Tokyo’s Ikebukuro is an archetypical part of the concrete jungle of Japan’s capital. The neighborhood is even home to Sunshine 60, one of the tallest buildings in a city that’s already packed with massive skyscrapers.

With so much space to work with, Sunshine 60 houses a shopping center, restaurants, planetarium, museum, and even a parlor for playing the Japanese board game go. But what convinced us to visit recently was the complex’s aquarium, which right now is offering a chance to shake hands with its adorable river otters!

The Sunshine Aquarium may not be located on the top floor of the building (that space is reserved for the currently under-renovation observation lounge), but it does occupy a rooftop area of a lower section of the building where you can see the sky overhead. Between that and the open-air garden with palm trees and tropical flowers, the facility really does provide the atmosphere of an urban oasis.

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While most of the facility’s animal residents are found indoors, some of the habitats border the garden, including those of the sea lions, penguins, and pelicans. Oh, and also Sunshine Aquarium’s ridiculously cute river otters.

▼ Seen here relaxing after a swim

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The cute little guys are popular enough on any day, but right now they’re getting even more affectionate attention since they’re greeting the public personally by shaking hands with a number of visitors each day.

It’s been about two years since the last time we got to shake hands with an otter, and we were more than ready for a refill of those warm fuzzy feelings. So we headed out the door, arrived at Sunshine 60, and followed the signs to the elevators that take visitors up to the aquarium entrance.

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But just like celebrities don’t have the time and energy to sign autographs for everyone who wants one, there’s a limit to how many people the otters can press palms with. The handshake event starts daily at 1 p.m., and about 10 minutes beforehand, the aquarium staff starts handing out slips of paper with numbers on them. At one o’ clock, a drawing is held, and roughly a dozen visitors are chosen to shake hands with the otter.

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When we stopped by on a Saturday, there were about 100 people gathered for the event. Lady luck smiled on us, though, and our number was called.

▼ We’ve never been so happy to say, “We’re number two!”

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With the lucky winners selected, it was time for the day’s otter on duty to make his appearance, and attendants rolled in the charming Yamato.

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Cute as they may be, river otters have powerful jaws and sharp teeth, and can cause serious injury if they bite your fingers. Because of this, the staff cautioned us to extend our hand and wait for Yamato to do likewise, but to refrain from patting him on the nose should he stick his head outside the opening instead.

Aside from that warning, shaking hands with an otter is just like shaking hands with anyone else, with the key difference that the sudden rush of cuteness is enough to make you go weak in the knees.


So what does an otter’s hand feel like? It’s an intriguing mix of softness with a rough outer layer, and the animal’s paw is incredibly light. Imagine dropping a marshmallow in the dessert, then picking it up without dusting off the sand and setting it gently in the palm of your hand.

▼ Or, in less poetic terms, “Awwwwww!”

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Yamato also proved to be quite the showman, preening and posing for the camera (don’t worry if you come by yourself, the Sunshine Aquarium staff will be happy to snap pictures for you).

After about five minutes of pictures, Yamato’s handler took him out of his mobile enclosure for a walk, during whih he also demonstrated his ability to give a double high-five, earning a treat in the process.

▼ This is actually a clever way to get him to show his stomach for health inspections, the trainer explained.

High five

Sunshine Aquarium’s otter handshake event takes place every day from now until July 12, and if you decide to check it out, tell Yamato we say hi.

Aquarium information
Sunshine Aquarium / サンシャイン水族館
Address: Tokyo-to, Toshima-ku, Sunshine City, Higashi Ikebukuro 3-1-3
東京都豊島区 サンシャインシティ 東池袋3−1−3

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