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Japanese Aquariums: Otherworldly Beauty in a New Immersive Experience

Japanese aquariums break with convention, combining marine life with scenic beauty and digital art to create an immersive experience of the aquatic world.

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At "Miyabi," projection mapping allows visitors to experience the beauty of Japan's four seasons.

Surrounded by the sea, Japan is known for its many water cities. It is also home to more than 150 Japanese aquariums, a popular attraction that ranges in size from a room in a private residence to the Hanshin Koshien Stadium

The Reiwa era which began on May 1, 2019, brought Japan a fresh breeze of inspiration and a rise in unique aquariums that pique curiosity. 

The Japanese aquarium is now more than simply a place to observe fish through the glass. It has come up with ingenious ways to recreate the ocean environment, providing a one-of-a-kind immersive experience for people in all stages of life. 

The Sceneries of Shikoku Aquarium

One such evolving aquarium we visited was the Shikoku Aquarium in Utazu, Kagawa Prefecture. Right off the bat, something was amiss — or missing, to be precise. It lacked the usual "unusual creatures" that most aquariums boast, and the route was left completely up to the visitor. The customary profiles describing the marine animal on display were also missing.

In their place were blackboards with illustrations and descriptions of marine creatures, drawn by the aquarium staff. They are especially popular with children for being much easier to understand compared to the usual scientific jargon. 

Dolphins dance to the music of the 14th Band of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force on September 23 in Utazu, Kagawa Prefecture. At Shikoku Aquarium, the audience can watch the marine creatures up close. (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)
Handwritten blackboards by aquarium staff.  (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)
The "whirlpool scenery" reproduces the whirlpools of the Naruto Strait. (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)
A spotted seal in the "seal scenery" section. (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)

Japanese Aquariums: The Sceneries of Shikoku

The aquarium director, Yoshimasa Matsuzawa, says, "We want visitors to experience the aquascape of Shikoku, more than to display rare creatures."

The tanks and pools are all named "sceneries" to capture the unique marine environment of Shikoku. 

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The "whirlpool scenery" is a water tank that reproduces the whirlpools of Naruto, where visitors can watch the famous fish of Shikoku's four prefectures.

The "dusk scenery" is an enchanting display of dolphins swimming under the sunset over the Seto Inland Sea. 

Time seems to pass slowly as visitors silently gaze at the shifting colors of the sea, relax in the soothing atmosphere of nature, or take photos in an attempt to capture the beauty of it all.

The "Watatsumi scenery" reproduces the beautiful waterscape of the Pacific Ocean. Watatsumi is a Japanese Shinto sea deity. (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)
A shark swims overhead in the "kannazuki scenery." Kannazuki is October in the Japanese calendar. (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)
[Photo caption] Fish swarming in the "Watatsumi scenery." (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)
A dolphin jumps against the setting sun over the Seto Inland Sea. (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)

Projection Mapping, Lights, and Lasers at Japanese Aquariums

The "theatrical" aquarium átoa, which opened in Kobe in October 2021, combines art and aquatic life to create otherworldly spaces with themes like "forest of spirits" and "encounter of the miraculous planet."

Schools of cherry sea bream and sea goldie swim in a spherical tank in the "Planets" section of átoa, the largest of its kind in Japan. (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)
Fish swim under the visitors' feet in the Japanese nature-themed space of "Miyabi." (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)

Marine life thrives under laser beams and spotlights — digital art has broken through the boundaries of a conventional aquarium to create a whole new world that brings endless surprises to its visitors. 

Aquariums all over Japan continue to evolve. Although the concepts vary, they share the same goal: to make people curious about living creatures. The only question left is where to start.

The "Cave" near the entrance of the aquarium. A fantastical space inspired by schools of fish. (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)
Small dome-shaped aquariums in "Planets." (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)
Visitors feeding carp at "Miyabi." (©Sankei by Daiki Watanabe)

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(Read this article in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Daiki Watanabe Photojournalism Department

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