Salmon Run Anyone? – Watch and Learn at the Chitose Aquarium
As an island nation, Japanese culture is heavily influenced in many ways by the water, the oceans which surround it, its many lakes, and the rivers which run through it, and although the country’s 150 year+ industrialization process has taken a severe toll on many of its wild places, there are still some spots where you can catch a glimpse of nature as it predated Japan’s Industrial Revolution. In particular, parts of Hokkaido/北海道 exist where one can at least catch a fleeting glimpse of how things once were, even if such places are only an echo of their original form. Regardless of how we may influence or try to remake the natural world, nature still follows its own rhythm. The Sake No Furusato Chitose Suizokan/サケのふるさと千歳水族館 or Home of the Salmon Aquarium is one such place which allows a casual visitor the ability to glimpse that rhythm in action.
For the people of Hokkaido, the original Ainu/アイヌ民族 , as well as the Japanese who came later, “Salmon Culture” is a way of life. In this way, the aquarium is not only a place which exhibits the fish and other marine life native to Hokkaido (and specimens from other world rivers) but it’s a showcase of the role of salmon in Hokkaido, really, to all things salmon, from their birth in the Chitose River/千歳川, to life in the ocean, and then to their return to the river to spawn again and replenish the species for another cycle, in the process providing food and livelihoods for generations of humans and other creatures, including bears and many species of birds.
The aquarium is divided into different zones showcasing the fish and other species of Japan, Hokkaido, and the Chitose River specifically.
As you walk through the zones you gradually descend deeper and deeper. As you descend, there are tanks full of fish native to Japan and displays which inform you about the life cycle of salmon. There’s a "fish petting station" for those who want to try a more hands-on approach (good luck getting ahold of any of the trout swimming in the tank, though) until you arrive three stories down to an elongated observation platform which fronts the Chitose River.
From September through December you may see the Chitose filled with salmon who’ve come to spawn. The aquarium provides a view that puts you at the level of the river bottom to watch all the action.
Even off-season, you are likely to see other fish plying the river. Year-round, it’s more likely than not that you’ll be able to witness local fauna in the wild near the aquarium since the river is a magnet for wildlife despite its proximity to the airport. Whether it is your first visit to Hokkaido, or you’ve been many times, it’s quite likely that you may have overlooked this quaint attraction in the rush to get to Sapporo/札幌 or points beyond. Why not give yourself a few hours for a side trip upon arrival in Hokkaido and make the aquarium the starting point for your trip?
The aquarium is located approximately 10 minutes from Shin Chitose International Airport/新千歳国際空港 so it’s extremely convenient for even first time travelers to Hokkaido, even those who might have a few hours of layover between flights to other destinations. It’s less than 1 kilometer from JR Chitose Station, easy (flat, almost no hills) walking distance if you’re inclined to do so.
The website provides all the essential information, including seasonal exhibitions and events, fees, and hours of operation. Make sure you check the website which is available in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Russian, and Thai.