Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is part of Ocean Expo Park and is considered one of the biggest and best aquariums in the world. Its tanks are massive enough to accommodate a whale shark.
Located on the coast of Motobu Peninsula, the aquarium was rebuilt in 2002 and is now home to 740 different species of underwater life.
Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and the Ocean Expo Park are served by a number of bus routes. It takes about two hours from Naha.
The Yanbaru Express Bus runs a direct service from Naha Airport and central Naha to the Ocean Expo Park. There are six round trips a day. It is also possible to get there using the regular bus service, but it involves changing to an infrequent service at Nago and is not the most convenient route.
By car, the journey also takes about two hours, though it can be considerably longer during rush hour. Take the Okinawa Expressway from Naha to Nago, and then follow directions to the Motobu Peninsula and the Ocean Expo Park.
The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium was the biggest in the world when it opened in 1976
The aquarium was rebuilt in 2002
After its relaunch, the aquarium welcomed its 20 millionth visitor in 2010
There are 26,000 living creatures at the aquarium and 740 different species
When you arrive at the entrance to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, a massive sculpture of the world's biggest fish is there to greet you. Take a selfie with the beast before continuing to the main exhibits.
As you enter the aquarium, you will discover a pool where you can touch living starfish with your hands and a tank containing a breathtaking display of living coral, the first large-scale exhibit of this type in the world.
One of the most popular exhibits is the main tank. Known as the Kuroshio Sea, the tank is so large that it provides a home for the whale shark, which can measure up to 12 meters in length. The tank also accommodates manta rays and many species of rare fish.
A considerable volume of water is needed to fill this tank - 7,500 cubic tons of it. The acrylic glass wall which separates the tank from spectators is 60 cm thick.
You might think that the mighty whale shark would make short work of the tiny sea creatures around it, but despite its size, it is a peaceful creature that lives on plankton and fish eggs. Be sure you don't miss the shark feeding displays which are held twice a day at the Kuroshio Sea tank.
Manta rays are notoriously difficult to keep, and they had never been known to breed in captivity until 2007 when one of the rays at the aquarium gave birth. Since then, there have been three more newborn manta rays at Churaumi Aquarium.
Other tanks in the aquarium contain sea creatures that would not coexist so harmoniously in the big tank, such as tiger sharks and bull sharks. There is an incredible display of bioluminescent deep-sea fish, as well as outdoor pools where you can see dolphins, manatees and sea turtles.
The aquarium is the main attraction of the Ocean Expo Park, but give yourself time to explore the whole complex. The park was created to commemorate the Okinawa International Ocean Expo, which was held in 1975. It extends three kilometers along the coast and contains the Oceanic Culture Museum, two arboretums, the Tropical Dream Center (a botanical garden), and a fine sand beach.
Also in the park, feel free to wander through the Native Okinawan Village, featuring recreations of Okinawan homes and buildings from various times and places in history.
The park is open from 8am to 7.30pm (March to September), and 8am to 6pm (October to February). Admission is free for all the attractions except the Churaumi Aquarium (¥1850), Tropical Dream Center (¥690), and Oceanic Culture Museum (¥170).