Capybaras - those cute South American critters that look like giant hamsters - are well known in Japan thanks to the popular cartoon character Kapibara-san, but the oversized rodents have recently surged in popularity in tandem with the boom in animal-petting establishments such as cat, rabbit and owl cafes.
Tempozan Anipa (short for "Animal Park") in Osaka, an indoor petting zoo next to Osaka Aquarium that opened in 2005, recently expanded their rather tame line-up of guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs and cats with a new "jungle zone," featuring capybaras, alpacas and kangaroos. Visitors are encouraged to pet the animals, which are roaming freely around the space, and hand-feed them leaves and animal chow.
Capybaras are also a main attraction at Kobe Animal Kingdom, a large interactive animal park which opened in 2014. Around half a dozen capys reside in the park's Aqua Valley alongside beavers and seals, free to soak in pools as well as stroll around the grounds. Here visitors can also pet the capybaras and feed them approved snacks.
Over on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture, in winter months the resident capybaras bathe in their own specially constructed hot-spring pools at the Izu Cactus Park. Further down the peninsula a relatively large herd roam the grounds of Izu Animal Kingdom. Capybara chow is available for purchase at both Izu venues.
Just a few years ago capybaras were exotic animals in zoo cages, now they mingle with visitors who feed and pet them - are capybara cafes the next logical step?