Kobe is a city built on the water and Suma Seaside Park is the people’s link to the sea. Suma Beach stretches for two kilometres and offers white sand framed by pine trees; it is a fixture on the annual list of the country’s best beaches. Summer means sunbathing and swimming in July and August when the beach is officially designated to be open. At night the music starts playing and the beach parties commence. And it is free.
At the west end of the park is the Wada Misaki light station that once guided traffic through Kobe harbor from its location at the tip of Wada Misaki. Built in 1884, the historic hexagonal cast iron pyramidal tower was decommissioned and relocated to the park as a monument. But the big attraction at the beach is the Suma Aqualife Park.
The municipal aquarium opened in 1957 and today is one of the largest celebrations of underwater life in Japan. The park mixes education with recreational rides and a playground. The main building is home to a two-story tank holding 1,200 tons of sea water energized by an artificial wave maker to simulate familiar conditions for the sharks and stingrays and sardines that swim there. There are night time tanks and daytime tanks to accommodate species from different depths of the sea.
The star sensory experience is Japan’s first underwater tunnel called Amazon World. Here massive freshwater fish from the planet’s most mysterious river environment swim atop the visitor. Nearby in the Fish Live Theater, intimidating schools of carnivorous piranhas swim past. Next door the World Fish House amazes with some of nature’s most exotic creatures including four-eyed fish. Impressive skeletons of whales and orcas hang overhead in the Cetacean Gallery.
This is a place that takes aquatic life seriously. When it was discovered that turtles trying to cross the West Japan Railway railroad tracks were getting stuck in between the rails, small U-shaped concrete ditches were fashioned under the tracks to let the hard-shelled amphibians fall to safety where they are collected and brought to the aquarium.
Suma Aqualife Park is all about the shows. The Big Show Pool seats 1,700 people for the dolphin live shows that take place every ninety minutes or so. The Penguin Pool is connected to the pavilion and the aquatic birds often make their way onto the dolphin’s stage. The four times-daily feedings at the Sea Otter House always draw a big crowd.
The biggest summer show at Suma Aqualife Park begins every evening at 5:00 p.m. through August with the Kobe Suma Aqua Illuminage. This year’s theme is Aloha!! Hawaii with inspiration drawn from the tropical paradise. Images are projected onto the water of the Pavilion Pool and against the back wall. The illuminations react to the movement of the water and dance with the lights to create aquatic-themed light sculptures.
Suma Seaside Park is accessible from all over Kobe – the local trains even have their own stop there at Suma Beach Station. From there it is only a five minute walk to the fun.