It is not unheard of to travel to Nagano to see the Snow Monkeys stewing in the local hot springs or onsen, or to head to Zenkouji temple, but the throng of dinosaur statues in the Dinosaur park leading up to the Chausuyama zoo may just have trumped the lot.
Official website: www.chausuyama.com/kyouryu
Just behind a cactus farm on a dusty road, is the lower entrance to the Chausuyama Dinosaur Park. It is equipped with a small souvenir shop, some bathrooms and a place to eat a quick snack before beginning your dinosaur adventure. With a handy map to guide us, we began the day as groupies would start a world tour – with gusto and admiration of the scale of the props. We trailed our young son up hills and around mountains and through playgrounds and sandpits counting all 25 dinosaurs. With little trepidation and no Stegosaurus plate left untouched we were able to take in the scenery of Nagano and the true-to-scale bodies at a giddying pace. Understandably this might prove terrifying to your pets and owners are advised not to bring them along.
It is definitely worth packing a picnic or bento lunch for this park. We were able to sit back in the Fairytale Playground while we ate our rice balls and contemplated who had won a race between the Hare and the Tortoise from a popular nursery rhyme scene. We then continued our journey though the four dinosaur habitats depicted in the park. Lazy to read all the detail on the boards alongside each of the dinosaurs, I enjoyed taking photos of Pterodactyls and Dinosaur eggs and identifying the seasonal flowers. There are over 200 types of plants in the expansive 33hectares of botanical gardens.
The park itself is huge and just when you think you may be ready to go home, you will discover another monkey bridge to cross or prehistoric animal to read about. The stretch of space calls out to children and adults alike to make use of the park equipment so best to arrive early in the day with plenty of sustenance if you hope to include a trip up the mountain in a cable-car to see the Chausuyama zoo.
From the top gate of the Dinosaur park you can continue through another refreshment pitstop to see the animals atop the mountain. We were able to eat a modest Japanese lunch here of yakitori and onigiri, grilled chicken skewers and rice triangles, and decided to continue on to the zoo to see the baby Red Pandas born in August 2015. Nagano is participating in an animal exchange program with the city of Sh in China. The program means that the Red Pandas are able to be seen and are bred in Nagano. The red pandas are a most active in the morning and evening as they prefer cooler climes, so don't be surprised to find them resting in shade of the trees in the hot midday sun. The cable car ride up to the zoo was a smooth sail in the refreshing mountain air and we could sit back and take in a magnificent view of Zenkouji town after a day of stop-and-start darts between the prehistoric statues.
The sweetest surprise to any parent’s wallet is that the Chausuyama Dinosaur Park is free and being open from March through to mid December it is a perfect day trip for the family. The attached zoo, although not free at a mere 500Y for adults and 100Y for children, boasts up to 63 species of animals. There are pony rides, animal feeding and a huge slide to entertain the kids while you enjoy your fresh okonomiyaki, deep-fried octopus balls from the side lines. Autumn is a wonderful time to visit before the parks close for the cold Winter months in Nagano, which would be better spent drinking hot sake, skiing and soaking in some of Nagano’s onsen.