Given that seafood is part of the staple diet for most people in Japan, it’s hardly surprising that aquariums are also popular. Some Japanese aquariums (such as ‘Kaiyukan’ in Osaka) are world famous and make for an outing that you’ll never forget. The smaller aquariums in Japan are charming in their own way too, and if you pay a visit to the ‘Wakuwaku Aquarium Sea Doughnut’ in Kami-Amakusa, you’re sure to have an amusing trip!
At first, you’d be forgiven for believing that you’d accidentally visited the world’s worst aquarium…or at least, that was my impression upon arrival! Located in a tourist area next to the Pearl Center, the aquarium is built in a doughnut shape which looks like a rubber ring floating out in the bay.
Crossing a bridge to reach it, before you is the main deck and a flight of stairs to the upstairs room. As there was a biblical storm raging that day, we opted to head upstairs and get out of the rain.
On entering the upstairs gallery, we found ourselves in a small, dim room with uninspiring exhibits. The tanks weren’t very big and some of them were so dirty you could barely see into them. Information signs on the wall were hand-drawn and were so amusingly bad that we were debating whether they had been created by the aquarium staff or if they were the contributions of local schoolchildren.
Adding to the schoolroom feeling of the place was the papier-mâché jellyfish which dangled from the ceiling. The overall feel of that room was overwhelmingly tacky and disappointing to the point of laughter.
Fearing we had paid the not inconsiderable sum for our tickets (1,300 yen for adults) for little more than grime and papier-mâché, we trundled down to the lower deck to discover an entrance to an underground level which we hadn’t noticed before. Again, as it was pouring it down we didn’t really want to stay on the main deck anyway, so we headed downstairs to see if the hidden lower level would be as charmingly cheesy at the top one.
What a wonderful surprise! To say that we had given up hope of anything more than an unsatisfactory outing, the lower level of the aquarium really made us change our minds.
First of all, because it is underwater, there are some ‘porthole’ style windows which allow you to look out into the bay, and also inward to the open air fish tanks that are in the centre of the doughnut. At zoos and aquariums, we are so used to being the ones looking in on the exhibits – how refreshing to look out and see the fish swimming freely while we are the ones stuck inside!
There were a multitude of fish tanks with much to see in them. Walking around the doughnut and having a good look at everything took at least 30 minutes for us.
English signs featured sporadically, and I particularly enjoyed the brief summary of differences between the soft-shell turtle and the pig-nose turtle. There is a small fish-tank archway for you to walk under and an interactive game board encourages you to find the Mickey Mouse hidden in the tank.
The ‘Kids Corner’ was a particularly fun exhibit, with bug-eyed goldfish being a favourite amongst youngsters. The large open tank decorated like a rainforest has a small walkway for you to stand above and look into the waters beneath you, and at the other end is a tank with piranha, the meaning of the ‘dangerous – don’t touch’ signs were understandable without a translation.
To say that the Wakuwaku Aquarium Sea Doughnut in Kami-Amakusa had seemed like such a disappointment at first, when thinking of the experience as a whole it is all just part of the unique and quirky nature of that attraction. It’s not the best aquarium in the world, but when you spend time in small places like Kami-Amakusa the attractions are often different to what you expected, and that is all part of the charm of taking such a trip.