Machida city, in the Tokyo area, has a lot to offer both to families and curious tourists. The picturesque Yakushi Ike Park and “Risu-en” (squirrel garden) are only a short bus ride from Machida station and make a fun day trip. You’ll be able to feed squirrels, see authentic farmhouses from the Edo Period (17th-19th century), and take some great photographs without spending a fortune.
A family oriented zoo with a difference
Squirrel gardens are (as the name suggests) zoos that keep mainly squirrels. As with cat and dog cafes, they are a popular way for anyone suffering pet deprivation symptoms to stroke and play with animals. There are several squirrel gardens in Japan with Machida Risu-en being one of the most famous. Opened in 1988, the Squirrel garden boasts a free-range squirrel enclosure as well as giant tortoises and rabbits. It’s an ideal place to visit if you’re a fan of anything small and fluffy, and children will love it too.
Interact with the animals
In the main area of the park, you’ll find enormous enclosure housing around 200 adorable guinea pigs. With its brightly painted boxes, ramps and tables, it makes a fantastic playground for the animals. For 100 JPY (approximately 1 USD), you’ll be able to buy a plate of salad vegetables to feed them. Kids will enjoy watching the little cavies nibbling away at their bits of lettuce!
You’ll also be able to feed the squirrels in the Free-range area. Sunflower seeds are available for 100 JPY (approximately 1 USD), which the squirrels go nuts for when they’re hungry. You’ll also be able to borrow a handy oven-mitt to make sure your fingers don’t end up on the menu. A handy sign outside the area tells you how hungry the squirrels are. Expect to get mobbed if they are hungry, and ignored if they’re not. Either way, you can still enjoy their cute antics!
See the furred acrobats in action
The Free-range area is towards the far end of the garden and is accessible through a small building. Once you walk into the area, you’ll be struck by its size and unique layout. The 200 odd Taiwanese Pallas’s squirrels inside are kept from escaping by a net, which forms a vast roof over the enclosure. They are provided with plenty of space in which to run, climb and leap. Since the area is fairly open, it’s easy to see the squirrels displaying their amazing speed and agility.
If you prefer your animals to be more laid back, you can go and take a photo with “Sachiko” and “Junko”, the African spurred tortoises. They are very placid despite their huge size and will allow their shells to be stroked.
Aside from the animals, you’ll also notice the cheerfully decorated squirrel houses adorning the trees. These were painted by children in an assortment of designs including popular TV characters. See if you can spot “Jibanyan”, the ghostly cat from the “Youkai watch” anime!
Meet friendly guinea pigs
Just next to the gift shop, you’ll find the petting zoo area. If you’ve ever wanted a guinea pig but weren’t allowed one then this is the place for you! You’ll be able to sit and relax with one on your knee. Sitting with these friendly creatures is also a great way to get wary young children used to being around animals.
Bird fans will also enjoy chatting to the parrots. Try talking to Jiro (the green one), as he can say quite a few words.
Peep inside ancient farmhouses at Yakushi-Ike Park
If you cross over the road from the squirrel garden, it’s only a short walk to Yakushi-Ike Park, which surrounds a huge pond filled with koi carp. The park is very tranquil and you’ll be able to see several species of flower on your way around the pond, depending on the time of year. Irises, cherry blossoms, hydrangeas and wisterias are some of the many types of flower you’ll come across as you explore. For history enthusiasts, there is also a working water mill and two beautiful thatched farmhouses from the Edo Period (1603-1868). They are extremely well preserved, and if you look inside you’ll even be able to see some traditional farming equipment.
If you’re feeling peckish or simply want to sit down and soak up the atmosphere, Yakushi cha-ya (tea house) is at the edge of the pond near the plum garden. It has a quaint, cozy feel to it inside and sells a variety of drinks and sweets, including “ankoromochi” (pounded rice cakes topped with sweet bean paste) and Japanese pickles. The sets are good value and suitable for a light meal or snack.
Get close to nature and see a bit of history in Machida
The squirrel garden is open every day except Tuesdays and entrance costs a mere 400 JPY (approximately 3 USD) for adults and 200 JPY (approximately 2 USD) for over-threes. Going on a sunny day is recommended.
Getting there is easy; the only tricky part is finding the bus stop. Once you get to Odakyu Machida Station, make your way to the North exit and head outside. You should see a level crossing about 50m in front of you. If you walk up towards the level crossing, you will see billboards on your right. Turn left at the bank and walk up the street until you see the number 21 bus stop. From there, it should take about 20 minutes until you reach the Yakushi-Ike bus stop.
Going to the Yakushi-Ike area is a great idea for anyone who’d like to enjoy a fun day without spending an arm and a leg. The squirrel garden is fantastic for children or anyone who’d like to do something uniquely Japanese, and Yakushi-Ike Park is one of Tokyo’s prettiest green spots. Go nuts in Machida, and don’t forget your camera!
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