Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Amazing Japanese Summer Vacation with Mom: Adventure World (Best!)

The next morning we went to Adventure World, which proved just as amazing. We actually took a taxi so we could get there right when it opened, which for two people wasn`t so bad (rather than have to catch two buses without knowing the time schedule).

I`ve been to a lot of zoos in my life, all over the world, from Beijing, Chicago, Africa, and Kobe. This was the best by far. If you go to one zoo in your life, go to Adventure World in Shirahama, Japan. It wasn`t just a zoo. It was a theme park, farm, petting zoo, animal research and training center, museum, and performance arena. We could have seriously spent two days there and still not have done everything! Mom agrees. She said the ocean section alone was better than sea world!

Right from the beginning I could tell this wasn`t a normal zoo. Maybe it was the flamingos in the fountain. Or the giant Ferris wheel and roller coaster flying over the puppy garden. (Yes, they have a puppy garden filled with all kinds of breeds of puppies you can play with, but alas, that was one thing we didn`t get to.)

When we first arrived, we were just in time to see the penguin feeding (they are the only zoo I know of that has nearly all seventeen species of penguin, including Emperors). I have never seen such happy penguins in my life! Here`s a little macaroni, all excited about getting fed:

He`s a “hoppy” penguin if I ever saw one!

And here are the penguins soaring through the water:

Who says penguins can`t fly?

Outside there was a really cute display to show the variety of bird life: Penguins, flamingos, and parrots. Very interesting:

They had sooo many penguins! There were at least three giant tanks full of them in various buildings plus random ones occupying various fountains. They must have had about at least one hundred! The viewing areas to see all the animals were great; you could see them all angles; above, behind, below, face to face. Next when we went to see the polar bears get fed, we could look on them from up high. There was even a baby polar bear in a separate display playing with the snow! Here he is:

We kept jumping from one feeding/petting/show time to another. Everything was so close and easy to get to and timed perfectly so we could see most things. Around noon, at the hottest part of the day, there was a “splash party” in which the staff brought out a lot of animals and soaker hoses, spraying everyone down while the animals did tricks. That was pretty awesome. After that there was a penguin parade. Here they are:

Followed by a show about a bunch of animals that got stranded on a tropical island. It was so cute! One of the main characters was a little girl with a pet river otter. It followed her around just like a dog, doing everything from barking to playing dead to running around with a toy ambulance on its head, right on cue. Afterward, I got to pet one! I was so happy. Here`s an Asian river otter:

Aren`t they so cute? The keeper spent a lot of time petting and playing with them, especially scratching behind their ears, which they seemed to love. They`re really mischievous, though. In other zoos I`ve seen them steal things from the keepers bucket and rip their boots. Plus they don`t seem to have any issue with doing rather disgusting or disturbing things in front of a huge audience. Never fails. Just watch them for five minutes and you`ll know what I mean. I don`t think I`d want one for a pet.

I`ve got to say, these animals weren`t bored. I`m used to seeing zoo animals sleep or pace behind cages, but these guys were all playing with the toys in their enclosure, interacting with their spectators, and running around, wherever we went. Japan as a whole I've noticed is pretty good about giving their animals lots of "enrichment," or stuff to do.

Speaking of lively animals, check out these weird pelicans:

I`ve never seen them do that before!

And I've never seen a sea lion do this:

Another thing that really made this zoo stand out is that you could feed just about any animal you wanted. Sometimes you had to pay for it, sometimes not. But I bet the paying ones really cut back on the cost of animal feed. You have to pay $5.00 to feed the lion raw meat through a chute. Crazy, huh, but over ten people paid to do it! Mom was happy with her free chance to feed the hippo. Gosh, that thing was disgusting! Here it is:

And of course, we went on the safari! This is going to sound really corny, but I`m serious. It was like the real safari I went on in Africa! Only the tram was closed and air-conditioned, which I am totally not complaining about. We went through this gated area and all the animals were roaming free. And not just African animals, but Australian, South American, basically anything really big and dangerous. We rode right up to them. We saw some park keepers feeding the grizzly bears out the windows of their jeep. No thank you.

Here`s what the safari park looks like:

There was also an herbivore area, where you could do a walking safari. We didn`t get a chance to do that, but that just means we have to go back! I want to hang out with the elephants and baboons without any fences. If you have food they chase you. No one`s gotten mauled or maimed…yet.

Speaking of being mauled or maimed, here`s a totally unprotected keeper in the cheetah cage. It was a pretty affectionate cheetah:

That doesn’t look safe to me.

Next to the cheetah was a baby lynx and some other cute babies. How many animals do these guys have? At least a thousand! On their website they`re always advertising a baby something. By the way, this is their website: Sorry to say, they're not a chain. The only one exists in Japan.

We had dinner at one of the many cafés, which was surprisingly good and inexpensive for theme park food. Then we went to the night party, which was a little song and dance show with animals. Cute. Then two sea shows, one featuring sea lions, another dolphins! Here`s a dude riding the dolphins:

A major reason I planned Adventure World for later in our trip was because of the night adventure. They usually close at 5:00, but for the month of August, they`re open to 9:00 with special shows and stuff. The final dolphin show ended with all the dolphins and people dancing together, with spectacular fire works and a theme song. Yes, the park has its very own theme song. We heard it a million times throughout the day as a Rachmaninov piano concerto, a guitar piece, an a capella solo and a full-out pop rock band extravaganza. It took us all day to figure out that they were singing in English...or Engrish, anyway. “Sankyu wall” in Engrish apparently translates to “Thank you all” in English. Even though we got sick of it, it was a nice touch and I still have it stuck in my head.

The other funny thing was their slogan. Like many Japanese slogans, it was printed only in English: "Enjoy nature for your emotion." Why do they do that? Most Japanese people can't read those signs anyway, and English speakers just laugh at them. I've explained to Japanese people seeking my help with translation that they need to be a little less...vague in their English descriptions. "Emotion" is a very ambiguous word. "Enjoyment" or "Pleasure" or "Happiness" would be much better choices. The other day I was helping an English teacher studying for her qualification exams and her speech was just full of ambiguities like that. "It gives me feeling." "That is a thing that people do." "He is a person" and the like. This is very strange to me, because Japanese doesn't really do that. I think they must learn really awkward grammar constructions in school or something. My favorite one was, "This is a thing you say to me then that you are here listening to me I say it to you now." I think the phrase she was looking for was simply: "Like you said, ...."

Moving right along...

I`m telling you, from a capitalist point of view, Adventure World has the right idea. Zoos in America are always so low on funds. These guys have totally commercialized; there were shops and stands selling everything animal related everywhere we went. Take your professional photograph with the giraffe doing a funny pose, ride the elephants and camels, feed the cougar, swim with the dolphins, buy a special dog training whistle to play with the puppies in the puppy garden, ride a roller coaster over the mouth of the lions` den, they got the works! The amusement park alone probably pays for half of their feeding expenses. As a result, the animals are happy and the exhibits are always new and fresh. And for those of us who don`t buy into that gimmicky stuff and pay only the bare minimum to enter the park (like my mom and me), we still get the benefit of seeing all those extra funds at work. Man, if the Tulsa zoo did that, they`d never have to beg for donations again!

The one thing they were severely lacking was any type of conservation (apart from their breeding program, that is). Conservation is always a huge part of American zoos and aquariums. Every exhibit includes stuff about how to save the animals, be more environmentally aware, etc. But no, at Adventure World (and every other Japanese zoo I`ve been to), you can see a dolphin show, then go into the café and eat what you just saw. They call it the “aquarium special” in most places. They might even tell you that what you`re eating is endangered, but that just makes them up the price and beam at you for giving you such a rare experience. Not to mention they insist that it`s their “cultural right” to hunt endangered whales. Can you imagine this conversation: “Well, little keiko-chan, we just saw a really amazing dolphin show. Now lets complete your experience by EATING our cute dolphin friend. Forget that fact that in fifty years there might not be anymore for your children to enjoy. Oh, look, your plate even has a singing and dancing cartoon dolphin on it. Isn`t that precious?” Makes me sick.

OK, so dolphins aren`t really endangered, but they`re intelligent! And the Japanese DO eat endangered stuff, and they aren`t exactly humane about how they kill it either. I`m all for eating meat, but I like to make sure my meat is stupid and that it had a happy life without a painful demise. I won`t even eat octopus because I`ve seen them solve puzzles in the Oklahoma aquarium. Those things are smart!

OK, enough ranting. I just feel strongly about this. Every Japanese I have ever asked about it insists that it is their right as Japanese (not as humans) to eat whatever they have historically eaten in the past, regardless. When I ask them about intelligence as a factor, they say creating traditional flavorful dishes is more important. Leave conservation to the Americans and Europeans and Canadians.

We left Adventure World about 8:45, and had one more delightful surprise at the exit. A little African penguin, happily swimming in the fountain! Here he is:

All in all, I think Adventure World was the best part of my entire summer vacation with Mom! But there are still a lot of amazing things to write about. Stay tuned next time for Full Moon Island, sandanpeki cliffs, the glass bottom boat, and scuba diving in a coral reef!

1 comment:

Rich said...

Your point about conservation seemed right on the mark. That's one thing that lit up in my mind as I read your description. It's not only conservation of a species, but a conservation of an animal's "right" to a normal-as-possible existence.
From what you've said, I think the Japanese "theme park" model is a great idea, and is severely lacking in what American zoos I've seen. To my mind, people are going to a zoo most of the time simply to have fun. Shouldn't a zoo cater to that? So many times I have seen zoo visitors complain about not seeing the animal, not getting to touch the animal, see the feeding, or even get to ride the animal. They often hate walking so much. They often hate the prices. I would hazard to guess that most zoo visitors leave to some degree disappointed, or frustrated. I was often trying to do what I could to provide something memorable and tangible, a personal touch, an experience to take away.
I myself was horribly embarrassed at how the Tulsa Zoo had so few hands-on opportunities for guests. A petting zoo with a wallaby or such would have made a world of difference! Sheep? Goats? Pshaw.

I have to run, but maybe it's better I don't get started too deeply.

Thanks, Laura!

Dolphin steak served at a zoo is a new one for me. Then again, the Japanese have a real, real bad reputation when it comes to dolphins.