Aquariums

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Matt Alt

    Reporter

    Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.

  • Hajime Nakamura

    Main guest

    Hajime Nakamura was born in 1956 in Mie Prefecture. He was a sea lion trainer and assistant director at Toba Aquarium before he decided to work independently. Nakamura is now an aquarium producer; he helps design and renovate aquariums inside and outside Japan, and he provides management strategy and presentation advice. With Nakamura's assistance, the Sunshine Aquarium in Tokyo increased its annual visitor count threefold—from 700,000 people to 2,200,000 people—after its renovation. Nakamura's approach is to transform a location's weak points into strengths.

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November 6, 2018

Aquariums

*You will leave the NHK website.

Many viewers are probably familiar with Japan’s four main islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu), but the country is actually comprised of a grand total of 6,852 islands. They're positioned with the Pacific Ocean to the south and east, the East China Sea to the southwest, the Sea of Japan to the west and north, and the Sea of Okhotsk to the far north. Japan has approximately 30,000 kilometers of coastline, exposed to a huge range of climates; sub-arctic Hokkaido and sub-tropical Okinawa are examples of the extreme ends. Due to large ocean currents that flow past the main archipelago, the waters surrounding Japan are filled with an astounding diversity of marine life, from the familiar tuna to the mysterious giant squid. In fact, over 33,000 different species can be found in Japanese waters—that’s about 14.6% of all marine species! Playing an important role in introducing some of these aquatic life forms to the public are amazing aquariums, the theme of this edition of Japanology Plus.

Japan’s aquariums have a 136-year history. Uonozoki, the nation’s very first one, was built in 1882 as part of Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo. Consisting of a mere 15 tanks of freshwater fish, the offerings at that time pale in comparison to what we can see today. Thanks to such technological advances as the artificial seawater and strong acrylic panels featured in the show, Japanese aquariums have been able to push the boundaries of what’s possible for manmade displays and bring visitors face to face with the ocean’s many marvels. As expert guest Hajime Nakamura points out, Japan’s abundance of aquariums means that they’re all competing to make themselves appealing to visitors.

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Aquarium producer Hajime Nakamura and host Peter Barakan discuss aquarium-planning strategy.

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Nakamura reveals some optical illusions that are used to make tanks seem bigger.

It’s up to people like Nakamura, an aquarium producer, to help locations across the country maximize their potential and highlight their strengths. One famous example is the Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa. It opened in 2002 and was the largest aquarium in the world until 2005. In addition to its featured whale sharks, it is also home to a sun-lit coral sea tank and a display showcasing creatures that live up to 700 meters below the ocean surface around the Okinawan islands. At Osaka’s Kaiyukan, visitors start at the eighth floor and spiral their way downwards around the main tank, which contains 5,400 tons of water. As they do so, they walk through different areas showcasing the flora and fauna within the Pacific Rim. Farther north, Aquamarine Fukushima’s triangle-shaped tunnel allows visitors to walk between the Kuroshio tank and the Oyashio tank. It’s a unique experience that represents the meeting of the two giant ocean currents of the same name off the coast of Fukushima. No matter the aquarium, each is sure to offer eye-opening displays of natural wonders from near and far.

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You wouldn't want to be surrounded by this many jellyfish in the ocean, but at an aquarium, it’s a beautiful experience.

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Japanese aquariums aren’t just locations for school field trips or family outings—plenty of grown-ups go to enjoy the fun, too! 

In some areas around Japan, it’s possible to get up close and personal with local aquatic life. Shimabara in Kyushu calls itself the “city of swimming carp” in honor of the colorful koi that swim in its canals. Filled by fresh spring water, the beautiful canals containing hundreds of fish draw Japanese and foreign tourists aplenty. More centrally, Harie in Shiga Prefecture offers an example of how to respect the local environment while preserving tradition. Known as the “village of living water,” Harie gets much of its supply from local springs. Many homes have a kabata, a small room separate from the main building that contains pools of fresh spring water used for various kitchen functions. Residents wash their dishes using eco-friendly dish soap, and the food scraps feed the koi that live in the water. Because the fish eat the scraps, the water is cleaned before it flows into the nearby rice paddies. Perhaps other places around the world can take some pointers from Shimabara and Harie when it comes to figuring out effective methods for people and animals to coexist.

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Japan is home to around 100 aquariums, all showcasing various aspects of life under the sea.

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Getting up close and personal with some new friends.

For those without friendly neighborhood fish, aquariums offer a fantastic way for people to learn about the natural world. Snorkeling or scuba diving might not be possible for many, but aquariums make discovering creatures of the deep readily accessible without the need for swimming skills or specialized equipment. Nakamura notes that facilities such as zoos and aquariums are essential for educating society; while it may be sad that the creatures are in captivity, they’re helping to play an important role in shaping the future. Through the experiences provided by aquariums, people can gain a true appreciation for the world’s biodiversity as well as be reminded of the value of life. Who knows—children may be inspired to go into oceanography or environmental conservation all thanks to an afternoon aquarium visit. Hopefully all who visit are inspired to live harmoniously with nature and gain a greater appreciation for things that we may take for granted.

*You will leave the NHK website.