Ocean Harmony – Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa
Okinawa always brings people the lovely imagine of a blue clear ocean. Many tourists both from within and outside the country visit Okinawa every year to enjoy the time in the water. What if you want to see more ocean life? Or you are visiting during a season not suitable to swim? Or, if you are someone like me, what if you cannot swim?
No problem. The ocean life is still there for you to enjoy and experience, in the form of one of the best aquariums there is. The Churaumi Aquarium is a destination you will not want to miss when you are there. The Aquarium is located on the North side of the island. If you start from Naha, it would take over an hour and a half, but you will also be able to enjoy a lovely coastal drive.
If the 9 parking lots have not yet reflected it for you, the aquarium is part of a massive park that has different attractions such as a botanical garden, a dolphin show and even a beach. Some parts of the park are free, but the aquarium is definitely the main reason to come.
I have to admit that when I first visited the aquarium, I did not have much interest in ocean life, mainly because I cannot swim and thought that the ocean and I are destined to be apart. However, the first area upon entering immediately changed my mind. The “meet the starfish and sea cucumbers” zone was great for both kids and adults alike. You get to put your hands into the shallow water and feel the starfish and sea cucumbers. Initially, I was quite repulsed by that idea, but when I gave it a try, I felt a strange connection. “I may not have 5 legs and a crusty texture, but we are both alive and sharing this planet,” I thought to myself, and that intrigued me to learn more about sea creatures.
The aquarium is filled with fish tanks that display different fish and shellfish, including some that are endangered but are more populated thanks to the work of the aquarium. The tanks are also designed for the comfort of each type of sea creature. One thing I also really appreciated was seeing many tanks with a few kinds of fish and shellfish living together in harmony. I feel like that is quite rare to see in similar museums, and it really reflects the point of appreciating the natural habitats where they do live together.
If you have heard of the aquarium, then you probably know that the main attraction of the place is the massive shark tank in the center. Behind the 22.5m wide and 8.2m high glass lives the two 8m long sharks and you get to watch them swim around majestically. However, the tank lives way more than the two sharks, as you will also find other sharks, huge stingrays, and numerous colourful fish. This panoramic view of the tank makes you feel like you are a part of them, and you just cannot find this anywhere else in Japan.
Not only can you see the huge main tank from the front, keep walking and you will find yourself walking a path under the tank, giving you a view of the fish from a different and even more intimate angle with some bright natural light as well. After the walk around the facility, taking a seat here as I watched the sharks and friends swim by right above me was fantastic.
After exploring and learning about the ocean life in the aquarium, stepping outside and immediately seeing the ocean was very refreshing, and it also gave me a sense of appreciation for the mysterious ocean and the lifeforms under water that I had never felt before.
Chura in the Okinawan language means beautiful, and Churaumi Aquarium is a celebration of the beautiful blue sea and its beautiful creatures that the island lives with.