Family Fun: Shimonoseki Aquarium

Just a few weeks ago, I claimed that Kagoshima aquarium wasn’t worth writing up in a post. Perhaps I’m becoming a bit jaded, but the more aquariums I visit in Japan, the less I find that they impress me. And yet, with not much else to entertain us in rainy, snowy Shimonoseki the other day, we turned to the aquarium for some entertainment and boy did it deliver.

Shimonoseki sits on the very very very edge of western Honshu. Cross the  bridge you can see from the aquarium’s windows and you’re in Kyushu (welcome to MY island! :P). Being a small city and quite off the beaten tourist trail, I didn’t expect much from Shimonoseki’s aquarium. All I knew is that they had fugu (blowfish). Lots and lots of fugu. 

But before you even get to the fugu, you can’t miss the penguins. A short walk down the stairs, following the lit up penguin tracks, leads you to a very spacious enclosure where at least three different types of penguins live. You can walk up to the enclosure, watch the penguins swim under your feet, and even walk through a tunnel to catch sight of the flightless birds gliding overhead. When the weather cooperates, there is even an outside portion. I have never seen an animal enclosure in Japan have so much space dedicated to one animal.

Part of the penguin enclosure
Part of the penguin enclosure

The third floor of the aquarium – reached by a very long escalator – is mostly dedicated to blowfish. Lest you think that the only kind of fugu in Japan is the kind that ends up on your plate, you’ll find at least four dozen species here in colors ranging from brown to electric yellow. You’ll also find tanks of the usual suspects (Nemo look-alikes, electric eels, sea horses, etc). Down a level, the creatures get a tad bigger, with a pair of seals and some noseless porpoises rounding out the exhibits.

Fish on display
Fish on display

Like all good aquariums, there is a dolphin show, though this one also features an adorable sea lion. The theater is, of course, outside and not the best place to witness the entertainment in the wintertime, but on clear and sunny days, the views of the bridge to Kyushu and the Kanmon strait are impressive. If you don’t like the show, just stare at the scenery. 

The one main drawback to the aquarium is its price. At a hefty ¥2000 per adult and a not-inconsequential ¥400 for my three-year-old, it made for a rather expensive outing. Still, the location is ideal – steps from the harbor and the fish market and right on the bus route through downtown – and we spent more time here than at your average family-friendly site. 

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