Kyoto is a paradise for those looking to take in the old capital’s traditional shrines and temples, but as a decently sized modern city in its own right, Kyoto is also home to a bevy of parks, museums, and more. Especially popular with families is Kyoto Aquarium, an aquarium in Umekoji Park that is home to twelve different themed areas exhibiting a variety of aquatic creatures that includes river-living Japanese giant salamanders, fish from the seas of Kyoto, playful seals, popular tropical fish, and spellbinding jellyfish. The Kyoto Aquarium is a staple with locals that makes for a fun afternoon for families, couples, or tourists looking for something to do indoors on a rainy day.
The Rivers of Kyoto
The first section of the aquarium you will encounter is one that features the flora and fauna of Kyoto’s rivers. A source of pride for the local people, Kyoto’s river systems flow down from the northern mountains and through Kyoto on the way to Osaka Bay in the south, and in the past they used to be traversed by boat for shipping and transportation. The most popular animals in this section are the Japanese giant salamanders. Fascinating creatures that can only live in very clean water, these giant salamanders (ōsanshō’ō in Japanese) spend their whole lives underwater and can grow to be 1.5 meters (5 feet) long!
The aquarium’s next section is populated with fur seals (ottosei) and earless seals (azarashi), and benches in the area allow guests to take their time and enjoy the sights. Feeding time is especially popular, and depending on the season you can potentially see some adorable seal pups with their mothers. The earless seals even have a tubular tank that rises up from the floor, where the seals sometimes pop in, making eye contact and interacting playfully with visitors.
Kyoto Aquarium’s penguins may not be the arctic variety you’re used to seeing! These cute little birds are actually Cape penguins, a species that hails from South Africa, so they’re much more comfortable in Kyoto’s climate. Watching them swim effortlessly through the water and then toddle about on land is quite entertaining! You might even get a chance to observe mothers raising their young, depending on the season.
Sea of Kyoto
Some people might not realize that Kyoto actually has a coast, but it does border the Sea of Japan to the north! Within this approximately 500 ton tank Japanese pilchards, several species of ray, and some fifty other species of fish coexist together. Different views of the tank offer chances to see even the more reclusive species, and a collection of tanks on the second floor show other creatures that can be found in Kyoto waters, such as sharp-toothed eels or Giant Pacific octopi.
Fish of the Coral Reef
Ever popular at aquariums around the world are the colorful tropical fish that call reefs home. A favorite here in Japan that Westerners aren’t often acquainted with are the cute, slim garden eels, and Kyoto Aquarium is home to both spotted and striped varieties that poke their heads out from the sand and sway in the water. Ever since the release of a certain hit movie children have been obsessed with clownfish, so if you have young ones with you, they’ll be delighted with the collection of clownfish varieties, as well as the other colorful tropical species present.
One of the more distinguished areas of the Kyoto Aquarium is its jellyfish section, which is home to around ten different jellyfish species. Displays change depending on the season, but you can always count on the moon jellies in the large 6.5 ton pool to fascinate you as they drift serenely through the water. Long-tentacled Japanese sea nettles, alien Mikado jellyfish, peculiar Cassiopea upside-down jellyfish, and blue blubber jellyfish are just a few of the varieties you may see during your visit.
Shrimp and Crabs
Stepping into the eerily lit shrimp and crab area might make you feel like you’ve been transported to another world. Home to a tank with simulated waves fit for a colony of lobsters and a series of tanks featuring a variety of crab species, this area is also home to the striking Japanese spider crab. These large crabs have the longest leg span of any crustacean, with a potential length of over three meters!
Food and Gifts
If you’re spending a fun day out with your family you’ll probably need to plan on some hunger cropping up. There’s no need to worry at the Kyoto Aquarium, though, as they have you covered with three cafes on site. The Kaiju Café midway through has a popular array of snacks, the most adorable of which are a series of breads shaped like sea creatures called suizokupan as a play on the words aquarium (suizokukan) and bread (pan). In the dolphin stadium area is the Stadium Café, and towards the end of the route is the Harvest Café, which offers hamburgers and a wide variety of meals. Before exiting you will pass through the aquarium’s museum shop, where you may find a fun souvenir to take home, a gift for children, or… maybe a giant plush salamander just for you?
〒600-8835 京都市下京区観喜寺町35-1 （梅小路公園内）
- General Admission: ¥2,050
- University and High School Students: ¥1,550
- Junior High and Elementary School Students: ¥1,000
- Children 3 and Older: ¥600
- General Admission: 10:00 – 18:00 (last entrance 17:00, hours subject to change during holiday periods)
- Closed: Never