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NIFREL Osaka: 7 Fun Ways to Enjoy Art and Animals Up Close!

NIFREL Osaka: 7 Fun Ways to Enjoy Art and Animals Up Close!

Date published: 22 August 2019
Last updated: 27 October 2020

NIFREL, the "Interactive Aquazoo" located in Osaka's EXPOCITY, is a new way to appreciate animals. This fun facility, produced by the aquarium Kaiyukan in Osaka City, has, since its opening, been very popular as a spot that is more than just an aquarium.

Here, we will share 7 must-do things when you visit NIFREL Osaka.

Main image: chanon83 / Shutterstock.com

Table of Contents
  1. NIFREL Osaka: Part aquarium, zoo, and art museum
  2. 1. Eight exhibition spaces divided by theme as in a museum
  3. 2. New zone where you can meet creatures that have the ability to “hide”
  4. 3. Did you know? White tigers are not averse to water!
  5. 4. Water tanks at NIFREL can be viewed from all directions!
  6. 5. Picnic Cafe EAT EAT EAT where you enjoy lunch and a mysterious snack!
  7. 6. Animals freely walk around in front of your very eyes!
  8. 7. Be sure to visit the NIFREL museum shop!
  9. Buy NIFREL Tickets

NIFREL Osaka: Part aquarium, zoo, and art museum

You can reach NIFREL in Expo City Osaka after about a 2-minute walk from the Osaka Monorail Banpaku-Kinen-Koen Station. Alternatively, it is very close to the Chugoku Suita IC on the Chugoku Expressway and the Suita IC on the Meishin Expressway and Kinki Expressway.

The concept of this facility is "touching sensitivity." The facility name NIFREL is also associated with this concept. It comes from the Japanese expression ni fureru, which means "to touch something."

"A living museum" that's a fusion of aquarium, zoo, and art museum, has become a catchphrase for this Osaka point of interest. To get a better insight into NIFREL, we sought the advice of its public relations officer regarding seven stunning attractions before visiting them!

1. Eight exhibition spaces divided by theme as in a museum

Aquariums usually have separate exhibition rooms depending on the type of animals and the areas in which they live, but NIFREL is different. The exhibition spaces are divided into eight themes:
Iro ni Fureru [Colors]
Waza ni Fureru [Abilities]
Sugata ni Fureru [Swim]
Wonder Moments [Wonder Moments]
Kakureru ni Fureru [Mimic]
Mizube ni Fureru [Waterside]
Ugoki ni Fureru [Behavior], and
Tsunagari ni Fureru [Biodiversity].

Presenting the exhibitions in this way is perhaps the most distinctive feature of NIFREL.

Let’s first look at the exhibition space on the beautiful first floor of the museum.

In the Colors zone, colorful fish and shrimp swim in cylindrical tanks. Soothing music is played in the background and the color of the room gradually changes to seven different shades

In the Abilities zone, you can see some of the unique skills of these fish, such as the archerfish that shoots down prey with a squirt of water and the jawfish that buries itself in the seafloor with only its head peeking out. The rectangular tanks are arranged as though they were in a laboratory.

▲ Archerfish. You might be able to actually see them shoot down prey with a squirt of water.

In the Swim zone, you can see fish with strange forms such as the splendid garden eel and razorfish. One's attention is drawn to the beautiful forms of these creatures bathed in the pale light.

▲ A splendid garden eel protruding from the seabed.

Wonder Moments in the open ceiling space is wildly popular with children. This is a world of digital art with the theme of nature by interactive artist Takahiro Matsuo. Light dances in the colossal sphere floating in the air and on the floor! Seventeen different scenes are projected, each one lasting about 10 minutes.

2. New zone where you can meet creatures that have the ability to “hide”

Continuing to the Mimic zone on the second floor, your eyes are drawn to the conspicuous design of the overall space that extends from the floor, up the walls, and to the ceiling. This zone, which just recently opened on March 1, 2019, displays 13 unique creatures that have developed the skill to "hide" to survive in nature.

▲In order to express the ability to "hide" in the entire space, the design of the booths is based on young emperor angelfish which are skilled at hiding. (Image provided by NIFREL)
▲ A young emperor angelfish on which the design of the zone is based. It is believed that this pattern enables the fish to hide in order not to become caught up in adult fish turf wars. (Image provided by NIFREL)

For example, this orchid mantis mimics orchid flowers, sometimes hiding among flowers and sometimes standing alone, as though a flower, in order to attract and capture prey.

▲ Can you spot the orchid mantis here? (Image provided by NIFREL)

3. Did you know? White tigers are not averse to water!

3. Did you know? White tigers are not averse to water!
▲ Go back through the Kakure ni Fureru zone and head to the back and you will come to an open space with a high ceiling. What do you think is awaiting you here?

This is the Waterside zone. Here you can see the white tiger, one of the most popular animals in NIFREL. You can see the white tiger up close like this!

▲ Aqua-kun the white tiger. It turned five years old in March 2018. In human years that would be equivalent to the age of a high school student.

White tigers are extremely rare, with there being only about 250 left in the world. They live in wetlands and in grassy fields near rivers. Most animals in the cat family dislike the water, but white tigers are fine with it. On a hot day, they will submerge themselves in the water to cool off! So that is why this is called the Waterside zone.

▲ Aqua-kun playing with a ball in the water. Quite at home in the water! (Image provided by NIFREL)
▲ Watching Aqua-kun eying a "meat ball" from the Tiger Walk overhead is secretly thrilling! Be sure not to miss this!

4. Water tanks at NIFREL can be viewed from all directions!

Walking around inside the building, I noticed something. None of the tanks are embedded in the walls like in most aquariums.

In other words, the tanks stand alone, and you can walk around them, looking at the fish inside from any angle.

Another difference is that none of the tanks have lids. Aside from poisonous animals, you can view the fish inside from above (please do not put your hands in the tanks).

▲ The blue-green damselfish when viewed from the side look white but when viewed from above they look green. Tall people can look at them from above (children will need to be lifted up by adults).
▲ There are one or more animals in each tank.

There is also a name plate in front of each tank explaining the characteristics of the fish. All of them are written in the 5-7-5-syllable haiku style! Itsuki Natsui, a popular haiku critic noted for her sharp and cutting comments and who often appears on TV, supervised their creation.

▲ The clownfish, which appeared in the animation "Nemo", are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they develop into males first, and when they mature, they become females.

5. Picnic Cafe EAT EAT EAT where you enjoy lunch and a mysterious snack!

5. Picnic Cafe EAT EAT EAT where you enjoy lunch and a mysterious snack!
▲ Picnic Cafe EAT EAT EAT

Located in the Waterside zone, this is a good place to take a break during your visit. In fact, it is in the same area as where the white tiger, saltwater crocodile, and pygmy hippopotamus are located.

▲ Saltwater crocodile across from the cafe. There are two, located in separate tanks, a male named Ron-kun and a female named Haido-chan. It’s really large! It is more than three meters long.
▲ There is also a pygmy hippopotamus, one of the three most unusual animals in the world, next to the cafe area.

You can watch the animals while having a sandwich or hamburger at the cafe.

▲ EAT EAT EAT Burger (950 yen including tax). All items on the menu are reasonably priced below 1,000 yen (including tax). The weekday limited lunch set (1,000 yen including tax) is served until 5:00 p.m. (photo provided by NIFREL).

I especially recommend trying the “water you can eat”. This is a NIFREL original product that was developed after trial and error to find an interesting way to experience "liquid you can touch". It is sold in a sales cart near the Picnic Cafe EAT EAT EAT, so give it a try.

▲ This is the “water you can eat” (250 yen including tax; quantity is limited). So, how do you eat it?
▲ Forcefully stick a toothpick into it as if popping a balloon. That will break the thin membrane around it
▲ Round, jelly-like objects will appear from inside! Scoop them up with a spoon to eat them. They are mildly sweet and have a smooth texture.

6. Animals freely walk around in front of your very eyes!

Next, proceed to the Behavior zone that is popular among NIFREL repeat visitors. In this zone the birds, capybaras and ring-tailed lemurs are not in cages, but move around freely in front of you! Lots of children enjoy visiting this area.

▲ The animals are not in enclosures in this area. That’s because the whole area is an enclosure.
▲ The wing span on this impressive Great White Pelican is about three meters. It looks like it is preparing to take off!
▲ Ring-tailed lemurs also jump from the branches of trees to the ground and hop around. They move around freely!

You can feel a breeze each time the great white pelicans flap their wings above your head and ring-tailed lemurs slip right past you.... This is an experience you have probably never had before! It’s unbelievable! Such a unique experience as this is really thrilling.

▲ Restrooms sign. For these birds the whole zone is like a special seating area for them.
▲ These Victoria Crowned Pigeons with their beautiful head feathers seem to prefer the corners.
▲ You can enjoy the antics of the Asian small-clawed otters and American beavers on the other side of the glass.
▲ Full-time curators (animal handlers) will help children and parents enjoy themselves by answering any questions they might have.

But keep in mind that even though the animals are allowed to move about freely you are not allowed to touch them. The animals aren't accustomed to humans so they ignore them as though they were in their natural habitat. There also is no worry about being pecked by the birds, either.

▲ Next to the Behavior zone is the Biodiversity zone which is a theater that enables you to connect with nature and wildlife through three-dimensional videos and sound.

7. Be sure to visit the NIFREL museum shop!

Almost all of the items in this shop are NIFREL original goods. You can shop here even if you do not have an admission ticket to the aquarium. In addition to clothing, such as T-shirts, and sweets, there are also many daily necessities and stationery items favored by young women.

▲ NIFREL hand towels (550 yen each including tax) are jointly made by NIFREL and Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten of Nara. *The designs may differ at times.

It has been visited by many since its opening, but these days it is relatively empty on weekday mornings and later in the evenings. I recommend going late in the evening as that is when the animals tend to become more active. You can also get reduced admission fee tickets after 5:00 p.m.

▲ The OSAKA WHEEL Ferris wheel adjacent to NIFREL at 123 meters is the tallest in Japan (as of March 2017)! And all of the gondolas have see-through floors

In addition to the aquarium there is also a zoo and an art museum. NIFREL is like moving art with its unique displays of animals where you can see many lovely attractions. Here await you pleasures not found at other zoos and aquariums which at times are enchanting and at other times exciting.

Please come and experience NIFREL, a new museum that will highlight the charms of living things and soften our sensibilities.

    • Address Inside EXPOCITY, 2-1 Senri Banpaku Koen, Suita City, Osaka
    • Phone Number 0570-02-2060
    • Inside EXPOCITY, 2-1 Senri Banpaku Koen, Suita City, Osaka Prefecture
      Hours of operation: 10:00 a.m. ~ 8:00 p.m. (Last admission 1 hour before closing)
      * Times may change depending on the season. Please visit the official website for more details
      Admission: adults 2,000 yen, elementary and jr. hi. Students 1,000 yen, small children (3 years and older) 600 yen {all prices include tax) May enter as often as you like on the same day
      Closed: always open (unscheduled closure once a year for inspections)
      0570-022060 (NIFREL Information)

Text by:kurashisa

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*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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