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Witnessing Mariho Aquarium’s 5th Anniversary: Endeavors to Propagate Marine Biology

Ah, the aquarium, a living gallery of undersea flora and fauna whose organisms are amassed from a plethora of aquatic biomes, are given suitable care in captivity, and put on display to educate the public, engross the young ones, and expand upon a city’s attractions. There’s an aquarium in almost every prefecture of Japan, and in the most touristy cities, the aquarium is one of the main sites that visitors flock to, such as Osaka’s Kaiyukan or the Chiraumi Aquarium on Okinawa Island. When it comes to aquaria in Hiroshima Prefecture, the Miyajima Aquarium is indubitably the most touted location, but let’s be honest: how many visitors to Miyajima prioritize the aquarium over the other sites when visiting? Those who visit and stay the night in Hiroshima City (probably to make a day trip to Miyajima) may find a more enriching experience in the way of marine biology at the Mariho Aquarium, aptly situated in the Marina Hop amusement complex on the southern tip of the city center.

A Sea for Every Season

In spite of its small size, the Mariho Aquarium pours a torrent of effort into events to justify multiple visits throughout the year. These events usually take the form of select marine organisms corresponding to the concurrent holiday season or flowers in bloom that are placed into one or two tanks near the exit. During the month of June alone, they had special tanks for lavenders in the former half of the month before switching to a hydrangea exhibit in the latter half (it should’ve been the other way around, but I suppose they’d both be seen in early summer anyway). At this rate, purchasing an annual pass—whose cost is less than two individual day tickets—is more than justified for anyone who lives in Hiroshima or visits our city more than once a year.

However, this June would be the most eventful month to date due to the Mariho Aquarium celebrating its fifth anniversary on the 24th. I had known about this place for most of my time living here, but it never occurred to me that we would be coming up on five years of having the aquarium until they announced their plans for celebration. On June 24th, the aquarium’s 5th birthday, admission to the regular and special exhibitions would be a jaw-dropping ¥5 each, with admission to the regular exhibit being free as usual for annual pass holders. In addition, the first 300 annual pass holders to visit the aquarium would receive a special commemorative keychain featuring a green sea turtle, and there would be another exclusive keychain for those who spent ¥3,300 (after tax) at the gift shop while supplies lasted. For icing on the metaphorical cake, original Mariho Aquarium merchandise at the gift shop saw a considerable discount, further tempting shoppers to buy souvenirs in honor of this momentous occasion.

Calm Before the Storm

With so many promotions slated to take place simultaneously on that one day, even someone with a fish brain would realize that anyone who visits on the 24th is bound to get swept up in a rip current of people. Myself, looking to be able to view sea creatures while treading casually, catch sight of the lavender tank before it became a hydrangea tank, and make the most out of the annual pass, opted to stop by the Mariho Aquarium fifteen days prior. In retrospect, it was the wisest move I made for the sake of photography of the animals and facilities.

Among the first critters one will see on display are the green sea turtles, with two hatchlings brought over about once a year from the Ogasawara Islands (an archipelago 1,200 kilometers to the south) by ferry to Tokyo and then via Shinkansen all the way here. That means over the course of a year, visitors usually see the same two turtles in the tank and get to watch them grow, and boy, have these turtles grown! They get fed on a frequent basis and are energetic even up to this age (which explains why I can never get a still picture of them), but at this point in their lives I wish they’d get a bigger tank.

Elsewhere in the aquarium, I found other organisms that dwell in a variety of habitats, such as the common octopus and blue bat star. While they call the shallow ocean their home, other species like the red-clawed crab hail from freshwater bodies such as rivers and streams, which means their tank need only be partially filled with water. The tanks for these animals were even smaller than what the turtles had, but at least the octopus is no stranger to tight crevices and the others stay tiny. 

I then made my way to the main tank where the zebra shark resides (picture up top) and shows featuring a diver are supposed to occur, but for the time being, those demonstrations have been put on hold due to the pandemic. Feeding times for other organisms are posted on the Mariho Aquarium website which means there are still shows to watch, and besides that, discreet feedings of other animals still happen throughout the day but you’ll simply have to be in the right place at the right time to catch those. To conclude my tour of the aquarium, I stopped by the lavender tank to catch these cute, purple reef fishes frolicking among the fake flowers before calling it a day.

Moment of Joy: The Wonder of Weekdays

Whenever I can help it, I strive to come to the Mariho Aquarium on weekdays as there are much fewer people to worm past (even on Fridays) whilst I stare at all the creatures. This timing is much more crucial when I want to take pictures and videos of shows, which is when crowds show up. As soon as I heard the announcement that they would be feeding the whitespotted char in the mountain stream section, I was able to easily slip myself in front of the glass pane where viewers could see a cross section of the rapids and an aquarium employee tossing fish food into the water from above. To be able to comfortably shoot videos of the feeding frenzy without obstructions and gain insight on a local, not-so-well-known species was an experience that could only be replicated when most others are at work or school and the highlight of my visit in June.

Mariho Turned Five

Two weeks later, the actual anniversary came, and I rushed down to the Marina Hop after my morning shift to check up on the situation. It was no surprise to see my hunch was right; there was a queue out the wazoo in front of the Mariho Aquarium’s entrance snaking this way and that, and some staff were outside to direct traffic and indicate the end of the not-so-linear line. I was given a Mariho hand fan to keep myself cool in the sweltering summer sun while waiting, all the while anxiously wondering if I would be able to get my hands on one of those limited-supply commemorative keychains. In the end, I got it after all and could breathe a figurative sigh of relief, but the real battle would commence once I stepped into the aquarium. When an aquarium charges ¥5 for admission on any day of the year, rather than attempt to explain how crowded it gets, I would much rather direct you to the image below.

I must reiterate that taking my essential photos two weeks before was a remarkable strategy, so the only new thing I needed to capture was the hydrangea tank by the exit. They went the extra mile by constructing an impromptu shrine-like structure around it, and even giving the fishies inside a similar structure where they too could play and pray. Simply waiting for the most opportune time to take a photo of it felt like forever and a day, but the result made the wait worth it.

While I was waiting to take the above picture, I noticed some artwork on the walls drawn by some local sixth-graders. The art styles varied greatly, but every piece seemed to tackle the issue of reducing waste that ends up in the world’s oceans, and how keeping the ocean clean is one of our Sustainable Development Goals as the human race. It did me proud to see schools promoting so paramount at an age so young, as well as made me wonder how much it prompted these kids to learn more about marine life as they continued to grow older.

After being submerged in a sea of people for a good while, I thought it a good idea to climb out and enter one of the nearby eateries for a breather. The restaurant choices haven’t changed much, but that means it’s still the same great variety of cuisines available. Whether guests crave Chinese food, Korean barbecue, Hamburg steak, omelet rice, or sushi, they can have it for lunch or dinner while gazing out at luxurious yachts moored at the marina. I was in a Hamburg steak mood that day, so I went in, sat down, and leafed through the menu for any new or limited-time items. Quite frankly, I thought I would only find the usual ground beef patties simply cooked with different flavors, but this place definitely threw a curve ball at me with their new vegan Hamburg steak options.

I myself am not a vegan, but I was so enthused by the concept that I insisted on giving a meatless Hamburg steak a go. As expected, it was a soy-based patty, but given an Italian flavor with tomato sauce and accompanied by mushrooms, broccoli, onion rings, red and yellow bell peppers, and a piece of pumpkin cut into the shape of a leaf. That came with a plate of rice and a side salad for a meal that would keep me satiated until nightfall. Personally, I found the texture of the soy patty a little too soft, which made it unwieldy to pick up chunks of it to eat, but it didn’t taste terrible, and the concept is certainly welcome as a sign of consideration for vegetarian diners in the area.

Creatures From Inner Space

With my belly full, it was time to check out the special exhibition, which had a queue of its own, albeit not as long and winding. There were posters plastered all over the windows of the exhibition hall advertising the current theme that would last all the way into late November: Odd, Ghastly Creatures from the Deep. This exhibit placed an appropriate emphasis on dangerous creatures, so obviously, touching anything in the open tanks was strictly prohibited. In the field of oceanography, the depths of the sea are often referred to as inner space due to conditions being pitch black as well as the fauna appearing otherworldly. Some of the animals I saw that day truly gave off those alien vibes, and while many of the visitors that day reacted in disgust to what they saw, I for one was intrigued, and found myself stopping at almost every organism’s informational plaque to learn more about the fauna of inner space.

Of course, they still had some familiar faces such as piranhas and moray eels, which can still prove intimidating on account of their fangs and dietary preferences. Some of the most beloved creatures from the special exhibit also made an appearance at the gift shop in the form of quaint souvenirs, for instance, a piranha plush keychain that can actually swallow a human finger. The tie-in with the gift shop alongside the sale on Mariho original goods was a smart tactic for enticing visitors to take home a scary-but-cute memento of their time at the aquarium.

The Mariho Aquarium may still be fairly young (and slated to close at the end of November in 2024), but if you ask me, it celebrated its fifth birthday with the intensity of a depth charge. It did a splendid job in marketing all the promotions that happened on June 24th, and thanks to the news spreading as fast and wide as it did, it was able to boost its publicity and business severalfold in the blink of an eye. This aquarium may only live to be seven years old, but all the more reason for everyone in Hiroshima City to hurry and see this amazing oceanic wonderland. I cannot stress enough how good of a deal this place is and how enjoyable a day trip here can be, especially for those with kids. All visitors to Hiroshima in the near future—be they domestic or international—looking for a fresh outing idea in the city would do well to dive into the Marina Hop complex before the ship sails for good!

Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team