Friday, 17 December 2010

Day 7: Great Ocean Passage

I was the first to wake of the four of us, but as it was my turn to buy the shopping, I filled the time with a trip down to the 24-hour supermarket next to the hostel. I bought our usual melon bread and fruit for breakfast, and then read until the others woke up.

We had a slightly later start than usual, and unfortunately, we missed our 10:16 train to Osaka. Fortunately, there was another that would get us there leaving at 10:39, so we hung around Kyoto station, ate our breakfast and watched a bit of Japanese baseball. Although baseball is generally thought of as an almost exclusively American sport, it has widespread popularity in Japan. The four of us had a general idea of the rules from a reasonable number of anime series that focus on the topic, ranging from the psychological mind games of One Outs to the carefree atmosphere of Taisho Baseball Girls. Although it isn't something I would want to watch regularly, it was interesting to see it played, and between us we managed to work out most of what was going on before it was time to leave to catch our train.

The trip to Osaka was just as painless as the one the day before, and a couple of short train journeys later, we found ourselves at the station for the aquarium. From there, finding the aquarium was a trivial matter of following the signs. Osaka aquarium, described as one of the best aquariums in the world, is one of the main attractions of Osaka. Admission was accordingly expensive, costing us as much as the Unlimited Pass we had bought the day before.
The impressive aquarium exterior
After we had managed to find the entrance to the aquarium itself, which wasn't clearly marked in English, and had bought our tickets at the ticket machines, we were allowed entrance. After passing through a tunnel surrounded by water filled with impressive-looking fish, we emerged into an area with rocks and waterfalls. There were some rather inactive but also rather beautiful otters and a well full of crabs clinging to the sides. This didn't last for long, however, and we were soon back in the main part of the aquarium and could start looking at the tanks.

Whilst I can't remember everything we saw (and I'm sure a list would bore readers), my favourites were a breed of very large otters that had a wonderful technique of doing everything on their backs, including swimming and grooming. Several of them were also making good use of the length of their tank, swimming laps of it at impressive speed, and somersaulting whenever they reached one end or the other. Other highlights included the dolphins, which jumped up out of the water at regular intervals (sometimes synchronised, two at a time) and the huge tank containing a whale shark and a number of rays (some of which appeared to have smaller fish riding on their backs). According to my folders, Henry and Yingke between them took over 300 photos of aquatic creatures, and an aquarium is probably better experienced visually, so I'll put a few more photos in this entry than I normally would.
This particular breed of otter wasn't
terribly dynamic
The capybara is the largest breed of rodent
alive today
My favourite giant otters, the masters
of backstroke
The dolphins were apparently fairly successful at
thwarting attempts to get good photos of them mid-jump

The whale-shark, in all its glory
One of the more impressive specimens
in the jellyfish room

We spent most of the morning in the aquarium, and once we had passed through the final rooms (including a jellyfish room) and had a go at touching rays and other fish in the touching pool, we headed back out into the bright sunlight. It was approaching lunchtime, and we were all feeling rather hungry, so we decided to wander around and find some lunch.

The large open area just outside the temple distracted us from this objective, however. A juggler had gathered a crowd of people, and we watched him juggle increasingly large numbers of balls to an increasingly impressive height. The second distraction took the form of a Japanese rock band, who had set up near the river behind the aquarium. A number of people were sitting down to watch, and I stayed for as long as I could justify staying in the circumstances (the others were keener on finding lunch than watching the band). Their sound wasn't particularly unique for a J-rock band, but they put on a much tighter performance than one usually sees from English amateur bands, and their bassist had a few impressive runs. They were also dressed much more colourfully than most bands I had seen before, although I am vaguely aware of the Japanese culture of ‘visual-kei’ bands, which often play live dressed in very flashy clothes, with heavy make-up and radical hair-styling.
The rock band. God knows what the
guy on the left with the rabbit is doing.
Reluctantly leaving the band, I followed the others to find a shopping complex nearby. Upon entering, we were greeted with yet another show. A group of girls were dancing on a central platform on the second floor, and people had gathered around the railings which circled this platform. We only stayed briefly before heading downstairs to where it looked like the highest concentration of food outlets was. Henry and Mark ordered from a KFC, but Yingke and I, in principle against the idea of eating at another American chain in Japan, found a Japanese fast food place. Unfortunately, my ordering didn't go as well as it had at the Mos Burger in Akihabara. Whilst I successfully managed to convey the burger and drink that I asked for, the message that I wanted chips didn't quite get through (something that I only realised after I had paid and joined the others).

We found a free table (which wasn't terribly easy) and sat down to eat. Every cloud has a silver lining, as they say. I had finished my insubstantial lunch within a couple of minutes and, taking advantage of this, I abandoned my friends temporarily and headed back upstairs to watch the dancers. The performance itself was quite impressive, and the girls were very well synchronised. I cringed at some of the song choices, however - I doubt even classes of five-year-olds in England put on dance performances to 'Barbie Girl', nowadays.

Having re-convened and laughed at Henry for walking into the women's toilets by accident, we were just about to leave when we spotted a Taiyaki vendor. Taiyaki is a Japanese snack that consists of hot bean paste served inside pastry in the shape of a fish. Henry and I, both fans of Kanon, where Taiyaki comes up repeatedly as the favourite snack of one of the main characters, ordered some and, having waited for a few minutes for it to cook, sat down again to eat it. It had a rather unique (and, I imagine, acquired) taste. I quite liked it at first, but it had rather an overwhelming sweetness to it, and I was only just able to finish it.
Contrary to what its shape would suggest,
Taiyaki doesn't taste remotely like fish
When we were finally outside, it was rather later than we had anticipated. A combination of missing our early train, and my misjudgement of the amount of time we would spend in the aquarium meant that, had we gone to Nara as we had planned, we would have been quite tight for time catching the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. As missing it would have been a real disaster, and as we were all quite tired, we decided to give Nara a miss and instead head straight back to Tokyo.

We were right to do so, fortunately. The journey back was very long, and involved four changes of trains (including the long Shinkansen ride), and it was around 21:00 by the time we finally arrived back at the hostel. We checked into our new room and showered before heading back out at around 22:00 to find supper. Henry was, as always, a strong proponent of the idea of eating at the Chinese restaurant near our hostel, but the rest of us felt that a restaurant would take too long, and were inclined just to sleep as soon as possible. We therefore did as we had done on our first night in Tokyo and bought instant noodles from the supermarket, settling down to eat them in the hostel's lounge area before heading up to bed.

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