Japan has an abundance of beautiful and unique aquariums, zooloical parks, and botanical gardens located in every region of the country, all of which draw a large crowd. Tokyo, in particular, has several facilities that fall into this category, chock full of entertainment and education, beauty and wonderment, and memories to last a lifetime. If you plan on visiting this vivacious city, here are our Favorite 5.
Aqua World – (Ibaraki Prefectural Oarai Aquarium) is one of Japan’s largest aquariums, with a total floor area of about 19,800 square meters, in an area facing the Pacific Ocean in Oarai Town. Here, you can meet 68,000 sea creatures of about 580 species.
Highly recommended to see while at the park is the Seas of the World Zone, particularly the area that houses 48 species of sharks and the tank exclusively developed for ocean sunfish, a popular fish with a unique shape and winsome expression. The Museum Zone is also very interesting, and the children will love Kids Land; surprisingly, the largest facility in the aquarium. You can actually touch the fish here, and there is play equipment resembling the ocean’s creatures.
Ocean Live is an entertaining dolphin and seal show which is held four times a day so there’s no excuse to miss it. Visitors can also witness meal time for penguins, visit a 1300-ton tank in the Encounter Sea Zone, and marvel at the Deep Sea Zone, where you can encounter some pretty strange creatures from the ocean’s mystical depths. Plan on spending the whole day at the park because Aqua World will keep the entire family busy for hours and hours.
Hours: 9:00-17:00 (last entry: 16:00) Admission: 850 yen (Adult); 930 yen (elementary school students and junior high school students); 310 yen (young children aged 3 years and older). The facility is open year round as there are no fixed holiday closures.
Tama Zoological Park – Created to make the most of the lush area on which the park sits, Tama Zoo sits on 50 hectares and allows its animals to roam freely so they can be observed in their most natural state.
The zoo consists mainly of four distinct areas, namely the African Garden, the Australian Garden, the Asiatic Garden, and the Insectarium, where 350 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are kept. The zoo is famous for being the first in Japan to raise koalas, as well as introducing the Lion Bus, which enables visitors to view a pride of lions up close – actually, very close, especially when the lions are situated on their elevated perch which brings them eye-level with the bus windows and face to face with the passengers.
The Asiatic Garden is home to one of the world’s largest skywalks, which has become highly popular due to the orangutans playing and roaming over a rope course measuring a total of 150 meters. The zoo is packed with a wide range of other attractions too, including the Insectarium, which you can walk among 700 species of butterflies from around the globe as they flutter around your head. Then there is the walk-in aviary at the Asian Marsh Zone, and the Mole House, where visitors can watch moles in their tunnels. In addition, rabbits and guinea pigs present an interactive experience at Acorn Plaza.
Hours: 09:30-17:00 (tickets on sale until 16:00) Admission: 600 yen (adults), 200 yen (junior high school students), 300 yen (65 or above); free entry on Greenery Day (May 4), Tama Zoo Anniversary Day (May 5), and Tokyo Citizens Day (October 1). The Park is Closed Wednesdays (or the following day if the Wednesday is a national holiday, substitute holiday, or Tokyo Citizens Day), New Year vacation (December 29 – January 1 the following year)
Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise – This park sits on a man-made, 240-thousand square meter island, where visitors will find 3 aquariums, an amusement park called Pleasure Land, as well as a hotel, restaurants, and shops.
The first of the 3 aquariums is Aqua Museum, home to 100 thousand creatures of 500 species. Aqua Museum has a distinctive pyramid-like appearance and consists of five floors where visitors can become familiar with every creature living in and by the sea. Most uniquely, this aquarium features whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. And as you can imagine, its a huge draw for visitors. The second aquarium, called, Dolphin Fantasy, features dolphins, of course, in a tank the shape of a tunnel so that visitors can observe from below. And finally, Fureai Lagoon (meaning Interaction Lagoon) allows guests to experience sea creatures by touching and playing with fish.
At Pleasure Land, visitors can enjoy a wide range of attractions and thrill rides, including Blue Fall, which is a vertical drop ride that is the biggest drop in Japan.
Hours vary so Admission: 1 DAY TICKET: 4,900 yen (Adult & High School Student), 3,500 yen (Junior high school & Elementary school student), 2,000 yen (Children 4 years or over)
Ueno Zoo – Having opened in 1882, this is Japan’s first zoo, with a population of 3,000 animals, representing some 500 species.
The eastern part features varied displays on the hilly area of Ueno Park. Especially popular are giant pandas becoming a symbol of the 1972 normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. Adorable Ri Ri (Male) and Shin Shin (Female) attract visitors by the thousands. The eastern part also has created living environments similar to natural habitats, such as forests for gorillas, tigers and elephants, hills for bears and others, and sea for polar bears and seals.
The western part of the zoo captivates visitors with its beauty of the lotus-clustered Shinobazu Pond. African animals, such as giraffes, hippopotamus, and aye-ayes are kept here, as are 50 species of amphibian and reptile. This part of the zoo also contains a children’s petting zoo of mainly farm animals.
The zoo also features historical structures, such as the five-storied pagoda of the old Kan’ei-ji Temple, rebuilt in 1639, the Kankan-tei tea house built in 1626 and rebuilt in 1878, and the old front gate of a Japanese Versailles-style structure.
Hours: 9:30 to 17:00 (Entry accepted until 16:00) Admission: 600 yen for general visitors, 300 yen for seniors older than 65, 200 yen for junior high school students and free for children up to elementary school pupils. The Park is Closed Mondays (the following day if Monday is national holiday or Tokyo Citizens Day)
Tokyo Sea Life Park – This park captivates visitors with a huge glass dome, displaying rare marine life from the Pacific, Indian Ocean, Atlantic, Arctic, and the Antarctic. Especially thrilling is the Bluefin tuna darting swiftly around in a huge 2,200-ton donut-like tank under the glass dome. It is the world’s first facility in which pelagic fish swim in a cluster and succeeded in spawning.
The aquarium is also known for its exhibition of penguins, one of the largest in Japan, raising Humboldt, Rockhopper, Fairy, and King penguins that can be observed both on land and in the water. It also exhibits the world’s largest kelp, a cluster of sea algae from California, various marine environments of Ogasawara Islands, Izu Seven Islands and Tokyo Bay to show sea life in Tokyo, and seabirds, like tufted puffin and murre, swimming at a dazzling speed under water.
In addition, the aquarium has a display of duplicated freshwater life that existed in Tokyo when it was rich with nature. Motsugo Psedorasbora Parva fish, which are rarely seen in Tokyo nowadays, are in some ponds and marshes.
Hours: 9:30–17:00 (admission until 16:00) Admission: 700 yen for general visitors, 350 yen for people older than 65, 250 yen for junior high school students, free for children before junior-high school. The Park is Closed on Wednesdays (or following Thursday if Wednesday is a national holiday or Tokyo Citizens Day) and year-end and New Year holidays.