By Ayaka Yamane
Black boards, teeny-tiny desks and chairs recall the atmosphere of elementary school. It is so nostalgic. However, there are no elementary school students and teachers. Is this really an elementary school? What is happening here? Goldfish are swimming freely in an aquarium made from an old vaulting horse. Rays are swimming enjoyably. Morays are looking angrily. Hammerhead sharks are swimming powerfully and actively, sea turtles are swimming around gracefully and slowly, and a school of mackerels are swimming like armies in the elementary school 25m pool.
The Muroto Haikou Suizokukan, which opened on the 26th of April 2018, is a famous facility in Kochi and Muroto city. It is a wonderful way to utilize “Haikou”, abandoned school, and helps to solve serious problems such as depopulations and increase of aging population. Moreover, it has some events as if we are in school such as traditional Japanese radio calisthenics in summer and “Kakizome” that is Japanese traditional first writing of the year in New Year.
“Before opening the aquarium,” explained Mr. Wakatsuki Motoki, director of this aquarium and researcher in the field of sea turtles in an article from Shikokudenryoku. “I gathered many rare kinds of fish to make samples at first. The storage gradually became full.”
For that reason, he attempted to find a place where he can have custody of these samples. Fortunately, Muroto city called for a project that utilizes abandoned school. He decided to use the school not only for research but also as public aquarium.
“I faced a problem that the local people could not understand what I will do at first.” he said.
Now, local people are supporting his project and especially fishermen provide fish that are uncommon or have never seen before. As a result, there is 50 kinds of fish, and more than 1000 fish that make the aquarium jolly.
128. Can you imagine what this number is? This is the number of Haikou or abandoned schools in Kochi. Also, there are 7,583 abandoned school in Japan. This circumstance has been caused by current Japanese problems such as depopulation, declining birthrate, and the aging population.
According to Kochi prefectural office, 796,292 are young population in 2005, however, by 2035, the number of young populations will decrease. The total number is 596,000. To utilize the schools, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology came up with the project that supports people who use abandoned schools as accommodation, facilities that can do unusual experience, and display some arts. For now, 4,905 abandoned school are utilized in Japan. Kochi utilizes some abandoned schools as well.
Thanks to the aquarium, Muroto city can resolve the serious problems which are depopulation and increasing aging population. It contributes to advertise our city, thus some restaurants and sightseeing facility around the aquarium increase proceeds and tourists. Also, people who come to Muroto city as trainees in the aquarium, after that normally, they find employment at local fisherman’s union.
“After opening the aquarium, the number of people is promoted immigrant and it leads to increase the population.” said Mr. Kawagoe who is one of staff of Muroto sightseeing geopark promotion division.
Normally, more than 100 people visit there on weekdays, and more than 500 people visit on weekends. It cannot stop getting popular between all generations. “Because of COVID-19 outbreak, the number of tourists and sightseeing buses decrease drastically.” Mr.Wakatsuki said. Even so, the unique, pretty, and active fish swim dynamically and are not to be outdone by catastrophic COVID-19.
“Our goal is that just do something free and creative and be ourselves,” he said.
In the aquarium, there are a lot of unique areas. For example, the area that tourists can touch sea-cucumbers and starfish used to be the hand washing area, and now it displays seasonal fish and sea-animals. Furthermore, this aquarium displays things that other aquariums never do. Asahi Newspaper digital introduces that from this year to until next year, there will be an area which displays plastic bags as garbage. The purpose is that these days, many sea-animals died due to swallowing plastic bags wrongly. Also, Japan has started the project that tries to abolish plastic bags.
“To deal with current problem, all visitors to Muroto Haikou Suizokukann are stimulated, and can recognize what happened in the sea, and it will become excellent opportunity to think about this problem” said Mr. Wakatsuki in the article.
Yonden article quoted (Japanese)
About abandoned schools use (Japanese)
About plastic trash exhibit (Japanese)
Population data (pdf in Japanese)