Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium An Undersea Paradise

My first visit to Okinawa was in the fall of 2014 and I wanted to see the most well-known tourist attraction on the island. The Churaumi Aquarium is considered the best in all of Japan. There are other contenders inside Japan but I do think that Okinawa’s aquarium is at the top of the list.

When to visit the Aquarium

My second visit to the aquarium was in 2019 early spring and was somewhat less crowded than the fall trip. I was unsure of what months would have the most ideal weather and chance would have it I visited at the perfect times.

As a general rule, it’s best to visit Okinawa in the spring or fall months. The summer months are very humid and often rainy. Later summer months have increased the risk of Hurricanes and tropical storms. The months with the least rain and fewer chances of inclement weather are March thru May or September thru December.

The rainy season lasts from early May to early June, while typhoons can be a problem in July thru August, and occasionally into October.

AquariumTotal GallonsNumber of SpeciesTotal Number of AnimalsAnnual VisitorsTotal square footage
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium1,981,000 72011,0003.5 Million200,000 sq. ft.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan1,427,000420
29,000
2.5 million286,000 sq ft
Aqua Park Shinagawa1,268,00045018,0001.74 million124,160 sq ft
Kyoto Aquarium 819,000 30050,0001.2 million152,000 sq ft
Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium 6,499,000 500 50,000
2.2million
447,010 sq ft
Aquamarine Fukushima1,030,000 800100,003.1 million163,970 sq ft
largest aquariums in Japan

That’s saying a lot since there are about half a dozen well-known aquariums and when the Japanese want to do something for tourists…they do it to perfection.

There are more than just the aforementioned aquariums. They are known to be some of the best in Japan. However, If you are visiting multiple areas in the country then there are roughly 19 well-known throughout.

  • Aquamarine Fukushima
  • Sendai Uminomori Aquarium
  • Sunshine Aquarium
  • Sumida Aquarium
  • Tokyo Sealife Aquarium
  • Maxell Aqua Stadium
  • Hakkeijima Sea Paradise
  • Enoshima Aquarium
  • Kamogawa Seaworld
  • Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium
  • Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
  • Kyoto Aquarium
  • Toba Aquarium
  • Miyajima Aquarium
  • Kaikyokan Aquarium
  • Marine World Uminonakamichi
  • Umitamago Aquarium
  • Kagoshima Aquarium
  • Churaumi Aquarium (Okinawa)

My then-girlfriend now-wife drove us from her hometown in Ginowan to the Aquarium and the ride itself was stunning. I remember driving along the coastline and seeing huge ancient coral rocks jutting out of the sea.

It was picture-perfect, something right off of a postcard. The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium was much more than I expected it to be.

Options to reach the aquarium are few since the island doesn’t have a dedicated rail line outside of the city of Naha.

Getting to the Aquarium

There is a bus line (Yanbaru Express) that runs from Naha to the Okinawa aquarium and takes about two hours and costs approximately 2500 Yen (one-way).

YANBARU EXPRESS BUS Check here for current rates and schedules.

The express bus is an excellent way to reach the aquarium if your only destination is the aquarium itself. However, if your wanting to do additional exploration a rental car might be the way to go.

Rates will obviously be higher and you will need to obtain an international driver’s license before coming to Okinawa.

NAHA AIRPORT RENTAL CAR SERVICES Daily rates start at $39 and average at $89 daily.

If you are a US citizen the State Department has a great website that covers many safety issues and problems you might encounter driving in foreign countries.

US STATE DEPARTMENT DRIVING ABROAD Check here for important information regarding overseas driving.

Ocean Expo Park

The Ocean Expo Park is the site of the Churaumi Aquarium. Located in the northern part of the island and roughly 50 miles from Naha (Okinawa’s capital) and home to the international airport.

Driving time is anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours depending on traffic, which can be significant during rush hours. Rush hour times are similar to most major urban areas 7-9 am and 5-7 pm.

Okinawa’s population is far more than I would have expected and closes in on close to 1.5 million. Naha comes in at over 300,000 people.

My favorite section (Motobu-Cho) of the drive was when the road that meandered along the ocean side had wide panoramic views of the huge coral structures standing out in the ocean.

Motobu-Cho is really a small beach town about 20 minutes from the aquarium. If your wanting to have that feel of Okinawa decades ago then you should consider staying for a couple of days or longer in this area.

Upon arriving at the Ocean Expo park (if time permits) you can explore the park and there are no fees to do so before you move on to the aquarium.

The park itself has beautiful scenic views of the ocean and the flora and fauna displays are spread throughout the grounds.

Native Okinawan Village and Omoro Botanical Garden (official website)

The gardens also have a botanical garden and historic native Okinawan Reproduction of the villages of Okinawa in the Ryukyu Kingdom period.

The reproduction villages display homes in Okinawa as they would have been centuries ago and give you a great feel for island life so long ago.

In addition to the native village, you will want to spend some time at the Oceanic Culture Museum and Planetarium. The planetarium also explores the peoples not only native to Okinawa but other cultures in the pacific region and how they spread throughout the pacific.

Oceanic Culture Museum and Planetarium (official website)

The Ocean Expo Park has several other sights to see along with the Aquarium.

  • Botanical Gardens
  • Planetarium
  • Native villages
  • Oceanic culture museum
  • Dolphin shows
  • Emerald Beach
  • Churaumi Aquarium

Entering the Aquarium

You’ll enter downstairs by taking the escalators or stairs at the aquarium entrance once you enter this area you will purchase your entry ticket from the admissions area.

As a general rule, it takes about 1.5 hours to complete the tour of the Okinawa aquarium. Additional time is taken to see the dolphin show and may add an additional time of 10-15 minutes.

Before entry, there is an incredible balcony area that overlooks the ocean and coral reefs. In the distance a peninsula from an area further south on the island is visible.

Ticket prices are as follows

Admission rates 8:30 am – 4:00 pm(general admissionAdmission rates after 4 pm until the last admission
Adults 1880 Yen Adults 1310 Yen
High School Students 1250 Yen High School Students 870 Yen
Elementary/ JR high 620 Yen Elementary/ JR high 430 Yen
Children under 6 free Children under 6 free

Group rates and disabled persons receive a discounted rate. Check with the admissions desk upon arrival.

The first display you will encounter is the shallow water reef with roughly 15 species of starfish and a few other reef animals. Petting the starfish carefully is allowed.

Next, you’ll be amazed at the full floor-to-ceiling coral reef tank. The tank holds hundreds of schools of small and colorful fish.

The Sea of tropical fish hallway is around the corner and features sea life from the coral reefs surrounding the island of Okinawa.

One of my favorite displays is the tank holding the jellyfish lit with blue fluorescent lights and gives them an otherworldly glow.

Dozens of smaller tanks holding groups of smaller fish, jellyfish, and sea creatures.

Stingrays will swim directly to you and hug the glass as they swim to the top of the huge display tanks.

The mega tank called the Kurosio sea tank is stunning, to say the least. You’ll feel as though you’re under the sea. The room is two stories, has balconies and a seating area to view the massive fish, sharks, giant manta rays, and even whales.

In total, the tank’s volume is an astounding 264,860 cubic feet and has a capacity of about 2 million gallons of seawater.

As you wander your way past the mega tank you’ll find additional displays and the massive shark teeth are incredible. An average-sized adult can take a selfie right in front (as my wife did) and you can see how these massive sharks could swallow a person whole.

With so much to see you can easily spend over the standard tour time of 1.5 hours. Be sure to see the dolphin show upon exiting as well as the museum housing preserved sea life.

As with most museums and tourists traps, there is a large souvenir shop and sells all things related to the aquarium and Okinawa in general.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

Check here for flights from Tokyo to Okinawa. Ticket prices range from about $150-$200 roundtrip nonstop.

ANA (All NIPPON AIRWAYS)

JAL (JAPAN AIR LINES)

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.