There are some experiences in Japan that are so unique they are difficult to describe. Visiting the Zao Kitsune Mura, or Fox Village, is among them.
Equal parts zoo, cultural exhibit, and nature preserve, the Fox Village is a conservation area tucked away in the mountains of Miyagi prefecture. There, visitors can immerse themselves among over 100 foxes who roam free on the premises. By "roam free," I mean that once you open the door to the main paddock, there are foxes that saunter up to you to take a closer look. It is breathtaking to be in the presence of these beautiful creatures, especially since they command such a special place in Japanese lore.
Foxes, as many of our intrepid Japan Travelers already know, are important symbols in Japanese culture. Their likenesses are found at temples and shrines throughout the country, and they have a special place in Japanese folklore alongside tanuki (raccoon dogs) and saru (monkeys). The Fox Village celebrates their connection to Japanese culture by including the iconic fox statues, Torii arches, and other nods to the creatures' connections to traditional Japan.
The fact that visitors can walk among the foxes makes this place one-of-a-kind. At this point, the foxes at the Kitsune Mura are relatively accustomed to human presence, and so patrons can get closer to the beautiful animals than they could ever hope for in an uncontrolled environment. There are multiple trails to traverse within the main paddock, and a special area in which to toss food out to the animals (each bag of food costs 200 yen). For safety reasons, visitors are not allowed to feed the animals by hand.
Regarding safety, the foxes are docile but still wild animals. The Fox Village provides a list of instructions for patrons to observe to ensure that there are no incidents where a fox feels threatened or becomes aggressive. The instructions are simple and easy to follow, and I found that there was no reason to be afraid of the foxes as long as one adhered to the rules.
In addition to the main fox area, there is a separate zone with caged animals for patrons to see. These include various types of foxes (such as arctic foxes), small horses, goats, rabbits, and others.
Admission into the Fox Village costs 1000 yen for visitors aged 13 and up. Patrons 12 and younger can enter for free. (Please note that they do not accept credit cards for the admission fee).
There is a great gift shop as you exit the facility filled with fox-themed items and local specialties. Unlike the admissions desk, the shop accepts credit cards.
Zao Kitsune Mura's operating hours varies depending on the season. From March 16 to November 30, it is open from 9:00 to 17:00, and from December 1 to March 15, it is open from 9:00 to 16:00. Please be aware that the only area that is climate controlled is the building housing the admissions office and gift shop, so be sure to dress accordingly.