A Bushy-Tailed Journey Inside Japan's Famous Fox Village

Welcome to heaven ... also known as the Zao Fox Village in Miyagi, Japan. (Photo: Olena Shmahalo)

Considering Japan boasts entire islands filled with feral cats and wild bunnies, an animal sanctuary entirely devoted to foxes shouldn't sound too crazy. But that doesn't make the bushy-tailed residents of Zao Fox Village any less cute.

Located within Japan's Miyagi Prefecture, the curious village of fluffy vulpines has become a major tourist draw ever since it opened in 1990. Today, there are six species of fox roaming the grounds — the most prominent of which is the Japanese red fox, though you'll also spot silver foxes (like the one seen above at right), platinum foxes, black foxes and Arctic foxes.

In the video below, a staff member shares more about the history of the sanctuary and explains what it's like to care for hundreds of foxes:

A recent visitor to the village, who asked to be identified as Renard, tells MNN about being initially hesitant to visit the village after reading some online reviews that cited overcrowded living conditions among other concerns for a place focused on captive wild animals. However, in the end, Renard was glad to have made the trip to see these fascinating animals.

"When I went, the foxes looked healthy and well taken care of," Renard said. "It helped that I was there in autumn, when they start to don their incredible winter coats! I could see if someone was concerned about scraggly summer foxes, not knowing their fur schedule."

A visitor interacts with a fox at the Zao Fox Village. (Photo: Olena Shmahalo)

It's important to remember that while many of the foxes in the park sometimes act like a "cross between a dog and a cat," they are still wild animals with wild instincts.

Sure, there are certainly domesticated pet foxes out there, but they are a far cry from the ones you'll find at Zao Fox Village. Despite being born in captivity and raised among humans, these foxes exist in a strange limbo of semi-domestication — they are neither suited for domesticated living nor would they ever be able to survive on their own in the wild.

You can see the extent of their semi-domestication in the video below:

Visiting Zao Fox Village is more than just an opportunity to see some adorable foxes; it's also a chance to learn about the country's fascinating folklore. Much like the fabled tanuki, foxes play a major role in Japanese mythology.

These "kitsune," as they are called in the Japanese language, are depicted as intelligent magical beings with shapeshifting abilities and a penchant for trickery. According to legend, these elegant supernatural creatures are also capable of growing up to nine tails; the more tails a fox possesses, the wiser and more powerful it is.

If you're not able to visit Miyagi anytime soon, continue below to live vicariously through photos of these foxy villagers:

A lazy fox lounging at the Zao Fox Village. (Photo: Olena Shmahalo)
Semi-wild foxes gather to wait for visiting humans to feed them. (Photo: Olena Shmahalo)
A fox splays its legs out in front its body. (Photo: Olena Shmahalo)
A fox snoozes on top of a sign that says "Off Limits.". (Photo: Olena Shmahalo)
A sleepy fox relaxes on a table in the Zao Fox Village. (Photo: Olena Shmahalo)
A fox lounges atop a wooden cable spool at the Zao Fox Village. (Photo: Olena Shmahalo)