Meeting capybaras was one of the things I had wanted to do after seeing them for the first time during our visit to the Hell Onsens in Beppu. So when I learned that there is a capybara onsen and a petting zoo where you can meet them up close at the Izu Shaboten Zoo, I had to make a side trip to this place!
Here’s a video of the capybara onsen and the petting zoo where we got to meet them!
Meeting Capybaras at the Izu Shaboten Zoo
When you first enter the Izu Shaboten Zoo, you’ll pass by a petting area. This is where you can get up close and personal with the capybaras! On the day of our visit, there were 3 of them huddled around the heater because it was very windy and cold. The one closest to the entrance was just munching on a branch. We kneeled down next to him and patted his back gently.
So what does a capybara feel like? Well if you think they are soft and fluffy then you are…WRONG! The fur on the capybaras, at least the ones we patted, were fine but coarse. They were more interested in munching their lunch and didn’t pay too much attention to us. Thus, we got a lot of photo opportunity with the capybaras! I even took a few selfies with one of them. *happy dance*
I believe they are only available for petting during certain times of the day so be sure to check the website for the exact schedule.
During the winter months, the Izu Shaboten Zoo will have a public viewing of the capybara’s onsen once or twice a day. At the designated time, you can see the whole lot of them waiting in the bath area. There’s a caretaker that will provide information about the capybaras but it’s in Japanese only.
When the hot spring water fills the bath, you can see the capybaras enjoying themselves by soaking and playing with each other in the water. I was surprised to see the different sizes of capybaras in the bath. I don’t know how to tell the age of a capybara but their sizes remind me of 3 different generations: grandparents, parents and kids.
And that’s not all that you’ll see! During their bath time, they also get to eat fresh yuzu and plants. There were a lot of “ooh’s” and “aww’s” in the crowd as the capybaras huddle around the caretaker as he releases the food into the bath. You can tell how much they are enjoying this just by looking at their faces in the video.
Remember that the capybara’s onsen is only available during the winter months, so be sure to check the Izu Shaboten Zoo’s website for the opening dates and times.
Izu Shaboten Zoo is about 2.5 hours by train and bus from the Tokyo Station if you take the bullet train then transfer to another JR train and local bus. Note that while the bullet train and JR train is covered under the JR Rail Pass, the local bus is not. If you take the bus from Ito Station to the zoo, get the Ito Sightseeing Free Pass to save a few bucks on the bus trip. It also comes with coupons for local attractions and I believe the zoo is one of them.
The Izu Shaboten Zoo is a great side trip if you plan to stay in the Hakone or Atami area. I do not recommend doing this as a day trip from Tokyo as the trains and bus are not that frequent.