Ocean Expo Park, Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
Located on the Motobu Peninsula in northern Okinawa Honto within the Ocean Expo Park is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Japan’s largest and arguably one of the most frequented aquariums. The word "chura" means "beautiful" in the Okinawa dialect, and it’s a pretty fair title given the prefecture’s love of everything ocean. A must visit destination for most vacationing in Okinawa, the world class aquarium is home to approximately 21,000 marine life and counted its 34 millionth visitor in 2015. These days it’s still one of the best locations in the world to get up close and personal with everything below the sea.
The centerpiece of the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is definitely its gigantic Kuroshio Sea Tank, which spans across the first and the second floor of the aquarium. Built to replicate the territorial waters surrounding the island it stands at 35 meters long, 27 meters wide and 10 meters deep. Within its 7,500 cubic meters capacity of the tank hosts a vast variety of sea animals, the feature stars being the giant whale sharks and alfred mantas. The tank’s name comes from the Kuroshio current, a north-flowing ocean current on the west side of the North Pacific Ocean, which plays an integral role in the marine ecosystem of Okinawa.
More important than the tank itself are the creatures that inhabit it. The aquarium has raised a number of whale sharks in captivity for the purpose of breeding. Currently the aquarium is home to two magnificent whale sharks, the largest being 8.7 meter long ‘Jinta’ who is somewhat of a local celebrity. Also located in the aquarium is The Coral Sea tank, an open roof tank built in dedication to Okinawa’s stunning ocean. Spanning 300 cubic meters the sunlight-drenched tank is a sight not to be missed, as a majority of the coral living there has been cultivated over
If you do make it to the aquarium it’s also worth exploring its surrounding Ocean Expo Park. Ocean Expo Park is a state-run park built in commemoration of Okinawa international ocean exposition, which was held in Okinawa in 1975. One of the major tourist hotspots in the area, the Expo Park hosts a dolphin show, tropical playground and planetarium within its walls. There are also a number of restaurants and cafes to rest your sea legs and fuel up on snacks, sweets and everything in-between. The aquarium is open from 8:30am to 8pm (or 6:30pm in October to February) and admission is 1,850 yen for adults, 1,230 yen for High school students, 610 yen for elementary and junior high school students and free for children under six.
Given that it’s located about 90 kilometers from the central hub of Naha, the easiest and most affordable way to get to the aquarium is by bus. The Yanbaru Express Bus makes nine round trips per day and travels directly from airport and city center of Naha to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium with a one way trip taking a little over two hours and costs around 2,000 yen. To take the two-hour trip by car get on the Okinawa Expressway from Naha and continue through to the Motobu Peninsula to the Ocean Expo Park.