Rounding out the trifecta of Japanese animal utopias (see previously: bunny and cat islands): the Zaō Fox Village in the mountains of Miyagi.


After taking the train from Sendai to Tokyo, we were about an hour’s drive up to Mt Zao. I believe the nearest train station is Shiroishi, though you’ll still need to drive (or taxi) the 30 minutes up to the village itself.

My companion for the day: Naomi! One of my closest friends in Japan (and, as it happens, another of my fellow teachers!).

I wasn’t sure quite how many foxes to expect when we arrived.

As it turns out: a lot.

There are six different species of foxes in the village, making for a colourful array of vulpine inhabitants.

It should be noted, however, that the opening section of the sanctuary is actually quite depressing, which isn’t mentioned in any of the literature I’d read prior to visiting.

Mothers and cubs are trapped in tiny cages, and adult males are tethered to 4ft leashes for people to gawk at.

I don’t know if it’s part of a semi-domestication process to ensure that the foxes are used to human visitors before they’re released into the main village, but feel certain that there are better ways to achieve that goal.

The sanctuary proper is, however, gigantic (every time Naomi and I rounded a corner, it seemed to expand ever further), so I only hope they rotate the foxes often enough that everyone spends the majority of their time roaming free.

And, happily, the foxes who are allowed to wander in the open seem perfectly content.

There are, of course, ground rules in the village, though – with no staff on hand to enforce them – they do rely entirely on the common sense of the visitors.

The main one is to ensure that you only feed the foxes from within the designated feeding area, which is a raised structure in the middle of the grounds from which you can throw the food down to them.

The rest of the time, however, they seem perfectly happy to be in the company of humans (though some were more shy than others.)

Unfazed.

In Japanese mythology, foxes are seen as the messengers of the god 稲荷大神 (Inari Ōkami): one of the principal kami of Shinto.

This guy was my absolute favourite. He just sat and modelled for me the entire time I was taking pictures.

Naomi was particularly taken with the little houses that have been built around the village for the foxes.

Hello, friends. I am here.

Having never spent so much time around them before, I wasn’t aware of quite how much foxes are total cat-dogs, with behaviour that falls somewhere between the two.

The last fox we saw as we were leaving – posing perfectly with the torii behind him.

BABY FOX.

FOX BABY

A BABY IN THE SHAPE OF A FOX. I don’t know if you can read the unadulterated joy on my face.

Oh dear.

Naomi in her natural habitat.

“The smell is coming from the nearby pig farm. It’s not the foxes.”

After driving back to Sendai (and stopping off at an emergency dentist for what thankfully turned out to be a brutal case of over-flossing, haha), we had lunch and coffee.

That night: reunited with Derek, and my very first meeting with Haruto.

ALT beer!

Delicious, delicious sushi.

The Rogerses.

One last shot with the family before I headed off to my final destination, and favourite place in the whole of Japan. (And, not coincidentally, my home for all the years I lived there.)

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Comments
  1. Markus McD says:

    Yay BABY FOXES!!! And adult foxes!!! Soooo cute!! Unfortunate about the cages and leashes… You’d think by growing up alongside the other chill foxes they’d be fine without that form of “domestication.”
    Glad you such fun!!
    Prease, can you tell me this though: What does the fox say?!?

    • Mark Liddell says:

      The day I learned what the fox says was actually pretty traumatic, haha. I had zero experience with them until I moved to Glasgow, and had to ask John if someone was being murdered outside our house. As it turns out, that’s just a perfectly regular fox noise.

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