Location: Oita, Japan
Highlights: Outdoor beach, Local Waters displays
Photos: Dec 2015
Children Friendly (10): This aquarium has a lot inside, with quite a bit of it geared towards kids. There is more than one play area with plenty of interactive structures designed to be educational. Multi-level viewing areas allow for children to get great views of the animals and interact with many of them as well. Since the aquarium is both indoor and outdoor (but not overly huge) children will be able to stay stimulated without completely wearing themselves out.
Animal Diversity (7): The aquarium does a good job showcasing a wide variety of animals from the main attractions (dolphins, sea lions, sharks) to smaller less known ones. The inclusion of some birds and amphibians is also a nice way of showing more diversity. For an aquarium their diversity is pretty good.
Animal Viewing (8): Many of their exhibits are multi-level and/or have both indoor and outdoor viewing areas, which is great. Almost all animals were on display during my visit which is good, especially since I visited later in the day. That being said, many of the exhibits were also being cleaned while I was there which isn’t the for viewing the animals.
Animals Happiness (2): While many of the exhibits were well done and looked very natural, there were also quite a few that looked rather bland and devoid of natural atmospheres. The biggest faults in this category were in the larger mammals: dolphins, sea lions, seals, and walruses. The tanks for these animals were much too small and devoid of enrichment or stimulation. Repetitive ‘pacing’ was seen in both sea lion tanks. While there the smaller dolphin pool was being cleaned which involves raising the bottom of the tank high enough for a staff member to stand in it about knee-high and clean the bottom – with the dolphins still in the tank. The fact that the tank is already far too small for one dolphin let alone four should already be a concern for the aquarium.
Photography (7): The photography here isn’t too bad, but has some room for improvement. Some exhibits did have a lot of glare or odd angles to shoot from. The glass was clean with minimal scratching or other damage. The lighting for most exhibits was ok but nothing extraordinary, some displays were a little difficult to get the photos I wanted.
Layout/Map (4): This was a very disappointing category. This was possibly the worst one-way route attraction I have been to. The route is not clearly marked in the aquarium itself making you constantly second guess yourself on whether you are heading in the right direction. Also, there are multiple entrances/exits to the outdoor portion which is great in terms of emergencies and choices for guests to go in and out as they please but adds to the confusion of route. Also, the beach area is at a different area outside than the other show areas which could also be confusing, especially since it is skipped over in the suggested route on the map. The map itself is actually not bad – visually appealing, good photos and information – but it has the same problem as the aquarium, it’s confusing! Once you get the hang of it you can manage, but having essentially five layouts that look very similar it would be hard to see where you are quickly.
Hours (9): Open year-round with consistent hours, the aquarium does have this going for it. They also are open for night visits during busy holiday seasons which is great. They are open a little later than other aquariums in Japan tend to which I appreciate.
Price (6): A little steep for price with adults being over 2000 yen. There are discounts for children, youth, seniors, and the disabled but it is still more expensive than I’d like to see. Also, I was disappointed that the membership prices were not better, not making your money back until the third visit.
Food (10): I was impressed that the aquarium had not just one but two restaurants on site. One appears more family oriented with more a cafeteria feel featuring quick, easy meals for families. The second is a restaurant with sit down tables and French cuisine more suited for dates, dinners, or events. Having the different options is great and opens up the aquarium for hosting events as well as the day to day guests.
Website (10): Their website is impressive, providing lots of good information to prospective guests. They have a good layout with nice graphics, showing what the aquarium will look like when you arrive. I was impressed that the English version looks very similar although simplified in its information. The website definitely sells the aquarium well.
Gift Shop (10): I was also impressed with their gift shop. They actually have more than one, with a smaller version on the second floor. Unlike many gift shops in Japan they showed a wide variety of souvenirs apart from the typical boxes of food. They had a good assortment of souvenirs for both children and adults including clothing, toys, décor, and even some beauty products. They were themed around the animals we did see at the aquarium which I appreciated.
Quiet Areas (8): Having a confusing layout and multiple entrances/exits to the outside exhibits does benefit this area. There are many areas to step aside and collect your group or quiet areas to take a moment. I would like to see more benches or places to sit within the aquarium though.
Safety/Cleanliness (8): The aquarium was quite clean despite having both indoor and outdoor exhibits. Glass was well maintained as well as walkways and other facilities. Safety was also fairly high, doing quite well in the indoor areas. I did take off marks for their outdoor areas, as many exhibits are far too easy for a guest to enter. The one section is widely advertised as being interactive and while this is a draw for many people the risks are also much higher.
Extras (7): During the visit they do have a number of extras including animal shows, keeper talks, feedings, and demonstrations. These happen every day and multiple times a day which would greatly add to your trip experience. They also have various art work and other displays throughout the aquarium. I could not find information about programming or camps, which would be greatly beneficial for them.
Overall (7.6): Overall the aquarium was well done in terms of the extras of restaurants, gift shops, and interaction for children. Many of the smaller exhibits were well done and executed but by today’s standards they need to greatly improve their large mammal exhibits. More enrichment in all the exhibits would also go a long way for the health and happiness of their animals.