The Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium opened in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture in July 2015. The aquarium takes its name from the city's nickname of "City of Trees" and is the largest in the Tohoku region.
In addition to the various exhibitions placed throughout the building, unique projects and events tailored to the season are held. Let's take a look at the attractions that have brought visitors back time and again since the aquarium opened.
Tohoku's largest aquarium is located in the Sendai Port area
Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium is located near Sendai Port, a spot that attracts surfers from across the country. This area is visited by many people from both inside and outside the Tohoku region because of the many large shops, commercial complexes, and outlets situated here. If you go by car, get off at the Sendai East Road and Sendai Port IC. If you go by public transportation, the Nakanosakae Station on the JR Sengoku Line is the nearest station.
▲ Two free shuttle buses depart from Nakanosakae Station every hour (except during the noon hour). Each takes about 10 minutes to arrive at the aquarium.
It is a two-story building having a footprint of about 6,100 square meters and a total floor area of about 9,900 square meters making it the largest in Tohoku. There are about 100 large and small display tanks in the facility holding about 50,000 creatures of about 300 different species.
▲ When I got off the bus, I could see a large white building with a growing sense of anticipation.
A huge water tank recreates the richness of the sea around the Sanriku area and is accompanied by video images and sounds.
So without further ado, let’s go inside! The first floor contains the Nihon no Umi – Tohoku no Umi [Seas of Japan - Seas of Tohoku] with its focus on the seas around Tohoku. It is a zone where exhibitions unique to Miyagi Prefecture are displayed.
▲ After you pass through the Welcome Hall where an introduction about the sea of Sanriku is projected on a screen, the The Submarine Forest of Maboya expands above your head.
Maboya are called “sea pineapples” and are edible sea squirt. Miyagi Prefecture accounts for about 80% of the domestic catch according to the National Fisheries Cooperative Federation.
This scene of sea squirt tightly clustered on ropes being cultivated in the sea of Sanriku is indeed a forest of the sea! Banded houndsharks and chicken grunts swim among them.
▲ The aquaculture of sea squirts was severely damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake, but is gradually recovering to its original state.
As we continued forward the greatest attraction quickly came into view. This is a gigantic tank called the Sparkling of Life measuring 14 meters across, 7.5 meters deep, and holding 990 tons of water.
In it are 50 species of sea life including sardines, chub mackerel, scalloped hammerhead shark, slime flounder, fat greenling, pitted stingray, Japanese black seaperch, and black scraper.
What is recreated in the aquarium is the abundance of life found in the sea around Sanriku, which is also one of the world's three largest fishing grounds. The tank does not have a roof, so you can see the vivid colors of the creatures under natural light.
▲ The fish of the Sanriku sea in this gigantic tank move at a dizzying speed. So captivating is the spectacle that I became mesmerized and forgot about moving along the designated tour route.
▲ Since March 2018, protected black finless porpoise, which are found off the coast of Higashi Matsushima, have also been introduced. This is the only place in Eastern Japan where they can be seen!
Perhaps the greatest spectacle here is the great shoal of sardines estimated to number 25,000 fish. Seeing these fish form into a large shoal that looked like a fish, I was reminded of the picture book "Swimmy" that I read when I was a child.
▲ Doesn’t this large shoal of sardines resemble a fish!?
A program entitled “Sparkling of Life & Music is performed in this large tank four or five times a day. The program uses 360-degree panoramic projection mapping on the walls and ceilings of the viewing area along with powerful acoustics highlighting the movements of the sardines and other fish in the tank.
▲ The content of the program is regularly changed, so it can be enjoyed many times
▲ The 360-degree large panoramic projection mapping is also projected regularly once every ten minutes or so in addition to when the program is held.
Even the writer who lives in Tohoku and is the familiar with Sanriku sea was amazed to see that it is such a rich ecosystem when he viewed the many life forms in the large tank.
Various perspectives of the sea around Tohoku are introduced in the Miyagi aquarium
There is more to the Nihon no Umi - Tohoku no Umi [Seas of Japan - Seas of Tohoku] zone.
Beyond the huge Sparkling of Life tank, there are three exhibitions displaying themes of the sea around Kitasanriku. First is the Oyashio Cold Current tank, which exhibits unique creatures that live in the cold sea.
▲ It is surprising that there are many colorful creatures in the cold sea, such as crimson anemones and Brown hakeling
Next, we went to the Irodori Sea of Seaweed section featuring seaweed that sways in the mineral-rich Sanriku sea. Reproduced is a scene depicting abundant seaweed on which sea urchin, abalone, and other animals feed. It introduces the free-diving fishing that has been practiced in this area since olden times.
▲ Irodori Kaiso no Umi [Colorful Seaweed Sea] has a mixture of cold sea and warm sea kelp
▲ At Irodori Kaiso no Umi [Colorful Seaweed Sea] you look through an opening in the panel and your face is reflected by a mirror in the face mask of a woman diver. From another opening you can take a photo with your smartphone or camera.
The Tairyo Great Fish section depicts the Sanriku sea in which more than 200 fish species are caught by various fishing methods
▲ The Tairyo Takara no Umi [Bountiful Sea of Large Hauls], where coho salmon, Pacific cod, and chub mackerel are on display also includes panel displays made in collaboration with fisheries officials in the prefecture.
After that there are other displays highlighting aspects of the seas around Tohoko such as the Naiwan Sea of Blessing section that introduces inlets such as Matsushima Bay, where the aquaculture industry flourishes; the Amamo Sea Cradle, a recreation of the ecosystem of the eelgrass nursery (seagrass bed habitat) where hatched juveniles grow; and the Higate Cultivating Sea Life tank that shows the richness of the tidal flats where abundant microorganisms gather and become a paradise of life.
▲ Oysters are a famous product of Sanriku. In Naiwan Megumi no Umi [Inner Bay - Sea of Bounty], the ecosystem of oyster culture has been recreated; strands of rope hanging from rafts to which oysters are attached also provide hiding places for fish.
▲ There is also a "Picture Amamorium" that lets you scan pictures of fish you painted and then shows them swimming in the Amamo Umi no Yurikago [Amamo Seaweed Cradle].
▲ At Higata Hagukumu Umi [Tidal Flats - Nurturing Sea] you can crawl beneath the tanks to observe them. It is just like playing in a maze.
After viewing these and other exhibitions, go outside to the last exhibition on the first floor. This is the "Hirose River, the Source of Sea" that uses the environment of the Hirose River which flows through Sendai for its motif.
You can see fish that can be caught in the Hirose River such as carp, silver crucian carp, big-scaled redfin, sweetfish, masu salmon, and char.
▲ You can buy carp bait (100 yen including tax) in a vending machine for feeding the carp which approach to be fed
▲ It is easy to overlook the Japanese squirrels in the ceiling of this exhibition area. If you look up you can seem them scurrying around overhead. Recommended in the morning!
These exhibitions of living creatures, as well as introductions of facets of the fishery industry, such as diving and aquaculture, enable us to know the close relationship between nature and human activities.
Dolphins and sea lions perform at Tohoku's largest aquatic stadium!
After going back inside the building, take the escalator to the second floor. This is the Umino-Mori Stadium where dolphins and sea lions perform five or six times a day. The front row seats are right by the pool enabling you to enjoy great performances up close.
▲ The Umino-Mori Stadium has tiered seating and can seat about 1,000 people.
▲ This is the view from the front row. Seeing dolphins up this close is really exciting!
▲ Next to the stadium is the cabana sales shop where you can purchase light refreshments and goods. There are benches nearby which make it the perfect place for taking a rest.
▲ This popular snack is made from shark meat and called Shark Nuggets (380 yen including tax).
Seas of the World zone: See types of animals rarely seen in Japan
Proceeding to the exhibition on the 2nd floor, you will come to the Gallery for People that gives a sense of the bonds formed between cities around the world that provided support after the Great East Japan Earthquake and this is where the Seas of the World zone begins.
The exhibition is divided into Oceania, Europe, Africa, America, Asia and other regions to allow you to see precious creatures that cannot be seen in Japan.
▲ A view of the Tsunagari Gyararii [Connections Gallery] when it first opened. Currently it is primarily used for limited-time events and exhibitions.
▲ In the Oceania area, besides the colorful fish of the Great Barrier Reef, the world's smallest penguin, the fairy penguin, can also be seen.
In contrast to the Seas of Japan zone which reproduces the sea where multiple creatures coexist, Seas of the World has many individual exhibitions of rare creatures that you can leisurely see with your own eyes one species at a time.
There are many large creatures, such as Baikal seals, African clawless otters, Commerson's dolphins, green sea turtles, and spectacled caiman, and these are all also popular with children.
▲ The African clawless otter joined the Africa area in November 2016. There are only three aquariums, including this one, in the country where these are exhibited.
▲ The two-toned black and white small dolphins, also called panda dolphins, and are in the America area. These can only be seen in two aquariums in Japan. Depending on the time they also give performances.
▲ Finally there is the Asia area. Here I wanted to see the spotted garden eel and the splendid garden eel. I found the sight of a group of these spotted garden eels partially emerged from the sand and swaying in unison very comforting.
Moving on after viewing the exhibitions here, I came upon a large tank on the left...could this be the giant tank I saw at the beginning? It turned out to be so. This is a spot on the second floor where you can view the Sparkling of Life. The view from above is quite different from that from below providing a different perspective of the sea around Sanriku.
▲ Benches are conveniently placed here making it a good spot for taking a rest.
At the end of the corridor is the Jellyfish Room. Jellyfish slowly move about in the tank, and the walls and the floor of the viewing area are decorated with light and interactive images, which together create a fantastic space.
▲ Interactive images are projected on the walls of the passageway. Touching an image of a jellyfish causes stars to sparkle and sound to be played.
▲ Beyond that are displays of live jellyfish. LED images of jellyfish dancing are also projected on the walls.
Once you have viewed all the exhibitions in the hall, proceed outdoors to the Plaza of Marine Animals where there are several different kinds of popular attractions, such as penguins, South American sea lions, spotted seals, and American beavers. Just watching the antics of these lovely creatures is soothing so there is always a crowd of happy viewers here.
▲ At the Plaza of Marine Animals you can see such cute animals as Humboldt penguins, Cape penguins, king penguins, and gentoo penguins.
▲ You can observe the cute hopping of penguins through the overhead glass floor from below.
▲ Spotted seals and South American sea lions swimming in a tank. Even if they dive down into the deep tank they come back up to the surface after a little while.
▲ In the Plaza of Marine Animals you can touch South American sea lions and Humboldt penguins.
It takes about one to one and a half hours to leisurely visit all the exhibitions. I could feel the allure of the deep seas, come into close contact with the many animals that make it home, and become more familiar with seas near Tohoku as well as those in distant parts of the world.
Enjoy many more programs, food, and one-time events!
In addition to the attractions we have just visited, there are also optional programs and delicious food offered at the Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium, so let's take a look at some them.
Optional programs include the Dolphin Touch & Photo (1,000 yen including tax); the Penguin Feeding Time where you can give food to the penguins (300 yen per container, including tax), and Friendly Time that allows you to enter the room containing Baikal seals and clawless otters (500 yen including tax). You need to fill out a participation form for these at the reception after you enter the building.
I attended the Stadium Backyard Tour (500 yen including tax)
▲ It is in the room where the sea lion performance takes place. It will come out of the water when you call its name. You can then have your photo taking while shaking hands with the sea lion.
The Stadium Backyard Tour is held twice a day and the times vary according to the season. Show time: 30 minutes.
From here you can see what goes on behind the scenes in the aquarium, get up close to dolphins and sea lions, view the spectators' from the stage, and see other sights normally not possible. This is a worthwhile experience because not only can you get up close to the animals, but also talk with their handlers.
▲ From the stage of the Umino-Mori Stadium you can see the pool and dolphins from an angle not possible from the stadium seats. Being able to get just a dozen or so centimeters away from the water is exciting.
▲ You can throw a ball to a dolphin and it will toss it back to you. How well can you catch it?
On the first floor there are also a food court and a museum. The food court offers items made with fish taken from Sanriku such as the Umimori Tendon [Forest of the Sea Tempura Bowl] and the Ginzake to Shiromi no Irowake Zukedon [coho salmon and pickled white fish bowl]. You can enjoy your meal while looking at the tanks in the wall.
▲ Food court. The two tanks to the side are of the lower portion of the Kaiju Hiroba [Sea Beasts Plaza] tank on the second floor offering views of the South American sea lions and harbor seals swimming.
▲ Umimori Tendon (comes with miso soup, 980 yen including tax). This is one of the popular dishes in the aquarium containing shark meat, tempura, and a piece of dried seaweed cut into the shape of a dolphin.
▲ The museum gift shop has about 1,500 items for sale. The Iruka no Oppai [dolphin breast] daifuku [a soft round rice cake stuffed with sweet bean jam] containing condensed milk is an aquarium original product (container of 12, 1,200 yen including tax).
▲ A view of Umi no Mori Beach outside the food court window. This is a recreation of a beach containing starfish and other creatures that you can touch.
This is a rather brief introduction, but it should give you some idea of what awaits you here. At Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium you can see rare creatures from the world's oceans and feel the charm of the rich seas around Tohoku.
There are many time-limited events and character collaboration projects, such as the Ohitori-sama Naito [Individuals Night], Nihonshu Naito [Japanese sake night], and the Night Tour in which you can sleep in front of the large water tank; events that will make you want to return time and again.
▲ The summer-only night program Mystic Blue Lagoon is a performance of sea lions and dolphins with light and mist. It was so popular in 2018 that it was repeated again in September for 7 days.
Also, the aquarium offers a special deal of an annual passport equivalent to the price of two admissions (adults 4,200 yen, junior and senior high school students and those over 65 years of age 3,200 yen, elementary-aged children 2,200 yen, and children 4 or older 1,200 yen, all prices include tax).
If you purchase the annual passport on the day you visit, the difference between its cost and the normal admission fee is deducted, which makes it popular not only with visitors from within the prefecture but also from outside the prefecture who would like to visit it again at another time. It's worth considering.
Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium
4-6 Nakano, Miyagi-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture
Open: 9:00 a.m. ~ 6:30 p.m. (Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
* Times vary according to season and day of the week
Admission: Adults 2,100 yen, junior and senior high school students and seniors (65 years and older) 1,600 yen, elementary school students 1,100 yen, kindergarten students (4 years and older) 600 yen *all prices include tax
Closed: always open