After a tiring day of exploring Kyoto’s temples, followed by a day trudging through the rain, we were ready to have some fun. Preferably indoors. So naturally, the day we decided to visit Osaka aquarium dawned bright and sunny as we packed our rucksacks. In hindsight, checking the weather forecast might have been a good idea…
One of the many joys of Japan Rail travel is the that every station has plenty of luggage storage, so it’s easy to call in to a city on your way to another destination. We stashed our bags in a locker at Osaka station, ready for our afternoon train. We then called into the station tourist information to pick up combined tickets for Osaka aquarium. They offer a combo ticket which includes free tube travel around Osaka for that day, which makes a small saving and means avoiding the queues of impatient children (and 20-somethings, in this case) at the aquarium.
Our visit began, as every visit to anything should, with otters. I love otters at the best of times, and these ones were cheerfully, endearingly bonkers – joyfully racing around their enclosure and back into the water with all the energy of a five year old at a birthday party who has been left alone with a table of sugary snacks.
The next big attraction was sea lions. The resident sea lions were in the middle of feeding time which, happily, also involved a few high fives and tricks with rings, much to the delight of the assembled children (and 20-somethings…).
We made our way along the tanks to where we were delighted to discover the grumpiest fish I have ever had the joy of seeing.
The Osaka aquarium is laid out by “zones” inspired by different parts of the world. Moving away from the sea lions of the California coast, we moved on to the dolphin tank. The tank spread alongside the walkway and below, so as we peered in through the windows the resident dolphins would shoot past – seemingly from nowhere – swirling and jumping through the water. There was even a mother and her calf!
We made our way back to the penguin tank for feeding time. As with otters, there is something about penguins that makes my heart leap with joy. As well as watching them clumsily plop into the water and shoot out of it like corks out of a champagne bottle, we spotted a commotion in the corner. One of the King penguins had discovered a mirror and, along with his mates, couldn’t decided whether to admire his reflection or pick a fight with this new penguin.
The undisputed highlight of Osaka aquarium has to be the giant Pacific tank – one of the biggest in the world. Home to a range of “open water” species, the tank had manta rays, hammerhead sharks and giant groupers. As I stared, open-mouthed, at these beautiful ocean giants, a spotted giant moved into the frame – a real, live whale shark. I adore these gentle giants, and seeing one in the flesh was a dream come true. I was so glad Craig had been wrong about the shark being out for cleaning!
As we wound around the giant tank, different levels revealed different species living together. As we arrived at the bottom, we spotted rays resting quietly on the sand. By now, we’d also arrived at other “deep water” tanks, including creepy giant Pacific crabs and beautiful, but deadly, jellyfish bobbing like aliens in fabulous dresses in their dim blue tanks.
There is some debate about the ethics of keeping animals in captivity – be that in the form of zoos or aquariums. No matter how big the tank, even the most ambitiously realistic aquarium design can’t replicate the natural range of a whale shark in the wild. For animal lovers, there is always a moment when you feel that these magnificent animals should be somewhere far away, free.
Yet I can’t help but feel that places such as the Osaka aquarium do an important job, as well as being a fun visit. Looking around me at the eyes wide open with wonder and excitement (I’m talking about the kids here, not Craig) at seeing their first shark, laughing at the penguins and marvelling at the bizarre-looking sun fish lurking at the bottom of a tank. If you engage people, at any age, with the amazing creatures living in our seas, hopefully you will inspire the next generation to be engaged with environmental issues and about the vital conservation of species that capture their imagination on an aquarium visit. That one whale shark – safely ensconced in his tank – might save hundreds of others out in the wild.
If you want to visit the Osaka Aquarium
- A combined ticket (purchased from the Osaka station tourist information) cost ¥2,550 per person (about £15).
- We spent about three hours at the aquarium – you could easily spend a little more or a little less depending on how long you are inclined to spend at each tank. Feeding times can be found here.
- Bag storage cost us ¥700 (about £4) for five hours. Lockers are available at all major stations, and given that Osaka is a major transport hub it was easy to pop in for a day before taking an afternoon train on to Hiroshima.