According to TripAdvisor, the Osaka Aquarium (known as Kaiyukan) is the 4th best aquarium in the country. One of the largest public aquariums in the world, Kaiyukan sees a huge number of tourists flocking to it every year to enjoy the aquatic experiences it has to offer. If you like visiting aquariums, you won’t fail to be impressed by the sheer size of the Osaka Aquarium, let alone all of its amazing exhibits.
One of the fascinating things about Kaiyukan is the variety of different fish and mammals they have on show there and, more importantly, the reasons why those exhibits were chosen. When building an aquarium, how do they choose what to put on show? Places usually choose to display something found locally (easy to source and of interest to foreign tourists) and also things that tend to have a big draw for the crowds (popular choices include penguins, dolphins and seals). But aside from that, is it a willy-nilly selection process? In the case of some aquariums, perhaps – but not so in the case of Kaiyukan.
Dr. James Lovelock (born in 1919) is a British scientist who proposed the Gaia hypothesis as part of his research for NASA. This is the ecological theory that active volcanoes on earth (which form a sort of natural ring, known as the ‘Ring of Fire’) and all the living creatures which reside close to these volcanoes coexist and basically function as a single organism. This ‘Ring of Fire’ comprising of active volcanoes is also called the ‘Pacific Rim volcanic belt’.
Kaiyukan has chosen its exhibits based on this ring, or more precisely, according to the ‘Ring of Life’ which shows how biodiversity of creatures is distributed in the Pacific Ocean, a pattern which overlaps considerably with the volcanic belt, hence the slogan ‘Ring of Fire, Ring of Life’. The two things go hand in hand.
So rather than a random selection of exhibits based on ease of availability and public wants, the Osaka Aquarium has chosen this fascinating scientific theory for its choice of tank fillers.
Kaiyukan opened in 1990 and is a hugely popular tourist attraction – so popular that on holiday times it can be quite difficult to get a good view into the tanks. This congestion usually dies down as you progress through the exhibits, so if the first few tanks are too crowded for a good look, just cut your losses and move ahead. Here is a quick run down of what a visit to Kaiyukan is like.
On arrival to the complex, buy your ticket at the ground floor desks and proceed to the entrance hall (passing a few welcome penguins on your way in.)
- Aqua Gate:
First up is the Aqua Gate – walk under the tunnel with wide-grinning rays passing casually overhead.
- Japan Forest:
The elevator will take you up to the 8th floor where your journey begins in earnest. Stepping out of the elevator into a giant greenhouse, it’s easy to believe you’ve stepped straight out into the wilderness. You’re in the Japan Forest, an area designed to look like the natural beauty of Japan. The first exhibit is the Asian small-clawed otter – a very popular attraction and one that tends to have a constant crowd. Don’t worry if you don’t get a good look – as you progress down to the next floor you’ll get another glimpse of them from under water. This structure is repeated throughout the aquarium – a single tank or attraction that is so vast, you can view it several times on your way down.
- Aleutian Islands:
The 7th floor starts with the Aleutian Islands (a group of volcanic islands that belong to Russia and the USA) where you can see sea otters (much larger than the Asian ones.) Try and catch this exhibit at feeding time – the sea otters float on their backs while sleeping, eating and grooming, it’s delightful to see them swaying back and forth with a tasty morsel in their claws. Other exhibits include the Japanese red rockfish and the rainbow trout.
- Monterey Bay:
In Monterey Bay, you can see the harbor seals and the Californian sea lions. Again, feeding time is particularly special for these creatures, who jump and dive playfully, making a great show both above and below water.
- Gulf of Panama:
Going past the large tank in the Gulf of Panama, look out for ring-tailed coati’s in the trees and the swarms of colorful fish in the water below.
- Ecuadorian Rain Forest:
In the Ecuadorian Rain Forest, you can catch a glimpse of the largest freshwater fish in the world (pirarucu) as well as the cute and playful capybara which look like oversized guinea pigs.
From the rain forest to somewhere considerably colder, next up is Antarctica where you can see hordes of penguins flapping back and forth in their enclosure. Try to tell the difference between the Adelie penguins and the King penguins as they compete for fishy treats.
- Tasman Sea:
After that, another show-stopper can be found in the Tasman Sea where the Pacific white-sided dolphins attract a sizeable crowd of tourists and selfie-sticks.
- Great Barrier Reef, Pacific Ocean:
The Great Barrier Reef has a good variety of fish to see, but the next main attraction is the Pacific Ocean. Starting on the 6th floor, this giant tank spans all the way down to the 4th floor and is filled with 5,400 tons of water. The pacific ocean is the largest ocean on earth and as such, the fish in this pacific ocean tank is also fiercely large – the white shark, the hump-head wrasse, the scalloped hammerhead and many more besides. If there is a crowd at the first pane of glass, just move on to the next – you have three floors worth of opportunities to see into this tank!
- Seto Inland Sea, Seasonal Exhibit, Coast of Chile:
After this, back to Japan with the Seto Inland Sea (in western Japan) where you can see lobster, sea bream and other fish native to Seto. The next area is a Seasonal Exhibit, followed by the Coast of Chile, the main attraction being a colossal school of Japanese anchovies.
- Cook Strait:
The Cook Strait is an area of sea lying between the North and South islands of New Zealand and has loggerhead turtles and maomao on show. Finally, the Japan Deep features giant spider crabs and other deep sea dwelling creatures, and the jellyfish exhibits too.
- New Kaiyukan – Arctic, Falkland Islands, Maldives, Tropical Rainforest:
Following the main exhibits down to the 3rd floor, you can also experience ‘New Kaiyukan’ – a recent series of exhibits that are designed for a hands-on experience. In the Arctic section, you can see seals, in the Falkland Islands, there are rock-hopper penguins, in the Maldives you can feel mini sharks and rays in the ‘touch pool’ and enter the Tropical Rainforest as a final exhibit.
Kaiyukan is open from 10 am – 8 pm and is closed for four days during January and February (check the website for details). Tickets for adults are 2,300 yen, senior tickets are 2,000 yen, for children they cost 1,200 yen, for preschool aged kids it’s 600 yen and kids under 3 go for free. Group discounts are available for groups of either 15 or more people (for international visitors) or 20 or more people (for Japanese visitors.) The aquarium is a five minute walk from the Osakako subway station (chuo line) and is about 35 minutes away from the Shin-Osaka Station.
I love aquariums, and this was one of the best ones I’ve ever been to. Honestly, the experience was slightly spoiled by the massive crowds of people who were also visiting that day, but that’s holiday-time Japan for you. If possible, I recommend visiting during off-peak, off-season times (a near impossibility for anyone working in Japan…) or right at the start of the day to beat the crowds. You can easily spend a good few hours in Kaiyukan, and what with the Tempozan Harbor Village area right next door (where you can ride the Ferris Wheel, go shopping, have lunch, take a boat to the Universal City Port…) a full day trip can easily be had around the Osaka Aquarium.
Check out the Voyagin Website for tickets and the official website below for more information.