The entrance to Cuddly Dominion (Photo: Mandy Bartok)

Cuddly Dominion

An animal park in the shadow of Mt Aso

The entrance to Cuddly Dominion (Photo: Mandy Bartok)
Mandy Bartok   - 3 min read

If hiking and soaking in the hot springs of the Mt Aso region starts to feel a bit repetitive, you can change things up a bit with a visit to the animal park of Cuddly Dominion on the outskirts of Aso town.

**As a word of warning, Cuddly Dominion is a "typical" Japanese animal park. There are a number of cement enclosures that house bears begging for food, which may upset certain visitors.**

Those who do venture to Cuddly Dominion will find a sprawling park on the slopes of Mt Aso. The park's mascots - a chimpanzee and a bulldog - are the most famous denizens and perform daily shows for the visiting public. Their likenesses are also used throughout the park, on everything from key chains to hamburger buns at the park's outdoor food stands. Perhaps the most popular attraction, however, are the various species of bears. Ranging from American black bears to Hokkaido brown bears, these ursine creatures occupy a range of enclosures in the middle of the park. Visitors can mostly view them from fenced off areas above the enclosures, though there is a special viewing tunnel that runs underneath the largest "cage". The park also boasts a handful of bear cubs that visitors can pay extra to meet and take pictures with.

Younger visitors - and those without pets - might be more interested in the small animal meet and greet areas. At the top of the property, a fenced-in area houses up to two dozen small and medium-sized dogs. Aside from an hour when they close for lunch, visitors are welcome to enter and play with any of the animals, even taking them for a walk (for an additional fee). If you prefer felines to canines, a similar set-up back down near the park's entrance offers the chance to play with and pet the park's cuddlier residents.

For a change of pace, there is also a Japanese garden to wander through and a Chinese zodiac garden with a beautiful layout of towers and bridges. If you're traveling with kids who still haven't gotten enough of animals, there is a petting zoo with friendly farm animals on the park's eastern side as well as a play area with rope bridges, slides, swings and various obstacles.

As mentioned above, Cuddly Dominion isn't for everyone. It's high price tag of ¥2300 will keep budget travelers away and animal lovers most likely won't feel comfortable visiting. However, as Cuddly Dominion is an attraction that's heavily marketed in the Aso area, now you have a bit more information to make your own decision regarding a visit.

Mandy Bartok

Mandy Bartok @mandy.bartok

Japan resident for 10 years, with time spent in Okinawa, Kumamoto and Tokyo.