I don’t normally like to spend a lot of money on one attraction, especially when we travel. If there is an amazing museum or sight worth seeing, then of course I will, but generally we stick to the cheaper attractions. I like to see the historic buildings, wander the back alleys and check out what’s happening around town. There is usually so much to see, why spend $50 to see one thing, when you could use that money to see 5 or 10 things.
When we went to Osaka, I knew I would be making a huge exception to my no expensive attractions rule. We were going to the Osaka Aquarium. I was so excited. Dek loves water and fish. This was the perfect outing for all of us to do together as Mike worked through his jet lag, and Dek came down off of a very busy, but very boring two weeks working with me in China.
The cost was 2000 yen per person. Thankfully Dek was free. In U.S currency, this is $24.41. That means I spent almost $50 for a trip to an aquarium. My yearly zoo membership back home costs $80. Certainly not a deal by any means, but this was a special trip and all for Dek. He is worth it.
Let me give you a little background on why I was so eager to see this particular aquarium, besides the fact that it would give my son more joy than he had, had in quite some time. A few years after Mike and I graduated from college, we moved to Chicago so I could pursue grad school. While I waited for acceptance, I worked as an office manager at an architecture firm. During my time there, the firm was awarded part of the Shedd Aquarium remodel. This was huge by anyone’s standards and a very exciting project for many of us in the office. For me, it meant I would be helping to plan trips all over the world for my boss and a team from the aquarium.
The team was going to tour aquariums around Europe and the U.S. mostly, but they would also be going to Osaka to check out the layout of the aquarium. If you have never visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, especially before 2004, you should know that they had a big traffic flow issue. I only visited once, but we got bottle necked every step of the way. It was pretty annoying. The Osaka aquarium did not have this problem for the most part. I don’t know if we just went at a great time of day or what, but we flowed through effortlessly.
We started our day pretty late on Sunday. Mike had flown in Saturday afternoon, and Dek was in need of some solid nap time, so we had breakfast and then came back to the hotel to relax. Around 1pm we headed over to the museum. This was a very wise decision. For all those moms that get up at the crack of dawn to avoid the crowds, also know that you can avoid them later in the afternoon too. All of the older kids seem to have gone home already. The aquarium was full (although not that full) of kids under 5, most under 2. It was great.
Dek wandered from tank to tank. People made space for him to see and giggled as he chattered away and yelled “wow” and “what’s that!” after each step. It was really a joy for this mom to see her son so happy, not to mention having a blast with the dad he hadn’t seen in two weeks.
The layout of the aquarium is pretty simple. You take an escalator to the top floor and then work your way down. You start your journey by walking through a tunnel tank of fish. You then start working your way down through various regions of the planet, including Antarctica (penguins), Monterey Bay (harbor seals and sea lions) and the Great Barrier Reef (oodles of fish).
There is a huge tank in the center of the aquarium. This is where they keep their prized possession, a whale shark. And let me tell you, they should really be prizing that thing. First of all it’s huge. Second of all it is gorgeous and moves with amazing grace. I’m not really a fan of animals in captivity, especially large ones (we lived in Chicago when all the elephants at the Lincoln Park Zoo were dying. Very sad time.), but it was still incredible to see this animal.
Housed in the center tank, along with the whale shark, are various other much smaller sharks, rays and fish. They had a Manta ray, which was gigantic, quarantined off with a bunch of other rays in the middle tank too.
On the other side of the walkway, you could see other exhibits of penguins, Pacific Whiteside dolphins, sea otters, ringtailed coati and various other marine creatures. They even have a finless porpoise. It was kind of creepy. First of all it had no dorsal (top) fin. Second of all, as soon as I started snapping pictures, it started to pose for me. I have a feeling it had an itch or saw it’s reflection and was admiring itself or something, but it stayed so still in such a cute pose, I like to think it was posing for me.
As you move down the floors, which you barely even notice since the floors just slope down a little bit, you see the different levels of the tanks. For instance, at the top, we saw the dolphins jumping out of the water doing their tricks, then disappearing down into the water. Further down, we saw where the dolphins went and what they were underwater. It was pretty neat. Dek always prefers his animals in the water than out, so he got very excited the further down we went.
One interesting thing we did notice is that Dek would never actually touch the glass of the tank. He always stayed at least half a foot away from it. We weren’t surprised by this since he had done the same thing at the otter exhibit at our local zoo. He was scared that the fish would get him. I can’t really blame him, some of those fish were huge. They could actually eat him if they had the mind to.
I didn’t want my son to be afraid, but how to make him understand they couldn’t get to him? We tried showing him that we could touch the glass, we tried to make him touch the glass (that didn’t go so well). Part of me didn’t mind this fear actually. I had seen enough kids banging on fish tanks in my life, and if we all learned nothing else from Finding Nemo, I hope we learned that tapping on tanks is a bit traumatizing for fish (find a happy place, find a happy place!).
In the end I didn’t need to worry about Dek or the fish. Some little girls helped him overcome his fears. He still didn’t want to touch the tanks very much though until we got to the end. The tank he did want to touch? The one with the very creepy spider crabs in it. My kid is so weird. Cute flipping dolphins freak him out, but other worldly spiders don’t. Go figure.
My favorite exhibit was the jellyfish. I’m terrified of them in the office, but they sure are beautiful to watch in a tank. The aquarium designers were smart enough to put some contrasting backgrounds in the tanks, so the orange jellyfish really pop. My camera went shutter crazy with joy.
Once we exited the main part of the aquarium, we were ushered over to the special exhibit section. There were tiny tanks at kid level so they could peek inside. A few were a little taller than Dek, but that didn’t stop him from trying to get a peek and signing “fish” over and over again.
As we left we collected our stroller, walked through the usual gift shops and then wandered to the Tempozan Marketplace to look for a snack and browse the shop wares. As became my usual occurence, I grabbed myself a chocolate ice cream cone at a convenience stand and we wandered around the harbor a little bit before hopping the subway back to our hotel.
We got back to the hotel and I felt my $50 was very well spent. We were all exhausted, but very satisfied after a great family day together. The aquarium marveled us at ever turn, and Dek was over joyed with each new fish he discovered. If that isn’t worth it, I don’t know what is.
A few things to take note of before you go:
- They ask you to check your stroller. We did see a few as we wandered, but it really is easier to not have it with you, as a few tanks do get a bit crowded and it’s easier to squeeze in without one. If your baby is too small, just strap on your Ergo and you are good to go.
- Bathrooms are readily available, but changing tables are not. The stalls were large enough for me to change Dek on the floor though or do a stand up changing.
- Prices: your child is free to enter until they are 4 years old. 4-6 years old: 400 yen | 7-15 years old: 900 yen | 16 and older: 2,000 yen | No Senior Discount that I could see
- Photography: You are allowed to take photos, but there are a few signs at some of the tanks asking you not to use a flash. It’s kinder to the animals and you don’t get the glare off the plexiglass. I never actually needed to use a flash while at the aquarium, I just increased the ISO on my camera and did fine.
- Getting to the Osaka Aquarium