By Cathy Cawood
With over 60 million visitors since its opening in 1955, Toba Aquarium is one of the most visited places in Japan. It has the largest number of different species of any aquarium in Japan. It also has the extra prestige of being officially a museum, and it serves as an adult education institution by hosting scholarly investigation. Toba Aquarium is also involved in the protection and breeding of endangered marine creatures.
That might sound intimidating, but don’t worry! Toba Aquarium is a beautiful, well designed place with a welcoming, friendly atmosphere. You won’t be herded along by arrows or security guards here! You can wander freely wherever you wish, and everywhere you turn there is something interesting. You should aim to spend at least half a day here if possible, because there’s such a lot to see!
The aquarium has twelve different areas. There is the Performance Stadium where the sea lions jump through hoops, play catch, and even play the piano in an entertaining show. The Marine Mammal Kingdom replicates a natural rocky shoreline, and you can see seals and sea lions swimming here. The Ancient Sea has ‘living fossils’ like the nautilus. The Coral Reef area will make you feel like you are diving at a reef. You will see a finless porpoise in the Sea of Ise-Shima and Japan area, which particularly focuses on creatures from Ise Bay and the Kumano-Nada Sea. The Jungle World area has capybara, giant African manatee, and fish from tropical rainforest rivers, including piranha which looked as if they were sprinkled with fragments of gold leaf!
Miracle Woods seemed to be a new area. Just before I went to Toba Aquarium I saw their new fishing cats on TV, and you can find them in this area. They officially debuted on March 21st. They look a bit like small leopards, and I really wanted to see them catching fish, but I missed their feeding time. This area also had turtles, frogs, snakes and an impressive iguana.
The Mermaid Sea is so beautiful! A pale gray dugong (the creature credited with causing the legends about mermaids) was swimming with small yellow fish in a large pale green tank. There was a sea turtle in another tank as well. In the Polar Sea area you can see a sea otter and black and white Commerson’s dolphins. The remaining areas are the Japanese River area, complete with rapids and waterfalls, the Aqua Promenade area with creatures like penguins, otters and walruses, and the Curious Creatures Laboratory.
As well as the above mentioned animals, you can see crabs and spiny lobsters, which I thought a bit creepy looking, jelly fish and sea horses, alligators, the fascinating biolumescent clione which looked like tiny angels.
There are four sea lion shows, two walrus shows, and a penguin walk every day. When you arrive at the Toba Aquarium, you should check the times for performances and feeding so you can plan to catch these exciting events. There is written information available in English, as well as several guidebook in foreign languages (English, Chinese, Korean and Thai). If you get hungry, there are two restaurants in the aquarium. There is free Wi-Fi available around the "Information" booth, so you can check your email if you want. Three stores offer a range of original Toba Aquarium goods, souvenirs from the Toba, Ise and Shima area, and ocean-related literature.
The aquarium is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day. It is located on the shore about 10 minutes walk from Kintetsu/JR Toba Station. The best way to get to Toba is by Kintetsu Limited Express (there is a special Kintetsu Rail Pass available that you can use all over Kansai area). If you want to drive, there is parking available.
I had a great time at Toba Aquarium. I’m sure you will too!
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I came to Japan in 2003 to teach English. I lived in Shiga prefecture for one year, and it still holds a special place in my heart. I lived in Kyoto for nine years, then moved to Machida, Tokyo in 2014 after meeting my Japanese partner. I love to take photos, and my Japan in Pictures Facebook page has some 40,000 followers. I have been the Regional Partner for Yamanashi Prefecture since 2014. I am enjoying exploring the prefectures around Tokyo (I like to get off the beaten track), and I hope the photos and stories I share will encourage more people to discover this wonderful country.