Location: Toba, Mie, Japan
Highlights: Animal feedings (sea otters, sea lions), Japan river exhibits
Photos: Nov 2015
Children Friendly (9): A fun atmosphere for kids, lots to see and do. Most exhibits are at their level and easy to see the animals. Mostly indoors and not huge means little legs will be able to walk through it all before getting tired. It also wouldn’t consume your entire day going there unless you’re really taking your time. There are a couple more interactive areas for kids to explore.
Animal Diversity (9): Their diversity is actually one of their main selling/advertising points – the most diverse aquarium in Japan (and I would argue the world?). I was amazed by their diversity! They definitely highlighted Japanese animals, more specifically local ones which I appreciated. They had an impressive range of fish, invertebrates, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even some birds! They did a good job of showcasing animals which were not necessarily fully aquatic but still fit into an aquarium setting.
Animal Viewing (9): This aquarium also did well in this category. Almost all the animals advertised were on display/easy to see. Quite a few of the exhibits had multiple viewing areas, viewing from multiple sides, and/or multi-level viewing. Tanks which did not have any of the previously listed features often had large viewing screens making it still easy for viewing by multiple guests at a time.
Animals Happiness (4): This category was the aquariums biggest downfall. While the smaller aquariums were really well done and showcased very natural environments for the animals within, the larger exhibits were lacking quite a bit. Particularly the aquatic mammals such as the dolphins, seals, and walruses, the tanks were quite small and lacking in enrichment items. While it looks like they’ve taken considerable care in smaller exhibits, they need to spend some serious time and effort making the larger animals exhibits equally as enriched. If this means reducing their diversity to do so I think it would be to their benefit.
Photography (7): Lighting was done quite well in the aquarium and photography in general was pretty good. Some of the glass dirty or had quite a bad glare making it hard to get good photos. Having multiple levels/sides to exhibits helped this a little. Water clarity in some tanks also made it somewhat difficult to achieve clear pictures.
Layout/Map (7): The map was well done and showed the facility quite well. It did not list all the animals but did let you know the main features in each section. In terms of the layout that is where I took some points away. They have signs stating there is no suggested route and you are free to roam which in some ways can be good but also makes it difficult to navigate the aquarium a bit. With multiple floors and the entrance being in the middle (both vertically and horizontally) I imagine many guests end up missing an entire floor or wing quite easily.
Hours (8): Open year round and what appears to be every day the hours are fairly good. For a mainly indoor facility I expect longer hours into the evening, even if that means having limited access to the outdoor areas.
Price (6): The price was fairly high, especially considering the typically low prices of zoos in Japan. While they do have quite a large variety of animals and you can spend a significant amount of time here, the quality of the larger exhibits needs to be higher for this kind of price.
Food (8): There are a number of food options at the aquarium including sit down eating as well as more fast food type options. The food appeared to be mainly Japanese style at the restaurants with set meals. Prices weren’t too bad but I’d like to see a bit more variety.
Website (9): Their main Japanese website it done quite well with lots of information and graphics. Their photos on the website are quite accurate of what you will see in person which is great. Their English website is in need of some updating, while it is sufficient it is in no way comparable to the Japanese version.
Gift Shop (10): There were multiple gift shops in the aquarium, large and small ones. They had great variety in their souvenirs with products for both adults and children. I greatly appreciated their focus on animals they indeed had at the aquarium with items representing all the categories of animals which was great. They also had some smaller stores with products more representative of the area of Toba itself, for example pearls, which is a great touch.
Quiet Areas (8): Being a mainly indoor facility this tends to be a more difficult area to score really well in, but they did quite well. Some of the levels were quieter than others and they had benches throughout the floors for guests to sit and take a break. There were also a number of bathrooms throughout.
Safety/Cleanliness (7): The main area they lost points in this category is the high number of open top tanks. This makes it quite easy for guests to drop things in, purposely put hands in, or anything along those lines. There were also touch tanks in the outdoor area with minimal signage and some species which should maybe be monitored with guests more than they were.
Extras (7): From what I can tell they have a number of extras at the aquarium. They have a sea lion show as well as multiple feedings throughout the day for different animals. The feedings/keeper talks I did see were also long which was nice, if you arrive a couple minutes after the scheduled time you will still be able to see quite a bit. On their website they do have an events page but not much was listed the times I have checked, it may be a slow time of year but more events or programs would be a huge plus.
Overall (7.7): The aquarium was pretty well done, although its location is out of the way for most people visiting Japan, their animal diversity alone makes it worth a visit. I was able to see a number of species I have never seen before and their smaller exhibits were very well done.