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Location: Itsukushima, Hiroshima, Japan (Miyajima)

Website: https://www.miyajima-aqua.jp/english/

Highlights: Oyster Farming Rafts, Otters

Photos: August 2016

Children Friendly (9): Being a smaller aquarium this is a great place to take little ones for a break from the heat. Being completely redone recently means everything is clean, new, and well signed. Exhibits are floor to ceiling, creating great viewing spots for children and plenty of opportunities to see things up close. Plenty of interaction also available with hands on opportunities and activities.

Animal Diversity (5): Being an aquarium that automatically means less diversity (for the most part) and this one being a smaller aquarium their diversity certainly took a hit. That being said they state they are focusing in the Seto Inland Sea, the waters surrounding the island itself, and in that sense they do a great job. Go here to learn about Japan and its animals not a world encompassing aquarium.

Animal Viewing (9): Like I’ve said, they’ve completely redone it recently and the new exhibits are great. Plenty of interesting exhibits which makes viewing the animals more fun. No animals were off display during our visit and for the most part were easy to spot or find. Great multi-level displays also.

Animals Happiness (8): The vast majority of the exhibits were very well done – natural looking, spacious for the animals, and plenty of natural enrichment. Interactive aspects are only done at certain times/days which gives the animals a break. The finless porpoise exhibit was an extreme letdown though. While we got good views of them their exhibit was bleak. Small with zero enrichment and it doesn’t appear to have any other exhibits for them, definitely a disappointment after seeing all the other well done exhibits.

Photography (8): This category was ok but not amazing. The exhibits were great with all the natural settings and interesting set-ups making for good photos. Multiple levels and viewing windows provided plenty of angles for pictures and spots to see animals. The lighting for many of the exhibits were dimmer, making the pictures sometimes appear lackluster or blurry as the exposure was longer. This isn’t awful but for the average photographer or tourist this might be tricky.

Layout/Map (6): Due to its multiple floors, the map of this aquarium is more confusing than most. The fact that the assigned route switches between the floors without completing all of one first makes it even more difficult. Arrows on the map help as does the general flow of the aquarium once inside but overall it’s not completely easy. Many exhibits are also multi-level which can throw some people off in terms of orienting themselves to the map.

Hours (7): A standard 9-5 opening hours means consistency which is great. I do feel like on weekends or in the summer time those could be extended, especially since most of their attractions are indoors and they’re near a HUGE tourist draw of Japan.

Price (7): Cheaper than your standard North American aquarium and some others in Japan but I wouldn’t consider it a deal, especially since it’s smaller than a lot of other aquariums I’ve been to. Discounts for students, children, and seniors helps as would a membership but you’d need at least three visits to start saving money.

Food (8): What I’ve come to associate with aquarium restaurants, quick easy meals which won’t break the bank but satisfy the majority of the population. Some ramen options, curry rice, and fun aquarium themed desserts. The prices were decent and plenty of children’s options but nothing to rave about.

Website (8): Again a satisfactory English version website. Gives all the necessary information right off the bat with times and prices, easy to navigate as it’s all on one page with skip down options. I thoroughly appreciated the photos of each exhibit right on the website which helps you get an idea of where you’re going and whether or not it’s worth your visit. Some more up close animal shots would be appreciated or information on any seasonal events or promotions.

Gift Shop (10): Another great gift shop! Japan seems to excel in this category, which is probably helped along by the type of consumers Japanese tourists are. Great themed merchandise with plenty of appreciation for many species they carry. Great souvenirs for adults and children alike with toys, food, and clothing all options.

Quiet Areas (8): At first I wasn’t going to give this as high but it turns out they have an outdoor picnic area which would drastically increase their opportunities to take some time to the side or have a lunch break. It wasn’t overly crowded when I visited towards the end of the day which meant plenty of space and time to spend in front of the exhibits.

Safety/Cleanliness (7): If you don’t join into any of the extras this would be a point or two higher actually. The aquarium in terms of cleanliness if quite high scoring. They recently redid the aquarium with new exhibits and signage and everything looks awesome. Safety is more in terms of parents watching their children for the most part. Many exhibits have open tops and children could potentially reach inside or even touch the animals if they’re so bold and being held up by a parent. They do have touch tanks and interactive options with some animals at certain times of the day – again posing a potential hazard.

Extras (7): They do have some animal shows and interactive areas such as touch tanks, holes in exhibits for the otters to hold hands, and supervised petting of penguins as well. It does appear they have some talks throughout the day. I couldn’t see any information about events or programing beyond those though which I feel could be added in quite easily.

Overall (7.6): I enjoyed this zoo! It wasn’t necessarily one I would go back to or list in my top aquariums but they did a great job showcasing the animals in the Seto Inland Sea. If you’re in the area and want to learn more about Japanese animals I would recommend it for your afternoon – it doesn’t take the whole day so it’s a nice break indoors!

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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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