Superlatives and insights into the ocean’s life
Even though the main island of the Okinawan archipelago will most likely not be top of the list when you are looking for leasurely vacation, it has – besides the few items I’ve already written about – a lot to offer that would be looked for in vain elsewhere in the world. And the „Ocean Expo Park“ (海洋博公園 / かいようはくこうえん), is without doubt one on them. This park is telling the story of the Ocean Expo that took place here, in the northern part of the island in 1975.
The park is covering an area of about 72 hectare alongside the coast and is the perfect place, if you want to gain some insight into the life in Pacific Ocean’s expanse.
One of the core attractions of the park is the „Churaumi Aquarium“ (美ら海水族館 / ちゅらうみすいぞくかん).
Naturally, everybody has tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean in mind, when one thinks about Okinawa. But maybe it’s not really common knowledge, that, since 2002, you will also find one of the most astounding aquariums here – and the second largest in this world, too.
Blessed by a particular sea current and a large number of coral reefs, the ocean around the Okinawan islands provides a particularly rich environment of fish and other marine animals. And the Churaumi Aquarium puts all it pride to it to show this multitude of life to its visitors.
And it isn’t done with just half measures – or, let’s say: big is good, bigger is better, as the data below:
- Total space of 19,000 sqm, distributed over four stories
- Total volume of water in the tanks: 10,000 cbm
- Of which 7,500 cbm count for the biggest of all tanks
- The biggest of the tanks also boasts the largest window of the world (made of acrylic), measuring 22 metres in length and 8.2 metres in heigth. And what’s more? This glass pane is supposed to be earthquake proof
- There is a total of 77 tanks
- In order to supply ample fresh water, every hour 3,000 cbm of fresh seawater are being pumped from the Pacific Ocean, 300 metres off the coast and from a depth of 20 metres
- Of the 2,500 KW the whole complex needs, 2,000 KW are being produced onsite.
Besides the numerous different tanks showing the most exotic fishes and sea animals in their more or less natural habitat, of course biggest of them all, the “Kuroshio Aquarium” with its gigantic volume of 7,500 cu m (the biggest seawater aquarium in the world!) is the major visitors’ magnet of the complex. Nowhere else can whale sharks be seen in captivity in more than just a pair. Whale sharks are particularly difficult to keep in captivity – not just because of their sheer size. While other aquariums in the world were less lucky, the one in Okinawa even houses one specimen that’s more than 12 years old. They seem to live in perfect harmony together with quite a number of manta rays (which can be seen in captivity only in three other places in the world), various smaller sharks and complete shoals of different fish.
Under no circumstances miss the view from the top of the tanks, which you can reach via an elevator. This view allows quite an impressive grasp of the sizes and proportions of the main tank.
Should you be contemplating about the question whether it is ethic to keep animals in captivity, it’s maybe of some consolation to know that 70% of the animals shown here have been bred here and only 30% have been caught in the open sea. Moreover, part of the animals raised here are being released to the Ocean.
No less worth seeing are the attractions outside the aquarium building which are, by the way, free of charge. Among other things, you’ll find dolphin shows throughout the day, where you can learn a lot about their living environment and their astonishing skills (however, in Japanese only).
Next to the tanks for dolphins there are also basins for sea turtles and a separate building for the manatees.
Should you just feel like taking a stroll at the beach, also that can be found nearby at the white sands and the crystal clear waters of the “Emerald Beach”. During the main season you’ll find a beach bar here, and you can rent beach chairs and parasols as well.
For the sake of completeness, here also some of the further attractions at the Ocean Expo Park (they are not free of charge, though):
Native Okinawan Village & Omoro Arboretum:
Here you can have a look at traditional Okinawan housing and working culture and a large variety of tropical plants and flowers.
Tropical Dream Center:
Tropical plants, flowers and fruits
Oceanic Culture Museum & Planetarium:
Have a look at the stars above Okinawa and listen to the stories of the stars’ influence on local legends and tales. (The museum itself is supposed to re-open somewhen during 2013).
Administrative Data for the Churaumi Aquarium
October to February: 8.30 am to 6.30 pm (last entry at 5.30 pm)
March to September: 8:30 am to 8:00 pm (last entry at 7 pm)
Closed on the first Wednesday in December an the following day.
Admission fees and -times (as per Februar 2016):
8:30 am to 4 pm: 1,850 Yen
4:00 pm until closing: 1,290 Yen
Annual ticket: 3,700 Yen
High School Students:
8:30 am to 4:00 pm: 1,230 Yen
4:00 pm until closing: 860 Yen
Annual ticket: 2.460 Yen
Elementary and Junior High School Students:
8:30 am to 4:00 pm: 610 Yen
4:00 pm until closing: 430 Yen
Annual ticket: 1.220 Yen
Children of less than 6 years of age:
For groups of 20 or more persons, there is a discount of 20% for all single tickets.
For school groups (also for those of less than 20 students) there is also a discount of 20% for single tickets based on an advanced application.
Regardless of the level of disability, holders of disability certificates and an accompanying person will be granted free entry.
For tickets bought in advance for the regular day fee, but only used for entering the aquarium after 4 pm the price difference will be refunded.
Food and drinks are prohibited in the aquarium (except in the gastronomic facilities, of course).
Smoking is also prohibited in the whole aquarium complex.
Animals/pets (except guide dogs) are not allowed in the aquarium.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
424 Ishikawa, Motobu-chō, Kunigami-gun
Okinawa 905-0206, Japan
How to get there:
Via the Okinawa Expressway (沖縄自動車道) to the Kyoda (許田)-intersection and from there via national roads no. 58, 449 and 119 to the park (from the intersection it’s a drive of about 50 minutes)
From the bus terminal in Nago (名護バスターミナル) with the local bus lines no. 65, 66 or 70 to the park (about 60 minutes).
Should you start your trip from the capital, Naha, you’ll have to take either a bus of the line no. 111 (about 120 minutes), or the lines 20 or 120 (about 140 minutes) from the Naha bus terminal (那覇バスターミナル) to the Nago bus terminal mentioned above.