Tokyo Sea Life Aquarium

Saturday was Tokyo Citizens Day, which is always fun – loads of zoos, museums, and aquariums in and around Tokyo open up for free admission.

This year we decided to try out the Tokyo Sea Life Aquarium, and it was a lovely – albeit slightly chilly and drizzly – day (now that we are back to 85 and humid, I’d take chilly again. The latest typhoon is expected to reach our part of Japan tomorrow so I assume the rain will also be back on shortly).

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The building and location are lovely and architecturally interesting, so that was an added bonus for Don.

And inside were some incredible creatures.

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This sea star, which looks like a balloon animal version of its better known types, is apparently a “river glove.”

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Ever wonder what use to be inside those beautiful, teensy spiral shells one can find along so many beaches? Apparently, these little snail-like guys above!

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This is a sea star and its externalized stomach, eating a little shrimp thing. They put the shrimp inside a dish with a magnifying glass on the bottom, stuck the magnifying-dish to the side of the aquarium, and then patrons can watch what happens when a sea star eats. It was pretty neat to see.

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These little penguins were separated from the rest of the penguin crew by a net, and everyone thought they were baby penguins. We were all cooing over how cute (or “kawaii,” depending on which language people were speaking) they were. But then Don actually read the sign (in Japanese) and informed us all they are full grown – just a different species. Somehow, less cute now?

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Aardvark loved this statue, though – penguin parent and child in a “penguin foot hug” – which is what we call this move, and we do it all the time at home, usually with a lot more silly ridiculousness to the foot hug than in this photo. (Aardvark adores penguins and we have several penguin children’s books, so the “foot hug” is a favorite in our home).

Sadly, I was running out of memory and couldn’t capture some of the coolest creatures: Leaping Blennys (Blennies?) and Shuttles Hoppfish, “fish” that “walk” out of the water, on rocks or mud flats and jump, using their (crazy, powerful) fins.

Here is a video (not at all taken by me) that shows Leaping Blenny in action:

The ones in the aquarium were leaping from rock to rock and were absolutely fascinating. I could have watched them all day.

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Photo from “Shuttles Hoppfish” Wikipedia entry, I can’t find a photo credit but it is labeled for reuse.

The Hoppfish were pretty cool, too, and Wikipedia tells me they are native to the northwest Pacific ocean, from Vietnam to Korea to Japan. Indeed, there were signs all over the museum promoting new areas right outside the museum grounds that were home to lots of Shuttles Hoppfish – one could head out and see them in their natural environment.

There were also a few tanks with HUGE fish – like, I didn’t know regular fish (and not, like, sharks) could get so big: one tank had some sharks, a ray or two, some other fish, and then this massive sunfish, at least 5 feet long and 4 feet high. I’ve never seen one in real life before and they look just like their back half has been cut off. Aardvark and I waited for a while for the sunfish to swim to our side of the tank, and then all of a sudden, it not only did, it swam straight up to us and stared at us from the other side of the glass, which was kind of freaky.

Another tank – that seemed way too small to house such large fish – was full of these beautiful blue fish (I’ve already forgotten their names unfortunately) that are bigger than I am, as well as a few massive Moray Eels also longer than I am and some other huge fish.

But one of the most moving tanks was the “Tuna Theater,” a huge tank full of large(ish) tuna fish, in a darkened room with stadium style seating – one could just sit and relax in the room, watching the peaceful tuna swim by.

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Big and REALLY really fast. Kind of scary/amazing to see.

They were beautiful: big, shiny silver fish speeding by incredibly quickly, and with barely a flicker or shimmy of their body, they emanated strength.
And all I could think of was how every single Tokyo guidebook and tourist website lists the Tsukuji Fish Market as one of the top 3 (often #1) must-see tourist attractions in Tokyo. And the biggest part of going to the market is getting there by 4 am to see the giant tuna auction, where restauranteurs bid on the biggest of big tunas for the day and it apparently gets quite competitive (and then the further tourist attraction of staying at the market for a fresh sushi breakfast made with the freshest and apparently best sushi in the world.)

I’ve obviously never gone and never had any desire to do so, but I’ve seen photos of the tuna auction and they always struck me as sad: huge, massive fish, with their side fins already sliced out, a big trapezoidal thick-framed hole where the fin once was. Of course they are the types of pictures I quickly scroll past/flip the page on, etc.

But watching these giant graceful gliding beauties, in a room full of people enjoying and admiring them, but knowing these are the exact kinds of fish that just a few miles away, in a few hours, will be caught and killed and fought over, was heartbreaking.

(I don’t mean to preach, it was just a powerful moment and made me really sad.)

OK, almost done my vegetarian soap-boxing. Except for this:

Walking out of the tuna theater, which was the last thing we saw before exiting to the cafeteria, we noticed this:

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Deep fried tuna.

And every single other dish on the menu had some kind of fish in it. Come see and learn about beautiful sea creatures – and then eat them!

I mean, even the container is a bit ironic, yes?

After the aquarium visit, Aardvark wanted to rise this “train” that went around the park complex. While she and Don rode that, I wandered down to the ocean.

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The aquarium from a distance.

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Yes, terrible photo, but that castle on the horizon is Disneyland Tokyo!

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I was so busy waving when Don & Aardvark’s train came around to the ocean-side, I nearly forgot to take a photo. Can you spot them on the train?

Aardvark, who insisted on the train ride and was so excited for it, and they had to wait through two other trains to take it, it was so popular and filled up so quickly…

…fell asleep before the end of the 20 minute ride.

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