Santas and seals at the Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium (Louis Templado)Sardines form a Christmas tree illusion at the Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise. (Louis Templado)
It's that time of the year again, when nearly everywhere you look is lit up by Christmas illuminations. It's grand, but after a few "oohs" and "ahhhs," the festive lights start looking familiar, while the mercury drops.
For an experience more novel, head over to the aquarium. Like honey and gorgonzola cheese, Christmas and sea creatures are an unexpectedly savory pairing.
In Tokyo's Shinagawa area, for instance, you can enjoy the Norwegian-themed illuminations--imagine the elf-like Julenissen instead of Santa Claus--before diving into the glow of the Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium, inside the Shinagawa Prince Hotel complex. (Despite the name, it's actually in Minato Ward.)
If you enjoy watching neon-colored fish swimming around stacked martini glasses and Christmas ornaments (and who doesn't?), this is the place to be.
If you time your visit just right, say just after work and before dinner, you can also catch sight of two baby fur seals, kitted out with reindeer horns, walking the watery corridors of the aquarium. The event is a first for the five-year-old facility and continues until Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, at Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, you can happen on something more illusionary: A glittery "Christmas tree" formed from sardines. Together with sharks, the aquarium's main tank is stocked with a school of 50,000 "ma-iwashi" sardines.
Come meal time, a combination of pumps disperses feed into the 1,500 tons of enclosed water in such a way that it forms a cone. When the lights dim and the sardines start to feed, you'll be lost for words.
Standing in the dark, listening to Christmas carols while watching a silvery spiral of sardines may not be a normal Yuletide experience.
It is, however, oddly enthralling and proves that the spirit of the holidays really is wherever you look for it.
Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium in the Shinagawa Prince Hotel is a three-minute walk from Shinagawa Station. Open from noon to 10 p.m. (from 10 a.m. on weekends, closing at 9 p.m. Sundays). The seal walk takes place daily at 6:30 p.m. until Dec. 21, at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 22-25. Admission is 1,800 yen (1,000 yen after 7 p.m.). See (aquastadium.jp).
Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise is in front of Hakkeijima Station on the Seaside Line. Admission is 4,400 yen. Christmas pair tickets are 5,000 yen for two, until Dec. 25. For details, see (www.seaparadise.co.jp/english).