The Kamo Aquarium: A Yamagata Destination for Jellyfish Lovers
The “Kura-netarium” Jellyfish Display
The Tsuruoka Municipal Kamo Aquarium, in the Shōnaihama district of Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, is an aquarium regularly exhibiting over 50 species of jellyfish. Known in Japanese as kurage, these creatures are notoriously difficult to raise in artificial surroundings. The museum, known familiarly as the “Kurage Museum,” was officially recognized as being home to the world’s largest collection of jellyfish by Guinness World Records in 2012.
The Kura-netarium (a portmanteau word combining kurage and planetarium) offers visitors walking through a dim corridor a view of jellyfish from all parts of the world, floating in the dark like stars against the night sky. Unusual species on display include the flower hat jelly (Olindias formosus), with fluorescent yellow and pink tentacles, the halo-encasing Parumbrosa polylobata, which lives at ocean depths of over 100 meters, the lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata), one of the world’s largest species, and the Turritopsis dohrnii, also called the “immortal” jellyfish for its ability to revert to the polyp stage and regenerate its cells for a new lease on life. Some varieties are not always on show, so if you’re interested in a specific one, check before you visit.
The Kurage Dream Theater is the highlight of the Kura-netarium. This attraction features thousands of Aurelia aurita, the common or moon jellyfish, floating in a huge tank 5 meters in diameter. Bathed in blue light, the tank offers a phantasmagorical spectacle of jellyfish large and small shining like pale apparitions as they float lazily through the water.
The Kamo Aquarium does not simply display the jellyfish in its collection; it also breeds them. The “All About Jellyfish” display in the Kura-netarium explains how jellyfish develop and grow. Here visitors can observe day-old jellyfish just a few millimeters long through a magnifying glass or a microscope. Aquarium staff also give presentations four times a day to explain how jellyfish feed and to describe their life stages. Other attractions include displays of freshwater fish native to the rivers and ponds of the Shōnai region, along with sea lions showing off their splashy jumps.
After Viewing Jellyfish, Have Some!
The Tsuruoka Municipal Kamo Aquarium offers a comprehensive jellyfish experience, with viewing, learning, and eating opportunities. Among the aquarium facilities are a restaurant offering a panoramic view of Shōnaihama beach, with jellyfish on the menu. The restaurant’s signature kurage ramen features wheat noodles containing ground cannonball jellyfish. The light, soy-sauce-flavored broth is the perfect accompaniment to the chewy noodles. The toppings include jellyfish strips, which have an intriguing texture. And for dessert, how about jellyfish ice cream, with tiny bits of chewy jellyfish in a rich soft-serve ice cream?
- Address: 657-1 Imaizumi-aza Ōkubo, Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture
- Access: From JR Tsuruoka Station, 30 min. by Shōnai Kōtsu bus bound for Yunohama Onsen. Adjacent to Kamo Suizokukan stop.
- Tel.: 0235-33-3036
- Hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (9:00 am to 5:30 pm during summer holidays, late July to late August)
- Open year-round
- Admission: 1,000 for adults; 500 for elementary and junior high school students (Group discounts available); no credit cards accepted
- Multilingual environment: English-language pamphlet, English on some panel displays
- Web (Japanese language only): https://kamo-kurage.jp/
Nearby Attraction: Yunohama Beach
The arc-shaped Yunohama Beach is just 10 minutes from the Kamo Aquarium. According to documents dating from the Edo period (1603–1868), Yunohama was the first place where board surfing was practiced in Japan, and it’s popular with surfers and bathers even today. Mount Chōkai, known as the “Fuji of Dewa” (an ancient name for the region) for its resemblance to Mount Fuji, offers a scenic backdrop to Yunohama, which is also famous as a spot for viewing superb sunsets. And facing the beach is Yunohama Onsen, one of the region’s prime hot spring resorts.
- Address: Yunohama, Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture
- Access: From JR Tsuruoka Station, 40 min. by Shōnai Kōtsu bus bound for Yunohama Onsen; disembark at the Yunohama Onsen stop
- Tel.: 0235-75-2258 (Yunohama Onsen Tourism Association)
- Website available in English: http://www.yunohamaonsen.com/en/
(Originally written in Japanese. Photos and text by Shoepress. Banner photo: A cloud of Aurelia aurita floating in the water at the Kurage Dream Theater.)