By Peter Sidell
On a scenic seaside drive along the gorgeous Matsu Bay in Aomori I couldn’t help but wanting to see some marine life. Islands dotted the bay and the weather was perfect, yet the only sea life we had seen was served on plates from the restaurant we had visited earlier. That’s when out of nowhere my friend hangs a quick right and we pull up to Asamushi Aquarium. It doesn’t look like much from the outside. There is a wide parking lot and a building façade of colorful fish with an architecture that did not seem modern. I was worried this would be one of those aging attractions that is not really worth stopping by but you do so because there is nothing to do in town. I have been to several places like that around rural Japan. The 1000 yen admission fee was a bit steep, too. This place better be good, I thought. It wasn’t good, it was amazing!
The Asamushi Aquarium was founded in 1922 by the Biology Department of Tōhoku Imperial University. Two years later it opened its doors to the public. The facilities were rebuilt entirely when administration of the aquarium was transferred to the Aomori prefectural government in 1983. Now it is a place of leisure and research. From the outside the aquarium looks of modest size, but that is an illusion. Step inside and the number of tanks and creatures make you feel like you’re swimming under the sea.
The collection of marine life is astounding. That shouldn’t be a surprise because Asamushi Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Tōhoku region. Take a stroll down the tunnel near the gift shop and the clear walls and ceiling become alive with fish and rays. Later there are penguins, sea otters, and sea lions. There are 45 warm, cold, fresh, and salt water tanks holding 11,000 marine organisms. Japanese species, in addition to rare species from around the world and local Aomori varieties, are on display. Although these are great, what sets this aquarium apart from the rest are its special exhibits and shows.
An area to touch sea life and select animal feedings are enjoyable for the family, but something all will enjoy is the infamous Asamushi Dolphin Show. Four to five times a day a 25 minute show keeps audience members glued to their seats. I expected the dolphins to mostly do playful jokes for family laughs and one real trick or two. We had the laughs, but the rest of my expectations were blown out of the water. These dolphins fly, I mean fly! I have never seen these creatures move with such agility. Flips!? Double flips?! And countless spins, twirls, and splashes. The dolphin trainers were really friendly and their positive energy and relationship with the real stars, the dolphins, made the show that much better. My favorite part of the show is when dolphins impossibly stand vertical in the water and move themselves across the arena with their massive tail strength alone. I now believe in magic because I have seen it with my own eyes.
Asamushi Aquarium is best accessed by car. It is a 30 minute drive from Aomori station. It is about a one hour and half hour drive from Misawa’s military base, making it a popular attraction for those looking for fun outside the base. The exhibits and displays are wonderfully done. A small gift shop and restaurant are also located at the aquarium. When you go, don’t miss the dolphin show!
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Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for JapanTravel.com since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai. Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.