Visit Japan’s Oldest Zoo: Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo

The Ueno Zoo is the oldest in Japan. It was established back in the 1880s. At first, it started out as a menagerie attached to the National Museum of Natural History until it was handed over to Tanaka Yoshio, who converted it into a public zoo to enjoy its utilities. During World War II, the government of Tokyo ordered that all the wild animals of Ueno Zoo be killed because he feared that the zoo could be bombed at any moment and the animals could be free of their cages and eventually wreak havoc in the streets of Tokyo. Sadly, the animals were killed through various means such as poisoning, strangulation, or starving the animals to death. Memorial services were then held for the animals who died because of World War II. 

After World War II, Ueno Zoo was renovated so the cages wouldn’t look as daunting as it was before. The Japanese government made the zoo look like a natural habitat that animals would stay in. 

Currently, the zoo has over 3000 animals of different species. The highlight of Ueno zoo is two  rare giant pandas: Billy and Shinshin. These giant pandas were brought over from China in 2011, and their names were chosen through a public poll. These giant pandas gave birth to a cute baby panda in 2017. 


The most famous animals residing in Ueno Zoo are Billy and Shinshin, the giant pandas in Japan. Their cute baby panda came into the zoo in 2017. There will often be long lines for both foreigners and Japanese tourists alike to just have a glimpse of these adorable giant pandas. 

Aside from the giant pandas, other interesting animals in the Ueno Zoo are here.

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  1. Galapagos Tortoise 

Galapagos tortoises originate from… you guessed it! Galapagos Islands. These breeds of tortoises are considered the world’s biggest land tortoises. Historically, there are only three tortoises in Japan, and two of them are in Ueno Zoo. These tortoises are named Taro and Kamekichi, respectively. Because these tortoises can grow very big and heavy, watermelon, a favorite treat for most Galapagos tortoises, is used to lure them to move on their own. One example of how heavy these tortoises can be is that when Taro was weighed in 2015, he weighed around 190 kilograms! 

  1. Aye Aye

Aye aye are small monkeys that usually live in the tropical rainforests of Madagascar. There is a popular nursery rhyme in Japan that features Aye Aye, so this animal is pretty popular, especially among younger children. Since Aye Ayes are usually nocturnal creatures, they are placed in a special venue where the lights are turned off. Their huge eyes are one of the most prominent features of the Aye-Aye, which can be interesting for most people to see. 

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  1. Okapi

The Okapi is an interesting animal that can be found in Africa. It is especially interesting because it looks like a crossbreed between a zebra and a horse. Its legs usually have the stripes of a Zebra, but its body has the brownish mane of most horses. The main purpose of the Okapi’s Zebra legs and Horse-like body is for camouflage. This helps the Okapi blend in with the environment to prey on lower forms of animals and trick potential predators. What is even more peculiar is that even though it looks like a crossbreed between a Zebra and a Horse, it is actually closer to the family of giraffes. For sure, the Okapi is an animal of interesting tidbits that both locals and foreigners can find amusing. 

  1. Elephants

While elephants are a prominent feature in most zoos, because of the design of the Ueno Zoo, the elephants can roam freely in a specified area. Here, foreigners can look at how the elephant behaves in his or her natural habitat. 

Ueno zoo offers many more activities than the usual animal watching and sightseeing. It is a great way to spend weekend afternoons with family and friends. Foreigners, in particular, can be exposed to a wide variety of unique and exotic animals such as pandas, bears, and tortoises. Indeed, Ueno Zoo is the place to be for a fun-filled afternoon with nature and the animals.