FUKUOKA (TR) – A theme park in Kitakyushu City is facing a growing tide of criticism over its educational attraction featuring some 5,000 sea creatures frozen into an ice rink in what it boasts to be a world-first — and possibly Japan’s last.
Space World, described as a “theme park all about space” by the Japan National Tourism Organization, launched the “Freezing Port” event for its existing ice rink on November 12 as a limited winter and spring exhibition to educate visitors about marine life.
Park visitors can rent ice skates and glide over a wide variety of fish and shellfish frozen into the ice in different zones, according to the official web site, including a section featuring enlarged photos of bigger creatures such as whale sharks that some mistook to be real.
Many of the fish used for the attractions were unfit for retail sale and sourced from public fish markets, a Space World official said.
‘Attraction both unseen and unheard of’
The theme park promised in October that visitors would have a “chance to enjoy skating under unreal conditions at an attraction both unseen and unheard of” in what is “not only a Japan-first, but undeniably a world-first.”
But an initially cautious reception quickly turned to dismay and anger after the theme park began posting preview photos of the ice rink on its Facebook page on October 26, accompanied by what many criticized as inappropriate captions.
Netizens were particularly vocal about a caption for a “Part.7” November 7 photo showing bodies of fish half-frozen into the ice rink that read “I’m d..d..drowning…It h…h..hurts…,” with one comment saying the park shouldn’t “make life into a toy.”
In another photo post dated November 8, visitors urged others to boycott the park while others condemned the attraction as an “insult to life” and urged the park to “go out of business.”
Official: Live fish not used
Space World continued to preview the attraction despite mounting criticism with a final “Part.11” photo on November 11, which drew over 100 comments expressing varying degrees of shock and shame –– including a claim that the attraction was gaining attention in China as “Japan’s vulgar theme park.”
An official from Space World’s public relations department confirmed to news site Netlabo that the park has “received lots of opinions on sites like Twitter, and some have even contacted us directly.”
The official denied allegations that the park used live fish for the ice rink.
“The real fish we used were provided wholesale from public fish markets, and these fish sellers are all aware of the purpose of this project,” the public relations department official said. “Many of these fish don’t meet standards for selling to customers. And the big fish like whale sharks, sharks, and rays aren’t real, they’re simply photos that were blown up and embedded in the ice.”
When asked to explain what the project is about, Space World said it “wanted people to interact with the creatures of the sea…The attraction is divided into multiple zones, including a ‘deep sea zone,’ with accompanying explanations about the kinds of fish on display.”
The official said reactions from visitors “have been favorable. It seems like children are having a particularly good time.”
Reports of blood in ice
Regarding reports that blood was seeping into the ice and bodies of fish were sticking out, the official said the cause was “probably ice melting when the attraction launched.”
“As for the exposed fish, we believe it’s not a case of ice skate blades scratching and damaging them, they wouldn’t be damaged unless there was intentional digging of the ice or kicking of the fish,” the official said. “But this is the first staging for us as well, so we think there was a lack of experience there.”
Asked if the theme park thought the “drowning” caption had any issues, the official replied: “Another employee wrote that hoping people would find it funny. But I do feel that not enough caution was taken. I apologize.”
There are “no current plans” to shutter the attraction, the official said. “For me personally, I believe people will understand if they come visit, so I would ask them to please visit the link when they have a chance.”
‘Memorial service for the fish’
Regarding the fate of the fish in the ice, the official said the company is “investigating what we’ll do with them afterward. The whole purpose of the project is to have people experience the world of the ocean, including the lives of the fish within, so it’s also been proposed to hold a memorial service for the fish who worked hard for us.”
The official concluded by saying that people would “understand the intention of this project if they actually came to visit. This is a first for us as well so there was some lack of experience in some areas, but if people would have a correct understanding of the purpose of the exhibition…”
A user questioned the official’s remarks in the November 11 photo by saying: “A PR official from Space World said, ‘This project is based on wanting people to interact with the creatures of the sea,’ but just how many people did they expect would say, ‘Wow! I’m right up close with the creatures of the sea!’ when they’re gliding over bodies of frozen fish? I’m having trouble understanding this. All of these comments reflect what society thinks about this event. I would appreciate this message getting across even a little to the organizer.”