Okinawa's small zoos offer big fun
They may not be Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Safari Park, or even the Okinawa Zoo, but there are places on the island where you can bring the kids to hang out with animals. And, often, these small zoos, ranches or farms are free.
Even without star animals like a panda or a koala, these local spots entertain visitors with unique kinds of fun.
There may be other places in Japan where you can see ostriches, but when it comes to touching the largest and heaviest bird in the world, not many places can top Dacyou Land (Ostrich Land) in Nakijin Village. In this ranch-style facility, you can feed them, touch them, and take photos with them posing like an ostrich rodeo.
When I tried the “rodeo photo,” the owner of this place advised me not to put weight on the bird. That’s a sound advice given the fact that the huge birds’ kicks are strong enough to kill humans. The ostrich I took photos with looked gentle and let me pet its neck without any problems during the photos session.
Having been featured on TV shows, this place is well known throughout the country. There is a restaurant by the entrance where people can enjoy “ostrich steak”, “ostrich eggs sunny side up” and more.
Address: 309 Heshiki, Nakijin Village
GPS Coordinates: N 26.689395 E 127.963736
Open Location Code (OLC): 7QR9MXQ7+QF
Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Just a 10-minute drive from gate 3 of Kadena Air Base, Mini-Mini Doubutsuen (Mini-Mini Zoo) is home to animals such as turtles, monkeys, rabbits, ostriches, peacocks, ponies and more. Entrance to the small zoo is free and it even includes a bird that says, “Ohayou Gozaimasu” (good morning).
The front of this place may look small for a zoo, but the look can be deceiving. More animals and creatures are waiting than people would imagine from its compact façade. Many animals can be seen at close-up or even touched.
There is also a food court in one section where people can buy sweets.
Address: 660 Akamichi, Uruma City
GPS Coordinates: N 26.359836 E 127.822925
Open Location Code (OLC): 7QR99R5F+W5
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 7 pm. (9 a.m. on Sun.)
Denkuu no Eki Haaso
A roadside station near the Expo Park and Churaumi Aquarium, this place has a neat-looking park in the back where visitors can see animals for free. Many goats are kept in small ranches with huts installed on site. Food for the animal can be purchased from capsule toy machines at the entrance.
A part of the ranch is inhabited by Yonaguni Uma, a breed of horse indigenous to Yonaguni Island. Other local animals such as a bull and Ryukyu-ken (Ryukyu dog) live there as well.
This is a good place to take a walk. Many parts of the facility are covered with trimmed grass and paved roads running between each section. There is also a restaurant, farmers market, a pond, and a creek on site.
Address: 1334 Gushiken, Motobu Town
GPS coordinates: N 26.697228 E 127.908896
Open Location Code (OLC): 7QR9MWW5+VH
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Neo Park Okinawa
In this large zoo that is five times the size of Tokyo Dome, there are 100 kinds of animals, which include capybara, emu, lama, lemur, monkey, wallaby and more. The biggest feature of this place is that many animals come close to visitors - sometimes beyond a fence line. Once past the entrance, cranes and flamingos will sometimes flock around people, and food for some animals can be purchased at the gate.
Each section has a title such as Flamingo Lake, Amazon Jungle, and Oceanian Flora and Fauna, some of which charge extra to see. People can also tour via a small train, which is a replica of one that used to be in service on the island.
Nostalgia is everywhere, partly thanks to a slow tempo song with a catchy ukulele melody going, “Neo Neo Neo Neo Neo Park…” at many parts of the facility.
Address: 4607-41 Nago, Nago City
GPS Coordinates: N 26.610698 E 127.991376
Open Location Code (OLC): 7QR9JX6R+7H
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Admission: 660 yen for adult, 330 yen for middle and high school students, 220 yen for ages 4 to elementary school age.
Within a 10-minute drive from the Legion Gate of Camp Foster, Tamaki Shouten is a farmers market near the Nakagusuku Kouen. People go there for fresh produce and reasonably priced commodities and plants for gardening. But, you can also advance to the deeper part of the site, toward the “Doubutsuen” (zoo).
Although the scale of the zoo has become smaller than it once was, there are still animals you can see for free. Ponies, pigs, chickens are kept together at a barn. Hay is stacked on the side, so people can feed them. They also feature turtles and a peacock in another section. Many parts of the facility are old, but the location presents a glimpse into an old local farm.
Address: 1261-2 Noborimata, Nakagusuku Village
GPS Coordinates: N 26.287808 E 127.788389
Open Location Code (OLC): 7QR97QQQ+49
Hours: 8 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.