Being a country made up of several islands, a lot of Japan’s historical and cultural properties have ties with the sea. In fact, various structures built in recent years still pay proper tribute to the oceans in one way or another.
Among the most popular places with this association are aquariums, which are practically scattered all throughout Japan. These tourist attractions usually vary in terms of size, theme, and design but all share the same goal of informing the public of local and international aquatic habitats.
Those heading to Okinawa Island are in for a treat, as it houses the best aquarium in Japan – the Churaumi Aquarium.
Overview of the Churaumi Aquarium of Okinawa, Japan
Back in the year 1975, Okinawa housed a popular attraction known as the Ocean Expo Park, which was recognized on a global scale. Unfortunately, as more and more establishments of the same kind started popping up at different cities of Japan, the Ocean Expo Park soon lost its fame and faded into the background.
The local government decided that a complete change had to be done in order to boost tourism once more, resulting in the design and construction of the Churaumi Aquarium.
Yukifusa Kokuba served as the brains behind the project and was able to successfully revamp the property with a modern touch, all the while maintaining its marine encounter theme. The Churaumi Aquarium opened its gates to the public on the 1st day of November during the year 2002.
The aquarium’s name was chosen by the public and can be broken down into two words – chura and umi. When translated into English, the term “chura” means graceful or beautiful, while the term “umi” is used to refer to the ocean.
Sitting on a 19,000-square meter land, the Churaumi Aquarium houses a total of 77 tanks. These tanks contain various marine life including tropical fish, coral, sharks, and deep sea creatures. At present, an estimated total of 26,000 animals is taken care of at the aquarium.
Keeping in line with the aquarium’s focus on exploring the deep seas, the building itself is designed in such a way that visitors enter through the third floor and have to make their way up to the fourth floor to begin their descent, one floor at a time.
Each floor at the Churaumi Aquarium revolves around a central theme, i.e. the Invitation to the Great Sea, the Journey to a Coral Reef, the Journey to the Kuroshio, and the Journey into the Deep Sea.
Churaumi Aquarium’s Invitation to the Great Sea
The fourth floor of the Churaumi Aquarium is known as the Invitation to the Great Sea. Here, visitors are welcomed with the island’s beautiful cobalt blue ocean and dazzling lights. Some notable points of interest in this section include:
Whale Shark Sculpture
The Whale Shark Sculpture is the very first thing that greets visitors before they enter the Churaumi Aquarium. This place serves as a great photo backdrop for tourists, given the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium sign located behind the whale sculpture.
A short walk after passing the Whale Shark Sculpture, visitors will come across the Uminchu Gate. Uminchu literally translates to mean fisherman in English which is exactly what any visitor will feel like upon seeing the breathtaking view of the ocean from this section.
The entrance to the Churaumi Aquarium can be located by taking the escalator down to the 3rd floor and searching for it on the right side.
The Inoh Restaurant of the Invitation to the Great Sea offers visitors with a breathtaking view of the East China Sea while enjoying a buffet-style lunch which consists of dishes unique to Okinawa Island.
Some of the meals that can be expected at the lunch buffet include curry rice, pasta, mozuku seaweed, jushi (a type of fried rice), rafute (a type of pork stew), fu champuru (a type of vegetable stir-fry), and purple sweet potato tempura.
Before and after lunch, the Inoh Restaurant features a Morning Menu from 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM, and an A la Carte Menu from 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM (October – February) or from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM (March – September).
Credit cards accepted at the restaurant include China UnionPay, Edy, J-Debit, EFJ, DC, Diners Club, JCB, American Express, MasterCard, and VISA.
Churaumi Aquarium’s Journey to a Coral Reef
One floor down from the Invitation to the Great Sea, visitors are welcomed into a colorful underwater world known as the Journey to a Coral Reef. Here, people are free to look, touch, and experience the different types of marine life associated with the coral reefs housed at Churaumi Aquarium, as well as several freshwater habitats of Okinawa.
The Journey to a Coral Reef can be broken down into six main sections:
Life in the “Inoh”
The term “Inoh” is used to refer to shallow bodies of water that feature coral reefs. As such, this section focuses on creatures that live in such habitats.
Some of the marine life that can be found here include sea cucumbers and various kinds of starfish. At present, an estimated total of twenty species is housed at the exhibit, which is composed of 9.5 cubic meters of water. Visitors may touch any and all of these creatures, as long as they are handled gently and with extra care.
The Coral Sea
The Coral Sea refers to a massive exhibit that consists of a tank with an open top. This section features a wide array of coral reefs, all of which have been properly cultivated through a sophisticated system that allows the continuous supply of fresh water into the Churaumi Aquarium from the sea.
An estimated total of eight hundred colonies made up of over fifty types of coral reefs is housed at the exhibit. A big percentage of these corals have been part of The Coral Sea since the opening of the Churaumi Aquarium, growing at a steady pace for nearly fifteen years.
The Sea of Tropical Fish
The Sea of Tropical Fish serves as a representation of the Okinawan sea and its stunning coral reefs. The 700-cubic meter water tank houses various tropical fish, as well, which are well taken care of within a near-natural habitat.
Coral Reef World
The Coral Reef World focuses on providing the public with a detailed explanation of the different creatures that can be found near coral reefs, particularly those that pose dangerous threats to unsuspecting humans.
Comparisons using models and living specimens are displayed at the exhibit to better explain the nature of these creatures and how certain situations should be dealt with to avoid unnecessary conflict.
Coral Reef Gallery
For those who want to have a closer look at each of the different creatures associated with coral reefs, the Coral Reef Gallery houses about thirty water tanks that range from small to large sizes. Each of these tanks houses one form of marine life and includes a brief overview.
The Freshwater Life, as implied, houses a variety of freshwater creatures, particularly those that can be found in Okinawa’s rivers.
Churaumi Aquarium’s Journey to the Kuroshio
At the second floor of the Churaumi Aquarium, the Journey to the Kuroshio can be located which introduces visitors to the dynamic world of migratory fish. The floor consists of the following exhibits and facilities:
The Churaumi Theater introduces visitors to the life various creatures that live in the waters of Okinawa Island through high-definition movies that run for about twenty minutes each.
Three movies are regularly shown at the theater – Okinawa’s Coral Sea (shown at 11:00 AM, 2:00 PM, and 6:30 PM), Okinawa’s Kuroshio Sea (shown at 10:00 AM, 1:00 PM, and 5:30 PM), and the Churaumi Sea (shown at 9:00 AM, 12:00 NN, and 4:00 PM).
Okinawa’s Coral Sea focuses on the various creatures that live on coral reefs, Okinawa’s Kuroshio Sea concentrates on those that live in Okinawa’s deep blue waters and those that travel in the currents, while The Churaumi Sea features the relationship of the local communities with the seas.
Shark Research Lab/The Sea of Dangerous Sharks
The Shark Research Lab or The Sea of Dangerous Sharks houses various exhibits that explore the common misconceptions that surround sharks. Some things to expect at this section include a model of an extinct shark known as the Megalodon, a Great White Shark fetus, and skin samples from a manta ray and shark.
The Kuroshio Sea
The Kuroshio Sea is a massive tank that has a capacity of 7,500 cubic meters, measuring 27 meters long, 35 meters wide, and 10 meters deep. It houses an estimated total of seventy different species, all of which can be viewed from a large acrylic panel from the Aqua Room or from a special seating area.
Exploring the Kuroshio Sea Tank
This section offers visitors with the opportunity to go behind the scenes and explore The Kuroshio Sea from above. There are also detailed talks provided by the experienced staff members of the Churaumi Aquarium every 9:30 AM, 10:00 AM, 10:30 AM, 6:00 PM, 6:30 PM, and 7:00 PM.
The Aqua Room features an acrylic ceiling that allows guests to look up into The Kuroshio Sea above. A school of Whale sharks and manta rays can be seen floating across the space, which makes for a unique and memorable experience.
Ocean Blue Café
The Ocean Blue Café offers guests with a relaxing space where they can enjoy some beer, coffee, dessert, or light meal while watching the various fish of The Kuroshio Sea swim by. Some of its most popular food items include purple sweet potato ice cream, pasta, taco rice, and naan dogs.
Churaumi Aquarium’s Journey into the Deep Sea
Last but certainly not the least, the Journey into the Deep Sea located at the first floor of the Churaumi Aquarium completes the entire trip by transporting visitors into a recreated Deep Sea World consisting of the following sections:
Deep Sea World
The Deep Sea World is best described to be a quiet world that experiences no sunlight. It houses various deep-sea creatures that have been carefully collected from over two hundred meters below the surface of Okinawa’s waters.
Small Life in the Deep Sea
As implied by its name, this section introduces visitors to the tiny creatures living in the deep sea which usually go unnoticed.
The Deep Sea exhibit features various marine creatures that are considered to be rare and live two hundred meters below the surface, if not more. Some animals to expect here include the ruby snapper and the blacksail snake mackerel.
The Ocean Planetarium is aptly named for the extensive collection of star-like creatures it houses which give the tank an outer space look. Everything is made more magical through the use of ultraviolet rays which reflect wonderfully on the coral reefs.
The Aqua Lab serves as a place where visitors can get more knowledge about marine life through easy-to-understand lectures and videos. The topics tackled at the laboratory change on a daily basis so it is best to check the official website of the Churaumi Aquarium prior to one’s visit.
Other Sections of the Churaumi Aquarium
The Churaumi Aquarium houses plenty more other sections for tourists to explore which can be categorized to fall into the two main areas:
Oceanic Zone Area
The Oceanic Zone Area carries the same marine encounter theme carried by the four floors of the Churaumi Aquarium but offers more interactive environments to visitors. Some notable points of interest of the Oceanic Zone Area include:
Churaumi Plaza – serves as an informative resting place for visitors
Okichan Theater – allows visitors to better understand the extraordinary abilities of dolphins through exciting show performances
Dolphin Lagoon – hosts classes for visitors to learn more about dolphins up close
Sea Turtle Pool – houses a wide array of turtles that live in different parts of the world
Manatee Pool – houses West Indian Manatees and aims to inform the public of the species' risk of extinction
Emerald Beach Resort – a white coral sand beach that features clear, cobalt blue waters
Kids Adventure Land – a net playground that is meant for the whole family to enjoy
Ocean Expo Park Area
In contrast, the Ocean Expo Park Area concentrates on life above the water and houses various structures worth exploring such as the Central Gate, Oceanic Culture Museum and Planetarium, Native Okinawan Village and Omoro Arboretum, Tropical Dream Center, Sunset Square / Esplanade, and the Tropical & Subtropical Arboretum.
More Information about the Churaumi Aquarium
The Churaumi Aquarium is located about ninety kilometers away from Naha. Tourists can take the Yanbaru Express Tour Bus from the Central Naha directly to the Churaumi Aquarium. A one-way trip consists of a 2-hour long drive and costs 2,000 yen per person.
Alternatively, tourists can also choose to take regular buses (Bus Number 111) from Naha to the Nago Bus Stop, where buses (Bus Number 70, 66, or 65) that stop at Kinen Koen Mae (located near the Ocean Expo Park) can be taken.
For those who want a more convenient solution, renting out a car or taxi at the airport terminal is highly recommended. Private parking spaces can be found at the property and may be availed for an additional charge.
The aquarium is open daily from 8:30 AM to 8:00 PM, except on the first Wednesday of December. Access to the facilities of the Churaumi Aquarium requires purchasing a ticket for the price of 1,850 yen per person.