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May 23, 2019 - Matsue Horanenya - The Beluga Whales of AQUAS
After the conclusion of the Chunichisai of the Horanenya festival, there are now another three days to spend on sightseeing around the San'in Region before the final day of the festival on Sunday. This was the prefect time to whip out my second Sanin-Okayama Pass and use it to discover a new prefecture, Yamaguchi!
My destination for the day is Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture. To get to Hagi from Matsue, one has to take the express train to Masuda and from there transfer to a local train to either Higashi-Hagi station or Hagi station.
Before going to Hagi, I planned to visit Shimane Prefecture's aquarium known simply as AQUAS. AQUAS is located in the village of Hashi, a stop on the Super Oki express train route between Tottori and Shin-Yamaguchi.
Since there was no need to spend so much time at the aquarium, I planned to spend the day at a leisurely pace by leaving Matsue at about 11am. I bought myself a delicious Ekiben and some desserts from the station and had lunch in the train while viewing the scenic coastline of the Sea of Japan.
I arrived at Hashi Station and immediately there were signs of AQUAS featuring their main attraction, the beluga whale. It was just a short easy walk from the station to AQUAS. You can either ask the station attendant to keep your luggage or keep them at the aquarium.
When I entered AQUAS for the first time, I was very impressed to find a well maintained aquarium in such a far flung area. The tour of the aquarium started off with tanks displaying fish, crustaceans, squid, octopi and jellyfish from different parts of the world. However, there was no time to stop and admire these marine beauties as it was almost time to see the main attraction of AQUAS.
This was the sole reason why I planned to visit AQUAS, the beluga whales! AQUAS is the only place in the world where one can see a beluga whale performance.
The performance started with the introduction of a lady diver and two cute father and son beluga whales. We were immediately wowed by the intelligence of the whales as the son performed the Ojigi in front of all of us! The father and son whales played catchball together, and was ensued by the main event, the magic ring performance. The beluga whales showed off their unique skill by blowing out bubble rings from their mouths the blowhole on the back of their head. The piece de la resistance of the performance was the time when the beluga whale blew a large ring from the blowhole and swam right through it! There was an embarrassing moment when the beluga whale father defecated during the show, but we the audience were simply mesmerized by what these intelligent beluga whales were capable of. All in all, a brilliant show and worth the effort to come all to way to Hashi to meet these wonderful creatures.
AQUAS of course has the usual fare of penguin feeding time and seal and sea lion performances. I saw all three of them and enjoyed immensely watching the penguins fighting for fish. It was very cute to see penguin couples huddled together in their nest to warm their eggs.
Nevertheless, it was the beluga whale exhibit that outshone all other exhibits of the aquarium. The beluga whale breeding pool was a great place to get up close and personal with the whales and get that unforgettable shot of these majestic creatures.
Photos and videos of the beluga whale performance are available in my Flickr album https://www.flickr.com/photos/124829205@N08/albums/72157708933315016
I headed back to Hashi Station and there was plenty of time left before the next Super Oki service to Masuda. The express train eventually arrived and it was time to enter the next prefecture, Yamaguchi Prefecture.
I got off at Higashi-Hagi station and walked 20 minutes to ruco, a backpackers hostel in Hagi that was the talk of the backpacking community in Japan. My first impression of Hagi was that it was really quiet and there were no 7 Elevens, Family Marts, or Starbucks to be seen! Nevertheless, ruco was a fantastic hostel, with a stylish bar, tasteful interior design and adequate amenities for showering, cooking and mingling with new people.
I met a guy from Taiwan and we were recommended by the owner of ruco to try some Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki at Hagizamurai. Upon entering the restaurant, we were immediately noticed by the locals and they immediately struck up a friendly and warm conversation with us. The okonomiyaki at Hagizamurai was delicious (it's hard to get good okonomiyaki in KL), a perfect introduction to what Yamaguchi Prefecture has in store.