Monday, August 15th, 2022

Atoa Kobe: part aquarium, part art installation

Photograph of a ray swimming in an aquarium tank

Located with the Kobe Port Museum, Atoa is a self-styled "novel urban aquarium". It's compact, beautifully designed and carefully laid out to guide the visitor through a sequence of "rooms" on a journey of wonder. Deep tanks of sharks and rays sit alongside small, oddly shaped containers with corals and shrimp. Ethereal music and sublime lighting create the appropriate sense of awe.

Then there are the "show piece" moments, entire rooms dedicated to displays designed to take your breath away with their impact, and continue to do so as you explore.

The journey leads to the rooftop terrace, where a small café offers refreshments and a place to sit and reflect. Or you enjoy the stunning views out across the harbour. There are penguins if you need some company.

Finally, you exit through the gift shop. Here your plush otter or a shark that seems even friendlier than the ones from Ikea. That's assuming you missed the small stations dotted around where you could buy the plushie of the creature you just looked at.

There are information cards about the creatures in the tanks, written in both Japanese and English. An entire wall is given over to an explanation of the climate disaster facing us, big and bold graphics reminding visitors of their impact on the oceans surrounding the islands of Japan. However, be under no illusion this is about anything but entertainment.

My visit was a moment of inspiration rather than a planned outing. As such, I didn't have my FujiFilm camera with me, and had to rely on my Nokia smartphone instead. To be honest, I'm glad as it did a reasonable job of capturing memories, and avoided the frustration of constantly fiddling with settings as the lighting shifted.

In all I spent almost two hours wandering around, and probably could have spent more. There are spots where I wanted to linger, and would have had I been on my own. For those with kids, I'd suggest a little longer as excitement levels can rise, particularly when coming face-to-face with a shark or catfish.

It was an enjoyable couple of hours with some truly inspiring and stunning moments. Although a little out of the way, I think it's worth the detour.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.