World’s Largest Jellyfish Collection – The Kamo Aquarium in Tsuruoka
Jellyfish are older than the dinosaurs. Yes, that’s right, they’re at least 500 million years old, and definitely worth an up-close look without fear of getting stung. There’s no better place to do this than at the Kamo Aquarium in Tsuruoka, located on the Sea of Japan in the north’s Dewa Sanzan, or Three Sacred Mountain region.
The facility exhibits over 50 species, earning it the Guinness Book of World Records’ distinction as the largest collection of jellyfish in the world. Tank after tank displays all manner of the marine creature, from a tiny blue bobulating variety to the massive cream-colored lion’s mane species.
To be captivated by the pulsing glow of the jellyfish at Kamo Aquarium is like a voyage to an underwater galaxy. Purple incandescent tentacles that seem to go on for more than a meter interweave with others but never tangle, creating an illusion of stardust.
Daily talks (in Japanese) on the jellyfish lifecycle are popular; you can see jellyfish under the microscope and in nursery tanks, and even handle some jellyfish (with gloves!).
A multi-colored circular tank 5 meters in diameter, the “Jellyfish Dream Theater,” is the culminating jewel and offers great photo opportunities. Take advantage of the ample seating provided here to relax.
In a time when we’re constantly bombarded with tweets, posts, and pings, the muffling effect of water has a unique ability to soothe away distraction and anxiety, opening up a portal to our imagination and letting us feel weightless.
The aquarium also has some more conventional exhibits. When you enter through the ticket booth, don’t miss the display on the wall to your left as the unfettered view of the sea beckons directly in front of you. A fascinating display of traditional local fishing gear, including bamboo rods more than 10 meters long, leaves you humbled to the skills of Japanese fishers.
Posters of the vast variety of species indigenous to the Shonai littoral zone provide scientific, Japanese, and English names next to display tanks full of massive schools of silver mackerel and windows on a mixed swath of red grouper, stingray, and various translucent critters side-by-side fuzzy pink algae. Outdoor pools host some local seals and decks offer views of the stony shore and a breath of the fresh salty wind.
Don’t worry, you won’t be able to miss the giant octopus (at least 1.5 meters in diameter) due to the steady chorus of child after child screaming “tako!” as they round the corner and are confronted with the star-shaped wonder. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a glimpse of its creepy eye as it suctions across the tank wall.
Regardless of whether you try some jellyfish ramen or ice cream in the aquarium’s restaurant, be sure explore the local cuisine of Tsuroka, branded by UNESCO a Creative City of Gastronomy for its unique seafood, mountain vegetables, and the vegan shojin ryori of Shugendo priests. I highly recommend the homemade black sesame tofu.
Kamo Aquarium is located in Tsuroka, 30 minutes from JR Tsuroka station and 20 minutes from Shonai airport. It is open year-round, every day from 9-5. Admission is just 1,000 JPY for adults, 500 JPY for children aged 6-15. Kids under 5 can enter for free!