Stretched over 10,000 square meters, the Irozaki Jungle Park was a botanical theme park near the Izu Peninsula in Japan. Opened in 1969, visitor numbers peaked at around 750,000 in 1973. As the complex of greenhouses aged, attendance tapered off. By the time the site closed, over 10 million visitors had passed through the park's gates. An an old guide says that the park was open daily from 8:30 am to 4:50 pm. Admission was 900 ¥.
Today, Jungle Park stands abandoned but eerily intact. Staplers, brochures, tape dispensers and magazines rest where they were set down at EOD, September 30, 2003. Behind sealed booths, sharpened pencils are bunched together neatly in tins. Thick rings of keys rust on carefully numbered hooks. A clock rests on 5:05. What little damage we did encounter was likely due to age rather than intervention otherwise.
We slipped over a rope, under a gate, and along a rough path that likely guided visitors during the park's heyday. According to an online tourist guide, the park once contained over 3000 species of tropical plants. Unchecked, the hardier of the specimens swallowed up their lesser counterparts and quickly spread over the site.
In the first of the colossal greenhouses, a large meerkat enclosure rests at the foot of a steep incline - its small family of furry residents having been relocated some time ago. Dubious wooden caricatures wave visitors through the chain of hot-houses. Dead topiary skeletons of elephants gesture toward the failing roofing. Collapsed on the dregs of formaldehyde, a ray and an eel mark the service desk of an educational booth. Slumped animal cages that housed monkeys and birds are now packed with exhausted plant pots, out-dated signage and collapsed shelving.
The whole complex was surreal, and quiet. And hot. We visited the site in July, Summer in Japan. But inside the greenhouses we could barley hear the sound of midday cicadas. Though the dried scaffolding of dead cactus plants made an unsettling rattle if you kicked one accidentally.
Meerkats of Jungle Park (from left to right) Yoko, John, Guru and Koji.
On an undated press release titled "Greetings from Town Mayor", Katsuto Okabe, Mayor of Minamiizu seems to indicate a push for redevelopment of the Jungle Park site. I feel lucky we got to check the place out, while it still stands.