A little way down Izu Peninsula’s scenic east coast, near Ito City, you will find Cactus Park, Shaboten Koen. Originally set up over half a century ago, cactii that had been used for research at a Tokyo University were planted out at the Park. Large glass pyramids connected by walk-through underground tunnels were an innovative design to house the tropical Central American plants.
Cactii are slow growing, but decades of care, warm Izu sunshine, and protection from Japan’s frosty winters by the cleverly-designed pyramids have enabled the specimens to flourish. The larger domes house Mexican cactii over 10 meters in height and would provide a believable background for a Western movie. At the other end of the scale, colorful miniature flowering cacti abound at one’s feet and are scattered through rock crevices. Shades of every type of green greet one’s eyes, even green flowers. Then there are cacti with amazing shapes, like those that resemble large basketballs. Walking through the pyramids is like exploring an alien planet.
The Central American theme was later expanded to include animals. A walk-in aviary is a feature with its vast array of colorful, chirpy parrots and graceful pink flamingoes. Birds dance through and under tropical foliage, and the air is full of song.
Outside the aviary, small tropical monkeys swing around so freely interacting with visitors that a massive fence is required as an external Park boundary, like something from Jurassic Park. We wouldn’t want these tropical guests getting out and established in Japan’s mainstream forests, competing with its own native monkey population. Impressively large white pelicans also strut lazily around the Park grounds, keeping a sneaky eye out for any fish that might be dropped by passing visitors. Why not stop to have your photo taken with a large tropical parrot perched on your arm?
One group of Central American mammals have worked out how to handle the cold winters at the Park. The capybara family, a mammal looking something like a very large brown rabbit, spend most of their winter days cuddled up in an onsen, complete with floating local mandarins, delighting kids and adult spectators.
The Park’s gardens are brimming with Japanese flowers carefully coordinated so that something is blooming in just about every season. A wide variety of domestic and overseas hydrangeas bloom in summer. In autumn visitors can enjoy cosmos fields, and South American pampas white fluffy bloom columns. Be careful handling those pampas leaves though – their serrated edges can cut you like a knife.
As a reminder of the active volcanic status of the Izu area, immediately behind Cactus Park is the distinctive cone of Oomura Yama, the newest volcano in Izu formed in an eruption only four thousand years ago. Another vantage point from the Park gazes west and is an excellent photo point for Mt Fuji.
Other attractions nearby Cactus Park and run by the same group are Izu Four Seasons Flower Park, Izu Diving Center, and Izu Guranbaru Park.