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 dog cafes.
Capybaras are 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. Visitors can pet the capybaras and feed them approved snacks.
Nasu Animal Kingdom up in Tochigi has a much larger herd, one of the biggest in Japan, and you can even soak in in an onsen-style bath with them, although people and capybaras are separated by a glass barrier. Friendly capys are also a main attraction at Nagasaki Bio Park, a sprawling nature park at the western end of Kyushu.
Over on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture, in winter months the resident capybaras bathe in their own specially constructed hot-spring pools at 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 all the venues listed here.
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?