and they have many more bites. Still – I don’t love the idea.

    To clarify, the food you can buy is NOT all the foxes get to eat. I’m not if that’s what you were trying to say or just how I read it. Those are treats. The staff comes in regularly and gives out plenty of food to the horde of foxes. If you just don’t like the way they let you give them the food, I guess go ahead and hand it to the foxes. No one would really stop you and it’s your hand – if you want to get bit, then by all means.

    I don’t understand how it’s sad to see foxes compete for treats either. You say that the fox world is cruel, but then expect them to be nice when you’re feeding them? Don’t get.

    While I agree that some of the foxes are likely more stressed than they could be if they were more spread out. But this is an animal refuge with limited resources. They don’t have infinite space and they don’t have infinite money to expand the enclosure.There are 2 ways to reduce the number of foxes, loads of money or kill foxes. I think if I had to choose, I’d say they should help save more foxes and let them all be a bit stressed.

    • jessikat
      Author
      May 12, 2018 / 13:42

      WOW it would be terrible if those treats would be the only thing they ate.. and no , I didn’t say that was the case, just that it’s a stupid way of “feeding” them as visitors.

      I don’t really agree that saving foxes is better when it is to let them live longer in stress.. and the place is just too small for so many foxes, that is the major problem, as I pointed out in the post. If they want to save as many, they should expend before doing so.

      If you enjoyed your visit, nothing wrong with that either

  16. June 28, 2018 / 17:54

    I visited back in April during my stay in Japan, and ugh, I agree so much! I had expected the area to be much bigger and greener from all the stories I found online, but there was a lot of fighting and chained/locked up animals. I also thought that there were too many foxes in the area compared to ‘natural’ living conditions, which leads to the stress and fighting. I didn’t know about the Norwegian fur, though, that’s terrible!

    I didn’t go with the ridiculous petting option, but I observed the visitors who did, and the foxes seemed very agitated.

    The foxes themselves were cute and I liked seeing them up close, but all in all, the experience left a very bad taste in my mouth.

    • jessikat
      Author
      June 28, 2018 / 18:20

      Girrrrll… That is exactly how I felt too. I loved seeing them upclose and all. But I rather not if it meant they live in such circumstances 🙁 – Thank you so much for reading

  17. July 18, 2018 / 06:00

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m researching Japan now and a few friends wish to go – I’m trying to stay away from any animal style unless it’s a sanctuary / for research.

    • jessikat
      Author
      July 18, 2018 / 11:59

      I wouldn’t go! There are nicer places- visit the snow monkeys or bunny island

  18. Dakota
    July 18, 2018 / 07:58

    Thank you for your honest review. I stumbled upon your blog while looking for reviews before going this past weekend. I was very concerned after reading your review. I’m fluent in Japanese and my girlfriend is native, so we wanted to address our concerns with the staff. Nearly every fox that is there is there because it most likely wouldn’t survive in the wild. Most that are currently there were either born there or were found injured in the wild. The older wild foxes are in cages because they cannot be mixed into the open area because they are not use to people. The other foxes in the cages are sick, recovering, or have an infectious disease that they can spread. The front also contains the babies and young foxes used for holding. The staff claims each baby is only held for a few minutes a day because they only have two holding sessions per day. She says this gets the babies use to human interaction and will keep them calm in the open area where people will be around them.

    One part of your review that I really did try and question was the feed area. It seems completely unnecessary and we saw no benefit for the foxes. We saw a large fight over food, however, we only saw one and we were there for almost two hours. Most foxes seemed to share the treats or not attack others for it. I mentioned the fight and the man operating the feed station said “those are two males who are trying to prove who is more dominant and even if you didn’t feed them treats, they would still fight.”

    As we were leaving we bought up a few of the concerns, but the staff ensured us that it’s a great place, they release some foxes back into the wild if they came from the wild, and they help many animals survive. She also said that they currently have 134 foxes and over 25 other animals as of July 16th, 2018

    I’d say they should all be released into the wild, but the fact is over half would probably die. All of the foxes that were born there probably have no idea how to hunt. But I’m not an expert by any means, so I don’t know. I think the only possible good solution at the moment is to have someone invest a lot of money into the village or have a zoo purchase it. I would like to see it better maintained. The staff says during the winter months tourists drop off significantly and it’s difficult to operate. Either way, I wish the foxes and staff good luck. 🙂

    • jessikat
      Author
      July 18, 2018 / 12:08

      Thank you so much for this reply.
      Reading this confirms that the intentions of the place is good, which I approve.

      If they only count on tourists for income, it is hard to make the place bigger and better. I doubt people would invest in it.

      They want to help them all, but foxes in the wild don’t live as long either. I just think it is sad to see al these foxes fighting and the feeding area is really not necessary. Too many foxes = more fights , more wounded. But it is a good way for tourists to bring more income and to give them treats.

      I wish them luck too, and if they could expand it would be nicer.

      • Archi
        September 14, 2018 / 11:32

        I doubt they are counting on tourists since they do important research on the spread of E.multilocularis, a parasite that can cause Echinococcosis in humans.
        So my best guess it that it’s government founded and tourists are just to keep the cost down.

  19. Dom R.
    September 1, 2018 / 15:22

    I understand what many of your concerns are, but part of me wonders: If most of their income is from tourists, wouldn’t actually be worse telling people not to go and depriving them of most of their funding, especially if you don’t provide any information about them taking donations, private investments and/or other streams of income to encourage them to expand their facilities? Otherwise you’ll more or less just have another situation similar to the Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium where, although the animals are free from human interference, they’re arguably in worse off conditions then they were before, being virtually abandoned and having minimal care, all because the aquarium had been declining in visitations and thus income.

    Sure it had been shortly after the 2011 earthquake, but I find that the comparison still holds water, and this is especially true if, or when the facility is unable to maintain itself, who else is going to take in all those foxes if they’re even remotely able, or willing, to? And what if they release them back into the wild, if they’re even able to release them? Many of them probably don’t even know how to hunt properly, cutting their lifetime from the mere 4-5 years to possibly just a few months, that’s not even mentioning that they’ll just come back to the area and start bothering the locals for food or other such things to the point where they’ll be considered pests, and possibly done away with.

    I apologize if this all sounds harsh and overlycritical of your article, and I admit that it’s nice to see someone finally put to word the faults that the facility has, and even voice those concerns to the staff, but it’s not enough to say that this place is “bad” and people should basically condemn it to memory, and it’s really not enough to just voice your concerns to the staff, because what are they going to do, if they can even do it?

    To me, one possible solution would be to form a coalition of sorts between local and international animal welfare and/or rights groups, incur with the managers as to what, or if, they’re doing to improve the living conditions for the animals there and how much it would take to even start breaking ground in those operations, begin a fundraising campaign for the Fox Village in particular with a particularly high but reasonable enough goal and offer it to the Fox Village BUT with the stipulation that they must put the funds to use in actually and objectively improve the facility for the animals’ wellbeing and withhold most of the funds till they comply with such, and then put it on a publicly-available watchlist of sorts that details the progress and status of the Fox Village, this could then be used as a sort of flagship example to show that with investment of both heart and money, otherwise rather unethical and rather inhumane “sanctuaries” can be reformed.

    • jessikat
      Author
      September 1, 2018 / 16:17

      But I didn’t even say they are bad tho.. xD I just don’t agree with the execution and social media saying it is the cutest place on earth. You should foward your comment to somebody of the place

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