Chausuyama Zoo is a quaint little city zoo in Nagano, Japan, where I currently call home. While certainly not a major attraction even in Nagano, it makes for a nice half-day trip particularly if you live in the city.
The zoo is located on a hillside some way out of the city, quite inconveniently. In order to get there without your own transport you must take a train to Shinonoi Station (four stops, 190yen (1.50) and either catch one of the infrequent buses up the hill to the zoo, take a taxi, or walk. I actually did the latter the first time I visited some six years ago, and it took a good hour. Not recommended for the unfit. Most people travel by car, and there are signs from Shinonoi Station.
It takes about an hour and a half to walk around the zoo. It has all the usual suspects - a lion, a tiger, an elephant, a few giraffes, zebras and assorted monkeys, but for me it is most interesting for the native Japanese animals such as two brown bears and numerous Japanese serows which I can see up close having fleetingly glimpsed them in the wild. It also has a couple of raccoon dogs, wild ones of which I often see wandering around the streets near my house at night.
The zoo's main draw though is its selection of red pandas (the Japanese name is "Lesser Panda), of which it currently has twelve, now housed in a recently built enclosure near the zoo's east entrance. These teddy-bear like little things climb trees and walk across platforms above your head from one cage to another. When I was there the other day there was even a new baby, which numerous people were cooing over.
The state of the cages
In general, most of the animals have pretty decent living conditions. Some are better than others, for example in the tiny little tortoise house (which is basically a greenhouse) there are two snapping turtles in tanks that can barely turn around (apparently both were discarded pets), while the rest of the tortoises can wander about fairly freely. The lesser pandas of course have a wonderful enclosure which while not huge simulates forest conditions with lots of trees to climb, whereas the lions have a pretty small cage and the elephant has just a concrete ring to wander about in. In general, the conditions are ok and most of the animals seem well looked after.
What it lacks
Chausuyama Zoo is a small city zoo so doesn't have all of the features a bigger zoo would have. For example, it doesn't have a reptile house (other than the aforementioned turtles), nor does it have any sort of aquarium. Nor does it have a proper restaurant - the food facilities are currently a handful of vans in the middle part of the zoo, selling Japanese noodles and local snacks.
Also, as the zoo doesn't get many foreign visitors other than city residents, other than the animal names there are no English explanations, although there is a bilingual information leaflet that you can get at the reception. For the same reason, be prepared to be stared at as much as most of the animals unless you're of Asian ethnicity. A couple of times I've been there and felt like I should have been in one of the cages!
The zoo obviously gets a lot of its income from school visits, so there is a lot for the kids to do. There is a petting zoo in the centre which has dozens of guinea pigs and rabbits that kids (and me!) can pick up, as well as other animals you can get up close to such as donkeys, ducks, sheep and goats (all of which are quite rare in Japan). There are a couple of Shetland ponies that do rides, and at certain times of the day you can pet the lesser pandas.
The zoo has pretty good disabled access with lots of ramps, though being on quite a steep hill it would be quite an effort to push someone around. When I was there yesterday there were plans displayed for a small train to be put in, going from the top (west) entrance down to the bottom (east) entrance, though it will probably be years before its implemented, if at all.
Other attractions in the surrounding area
The zoo is several kilometers out of central Nagano, on a hillside above the city that also features several other interesting places for a day out. If you take a bus up to the zoo entrance, you can walk down through the zoo, leave through the east entrance and continue down the hill through a botanical garden (free) past a very small science museum (200yen if my memory serves me right), a dinosaur park (plastic dinos, nice views, free), a mallet golf course (500yen including rental) and then through a few apple orchards before you end up not far from Shinonoi Station. It makes for a nice Saturday out of the house, but obviously none of these things are particularly touristy.
The zoo is open 9.30 to 4.30 in summer, 10.00 to 4.00 in winter (and up on the hill it can get a lot of snow).
Entry costs 500yen for adults, 100yen for kids up to 14.
Access - bus/taxi from Shinonoi Station, or parking is available if you have your own car.
More information here at the website
(google can translate it for you)
At the time of writing, 121yen = 1 pound
Also on other review sites.