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Archive for the ‘Roadside Attraction’ Category

A colorful seashell museum with a nondescript name – mostly artistic, but also scientific… and not even abandoned!

Ever since I moved to Japan 13 years ago I’ve been traveling the country when time allows. At first day trips to touristy spots (now hard to enjoy due to the suffocating amount of tourists from overseas – visiting the bamboo forest in Kyoto’s Arashiyama or the temples and shrines in Nara, for example, is a completely different experience in 2009 and 2019!), then weekend trips to explore abandoned places. During those early exploration trips me and my various co-explorers didn’t actively avoid other places (and included even spots like the very famous and recently burnt down Shuri Castle in Okinawa), but we were quite focused on our ruins, especially during daylight hours. Exploring can be quite exhausting and after a while I realized that extended lunch breaks at mom and pop restaurants and occasional sightseeing spots can really break up an otherwise quite tense day. Sooner or later sightseeing spot lead to roadside attractions and here we are now, at the Takeshima Fantasy Museum. (After visiting the infamous *Zao Fox Village* last year…)
The Takeshima Fantasy Museum, located in Gamagori, Achi (about an hour southeast of Nagoya), has quite a bit of history. Opened in 1983 as Gamagori Fantasy House it featured colorful exhibits made from 5 million (!) pieces of corals and seashells, collected in 110 countries. During the economic boom of the 1980s even the strangest places did well, but after some years of decline it closed in 2010 – apparently without any plans of ever being opened again. I remember actually being there around late 2013 / early 2014, but wasn’t able to find a way in… and there was some construction going on. Turns out that the Gamagori Fantasy House was in the state of renewal and expansion. Part of the parking lot was turned into a (casual) seafood restaurant and the exhibits were overhauled, bringing the shell count up to 5.5 million upon reopening in August 2014 as the Takeshima Fantasy Museum.
When the recent exploration attempt of the *Gamagori City Pool* (actually within sight of the Takeshima Fantasy Museum) failed miserably it was a good opportunity to come back later and finally have a look inside. Fortunately photography without flash was allowed in the whole museum, so I took the opportunity to snap some high ISO shots for another roadside attraction article. While the *homepage of the museum* is in Japanese only, the museum hands out a nice, large pamphlet in English, which is included in the entrance fee – at 1000 Yen for adults, 800 Yen for senior citizens and 500 Yen for children not cheap, but still affordable, considering that it takes about an hour to enjoy the colorful fantasy world, the museum, and the gift. It’s a unique location worth supporting, especially if you have a soft spot for whimsical places and unusual art. While passing by the exhibits I was wondering what the people creating them were doing now. And I guess I got the answer in the gift shop, where I saw a guy making chickens using different kinds of seashells – to be sold in the shop. If you ever are in the Nagoya area: Have a look! I’m sure you won’t regret it. To me it was a strangely and surprisingly entertaining experience! And who knows, maybe I’ll be back one day after they close it again…

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Cat cafés, dog cafès, owl cafés, a rabbit island, several cat islands, the deers of Nara and Itsukushima – not to mention several snake stations, monkey parks and bear villages as well as countless regular zoos and aquariums. Japan is (almost) every animal lover’s dream… and the more adventurous ones are heading for the mountains of Miyagi prefecture to visit the Zao Fox Village!

The Miyagi Zao Fox Village (a.k.a. Kitsune Mura, which is Japanese for… well… fox village) is located on the foot of Mount Zao, a large and absolutely gorgeous onsen / skiing / hiking area on the border of Yamanashi and Miyagi prefectures, just an hour outside of Sendai. According to the surprisingly informative and well-made English homepage it features “rare 6 types and over 100 fluffy cute foxes”. Unfortunately public transportation in this area is not running as often as in central Tokyo, so you either go there on a Tuesday or Friday by bus from Shiroishi Station (not Shiro Ishii Station!) at 7:58 a.m. and return to said station with the second bus of the day that leaves nearby Kawarago Dam at 2:32 (which means that you are stuck there for about five and a half hours!) – or you don’t. There are no other connections, except for private means of transportation (a taxi ride takes about 20, 25 minutes according to GoogleMaps and should cost about 4000 Yen), so… welcome to the Japanese countryside!
After paying 1000 Yen and agreeing to a couple of rules (not leaving the concrete paths, not squatting down, …) you first reach a tree-housy area on a slope where some of the foxes, the beautiful and especially tame ones, are resting in rather large cages. There’s also a mini (petting) zoo with other animals, and the veterinarian’s office. From there you can reach the main area (where the foxes roam freely and the large breeding cages are) or either exit through the gift shop. This main part is basically an open forest area with concrete paths and some benches as well as installations for the foxes to hide and play – and a big sign reminding you not to squat down or the foxes might bite or pee on you. You are also advised not to pet those foxes… and after being there for a couple of minutes and seeing them (play?) fight, you sure don’t want to anyway – though there is an optional petting experience at certain times with the caged foxes.

As you probably have guessed by now, the Miyagi Zao Fox Village isn’t abandoned – and probably won’t be anytime soon. But as I travel all across Japan I often run into roadside attractions, so-called B-spots, that look quite intriguing… and then we push on, because it’s not abandoned or we don’t have time. I always felt sorry for all the tourist explorers who came all the way to Japan and “explored” the already photographed to death *Western Village* as well as the moldy, rundown spa hotels of Kinugawa Onsen, but didn’t take the time to have a look at the spectacular Toshogu Shrine in nearby Nikko – and yet here I was doing a similar thing on a (much!) smaller scale… so I decided to add some B-spots to the Abandoned Kansai mix. It’s actually nothing new, I’ve done it in the past (for example with my article about *Hachijojima* or the one about the *Okinawan themed parks*. And don’t worry, the vast majority of articles on Abandoned Kansai will still be about abandoned places – throwing a B-spot into the mix every two or three months won’t hurt the flow… and half of them will probably look abandoned anyway… 😉
But to wrap up the Zao Fox Village: I’m not a fan of any kind of animal prisons, especially dolphinariums and circuses, but much to my surprise the Zao Fox Village didn’t make a bad impression to me. We arrived there shortly after 3 p.m., two hours before the place closed, but it was a late autumn day, so the sun was already setting in the mountains and we were losing daylight quickly. It also meant that the foxes had been entertaining guests for six hours, so about half of them were already tired and just trying to keep warm by making themselves small in one of the few preferably sunny spots. About three or four dozen foxes though were still roaming around freely. Some of them were fighting occasionally – but only away from the concrete paths humans were not supposed to leave anyway. And while it was a really strange feeling to have one or two getting so close that you could easily touch them (or they could bite you without a warning…), it was also quite exciting to get so close to an animal you usually only can see from afar. Some of the foxes were especially tame, for example the one with the gorgeous white and black fur – that one actually sat down on a bench and patiently had its photo taken. So patiently that it was borderline annoying, because in today’s selfie culture some people seem to have lost awareness of their own selfishness completely. It took three Japanese girls a couple of minutes to take some selfies and group photos, which is totally fine, but then a… tourist from another Asian country… took like 10 minutes to take selfies and have her picture taken by her parents, over and over and over again, while a dozen people lined up to take photos – which was completely ignored by that… BTW, are female foxes called bitches, too? No, I just looked it up, they are called vixens – which is probably what that girl thought of herself, though she wasn’t; she was just narcissistic. Long story short, her photo session ended when even the monochrome fox had enough, got up and left; leaving quite a few disappointed people behind, including yours truly. Luckily the furry model just went for a walk and was back two minutes later, giving me the opportunity to take a couple of quick shots, before yet another line formed.

So… overall visiting the Zao Fox Village wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. When you go to pages like Tripadvisor especially the English speaking reviews depict a nightmarish place that make South American prisons look like a spa vacation – and I kinda expected to see a rundown facility with a couple of visitors, but in reality they had a couple of parking lots and even close to closing something like 50, 60 visitors at any given time on the premises. In peak seasons like late spring and early autumn this place must be a money making machine. All the animals, not just the foxes, didn’t look like they were mistreated or malnourished. At least not to me, but then again – I’m not an experienced animal prison visitor and I went there in late autumn; what the situation is like at 35°C in summer I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure if those one star reviewers would see me in my small apartment in summer, they’d probably criticize the animal unworthy living situation I exist in, too… 😉 Of course *the rabbit island Okunoshima* is much more relaxed and all animals there are actually free, but if you take the Zao Fox Village for what it is (a commercial roadside attraction, not a wildlife haven for hand-tame predators) it’s a unusual, slightly quirky place to visit – and even some the haters couldn’t resist to take and publish selfies… Probably not worth traveling to, but definitely worth stopping at, if you are in the area anyway; I actually added it to my *map of demolished and touristy places*.

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