Tokyo Aquarium

The Musings is clearly long overdue a zoo review and this summer brought me to two new places to explore – the Osaka Zoo and the Toyko Aquarium. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get round to covering the former as while it was, on the whole, perfectly satisfactory, it had little that was truly novel or exciting except a giant but underused free flight aviary and then a superbly designed Hagenbeck-type African savannah exhibit. The aquarium in Toyko however, had numerous exciting and interesting exhibits and I enjopyed my visit there immensely, so that’s what you’ll be getting today.

While you’d never know it from most TV and movie appearances, Tokyo is on the coast and it’s suburbs extent right down to the Pacific Ocean. It’s not surprising then that there is a major aquarium housed here, though what is more surprising and endearing is that it lies within a wildlife sanctuary (but more of that in a while).

Most modern aquaria have one giant tank supporting a decent number of very big fish (generally sharks) as a ‘grandstand’ to the rest of the show (like Osaka). All well and good, but Toyko has something rather special – their major tank is a torus, perhaps 20 m or so across, though the actual ‘swimmable’ area is perhaps only 5 x 5 m (it’s really hard to judge). And this tank is stocked with dozens, probably hundreds, of large adult tuna. There’s several species represented and a great many fish, and it is truly amazing to sit within the confines of the dark centre and watch these things glide in circles around the tank. It’s surprisingly entertaining given the lack of classic big open-water space and the low number of species but it works wonderfully well. It also gives the fish a theoretically infinite amount of space to swim in and when they accelerate, well, wow.

While most of the other tanks were quite small, there was a large one in the entrance hall replete with huge number of big hammerheads which was lovely. Several other tanks while small were heaving with fish in Carribean or similar settings, but as ever it is the odd and unique that I’m most after. Here were two that I had very long wanted to see and never previously had the opportunity – leafy sea dragons and, amazingly, giant marine isopods. Sadly the former suffered from massive condensation on the glass of their tank and the latter were mostly hiding, so the photos are not that great, but I was still delighted to see them.

Moving on, the aquarium had a nice series of tanks that could be seen from the front as normal and from above on a catwalk, which gave two very different views of things and allowed for a nice change in perspective. Moving up and out there was a gorgeous shoreline tank representing local species and then an avian section, with both a number of penguins species (and another new species for me – fairy penguins) and then auks with room to swim which was also delightful.

Once you move beyond the aquarium itself though, you’re not actually done. The exhibition lies within the confines of a small nature reserve and so there are various paths to take to see restored local habitats though linked to the exhibits. So there is a large lake stocked with local fish, amphibians and turtles that also features a massive glass plate sunk into the side so you can see the animals swimming with a few tanks on display to the side with rare species being kept for breeding.

Moving on there is a large mudflat for migratory birds and waders ad waterfowl to use, combined with a conservation and information centre that also provides a number of hides from which the birds can be seen up close. As a final bonus the mudflats were home to uncountable small crabs and mudskippers which were both new to me and nice to see in the (semi) wild. All of this is set in what are natural, if maintained, woodlands and grasslands, making it a beautiful environment and a must-visit place to go.

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