japan, traveling with baby

Dreams coming true: making friends with otters

As I scrolled on my phone to learn more about the aquarium we’d be going to the next day, I stopped at a picture of an Asian small-clawed otter sticking its paw through a small hole in its enclosure. You can feed slash hold hands with otters at this Japanese aquarium?!?!

I turned my phone screen to Bryce and asked, “Should we do it??”

Let’s be real. I don’t know why I even posed the question because anyone who even remotely knows me — or recalls the name of this blog they are reading — would know I would not pass up this opportunity. Sure, sea otters are my favorite but Asian small-clawed otters are pretty cool, too. Also, I have actually already fed sea otters before! You’re right, I neglected to blog about it and never even posted a single photo of it on IG so it must not have really happened. I’ll have to dig deep in the computer archives and/or cloud for that so if I ever make it through catching up on this fall 2022 Japan trip, I’ll share that content from the Vancouver Aquarium 3 or 4 years ago.

Anyway – Prior to going to Japan in October, more than one friend sent me videos of being able to shake hands with otters in Japan. I knew it was a thing there, but what I didn’t know was that it’s available at more than one aquarium and the one near my grandma’s house just so happens to be one of them. So, for an additional 400 yen (with the yen being weak, this is less than $4 USD), how could I pass this up??

At the aquarium, before meeting our new BFF

We took the bus and then train and then monorail to Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise from my grandma’s house. It was a Tuesday and we didn’t think it would be very crowded since we planned to get there right when it opened in the morning. Well, it was us and the many preschool and elementary school class field trips that were there right when the doors opened. No matter. I was going to get to hold hands with an otter! Nothing could squash my excitement.

As soon as we were inside the main building — yes, this aquarium has 4 buildings and/or outdoor areas — we asked the greeter where to buy the special tickets for the otter feedings. We made our way to the guest services desk and bought 2 tickets for a time slot in an hour. (I love how most activities are free for children 2 and under … I am going to savor this while I can while baby is under 2!)

After securing our otter tickets, we went back down to the main floor to “start” looking at all exhibits. Well, but first we had to take a family group photo in front of a huge manatee display where you get “duped” into paying extra for the paper-framed photo as a keepsake as all tourists do. Bryce and I laughed at ourselves at how in the past when we would go places as a couple before having a baby and when the employees would try to stop you to take a photo with their photographer, we would barely make eye contact and quickly walk by saying we were not interested. Now, we’re those parents who are like, “It’s her [baby girl’s] first aquarium visit! We gotta do the photo!” Plus, my dad aka grandpa also came with us so it was an extra special visit. (Remind me to send my dad a copy of that photo because, you know, while we gave into the “gimmick” of taking this photo, we aren’t made of money so we only paid for one photo copy from the aquarium.)

We saw so many types of fish, crabs, jellyfish, turtles … pretty much everything you would expect to see at an aquarium — and more! Baby was mesmerized by the polar bear that swam back and forth in a big tank. All the little field trip kids had their faces so close to the glass window. That bear was definitely a crowd favorite. And then there were also animals we didn’t quite expect to see at an aquarium but were equally fun to see: red pandas, capybaras and prairie dogs, just to name a few!

Finally meeting our BFF

We arrived to the otter habitat area well beyond the “5 minutes prior to start time” that we were told. We were too excited! OK, I was too excited. Bryce was just along for the ride and baby of course didn’t know what was in store. Since the capybaras were nearby, we watched them and also fed some koi that were in the pond in the capybaras’ habitat. (There was a little vending machine that sold the fish food.)

When it was finally time to meet, feed and shake hands with the otter, we listened carefully to the aquarium staff’s instructions. It was simple — just hold your hand out with the food and they will quickly grab it. Don’t stick your finger through the hole. We fed the otter a mixture of raw squid and cat kibble.

They just have one otter in each enclosed area with a hole in the wall when it’s this special feeding time. This is probably so the otters don’t fight over who gets to interact with the humans that day. The otter was very quick to grab the food out of my hand each time. It just hung its hand out of the hole waiting for me. Its hand, er, paw, was rough but soft at the same time. It kind of just felt like a tiny dog paw.

Bryce held baby and even she participated in feeding the otter! She looked neither scared nor happy. Maybe she was just processing it all, probably trying to figure out “why” we were feeding this small creature through a tiny hole.

The total interaction with the otter was just a few minutes. (The website says you get 3 minutes with the otter, no one was timing us but I’d definitely say if we hung around any longer, it wasn’t by much.) But, it was worth it for me. When else can you feed an otter and get a “handshake” at the same time? Even if you aren’t an otter fan, that’s pretty cool, right?

The rest of the outing

With so much to see and do at Sea Paradise, there was a lot more to experience even after the otter encounter. We went to all 4 buildings/areas of the aquarium. This included walking through an area where dolphins can swim “above” you because their tank expands both walls and the ceiling. I thought this was fun and magical because it’s not every day you get to walk through what is basically a tunnel of dolphins swimming around you. But, of course, baby was more interested in the employee who was under water in scuba gear scrubbing the walls. “Clean, clean!” she said while pointing at the worker while I kept being like, “Look! Dolphins!” but then finally giving into, “Yes, they are cleaning! They need to keep the dolphins’ area clean!” Ah, parenthood.

There was a whole dolphins show where they do coordinated flips and swim with the trainers along to music, too. (This was not in the aforementioned “tunnel” but an entirely separate arena.) This show was right after we had met and fed the otter. Once we had settled into our seats and were waiting for the show to start, baby fell asleep in the stroller. Oh, well. It’s really hard to time a kid’s nap while on vacation — especially when you’re in a completely different time zone — so we just let her nap whenever she felt like it when we were out and about in Japan.

After a morning of exploring all that Sea Paradise had to offer, we ate lunch at the food court before heading back home. Baby’s kid’s meal curry came with rice shaped like a dolphin and a toy car! It’s honestly pretty cool and something I didn’t pay attention to until I became a parent — that Japan caters to children so well in so many capacities. (More on this another time.) But, food-wise, having at least one kid’s meal option is the norm from food courts to “regular” dine-in restaurants.

With tummies full of curry and my heart full of happiness with getting to meet an otter, we headed back home. I’d say baby’s first ever aquarium visit was an otter success!

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