Venom Extraction Room’s Snake Meet and Greet is just the start of the weird fun at this facility hidden in the mountains of east Japan.

Without living in Gunma Prefecture, which is northwest of Tokyo, you probably wouldn’t know about the Japan Snake Center. It’s way off the beaten path, halfway up a small mountain in the city of Ota, in an area surrounded by hot springs. But it’s there, and it’s been there, studying and exhibiting snakes, for over 50 years.

In fact, they’ve got 200 snakes of over 40 kinds from countries all over the world, and anyone can go see them. Reviews also rave about the place’s retro vibe, especially since “retro” is en vogue at the moment. We went to go check it out, and are here to tell you all about it!

To start with, the front entrance really felt like stepping back in time.

We bought our ticket at the entrance, and as soon as we entered the park we encountered some free-range chickens. One stuck by our side as if it had decided to be our guide for the day. Sadly, we don’t speak chicken, so it wasn’t much help.

The map, however, was.

In addition to being full of nostalgic ’80s charm, the map was packed with attractions too. It looked like there were lots of snakes to see, and lucky for us, they were holding a Snake Meet and Greet that day. Were we going to hold some snakes?!

Remembering the story of the Nagasaki man who found a snake in his toilet, we were a little scared, but we went to the event space anyway, which was ominously called the “Venom Extraction Room” and was part of the Laboratory of Snake Venom (the Japan Snake Center is a full-fledged research facility as well as a zoo.)

Inside the lab were lots of different kinds of snakes being raised for research.

Once the guests had assembled, the Snake Meet and Greet began. After explaining the characteristics of each snake, the staff handed them out one by one. They also kindly took photos of us with the snakes with our smartphones.

Holding a snake in our hands was, surprisingly, not terrifying. Once we really looked, the snake was actually kind of cute, and in the end, holding it made us full of smiles.

The wriggling, slithering motion of the snake was not as creepy as we’d expected, and it was actually kind of ticklish. The snake’s body was somewhat moist but also kind of springy. Up close, we really realized what strange creatures snakes are.

It was a good start to our visit, and it was very educational. Bolstered by this experience, we next visited the “Large Snake Conservatory”, where they keep all the giant snakes.

At the door, we lost a little bit of our nerve. It had a sign on it that said, “Do not leave open”, followed by a sign that said, “Please close the door slowly.” Through the window, we could see a dimly lit hallway that was quite stark, with windows on either side. It was kind of spooky…like a haunted asylum attraction. We gulped, steeled ourselves, and went inside.

They weren’t lying about the big snakes!!

Huge pythons were curled up into tight coils. We saw some that were basking under a spotlight and others that were bathing in water, like they were enjoying their own little snake sauna.

▼ The arrow is pointing to a snake’s molted skin

In one snake habitat was its shed skin, just left there, reminding us these creatures are always growing. But while we found these snakes incredible, the longer we were alone in that hall surrounded by enormous snakes, the more jittery we became, so we left and headed to the next spot.

Just outside the entrance was the Japanese striped snake habitat. It was a wide open space with lots of room for them to free roam, but no matter how long we looked we couldn’t find any. As it turns out, from December to March they hibernate in holes in the ground for the winter.

Right next door was the Venomous Snake Conservatory, so we headed there next. This was the only building in the park painted in bright colors, perhaps to represent the dangerous nature of these snakes.

This building was surprisingly well-lit, so we felt more confident and less anxious about going in, in spite of the more dangerous nature of these snakes.

Inside we saw a king cobra, the world’s largest venomous snake…

As well as a black mamba, whose fangs contain a deadly venom. The black mamba looked directly at us through its glass window and posed, as if to say, “You may take my photo.”

The rattlesnake was incredibly cool. It probably knew how pretty it was, with its elegant body and beautiful white scales, and the way it swished its body back and forth like a windshield wiper—a snake after our own hearts.

With a sad goodbye, we parted ways with the beautiful rattlesnake and next headed to the Tropical Snake Conservatory.

The place was huge, like a gym. We wondered what we would see in there.

The first things that caught our eye were not snakes but a sunbathing lizard and a small, submerged alligator or crocodile. Neither one moved a muscle while we observed them, so they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying a good layabout.

There were also quite a few big snakes exhibited too. The show windows were really big here, and the exhibits were elaborately designed, so it was really easy to see the snakes here. Once again, we were smitten with the light-colored snakes.

After browsing through the first floor, we climbed up to the second floor but what we saw at the top of the stairs shocked us.

A dinosaur?!

What was a stegosaurus doing there? Placing a hand on our chest to still our rapidly beating hearts, we took a stroll along the second floor, only to find…

We’d entered Jurassic Park! We’d climbed up the stairs wondering what other live animals we’d get to see, and instead were greeted by large statues of dinosaurs. To be fair, they were very realistic-looking. It seemed like they worked really hard on the exhibit, even down to the background.

▼ Dinosaurs are considered to have been the ancestors of most reptiles, so we supposed that was the purpose of the Tropical Snake Conservatory. It ended up being really interesting!

This was our last stop, so after we’d thoroughly explored the dinosaurs, our tour of the Japan Snake Center was over. All in all, we spent about 90 minutes exploring the center. Each and every spot was a mixture of exciting and nerve-wracking, but it was all really cool. We most recommend the Venom Extraction Lab, because the Snake Meet and Greet was awesome.

Events change daily, but if you’re interested in seeing what they offer, be sure to check out the Japan Snake Center’s website. There are lots of things to see and do, even beyond what we saw, so it’s definitely worth a trip! It’s only about 40 minutes by car or about 2 hours by train from Takasaki, the birthplace of the Daruma doll and a popular weekend vacation spot for Tokyoites. You could make it a short day trip for a change of pace!

Zoo information
Japan Snake Center / ジャパン・スネークセンター
Gunma-ken Ota-shi Yabuzaka-cho 3318
Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (March to December, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.  (November to February); entry closes one hour before closing time
Closed Fridays
Admission 1,000 yen (adults), 500 yen (up to junior-high age), children under 4 free

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