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Nagoya Aquarium

Location: Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

Website: http://www.nagoyaaqua.com

Highlights: Dolphin show, Kuroshio tank, Orcas

Photos: June 2016

Children Friendly (9): Very well done! The huge floor to ceiling viewing areas for many exhibits allow children to feel absolutely immersed in the experience. Up close views of the animals are easily accessible for even the smallest of children without the need to be lifted up. Plenty of talks, shows, and demonstrations will keep their attention as well. The touch tanks would need parental supervision and caution but everything else is well displayed for kids.

Animal Diversity (7): Quite a bit of diversity for an aquarium including large and small mammals, birds, turtles, fish, and invertebrates. They have a wide selection of the animals you would expect as well as nice displays of ones that are not as focused on like deep sea creatures. Many aquariums are either large marine mammals or a variety of smaller aquatic life, but Nagoya Aquarium is able to provide both.

Animal Viewing (9): Every animal that was promised was on display and visible. It also appears that there are not scheduled times where they are taken off display (during shows and talks you can still view them in the regular exhibits). The floor to ceiling displays of many exhibits also allows for viewing of many of the animals from a distance or above the heads of a crowd which is awesome.

Animals Happiness (7): Now I’m sure this will be the largest area of contention for this review. Yes, they house dolphins and whales, and yes after looking into them the vast majority are wild caught from the infamous Taiji. As I have never looked into where animals came from for past reviews and I feel this is a separate issue unrelated to the actual daily experience of visiting the aquarium I shall leave it as separate. It is widely reported that the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium has the largest outdoor tank in the world and I myself was impressed with the size of it. All of the whale and dolphin tanks are much larger than I have seen at other aquariums and quite clean. Also, none of these animals were solitary, with at least three individuals in each tank (thirteen dolphins were together in the largest of the tanks). While captivity is overwhelmingly criticized for these species I do give this aquarium credit for the amount of space and interaction these individuals get. Performing shows are also criticized but the show I viewed was much more educational than non-stop action. While tricks and stunts were performed the majority of the actions were natural behaviours done on command. Also, no humans entered the pool during the show I watched. Throughout the rest of the aquarium, I saw no animal welfare issues or unnatural displays. The exhibits for other animals throughout were also quite large.

Photography (10): I was absolutely blown away by the photography I was able to do at this aquarium. Aquariums are notoriously more difficult for taking photos due to the obvious glare from glass, fingerprints, curved/angled glass, and watermarks – but this aquarium had very little of any of those. I repeatedly said during the visit that everything was so clear! Considering the amount and size of the exhibits it really was impressive how good the shooting was.

Layout/Map (7): The aquarium is divided into two buildings – one for the large mammals (dolphins, whales, seals), and one for everything else. The divide makes sense in terms of zookeeping and logistics for displays and shows, but it would definitely create huge crowds in one area for much of the day. The layout itself is set up for a one way trip through the displays and for the most part is successful in having a natural progressions, however there were one or two times where I second guessed which direction was correct. This isn’t helped by the fact that you go back and forth between floors a number of times giving you the feeling that you haven’t completed it before moving on. The map itself is quite good and does it’s best with numbering the exhibits and providing guide lines – any confusion from the map I contribute to the route not the map itself. Plenty of pictures and details in the English map was greatly appreciated.

Hours (8): Fairly good hours with consistent opening times year round. Closing times are generally 5-5:30 in the slow seasons, with extended hours until 8pm during vacations and holidays. During the off season they are closed every Monday.

Price (8): Not as cheap as Japanese zoos but for an aquarium these prices are pretty good. Discounts for children, students, and groups are available. During the extended hours, night time prices are discounted. Memberships earn money back by the third visit which isn’t too bad.

Food (9): Actually quite the variety of food options at the aquarium. They have a full service sit down restaurant with a variety of dishes. They also have more of a cafeteria style restaurant with quite a few options for both adults and kids, at affordable prices! Near the dolphin show there is a food counter area with snacks and drinks. Quality of food seems decent and lots of options.

Website (9): A pretty impressive website! The English version has everything you could need (except for info about restaurants) and looks nice. They provide PDFs of both the maps and the event schedule on the site which is awesome. They do have this version of the website in three other languages as well. From searching through their Japanese site it appears they give a lot of detail about each exhibit (not just the most popular!) and plenty of news from the aquarium.

Gift Shop (10): Awesome gift shop! We experienced the Museum Gift Shop in the South Building fully, but there is also a gift shop in the North Building as well. The gift shop had a huge variety of souvenirs for every age group – clothing, stuffed animals, toys, stationary, decorations, etc. They highlighted quite a few of the species they housed, including ones that maybe aren’t as popular. While food is a hugely popular souvenir in Japan and they did have a large selection of cute food options to buy, the entire space was not taken up by it which I appreciated.

Quiet Areas (10): For being an aquarium I was very impressed with how well they incorporated spaces to rest and take a break. Benches or seats were present at quite a few of the exhibits and near many were boxes with padded mats you could use if you wanted to have a seat to take it all in (or during demonstrations). It was also a pretty spacious aquarium, I do understand I went on an off day, but even with crowds there should be enough area to be able to step to the side for a moment with your family. They also have a large outdoor area to relax or have a picnic.

Safety/Cleanliness (9): Very clean throughout the aquarium from the exhibits to the walkways and everything in between. I saw no cleanliness issues anywhere. Safety was also well done, with staff and security guards placed throughout the aquarium to monitor visitors and the animals. Touch tanks had staff present and hand wash stations. They do provide interaction experiences with the dolphins in some cases which I have said before are usually fairly safe but the potential for injury or mishaps is always increased.

Extras (10): So many extras! I was very impressed by how much they offer at this aquarium both as part of your entrance fee but also extras you can plan for. Besides the very well publicized dolphin show they also have a variety of keeper talks, training demonstrations, feedings, and movies in an IMAX theatre, all included with admission. From their website they also have sleepovers, yoga classes, dolphin interactions, educational presentations, and community events.

Overall (8.7): Overall, I was more impressed by this aquarium than I was expecting to be. The displays were big, clean, and provided awesome photography opportunities. They had a good variety of species to view and provided many opportunities to learn about them through talks and demonstrations. A fun family experience worth the money!

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Higashiyama Zoo Review

Location: Nagoya, Japan

Website: www.higashiyama.city.nagoya.jp

Highlights: Koala exhibit, nocturnal animals exhibits

Photos: Album

Children Friendly (4): This category gained points as the exhibits for the most part allowed easy viewing for the children. There’s a children’s petting zoo, plenty of statues and lots of exhibits which are quite close to the animals. This zoo did however have a number of exhibits which would be easy for children to climb on fences and railings and potentially get injured. This zoo also had a number of steep hills and quite a few stairs. I imagine there are quite a few tired little legs by half way through the day.

Animal Diversity (10): This zoo had more diversity than I originally expected, in a variety of ways. Not only did they have the typical big draw animals (giraffes, elephants, lions, etc.) they also had variety within those! Both Asian and African elephants, river and pygmy hippos, two species of rhino, and approximately five different species of bears. They also had a huge reptile and amphibian house as well as a fish building. There were also a number of species which I’ve rarely seen in other zoos such as koalas and chimpanzees.

Animal Viewing (8): During the visit there were very few animals that I did not see. Either in the main exhibit or in their indoor enclosures the majority of the animals were in view of the public. Within the exhibits they were also usually pretty visible. Some exhibits were fairly overgrown which made some of the smaller animals more difficult to spot.

Animals Happiness (4): I was hugely disappointed by this category at Higashiyama. This zoo seemed to be half old style zoo (animals in pits with little enrichment) and half new and improved (larger enclosures, natural environment). A lot of the exhibits were probably deemed ‘natural’ and ‘advanced’ 20 years ago but standards since then have changed dramatically. The polar bear exhibit was a sad sight, virtually no enrichment and almost entirely concrete made to look like ice flows. I witnessed stress behaviours in the elephants involving pacing and rocking. Many animals which tend to be in groups in the wild were housed individually (some of the wolf exhibits and the lions for example). The new exhibits however were great. The koala exhibit in particular was very well done. The reptile and amphibian house was spacious with natural environments in each enclosure. Another thing I noticed was that almost all the ‘off exhibit’ areas were on display as well. This is a fantastic idea to showcase the conditions when the animals are indoors and allows visitors to always see the animals. HOWEVER, the off exhibit areas were often very small and dingy. This also never allows the animal to be out of the public eye and for some species/individuals this can be very stressing. Overall for this category it looks like they’re taking steps in the right direction but they have a long way to go.

Photography (4): I was amazed at how poorly the photography was in this zoo. Almost all the glass was dirty, steamed up, or had awful glare. The fencing used was a huge hindrance to taking photos. Often there were many layers of fence and/or glass at varying distances making it virtually impossible to get a clear shot through. The exhibits which seemed newer tended to have better barriers and therefore better resulting shots of the animals but much improvement needs to be made. If you’re wanting great shots of the animals this is not the zoo for you.

Layout/Map (6): The map of the zoo was well done. Simple and to the point it wasn’t overly busy. It also had small cartoons of the animals by their exhibits which made it easy to spot what animals you were going to see/if you wanted to see a specific animal it was easy to pick out. The layout of the zoo however was quite weird. It was basically divided in half but the two areas were not necessarily divided by any specific guideline. Some areas tended to have a region theme (North America) and some by a species theme (bears) but it was all mixed together. Also there was not a clear route to take. We often had to back track to see animals we missed, or criss-cross through to ensure we saw everything.

Hours (7): The hours are quite good. Open the same times every day making it easy to remember/follow. They are closed one day every week however and a couple days at the end of the year. Being open year round is fantastic but I did take off points for only being open until 5 every day. This makes it hard for a lot of people to visit during the week and in the summer especially it doesn’t fully make sense to close that early.

Price (10): This zoo is cheap! I was amazed by how little it cost especially for the size of it. At a price of 500 yen (~$5.00) it’s worth it to stop by even for an hour or two. They do have discounts for groups and for memberships if you plan on visiting often.

Food (8): Like I’ve noticed during my time in Japan so far food is constantly available. Vending machines AND food stalls were around virtually every turn of the zoo. If you were hungry you didn’t have to go far to find something to eat. Prices were a little high but that’s typical of most zoos/attractions in general. The food variety was quite good with sit down restaurants and plenty of vendor stalls. It was slightly different in that the food was clearly not run by one company, many stalls selling similar things were placed right beside each other.

Website (7): This is slightly difficult for me to judge seeing as I don’t know Japanese but their English information on their website was sufficient. They also seemed to have a good layout with plenty of information. Plus fun cartoons!

Gift Shop (7): Like the food, gift shops were everywhere! Around every turn there was another one. They all tended to have similar gifts inside but sometimes there was a distinct featured animal (usually what was near by). There were not really any souvenir type products being sold (more expensive, higher quality). It was mostly toys, stuffed animals, and smaller items mostly geared towards children.

Quiet Areas (8): This category benefited from the poor layout. With lots of pathways and open spaces there were plenty of spots to put benches and picnic areas! There were even plots covered in fake grass to picnic or where the children could play.

Safety/Cleanliness (3): Seeing that a lot of the exhibits were in the older style quite a few seemed run down. Fencing was not of the greatest quality and there were often tarps and boards propped up areas and providing ‘roofing’. Japan in general is quite clean in terms of litter so that was not an issue. In terms of safety there were not always railings or barricades near steps or drops. Pathways were also uneven frequently. In terms of hills there were a number that were quite steep which could be quite dangerous for young children, those with disabilities and those pushing strollers.

Extras (6): There is an education building near the front of the zoo which had some neat presentations for children (and adults too!). There were also educational signs and interactive areas throughout the zoo. Feedings happened throughout the day during out visit which was great to see some of the more sedentary animals being more active. The grounds of the zoo is actually half botanical garden so those wanting to see more of the flora side of wildlife would love the area. There is also the large tower on site as well to see the grounds (and much of Nagoya) from a birds eye view.

Overall (6.6): Overall the zoo has a good core structure but has a lot to do to become truly world class. The variety of animals was fantastic but their exhibits needed a lot of work. If you’re visiting to see a lot of animals and get a view of some botanical gardens this is for you. If you’re wanting to practice your photography or are used to AZA/CAZA certified zoos in North America you will be sorely disappointed.

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