Meeting with fishes29 December, 2012 by Chad
It’d be a pretty long day this Tuesday. Since it’d be our last day in Nagoya we’d be waking up early to finally visit the Nagoya Aquarium. I’ve heard only good things about the place so was quite looking forward to it. And if it was anything like the one in Osaka, it’d be pretty impressive indeed.
Checked out of the Nagoya hotel rooms this morning, leaving our bulky luggage at the counter for safe keeping before making our way to the aquarium. Like Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, Nagoya’s own aquarium is located at the port south of the city, it takes about half an hour to get there by subway.
Despite being the largest port in Japan, there isn’t nearly as much to see at Nagoya Port apart from the aquarium. Most of the port area is dedicated to actual trade shipments. The Toyota Corporation ships its vehicles from here to the rest of the world.
The Port of Nagoya Aquarium occupies a large plot of land at an inlet of the port. Here the we found the many buildings making up the aquarium, a Maritime Museum, an old shopping mall and a huge icebreaker ship docked in the yard that has since been converted into a museum as well.
At first glance the place looked deserted, so was little worried that perhaps it might had been closed. But it would soon get a lot more crowded when an entire kindergarten (or possibly grade school) appeared for a field trip.
Entry to the aquarium was 2,000 yen, cheaper than Osaka’s. You could get an unlimited entry pass for a year at only 5,000 yen. There’s also a combination ticket which includes entry to the museum and ship, but we didn’t see ourselves spending the entire day here.
Upon entry, its immediately apparent that the Nagoya Aquarium is quite a different experience. Osaka Aquarium employs a tight spiraling path through what is effectively just one giant tank to simulate an undersea environment. Nagoya’s on the other hand has a much more open concept, opting instead for spacious halls and separate wide viewing tanks.
Nagoya Aquarium wastes no time to awe. As all of the aquarium’s larger animals were kept at the entrance. The very first tank here housed the aquarium’s orca. There was a family of 4 killer whales kept here. The whales were free to move between the viewing tank and another hidden pool behind.
Most of the orca hung around back at the hidden pool but this one spent the entire time greeting visitors. It was one of the younger ones but was still quite big. It was amazing to see how gracefully the whales moved in the water, despite their impressive size.
Apparently the aquarium held live orca shows. Unfortunately, a scrap of paper pasted on the tank informed us that these were currently put on hold while the whales were still being trained. The current whales had only moved into the aquarium earlier this year, after the previous resident orca has passed away. There was a video here documenting the transfer of the whales from their original home at Kamogawa Sea World in Chiba.
There were more tanks around the hall, containing a few different species of dolphins and one lone seal. The largest tank contained a beluga whale but it was darkened and it was swimming far too fast to capture it on the camera. Exploring around, we found some rather dwarfing whale models on display and a learning center for younger visitors. Randy messed around with some of the exhibits there.
Near the back of the hall, there was a really large underwater theater where one could view a large pool that was connected to the other tanks. Here a number of dolphins were playing, darting around the pool. An announcement over the aquarium’s broadcast system alerted us that a dolphin show was about to start soon. We and a couple other families scurried upstairs to where the show would be held.
Turns out that there was a amphitheatre upstairs surrounding the same pool we saw below. Here the school students had already gathered. Thankfully there were more than enough seats to go around for everyone.
The dolphins were lead into the pool from their smaller tanks by the trainers. They were even introduced one by one, in tune to some idolish music. Like a concert, a live crew of cameraman around the pool ensured that all of the important moments from the show were broadcast to the giant screen here.
Following the music, the dolphins would go on to perform various tricks. The different breeds of dolphin were split into different groups, each with their own individual trainers. They followed the prompts of these trainers obediently. It was quite entertaining, though we were more amazed by how they had managed to train the dolphins so well. It was apparent that it involved treating them to lots of fish.
The dolphins were rewarded with fish whenever they successfully completed a trick. When they were back to their own tanks after the show, they were further encouraged and treated to more. It looked like fun to work at such an aquarium. The trainers get to build a relationship with the inhabitants of the aquarium, much like they would a domestic pet.
While we watched the dolphins being fed, I ended up being approached by another tourist here for help. Showing me a brochure, she tried asking in really slow English if I knew where the beluga show would be held. There were calls that the show would start soon over the speaker system. To save her the embarrassment, I mustered my best Japanese accent and pointed her to the beluga cove, which was really just right beside us.
There was a large pool inside the cove, the top part of the beluga whale tank we had seen from below earlier. The rest of the interested visitors had already gathered inside the cove so we had a hard time looking over the crowd. The staff here was introducing the whale, showing off the physiology of the creature and explaining various traits.
A second whale was also brought in to the cove, a baby beluga which the other had given birth to some time ago. It was still rather young, so was under the care of the aquarium. Since there wasn’t any theatrics, the crowds cleared about midway through the explanation allowing for a better view. As the staff demonstrated, the mother whale was still nursing, thus explaining its lumpy body.
We were mostly done for this wing of the aquarium, so we made our way to the other side. The next building was connected by a long winding corridor and led up to a pitch dark area where the aquarium’s deep sea exhibits were being kept. The first thing we’d come across here was a dark hall featuring what the aquarium called their “Sardine Tornado”.
Dozens of families were seated on the floor in front of this massive panoramic tank, watching the hundreds of sardine fishes inside spiral in synchrony. It was truly an amazing and wondrous sight, definitely not a scene you’d think would be possible to reproduce in an aquarium. Amusingly, the sharks and sunfish in the tank seemed unperturbed by the sardines thrashing.
There did seem to be more types of small fishes on display at the deep sea area at Nagoya as compared to Osaka, though there were far fewer of each type. There was one open tank where you could scoop some of the smaller fishes out to see, which was bound to be a hit with the children, though I don’t see that being very fun for the fishes.
Some might be disappointed to learn that there are far fewer species of jellyfish at Nagoya Aquarium, just 4 small capsules in fact, but I still enjoyed looking at the ones here.
Jellyfish are probably the aquarium creatures I love looking at the most, after the really large ones like whales and sharks. Sadly, they’re also rather under appreciated due to their minuscule size, so while Osaka Aquarium does have an impressively robust jellyfish collection, all the people I’ve traveled there with tend to breeze through the section since they are displayed last.
Perhaps since we were only halfway through the aquarium, I managed to spend a little more time at each tank. A staff here was feeding the creatures, so we managed to see that in action.
Ended up taking a whole bunch of jellyfish videos but to spare most the boredom you’ll find them at our YouTube Channel instead. There is something rather captivating about how the creatures effortlessly float around the water, like miniature satellites drifting in space.
The rest of the dark area was made up of more winding tunnels leading up to another building. Various creepy looking deep sea fishes, preserved in medical solution were displayed along the sides. To make up for the lack of live specimens, there was a holographic tank, like the displays at Osaka Castle but on a much larger scale, that emulated a submarine ride to the bottom of the sea.
The entire hologram show lasted quite a while so we ended up leaving halfway and onward through the corridors for the next building. Eventually, this lead to a cylindrical tunnel through a coral reef tank. Such tunnels are typically rather small and indoors, so it was quite refreshing to see this one pass through an outdoor pool instead. Apart from allowing for larger fishes to be displayed, this also provided some nice natural lighting that matched the tropical theme.
The first two floors of this building housed the aquarium’s equatorial creatures. There were some pretty big sea turtles in one of the larger environments, that was made to mimic the turtle’s natural habitat. Still it didn’t look like there was nearly enough space for all of them to swim about freely. The largest turtles were about the same size as the school kids.
Many of the kids here ran from tank to tank with plastic clipboards, stopping in front those of particular interest. They were given some sort of worksheet to fill out as part of the field trip.
There were a couple of restaurants at the upper floors of the building. You could also observe the turtle tanks from above here. Infographics and a puzzle game explained the breeding habits of the sea turtles, as well as the hazards the baby turtles faced in the wild. Parts of the tank (off camera) were made to emulate a beach, where the magic happens.
The top floor also linked to the last observation hall we’d see today, featuring another of the aquarium’s main attractions. This long, narrow tank filled with penguins was easily one of the aquariums most popular spots. A few of the creatures hung around top on the artificial habitat while the others zipped left and right, making continual laps in the pool below.
There were quite a few penguins and a good 3 or 4 different types fitted in the tank. But it was mostly this one particular breed of penguin that we’d had not seen elsewhere. They looked just like the Suica mascot and were kind of humorous with their tiny beady eyes. Turns out that they were adelie penguins. Apparently, they’re one of the only two types of penguins that are exclusive to Antarctica waters, the other being the emperor penguin.
Past the hall there was a way down to a learning center on the first floor. Most of the school children had already completed their rounds of the aquarium and were either gathering near the exit, or playing with starfish at the touch pool outside. A few still hung around the learning center though to finish up the last of their assignment.
The only thing of interest inside the center was a tank where baby sea turtles bred in the aquarium were being kept for observation. There was only one baby turtle inside today though.
It looked like we had covered all of the aquarium already (though I’d learn at time of writing that there was still an IMAX theater at Nagoya Aquarium that we missed). There was a large souvenir shop that we checked out here which had quite an impressive collection of goods for sale, including plush toys of all the popular inhabitants and various character goods.
Searched around in hopes of finding an orca plush and though there were a few, most of them looked ridiculous with their tongues stuck out. The aquarium pushed the beluga whale as their main mascot instead.. There were various plushes for their newly advertised character “Captain Beluga” along with its younger sailor sidekick. After deliberating for quite while, decided to give that a pass. I wasn’t nearly as fond of the beluga whale.
Randy was most fascinated by the aquarium branded stationary on sale. All of them featured a lenticular 3D image of the aquarium and its orca. The 3D effect for the image was actually surprisingly good, better than we had seen anywhere else. While most such images are effective from 2, maybe 4 angles at best, the ones here had something like 8 angles of vision.
I considered getting the fan, since it had the best lenticular image but couldn’t fathom any possible use for it. Maybe I should had gotten it anyways? Randy ended up purchasing one of the notepads here, which had the next largest image and was the more practical of the two.
We backtracked to the first building where the main exit was located and found another smaller souvenir shop there. But it carried the same stuff as the other shop. Outside, there were those souvenir medallion vending machines you’d find at all such touristy places. A couple of excited young Korean women were purchasing some of the coins.
The two were decked out in factory uniforms, so I guess they were here between work. How I wish I had an aquarium to visit during tea breaks too.
We each got some coins from the machine too. I was initially going to get the official looking Nagoya Aquarium medallion with the dolphins on it but then we spotted another machine just beside. That’s a lot of designs for one place.
Instead, I got the one featuring the beluga mascot. I have a whole bunch of these coins now. Perhaps I’ll make a compilation post for all the medallion machines we’ve come across so far.
While we were leaving, the two Korean women returned to the machines again to get another coin that they had missed earlier. They really liked their medals.
It was about time that we found lunch, so we headed to the adjacent shopping mall that we had seen on the way the aquarium. The mall was pretty run down from the outside. It was starting to look like a trend of such of port areas. A man in Disney uniform was leading children and their parents inside for some sort of educational program signups.
The mall was actually better kept on the inside. It looked as if it were possibly renovated recently, though perhaps cheaply. Both the design and infrastructure of the place reminded me of the Junction 10 building in Singapore, back when it was known as Ten Mile Junction.
We were quite hungry and tired at this point, so weren’t that interested in looking around the mall. There really there wasn’t much to look around at though, just a couple more souvenir shops and one store selling anime toys. We found a food court occupying most of the ground floor though, a rare sight in Japan.
But as is the case of food courts, the food here didn’t look too appetizing. We considered enduring until we returned to central Nagoya to get lunch but eventually gave in and ate here anyways.
Eri and Randy bought some delivery bento and random bites from the same store. The owner looked quite unfriendly. I got some tempura kishimen, a flat type of udon originating from Nagoya, from the adjacent noodle store instead. Nothing spectacular, but it was affordable and I’m not particularly picky when it comes to udon. Also, the owner was friendlier.
Drinks at the food court were expensive, so thought I’d try getting some from a vending machine outside. Experimented this Grape flavored Futte Futte Jelly. Interestingly, it comes completely as jelly and you’re urged to shake it until it is a consistency of your liking. It wasn’t any good though. Mostly just sugary, like most other Japanese fruit flavored drinks.
On the way back we saw a cat crossing the street, it wouldn’t be normally notable but this was the first time seeing a cat wandering around on its own in Japan.
We had the rest of the afternoon and even the evening free, since our bus to Tokyo was scheduled for 11.45 PM. The rest were too tired to go far so we’d hang around Sakae until then.
First, we returned to the Sunshine Sakae building for the makeshift SKE48 shop, since Eri and Randy were to help a mutual friend get some photos from there. There managed to be even less goods at the store for sale this afternoon. A large group of high schoolers were passing through Tsutaya, making their way to the ferris wheel attached to the side of the building.
Once the rest were done, we checked out the upper floors of the building. The level above Tsutaya served as a mini Shibuya 109-2, with various host styled fashion outlets. At close observation, even the clothes here appeared to have come from the same factories as the other clothing outlets we had seen in Osaka, Kyoto and Osu.
There was an aesthetic center, hairdresser and a rather out of place anime shop come cosplay cafe on the upper floor. Most of the shop featured merchandise featuring some anime character with pink hair and headphones. A single waitress here cosplaying as the character ran both the shop and cafe sections. The back of the shop had a bedroom you could book for cosplay photography and who knows what else.
Randy and I still wanted to get the Takeo Kikuchi bags that we saw over at Tokyu Hands. But rather than travel to Nagoya Station there was another nearer Tokyu Hands building just beside Nagoya Tower that we thought we’d check out.
But first a quick stop at the tower for another break. Randy needed some coffee to continue functioning, so we made ourselves comfortable at the previously discussed tables below the tower. There were some vending machines located just beside, so it made for a convenient rest stop for a mid day break, the nearby office workers agreed.
Also took this opportunity to check out the toilets at Nagoya Tower as the rest recommended, it was easily larger than our hotel rooms but really only stood out because Japanese toilets tend to be pretty cramped.
The Sakae Tokyu Hands turned out to be a disappointment. It was a lot smaller and didn’t carry the bags we were looking for. Returning in the direction of our hotel, we stopped at a rather fancy Regal Shoes outlet along the way as Randy was still considering getting another pair.
Found a really nice, dressier pair of shoes here that was the exact image of what I was looking for, but the 20,000 yen price tag was a big turn off. The staff explained that it was because of the shoes’ special breathable soles. There were holes on the bottom. It indeed looked quite comfortable. Perhaps if I hadn’t purchased the pair of Timberlands. Randy described his policy of not purchasing shoes for more than $200.
Returned to and hung around the hotel lobby for a couple of hours while Randy charged his phone. The battery on his Samsung Galaxy S2 regularly died within half a day. The hotel lobby for the Unizo Inn Sakae was really small so we felt a bit awkward hanging around there, it even shared a common toilet with the Mos Burger beside.
Amusingly, Randy and Eri had a hard time figuring out how to get the hotel’s coffee machine to work. It was one of those instant espresso machines.
Eventually we left to find some dinner. The rest had remembered passing by a beef buffet near the hotel so we went to search for that. We found it just across the road from the hotel. For some reason I had forgotten about the camera, so the pictures below are from the phone instead.
Prices were no where near as cheap as the buffet we had at Osaka but still affordable. The place served shabu shabu and sukiyaki. For some reason we didn’t think too much of it and simply ordered the cheapest thing on menu, which turned out to be sukiyaki, but later realized that we were kind of in the mood for shabu shabu instead.
The price of the meal included as much meats and vegetables as you could wish for but patrons are encourage to order sides and drinks for extra. We had a bit of trouble making heads of what was happening at first, since the tacky menu was difficult to understand and left out most of the details. It turned out that our waitress was Chinese though, so Eri came in useful, handling the communications in Mandarin after.
The sukiyaki base was a little overpowering, so we ordered some eggs to serve as dip instead and thoroughly enjoyed the meal after. The main highlight for myself were definitely the vegetables, which were a better match for the sauce.
After having our fill we still had more time to kill at the hotel again. There really wasn’t anything else to do at this time since the only other things open at this odd hour were perhaps pubs. We eventually gathered up the strength to overcome our laziness though and began dragging our luggage over to the pick up point. Wasn’t nearly as difficult as we thought, since it was really only about 500 meters away.
It’s a bit unsettling that the allocated pickup point was simply stated as the southern stairs at the Sakae Plaza of Love. There was no indication that we were in the right place except for a couple of salarymen here, one of which was quite worried himself but the other reassured him that he was in the right place.
There was also a homeless man camping out at the bench beside ours, though I guess he was was already used to strangers invading his territory every night. A group of teenagers took advantage of the long empty main streets at night to practice their skateboarding.
The bus pulled up on the dot. After confirming our booking, he loaded up our luggage and just like that we were off to Tokyo. It’d be a 7 hour long ride, so we hoped to catch some sleep along the way.
I’ll definitely be missing the enjoyable, relaxed pace of Nagoya. Definitely loving the low population here when compared to the other capitals. At the same time it was great that Nagoya doesn’t compromise on any of the conveniences you’d expect of a modern Japanese city. The rest were definitely looking forward to the many more things to do at Tokyo though.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.