In 2013, stories began appearing on English-language social media featuring several unique tourist attractions in Japan suitable for animal lovers. These attractions were portrayed as idyllic havens for wildlife that were united by a common narrative: the animals were free, cute, abundant, and eager to interact with tourists. Many social media stories went viral, propelling places that had until then been largely unknown to international tourists into the spotlight and, in some cases, resulting in a dramatic rise in visitor numbers. This short communication examines the changing reputation of these attractions in light of animal welfare critiques and discusses opportunities to work towards making responsible animal tourism. I argue that Japan has an opportunity to work towards making responsible, ‘guilt-free’ animal tourism a reality and that doing so will generate a climate more conductive to supporting the international tourist market while also creating positive change for animals.