It is pretty great to claim a world record in something, so much so that people go to great lengths in some odd areas. Plate spinning, three legged racing, group hugging – it’s hard to be the best at something more typical, like running. For that reason, I was surprised to find out Japan is home to one of the largest indoor bird & botanical parks in the world, and moreover, it’s not in Tokyo.
It’s in Shimane, little old Shimane, my home prefecture.
Vogel Park (vogel being German for “bird”) is located in Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture. It lies along the northern coast of Lake Shinji, on the Ichibata Railway line. The train tracks run close enough to the lake to see its waters, making for a picturesque view during the twenty minute train ride from the Matsue Shinjiko Onsen train station. The Vogel Park facilities are within easy walking distance of the Matsue Vogel Park train platform, which is easy to identify for any travelers with less-than-stellar Japanese.
Admission starts at ¥1580 for an adult and ¥770 for a child, and foreigners receive a thirty percent discount with a passport or residence card. The grounds are open year round, owing to the park’s mostly indoor facilities and covered walkways. The doors open at 9:00 and close at 17:30 hours April through September, and close at 17:00 hours October through March.
As the name might suggest, birds are the first thing you see coming through the front doors. Specifically, owls. Even before reaching the admission till, nearly two-dozen different owl species are on display in glass enclosures. It seemed to me like a proof-of-concept on the part of Vogel Park, as if to say, “Hey, you haven’t even paid to get in yet, but look what we’ve got in store.”
And Vogel Park did not disappoint. They have an astonishing variety of birds, from the humble Asiatic sparrow to the well-known-yet-beautiful peacock, and the dazzling golden pheasant, which I still swear is a phoenix. The park maintains two large, greenhouse bird enclosures, with rare birds on display and more common varieties roaming free along the footpaths. It is a non-stop parade of birds that aren’t afraid to approach human visitors. They dart around your feet, completely unconcerned, and in the water fowl enclosures, small, pink ibises can be fed pellets for the price of ¥100.
If you’ve never been swarmed by a flock of tiny, flamingo-like birds, put it on your bucket list now. The only downside is the inevitable feeling of being used, because when the pellets are gone the fantasy shatters: You are not their best friend or a bird whisperer, you’re just free food. Such is life.
The same is true for the tropical bird enclosure, where toucans and turacos will sit on your arm as you feed them diced fruits from a cup. Again, they’ll usually go find a new best friend once the fruit is gone, but if you’re lucky, as I was, a turaco might think your thumb is food and spend a few more minutes trying to eat it. Worth it? Obviously.
In addition to the tropical bird and water fowl enclosures, the park also has owl and raptor shows, as well as a penguin walk, and while the name Vogel Park indicates its aviary attractions, it boasts equally impressive botanical gardens. If you happen to miss the owls at the entrance, it’s probably because you’ll be staring at the curtains of hanging flowers and vines, suspended from the ceiling. They fill the air with floral scents and vibrant color, and I can only imagine what a joy it would be to visit during winter.
It takes about an hour to walk around the grounds, longer if you want to see all the shows at their various times, and Vogel Park has a few different restaurants for visitors who want to make an entire day of it. Considering the manageable cost, especially for foreigners, this is a definite must see when coming to Matsue. If time allows, I would encourage anyone planning a trip to Hiroshima or Miyajima to also visit Shimane. We’re a quiet little prefecture, but that just means you’ll be all the more surprised by what we have to offer.