From the sky above to the ocean below
The Sumida Aquarium is easy to find and access. The facility is conveniently located at the base of Tokyo Skytree and is part of the giant Solamachi shopping and restaurant complex (which is the center of the Tokyo Skytree Town urban redevelopment project). A 2,050 yen ticket, which you can easily buy on site, grants you access to a well-curated educational experience on the aquatic life that can be found in and around Tokyo.
Fortunately, most of the exhibits are in Japanese and English which makes the experience more valuable for international visitors. Sadly, the large flowcharts depicting the private lives of the aquarium’s penguin population are in Japanese only. However, if you are dying to know more about penguin love triangles, you can easily get the latest penguin-related gossip with a translation app or a quick chat with a bilingual staff member.
Under the sea
Like most of the aquariums that I’ve explored in Japan, the Sumida Aquarium is divided into several zones. Your journey through the facility begins with a crash course on the aquatic circle of life in the Shimmering of Water zone.
Next up are the two breathtaking Cradle of Life zones where you can view an astounding variety of jellyfish up close, in luminescent displays. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and it’s a real treat for those who love taking unique photos.
As you proceed beyond the Cradle of Life, the aquarium opens up and the zones begin to merge. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself eye-to-eye with a large tiger shark as you peer into the main water tank in the Chain of Life zone. This mesmerizing deep-blue habitat simulates the oceans surrounding the Ogasawara Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site 1,000 kilometers out to sea from Tokyo proper.
The great indoors
By this point, you won’t be able to ignore the sights and sounds of the most entertaining part of the Sumida Aquarium: the indoor penguin and seal pen. The design of this exhibit is truly amazing. From the upper-floor balcony, you can survey the aquarium’s entire penguin population as they swim, frolic, or sleep, depending on the time of day.
Continue along the catwalk that takes you to the lower floor, and you’ll eventually reach the seal pen. You’re bound to lose track of time as you become enthralled with watching these extremely playful animals up close from all angles—even from beneath their habitat!
The seal pen is designed so that visitors can view the animals up close from every possible angle—even from below the surface of the water.
At this point, you might be wondering if it’s healthy to keep seals and penguins indoors. Thankfully, the official website addresses this concern:
“The exhibit employs environmentally friendly LED lights, which reflect diurnal changes between night and day. At midday, illumination close to natural sunlight is employed to show the lively behavior of marine animals during the day. At night, the lights are dimmed to show visitors how penguins and fur seals sleep.”
An interactive escape
Although the Sumida Aquarium might be smaller than what you may be used to, it makes up for that in convenience and the up close and unique ways you can view the animals within (especially the seals). Additionally, the facility is designed so that staff can easily interact with guests (don’t miss feeding times!). You can even observe researchers working in the lab—the perfect inspiration if you are traveling with young ones who aspire to be the future biologists of the world.
So if you love marine animals but can’t make it out to the “big two” aquariums, do yourself a favor and spend some time at the Sumida Aquarium. The entire experience is indoors, and you can hang out as long as you like, which makes it the perfect respite from Tokyo’s hot and humid summers.
The Sumida Aquarium also has space for limited-time exhibitions such as this one which chronicles the history of goldfish in Japan.