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Hokkaido Tour: Visiting Northern Daichi Aquarium, the World's First ‘Freezing Aquarium’!

Hokkaido Tour: Visiting Northern Daichi Aquarium, the World's First ‘Freezing Aquarium’!

Date published: 26 December 2018
Last updated: 9 January 2019

We visited the recently trending Northern Daichi Aquarium, located in Rubeshibe, Hokkaido. With its latest exhibition drawing attention as the first of its kind in the world, it has gained much popularity. At around 600sqm in size, the aquarium may seem somewhat on the smaller scale, but is still a sight to see. Join as we visit this unique spot that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike!

The giant freshwater fish "itou," or Japanese huchen, catching its dinner (Photo by Northern Daichi Aquarium)

At the Foot of the Daisetsuzan Mountains Lies the Noteworthy Aquarium

The Northern Daichi Aquarium is a 45 minute drive from Kitami City, and located inside the Roadside Rest Area Onneyu-Onsen along Route 39. At its first opening in 1978, it was originally called "Mountain Aquarium," being located at the foot of the Daisetsuzan Mountains.

When you think of an aquarium, you might imagine a building beside the sea, but Northern Daichi Aquarium is located inland

This aquarium specializes in freshwater fish, housing some 3,000 fish and about 50 species, not just from Hokkaido but around the world. It is a popular spot drawing around 100,000 visitors a year, with many unique features such as Japan's first waterfall basin tank, the world's first frozen-over river tank, the most bred-and-raised giant phantom itou fish in Japan, and tropical fish that are raised in hot water.

The World's First "Hokkaido Earth and River Zone"

The entrance fee is ¥670 for adults, ¥440 for junior high children, and ¥300 for elementary school and younger, tax included. First, visit the Hokkaido Earth and River Zone, where you can see the freshwater fish that inhabit Hokkaido as you stroll along the way. As soon as you enter you will see one of the highlights, a tank referred to as the waterfall basin that sparkles with life. It is a half-dome shaped tank, and the first of its kind in Japan where you can get an underwater view looking up from the bottom of the waterfall basin. With this special design you can watch fish like Dolly Varden trout and Japanese salmon, swimming against the raging waters.

The fish swimming under the rays of the sun is a magical sight
When conditions are right, you can see a curtain of light through the water (Photo by Northern Daichi Aquarium)

The next exhibit is outdoors, the "Four Seasons of Northern Daichi" tank. Rainbow trout and Japanese char are raised in an environment that reproduces the flow of the river bottom.

The other side of this tank is outdoors. You can see fish here season by season.

In the coldest season, the surface of the water actually freezes over! You can observe the fish and how they deal with rough winters underwater, which has brought popularity to this place as the world's first freezing aquarium.

The aquarium tank where the water surface freezes over in the winter. It can be seen from around January to February every year (Photo provided by Northern Daichi Aquarium)

Next, the giant phantom freshwater fish, "itou", or Japanese huchen, is a fish said only to live in regions such as the Kushiro Wetlands of Hokkaido. The image of this 1-meter long fish swimming by was powerful and surprising! About 20 of them were captured from the wild by the staff and raised here using underground water. This aquarium boasts the highest number of these fish raised in captivity in Japan.

This huge aquarium is about 7m wide and offers a spectacular view of these giant freshwater fish elegantly swimming by.
The Japanese huchen takes about 15 years to reach 1 meter in length. There was a story in 1937 about some individuals who discovered one exceeding 2 meters in the Tokachi River.

Another program I wanted to check out was the "Live Feeding" activity exhibit, where you can watch the huchen being fed live fish such as rainbow trout. With the powerful image of the fish eating its prey, you really come to understand the circle of life. Regarding the date and time of the exhibit, it is not regularly scheduled so please confirm with the aquarium.

The huchen hunts its food live. This program provides education on life and the food chain (Photo provided by Northern Daichi Aquarium)

Magical Hot Springs: "Tropical Fish of the World" and "Touch Corner"

After checking out the "Hokkaido Earth and River Zone", the "Tropical Freshwater Fish of the World Zone" is a change in atmosphere. If you were wondering how tropical fish can be kept here in cold Hokkaido, the answer is this: through the hot and cold springs that are found in this area. When these waters mix, you get the perfect environment for breeding tropical fish. They are said to be "magical springs" because the fish grow better than normal here.

The Asian Arowana, which was raised in these 'magical hot spring waters'. It seems to be happy swimming in this water containing hot spring elements

First I saw the huge Neotropical Realm (region from the Amazon through the south tip of North America) tank. The pirarucu, tambaqui, redtail catfish, and tiger shovelnose catfish, with their unique appearance and large bodies, were much different than the fish of Hokkaido I had just seen before.

Tiger shovel nose (front) and Pirarucu (two in the back). They look so different from the fish I am used to seeing or eating, so the general ideas I've had about fish has changed quite a bit.

In the "River of Southeast Asia" tank you can see more unique fish such as the arowana, the giant mottled eel, and even pig-nosed turtles. They all look so interesting, and much different from what can be found in the seas and rivers of Hokkaido.

Looking at the faces of all these fish one by one, you can really lose track of time

The last tank in the Tropical Freshwater Fish of the World Zone is the African Lake. There are fish that have undergone diverse evolution in the ancient lakes at the western tip of Tanzania (lakes over 100,000 years old) such as Lake Tanganyika, including the Mbu, a giant freshwater puffer fish. This one may be small in size, but its color added to the tank’s magnificence.

The colorful fish of the African Fish Tank
The Mbu inhabits Lake Tanganyika. It is poisonous like other puffer fish.

I saw a lot of variety in these fish from around the world, which were much different that the freshwater fish of Hokkaido.

At the end of the path is the Touch Corner. Here you can take a commemorative photo in front of the aquarium gate, and touch doctor fish, which eat off dry skin, plus crayfish, turtles, and more.

The Aquarium Gate, framed by goldfish swimming in the tanks. I snapped a selfie here.
The doctor fish eat off the dead, dry skin. It may take a little courage to put your hands in the tank, but please try it out if you can!

I spent about an hour around the hall looking at all the tanks. Although Hokkaido’s Northern Daichi Aquarium isn't a very large, the content of each tank and exhibition is substantial, making it an aquarium you will want to visit again to see the new season's exhibits.

Hokkaido’s Northern Daichi Aquarium: Renovated in 2012, now a popular attraction

Out of curiosity, I asked the director of the museum, Sou Yamauchi: “What made you establish such a concept aquarium here with so many unique exhibits?”

Mr. Yamauchi has been a staff member here since the renewal in 2012. He became the director in 2016.

The aquarium originally opened as the "Mountain Aquarium" in 1978. In the beginning it brought in many crowds, however the number of visitors drastically declined due to the decline of the neighboring hot spring towns.

In November 2011 they temporarily closed the building and decided to renew it. They asked the aquarium producer, Hajime Nakamura, who handled the design and composition of exhibition facilities at aquariums such as Enoshima Aquarium and Ikebukuro Sunshine Aquarium, as well as the staff for ideas, and in 2012 it was re-opened as The Northern Daichi Aquarium, which displays the exhibitions that you see now.

The innovative and eye-catching ideas such as the "waterfall basin that sparkles with life", "Four Seasons of Northern Daichi," and the "Live Feeding" were all Mr. Nakamura's (Photo is of the waterfall basin that sparkles with life)

The aquarium’s reputation after its renewal has skyrocketed. The number of annual visitors before the renewal was about 20,000 people, but has increased to about 300,000 in the first year after. Following that, it has remained a popular spot that consistently attracts about 100,000 people each year.

"Please visit and experience the underwater world of fish beyond what you know!” -Mr. Yamauchi. He is holding a sheet with handwritten messages from his staff.

Fish from Hokkaido living in an environment constructed a closely as possible to their natural habitats, and tropical fish bred and raised in magical hot spring waters. It is easy to understand why this exhibition has fascinated so many people. Please visit Hokkaido’s Northern Daichi Aquarium yourself if you get the chance, and take a peek into the mysterious world of fish!

  • Northern Daichi Aquarium
    北の大地の水族館
    • Address 北海道北見市留辺蘂町松山1-4 「道の駅おんねゆ温泉」内/1-4 Matsuyama, Kitami-shi, Rubeshibe-cho, Hokkaido
    • Phone Number 0157-45-2223

    Roadside Rest Area Onneyu-Onsen
    Open: 8:30 AM-5:00 PM (April-October), 9:00 AM-4:30 PM (November-March)
    *Admission until 20 minutes before closing
    Closed: April 8-14, December 26-January 1
    Admission: Adults ¥670, Junior High ¥440, Elementary ¥300 (tax included)

Things to Enjoy Nearby! World's Largest Cuckoo Clock and Kamurin Tower

If you are visiting the Northern Daichi Aquarium, it is recommended to also check out the neighboring Kamurin Tower. It houses the world's largest cuckoo clock, "Kamurin," with a height of 20 m. Every hour between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM, birds and forest fairies come out to tell us the time.

On the west side of the aquarium is the Kamurin cuckoo clock and the Kamurin Tower
Every hour on the hour the forest fairies dance and play their melody as the blue birds fly around, and stage a performance of about 5 minutes

The town of Rubeshibe thrives on forestry. In a building built entirely out of timber, you will find the Kamurin Shop, which sells items produced by local woodworking companies. In Kamurin World, you can play with wooden toys, and in the Craft Studio, you try some woodworking yourself.

This wooden product corner in Kamurin Shop displays many items that convey the warmth of the trees, including toys and interior items.

In addition to woodworking products, the Kamurin Shop has a variety of miscellaneous goods, including goods from the Northern Daichi Aquarium, Kitami City specialty mint products, and other assorted local goods and confectionery items. They also have a great selection of souvenirs.

Aquarium museum goods. These are cute stuffed animals of the huchen and the salmon (¥1296, including tax)

Something I would like to recommend is the Hokkaido cheesecake, Akai Sairo (Red Silo), (¥840 for 5 pieces, tax included). During the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games, the locally based womens' curling team that won a bronze medal, the LS Kitami (or "Loco Solare") talked about eating these during break time, and they sold out immediately. If you happen to see this very popular item, you might want to buy it right away!

Moderately sweet and moist with the rich flavor of cheese, this cheesecake is delicious

I also want to try the "Shirahana-mame ice cream," or White Bean Ice Cream (¥350, tax included). These white beans boast the largest production volume in Rubeshibe, according to a 2008 survey by Japan Agriculture Group, and have more than three times the dietary fiber of burdock root! Improvement of the intestinal environment and detoxification effects can be expected.

The sweetness and texture of the white beans blends well with the ice cream for an exquisite taste
Kamurin World has a playground of various wooden structures, including a Palace of Trees, a Wooden Sandpit, and a Wooden Fishing Pond. Admission is ¥210 for children and ¥270 for adults (tax included)
An instructor is stationed in the woodworking room, "Craft Studio," which also includes all the tools necessary for carpentry. Even beginners can experience woodworking with a kit you can purchase in the Kamurin Shop.

These facilities allow one to fully experience Rubeshibe, the Forest Town. If you visit the aquarium, please be sure to visit this town as well.

  • Kamurin Tower
    果夢林の館
    • Address 北海道北見市留辺蘂町松山1-4 「道の駅おんねゆ温泉」内/1-4 Matsuyama, Kitami-shi, Rubeshibe-cho, Hokkaido
    • Phone Number 0157-45-3373

    Roadside Rest Area Onneyu-Onsen
    Open: 8:30 AM-5:00 PM (April-October), 9:00 AM~ 4:30PM (November-March)
    Closed: April 8-14, December 26-January 1
    Admission: Free

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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