Our family vacation in Tokyo was to celebrate my only son’s graduation from college. I had pretty much resigned myself to just following the plans of my wife and children during our five days’ stay in Japan. My request was simple: “No tours, please!” This was one of the few trips abroad that we were together as a family, so I realized my main role…was to fund the entire trip and enjoy it with the rest of the family! My wife and two elder daughters did most of the planning; everyone else had very concrete plans as to where to go and the priorities they had as far as shopping was concerned. And because we were bringing along my grandson, I felt like a proud grandfather and resigned myself to making sure things went right most of the time.

A huge marine tank greets everyone who begins their ocean journey at the Sunshine Aquarium.

I was thrilled that despite the language barrier, I was able to eat dinner in a Japanese restaurant behind the hotel and had enough sign language left in me to be able to bring back enough take-out food for those who stayed behind. I appreciated how a Google app let us pictures of an item we were unsure of and then just press “translate” for help; other translator and navigation apps also helped. Thus, shopping was a breeze throughout the first two days. Walking fifteen kilometers a day for me wasn’t a chore as it took the place of my daily exercise and the weather cooperated with cool Baguio-like temperatures; a light jacket was enough to protect me throughout the entire day.

A trip to Ikebukuro to shop at the Pokemon Center took us to the Sunshine Center, a fifty-two floor mixed-use commercial center on whose first four floors a commercial mall was located. Feeling sorry for me, the family asked again where I was interested to go especially since they were well aware that I gave up an intended trip to Tsukiji, Tokyo’s legendary fish market, which sells hundreds of tons of blue fin tuna caught in Philippine seas. The initial suggestion for me to visit the Sunshine aquarium on the tenth floor failed to make me smile. But after two hours of walking and following my family around the mall, I reconsidered as I was curious as to how a massive aquarium complex could be built on the tenth floor of a Tokyo building.

Sheepishly, I joined a line of mothers pushing kids in their strollers to buy tickets for Sunshine Aquarium. It suddenly dawned on me that it was a weekday, so I was not really going in with a whole lot of people but rather, just a few mothers caring for their young ones during the day. I gave the full 2,000 yen payment after realizing senior citizens in Japan had to be 65 years old to be given the fifteen percent discount. No luck there!

However, the disappointment was short-lived as I entered the aquarium after being given a guide to the entire complex. My curiosity was immediately and immensely satisfied as I saw two floors of indoor and outdoor structures that contained the various sections of the center. On the first level was the Ocean Journey as well as the Marine Garden, which had the Sky Journey, while the second level contained the Waterfront Journey of freshwater fish and flora together with attractive gift shops. According to the guide, Sunshine Aquarium was built as Japan’s first metropolitan high rise aquarium, ushering in a new type of family entertainment meant to introduce discoveries that will inspire people of all ages. It is an aquatic environment in the center of the Tokyo close to the sky. Since 2011 it has been bringing joy and excitement to the people of Japan as well as tourists coming from different parts of the world.

A large school of sea bream swimming with a magnificent Napoleon Wrasse depicting the Force of Life!

The ocean journey consisted of various fish, mammals, and invertebrates, such as corals, squid, and jellyfish. It showcased how living matter co-existed in bays, along shorelines, and deep in open waters of the sea. Sunshine’s huge water tanks are constructed to reflect how animals live at sea. The atmosphere simulates the experience of walking on the ocean floor and taking an ocean journey. The dark environment really captured what it was like living with sea creatures.

The waterfront journey takes you to the freshwater home of Asia and Central American fish in various rivers, lakes, and coasts, which are home to a diverse range of living creatures. This was more familiar to me as I could very well recognize the same types of fishes and reptiles I kept at home, from the Asian and Latin American arowanas and stingrays, iguanas, colorful poison arrow tree frogs, as well as four varieties of tortoise: redfoots, radiatas, Burmese stars, and the spider tortoise. Here was where I felt most comfortable throughout my three-hour visit. In fact, the time passed by so fast and I did not even feel hungry even if it was already past 1 p.m.

A Suribachi Coral gives life to schools of colorful marine fish

The marine garden and sky journey was in an open area showcasing palm and garden trees amid the towering cityscape of metropolitan Tokyo. Here, you experience how birds, river otters, and other small animals live together under the open sky. Sea lions as well as penguins relax in their shoreline habitat as well as swim in acrylic see-through enclosures, simulating a feeling as if they were swimming through the sky showcasing their daily activities.

The trip was not complete without my half-hour visit to the gift shop, where courteous English speaking sales personnel walked me through various items which eventually ate into my shopping budget. I bought a toy turtle for my grandson, several red arowana magnetic figures, a few sun catchers for my secretaries at school and at the office, as well as keychains for my friends. All of them represented aquatic life in various ecosystems.

Needless to say, upon joining my wife and second daughter for a ramen lunch, I could not hide that huge smile on my face, especially after excitedly showing off the many pictures I took, and told them stories about the brief encounter I had with the aquarium in the sky!

Squid idly and playfully swim in their tank

Immediately, this trip to Sunshine Aquarium was one of the high points in our Tokyo vacation. Of course, I enjoyed the time spent with the entire family, cooking breakfast everyday for everyone to get them ready for each day’s shopping adventure. Gone was my mind focusing on anticipating language problems or getting lost in this large metropolis. In its place was a wide array of pictures and memories of a morning spent in a paradise of my dreams!

So if you ever think you will get tired of shopping in Tokyo, Sunshine Aquarium will surely fascinate you. It will excite you and make you feel like a young child experiencing life in the forest and oceans and all the living things God created to make a perfect world!

This appeared in Animal Scene’s September 2016 issue.