大阪海遊館 Walking in a Water Wonderland

A week ago my sister and cousin came all the way from the UK to visit me! I got to do loads of fun things with them, the first of which being a visit to Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium 大阪海遊館. I had been meaning to go for a while as I love aquariums and Osaka aquarium has a great reputation. It’s one of the largest aquariums in the world and is famous in Japan for its huge tanks.

We visited the aquarium during Golden Week (a week of public holidays in Japan), so it was pretty busy. We had to queue around 40 minutes for tickets and there were big crowds inside but it was manageable and definitely worth it. The tickets cost 2300円 (£12.20) for adults and the aquarium is open from 10:00 – 20:00. There was also a Legoland (or workshop) nearby, which amused us as my home town is very close to Legoland Windsor – I used to go a lot when I was younger so it was strange to see one in Japan.

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The aquarium exhibits are based around the Pacific Rim theme; there are 16 main exhibits each featuring a different habitat of the Pacific Rim, such as Ecuadorian Jungle, Great Barrier Reef and Pacific Ocean.

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I really liked that the tanks were so large; the aquarium is structured so that you walk down a sloping spiral with the tanks on either side and a huge tank in the middle. The tanks are very deep so you see the animals on the surface and then later spiral down to see the same tank underwater. This was really cool, especially as the dolphins and the seals loved playing with the crowds, coming right up to the tank walls, racing around, and following the hands of those standing by the glass. I was lucky enough to have a seal come and play with me which was really amazing. I felt that the animals in this aquarium were genuinely happy, much more so than the ones I saw at Yokohama Hakkeijima Aquarium, which did not have very large tanks.

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The largest tank is at the centre of the spiral. It is 9 metres deep and contains 5,400 cubic metres of water. The whale shark, the star of this tank, looked amazing. I’d already seen one at the other aquarium I visited in Yokohama (see here), but this time I got to see the whale shark much closer up which was incredible and breathtaking. Though keeping whale sharks in captivity seems (and probably is) cruel or unfair to the animal, it really helps to educate people about these creatures and encourages us to consider conservation – there were many signs near the whale shark tank talking about conservation and avoiding polluting the oceans.

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The glass for the big tanks was very thick. There was a small exhibition showing a piece of the acrylic glass used in the aquarium. They use acrylic glass, also known as plexiglass, as it is much easier to shape and it is very tough. The aquarium uses 103 panes of this acrylic glass, weighing a total of 314 tonnes. The largest single pane weighs 10 tonnes. It was amazing to think that everything looked so clear and undistorted despite the glass being so thick.

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As well as the dolphins, seals, fish and whale shark, there were also penguins, jelly fish, otters and a sloth (not sure why). The otter exhibit was really cool as they were playing in see-through tubes, allowing us to see what they were doing. They seemed to be having a great time. The penguins were also great to see, one was staring at his own reflection in the side of the exhibit, seemingly talking to himself, which was amusing.

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Though we had to line up for the first few tanks, as we spiralled down it became much easier to see everything. The aquarium can deal with a huge volume of people, though I’d suggest going on a weekday to avoid the crowds. It took us around 2 hours in total to go through the whole building.

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While there we also visited the Tempozan Ferris Wheel 天保山大観覧車, which is located next-door to the aquarium. It was the tallest ferris wheel in the world from 1997 – 1999, when Tokyo’s Daikanransha Ferris wheel took the title. It was a great ride that gave us a great view over all of Osaka and of the aquarium building itself. I would recommend it if you go to the aquarium. You can get an idea of how big the entrance queues for the aquarium are from the pictures I took from the wheel too (though this was later in the day when it was even more busy).

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The aquarium and surrounding attractions can be accessed from Osakako station on the Chuo line. I would recommend going if you visit Osaka. It was very different to my other aquarium experience in Japan, both of which were very good, but for different reasons.

横浜 Aquarium Island and A Reptilian Tea Party

While in Yokosuka we decided to check out the nearby Aquarium near Yokohama on Hakkeijima (a small island just south of Yokohama). I really enjoy aquariums – I find the ambient music, dim lights and gently swimming fish to be very relaxing. Also in Yokohama was one of Japan’s many animal-themed cafés. Unlike the cat-cafe obsessives, I, being allergic to most fluffy cute things, found a reptile café for us to visit. This will be a post about the two animal adventures we had in Yokohama.

The aquarium we visited was Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, which can be accessed by train or car. It is an entire theme-park island, with roller coasters, an aquarium and several other sea-related attractions. It was a really beautiful day which made it even better.

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On the way into the island were some retro children’s’ rides – a pikachu pokemon game, several mini-rides, and a Gojira (Godzilla) game which we simply had to play. We squished inside Gojira and mashed the buttons as Gojira killed the evil hydra that was attacking Japan (at least we think that’s what was going on), the ride swayed from side-to-side as we played and we eventually won. It was a lot of fun.

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We started with the aquarium, as that’s what I wanted to see the most. It cost around 3,000円 each (£17) and that granted us access to the main aquarium as well as the outdoor aquarium and two other aquarium-esque attractions. The main aquarium covered 3 floors, with a huge variety of animals. There was one rather sad looking polar bear which I wish I could have freed or something – his enclosure was far too small and he looked miserable. Aside from the polar bear the animals seemed to be in good sized enclosures and happy.

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I saw walrus up close for the first time which was really cool. We were looking down on the tank from upstairs during feeding time and the attendant noticed us watching. He gave the walrus some ice and put a long tube in its mouth, the walrus blew out and the ice was fired at us! There was glass in the way so it bounced off, but it was a pretty amazing experience. I didn’t take pictures as I was too surprised and  generally enjoying myself too much to take lots of pictures. The aquarium had a cool escalator through a tunnel in one of the tanks which was surrounded by a hypnotic shoal of fish that acted as if they were one organism. The rays kept swimming through, dividing the shoal into spirals and circles.

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Once we’d made our way through the inside of the aquarium we came out into an outside area which had various fish and ducks, including piranhas in an open tank. Though there were big ‘do not put hand in‘ signs, it seemed a little weird that it was left open in a place where so many children visited. We watched a kaleidoscope of Koi being fed by a kid and bought some feed ourselves to feed the ducks.

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There was an announcement for the aquatic show, so we made our way to the large stands to check it out. There was a whale shark swimming around the big pool, but he didn’t seem bothered by the show going on around him. There were dolphins, sea-lions and a walrus in the show, and it was really spectacular. There were also some weird clowns but I didn’t really find them funny – I probably had to understand all of what they were saying to really get it.

We then made our way to one of the sub-aquariums which was called ‘dolphin paradise’ or something. It had a few dolphins in a big tank with a tunnel through it, but the surprise was at the end of the tunnel. In a large circular floor-to-ceiling tank there was a huge, white, flat, ugly fish. This was a sun fish. I don’t know how I knew the name, I think I owe my knowledge to David Attenborough. It was amazing to see, not sure how ethical it is to keep it in an aquarium though. Apparently it is not safe to keep them in a square tank because they can’t manoeuvre very well and end up rubbing up against the walls, hence the circular tank.

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We also visited the outdoor aquarium which had a number of dolphins, beluga whales and seals. We got to stroke a dolphin and a beluga whale, which was really amazing. There was one seal which seemed to have a fascination with eating ice cubes and then spitting them out so that it could eat them again. It was pretty weird behaviour but it seemed to enjoy slurping up the ice. I couldn’t find any information on the internet as to why it would be doing that.

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There was also an outdoor area that looked like a series of pontoons connected together. This was a fishing area where you could catch your own fish and the shop in front would cook them for you. We elected not to do this as neither of us enjoy fishing or killing things.

Once we were finished with the aquarium we had a wander around the island and had a go on the roller-coaster, which was really fun if a little scary! The roller-coaster extended over the water and had really low bars over the tracks, so if you put your hands up at some points you’d break your arms. We quickly learned this and kept our arms down. The sun was setting when we rode it, making it even more fun.

As we were leaving the island the sun was setting and we could see Mt Fuji in the distance. It was probably one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in Japan.

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Our second animal adventure was a far more low-key affair. We visited Yokohama’s Subtropical Teahouse Reptile Café 横浜亜熱帯茶館. It was on the second floor of a normal building on a normal street and there wasn’t a big sign so we nearly missed it! The café consisted of a large room with tanks and cages around the room containing various reptilian life. There was also a low-walled ‘play area’ with a number of tortoises and some trees with lizards perching on them.

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We arrived at the café at 5, which meant the ‘play area’ was already closed (it shut at 5) but the café was open until 7 so we sat, drank Japanese tea, and watched the animals. The cafe policy was that you had to buy one drink but there was no hourly fee or entrance fee or anything, which was nice (most animal cafés do have a fee on top of the drinks). A lot of the lizards and snakes weren’t doing much, but a few came up to see us when we looked into their tanks. One even nodded his head at us when we nodded at him. The tea was really good, and had refills, so I had around 5 cups. The cafe was empty apart from us and one couple, so we could see all the animals easily. It was a really nice and relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

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I would definitely recommend both the aquarium and the lizard café. The aquarium was impressive and the café fairly low-key, but both fulfilled my wish to see animals. I hope to go to more animal cafés in the future – there are goat, penguin and owl cafés too!