If you have ever picked up a travel guide or searched anything about Okinawa, you are bound to have come across the picture of the above giant aquarium tank with the huge whale sharks. Churaumi Aquarium is almost synonym with Okinawa! It welcomed 20 million visitors in less than 8 years after opening. Imagine that!
‘Chura’ means beautiful and ‘Umi’ means sea in Japanese. And the beautiful sea, it aims to showcase.
Journey to a Coral Reef
One of the first things we saw upon entering the aquarium was the touch pool.
The kids got to touch star fishes and sea slugs! After that, there were sinks by the side for them to wash their hands. And I loved how there were sinks low enough for the kids.
We proceeded on to the coral sea tank. The tank opened to the sky to allow the natural sunlight to shine into it. It was almost felt like snorkeling, without the uncomfortable gear or getting wet!
MF was super amazed by the monstrous fish!!
Look how big it was!
Here comes a super kawaii fish! Is that cute or what???
And while the elder brother was jumping around teasing the monster fishes, the little one was chilling by the side making friends with the small fishes.
The kids just couldn’t get enough of the beautiful fishes and corals here. And we were barely passed the entrance! Long way to go.. Let’s move along kids!
Nope. Not budging.
Alright.. Let me go find some fishes to make friends with too. Found one with oh-so-kissable lips. *smooch*
And lucky the kids hung around. Because they saw a diver and waved enthusiastically to him! And the busy diver actually bothered to greet them. Japanese hospitality.
We passed by a tank of giant lobsters. And I mean GIANT.
Just how giant was it? Well, in the photo below, the lobster in front are those that typically end up on dinner plates. They were just a fraction of the size of the giant lobster, which made them look like crayfishes.
And no decent aquarium these days can be without a Nemo tank. I mean clown fishes. Heck, nobody knows these little things as clown fishes anymore. They should just officially rename them ‘Nemo fishes’. When I was at S.E.A. Aquarium in Singapore recently, EVERYBODY around me called them ‘Nemo’. The Chinese, the Hong Kongers, the Japanese, the Koreans…. Everyone was going ‘Nemo Nemo’ in different slangs.
Look, I even found Gill! This looked totally like a scene from ‘Finding Nemo’. You know, with all the green algae on the tank?
“Where is Dory?” I hear you asking? There she was, swimming with the lion fishes.
Journey to the Kuroshio
After we completed the tour of the coral seas, we proceeded to the “Kuroshio”. This is where we came face-to-face with sharks, manta rays, and migrant fish that live in the current of Kuroshio (Black Current) which nurtures all marine life in the Okinawan Seas.
Starting off with the Shark Reseach Lab, we visited the large tank of sharks.
Well, hello there baby Jaws.
And this next shark looked more cute than dangerous.
We didn’t hang around here too long, because we wanted to beat the crowd to meet the stars of the aquarium: The whale sharks!
And WE DID IT! We beat the crowd to the big tank!!! We rushed like crazy to get here as soon as the aquarium opened, because a reader warned me that the aquarium is crazy crowded all year round (20 million visitors in 8 years? I bet it is.) and it’s best to be there early. Considering our resort, Renaissance Okinawa Resort, was an hour’s drive away, we really rushed like mad. Poor planning, tsk tsk. But this was SO worth the effort of waking up early and shoving down our breakfast!
Front row seats, dudes! We took sooo many photos, sticking ourselves to the tank and with nobody else getting in our way!
Words cannot describe how beautiful and mesmerizing this tank was! I could sit there all day looking at the rays and whale sharks!
MF was super HIGH!! And I was so glad my boys weren’t getting in other people’s ways (they tend to do that when they are excited).
Cannot resist posting a few more photos.
If you think that was a lot of rays swimming around, check out the sea beds. There were more rays just lazing around there!
Once again, we caught sight of the divers at work.
These divers’ jobs looked awfully dangerous to me. Don’t you think?
If you continue walking along to the side of the tank, you will come to the Aqua Room. With windows above you, you can get a feel of what it’s like underwater amid the rays and whale sharks. Complete with seats, so you can really bum here all day!
We sat around the Aqua Room for quite a bit, waiting for the Kuroshio Adventure to open at 10am.
The entrance to the Kuroshio Adventure was pretty inconspicuous and easy to miss.
Enter through the above doors and look for the lift to go up to Level 4. Once we got out of the lift, we were first awe-struck by the beautiful sea around us!
Couldn’t resist sticking my face into the scenery.
Alright, that was NOT the Kuroshio adventure. Come along, let me show you what the Kuroshio adventure is!
Yup, the Kuroshio Adventure allows you to walk ON TOP of the big tank! Isn’t that cool?
We had a thrill checking out the whale shark from above!
And at one point, there was even see-through glass below our feet!
At 10.30am, 11.30am, 12noon, 12.30pm, 1.30pm, 2pm, 6pm and 6.30pm, there were explanations by staff. We didn’t hang around to wait for the staff explanation because we were kind of rushing for time. (We wanted to go back to the resort for lunch. Bad planning, as I explained in my itinerary.) The staff spoke Japanese, but they had iPad translation service if you have any questions for them.
We also missed the feeding sessions. Like TOTAL BUMMER. The feeding sessions were at 3pm and 5pm. But remember I said earlier that you had to reach the aquarium super early to beat the crowd? That means you should plan to spend the whole day here. And don’t worry, there are LOTS to see to occupy yourselves for the whole day, as you will find out at the end of the post.
Moving along, we came to the Churaumi Theatre. There were 3 different shows being screened at various timings here:
As I mentioned, we were rushing for time so we didn’t stay for any of the shows. SIGHS.
Journey into the Deep Blue Sea
We continue deeper into the deep dark ocean and checked out species of fishes and corals that lived in the depths of the mysterious ocean. Most of the exhibits here were collected from depths of 200 meters below sea level off the shores of Okinawa!
In caves, you can find glow worms. In the deep blue sea, there are corals and fishes that glow like fireflies too! At the ocean planetarium, with the help of reflected infra-red light and dimmed lights, we got to see some glowing sea creatures!
Collecting Souvenir Stamps
Just before exiting the aquarium, we spotted a table for collecting our favourite souvenir stamps! The kids were so well-trained from all their Japan trips that they made a beeline for the stamps and started chopping away.
This is common practice in Japan. You can find souvenir stamps like these at many attractions, train stations, hotels and even restaurants throughout Japan. Before I had kids, one item I would pack in my luggage for my Japan trips was a notebook with blank pages. Just for collecting these stamps! But now with kids and my desire to travel light, I just collect them using brochures where available.
Collect your souvenir photo!
At the entrance of the aquarium, the staff would take a photo for you. After going through the whole aquarium and getting all excited over whale sharks and manta rays, chances are you would have forgotten about it. Well, at least I totally forgot about it. Until I was looking around randomly while the kids busied themselves with the souvenir stamps, that I spotted the booth for collecting souvenir photos!
Let me stress that this photo service was absolutely FREE! I know, many of us Asians are very skeptical when ‘free’ services are offered, thinking there must be a catch somewhere. But in Japan, this is again very common. They will take your photo and give you a pocket-sized print for FREE. Then, if you like the photo, you can purchase for a bigger print. The Japanese are generally not pushy about it and it’s totally okay to say NO to purchasing the bigger prints. Just that very often, the Japanese are so nice about it that I can’t resist rejecting them. *faint*
Okinawa Ocean Expo Park
So we have reached the end of the Churaumi Aquarium. But guess what? Churaumi Aquarium is just a teeny part of the Ocean Expo Park!!
Here is a map of the whole Ocean Expo Park:
And here is a zoomed in map of the above blue rectangle:
Yup, that small blue portion in the above map is the Churaumi Aquarium that I showed you in this post. There was still so much more to see! I totally regretted only allocating half a day to be spent here. I will share more on the rest of Okinawa Ocean Expo Park on next week’s Travel Tuesday!
How to spend a day at Churaumi Aquarium
Warning: All the above timings were based on show timings during my visit and only serves as a rough guide. The timings may vary by season, or the aquarium may change the timing as and when necessary. Please check actual timings on the official website to plan your visit.
Information on Churaumi Aquarium:
Telephone number: +81 980-48-2741 (key in 0980482741 for GPS)
Map Code (what is this?): 553075797
- By car from Naha Airport (2 hours)
- By Yanbaru Express Bus from Naha Airport (3 hours)
Buses from other parts of Okinawa such as Nago are available. But generally, public buses are not very frequent. Self-driving is recommended in Okinawa.
|Period||Opening time||Closing time(last admission)|
|Closed||First Wednesday and the following day (Thursday) of December||Please be reminded that all entrance gates at Ocean Expo Park will be closed.|
Note: Aquarium may be closed due to unexpected weather conditions such as typhoons.
|Admission Times||Annual Passport|
|8:30 – 16:00 (Regular rate)||16:00 – Closed
“After 4 PM Tickets”
<Over 20 persons>
|Adult||1,850 yen||1,480 yen||1,290 yen||3,700 yen|
|High school||1,230 yen||980 yen||860 yen||2,460 yen|
|Elementary/Junior high school||610 yen||490 yen||430 yen||1,220 yen|
|Under 6 years old||Free||–|
Official Websites: Homepage
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