How Did Capybaras Become Japan’s Favorite Animal?

Capybaras | © schuetz-mediendesign / Pixabay
Alicia Joy

Tokyo Writer

Capybaras, relatives of the adorable guinea pig, are the world’s largest rodents, native to the tropical warmth of South America. You may not have even heard of these gentle herbivores, but in Japan, these creatures enjoy unrivaled popularity.

Capybaras come to Japan

Capybaras arrived in Japan over 50 years ago during the 1960s, where they were kept in zoos. These large furry animals were social, easily tamed and gentle towards humans, making them a great choice for interactive exhibits. But the animals weren’t an instant hit. In 1982, a worker at the Izu Shaboten Zoo in Shizuoka discovered that, like humans, capybaras enjoyed nothing more than a long soak in an onsen (hot spring) when the cold winter arrived, and it was only then that interest in capybaras began to grow.

Capybara in profile

Bathing beauties

Kapibarasan arrives

With its comically rectangular head and stout little body, it was only a matter of time before the capybara got its own mascot. Tryworks introduced Kapibarasan (Mr. Capybara) in 2006 as a prize inside claw machines. But the character quickly became popular in its own right, and soon, Kapibarasan could be found on everything from pencil cases and travel mugs to socks and snacks. Since the introduction of Kapibarasan a decade ago, the popularity of capybaras themselves has continued to climb.

Kapibarasan-branded goods

Popularity contest

In the 10 years between 2006 and 2016, the number of capybaras in Japan’s zoos has more than tripled, from 125 to 422. Events that promote the interest and popularity of capybaras in Japan continue to take place. Early in 2017, a bathing contest was held for the rodents, with four parks throughout Japan participating. The first animal to enter the baths for the day was timed. In first place by a landslide came Umi of Nasu Animal Kingdom in Tochigi, who stayed in the park’s onsen for 4 hours, 56 minutes and 32 seconds.

Capybaras snack on oranges in the pool
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article