Japan 19 : Life on Earth

Even though Osaka is a huge place, today's brief jaunt would be out of town slightly in the ward of Minato, home to the Kaiyukan Aquarium. Since I was going to be out of the town by nightfall, I headed back to Osaka Station and put both my bags in a big locker. At 9.30 am this was down to luck more than anything, as the place is a major artery for thousands of worker drones, and the majority of the lockers had gone. Fortunately my train didn't leave for a little while so I got a ticket and then stayed near the lockers, waiting to pounce as soon as one became free.

The Osaka Chuo loop line stopped a block away and I made my way to the aquarium past a large ferris wheel. You can certainly tell it from the other buildings in the area; it's shaped like a huge fishtail pointing out of the ground. You enter at the bottom, pay the relatively pricy 2000 yen (about a tenner), and then make your way up a long escalator to the top where you descend back down on a gradual spiralling slope through several levels, each showing marine life from a different depth, with different tanks holding marine life from different oceans. It's very popular, or at least it was on this day. The escalator was heaving with bedraggled parents and over-active kids.

At the top was a smattering of shoreline plant life, overhanging trees, and some surface dwellers, such as ducks, penguins, turtles and otters. It was feeding time for a lot of them, and they all swam around merrily ignoring the massed ranks clamouring for a picture. A sloth tried to ignore us and catch some kip on its bamboo pole.

Heading down a bit, we encountered some of the fish and mammals that like to stay near the surface, a gathering of huge eels, and a gam of dolphins which were hugely active and just wouldn't stay still. A special event was going on where one lucky(?) punter was picked at random and given a swimming costume, and was then led into the dolphin tank where he was nuzzled in various embarrassing places and dragged around the pool. It was all very entertaining.

One of the sea lion pups in the next enclosure was especially interested in the little flashing things people were holding up to the side of the tank. He would periodically disappear back to the safety of his herd and then reappear when he saw another flash.

Once I had descended a few levels, the main, central tank became visible. This was an enormous body of water containing shoals of fish of many different sizes and colours, a few little sharks, looking shifty and getting out of the way when the big guy - a whale shark - came along. He was the main draw of the aquarium, and appeared on loads of posters and books in the souvenir shop, and even the ticket to get in.

Further down still, were a few other tanks which appeared to have nothing in. They were tall and relatively narrow, and only had a couple of tenants - a pair of huge turtles, who were flailing about looking for an exit, it was clear they were not happy. Next door to them was a huge and probably quite old Sun Fish, and there was a sign up asking not to use flash pictures because he gets scared by them. Bless.

Near the bottom, there were smaller tanks holding life from the sea floor; coral, crabs and burrowing fish all around. The crabs were enormous and walked slowly around on their huge spindly legs.

The smallest tanks were at the bottom, representing the very depths of the sea. These contained some of the smallest animals in the aquariums, and were housed in darkened rooms, the only lights being used to gently illuminate the tanks, or in some cases, the fish themselves.
After a poke around the souvenir shop, I headed outside for some clear air; it was very stale in there by the bottom. I went around the back of the aquarium to the port and took in the fresh, biting air and has a think. It was a great experience, and the animals and tanks all looked to be well maintained, but some of them (particularly the turtles) looked unsettled and wanting to leave.

At half past one, I headed back to Shin-Osaka, stopping off to pick up my bags. From Shin Osaka, I took the train to Hamamatsu, where I would be staying for the night. Finding the hotel was pretty easy, so I dumped the stuff off, and then started out to take advantage of the last of the daylight. Not wanting to do yet another castle, I looked up the Museum of Musical Instruments - Hamamatsu being a centre for musical instrument manufacture, with several businesses including Yamaha and Roland having their head offices there. There is a large music-themed sculpture just outside the station to get you in a tinkly mood. Unfortunately, the music museum was well out of my way and by the time I would get there it would be shut, so I made do with the Act-City Hamamatsu building, which has an observatory tower.

Getting inside is a bit of a fiddle, and I ended up going through the subterranean floors before finding someone who could point me at the lift to the top. Once at the top, there is a good view of the city, which turned out to be much larger than expected. Bordered by the pacific ocean at the south side, and a stretch of mountains to the north, the city stretches out as far as it can over the plains between. On a good day, when you look out of the east side, you can catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji, although today was no such day. I stayed until the owners started pacing round and looking at their watches, and then made my way back down. I had passed an Indian restaurant and decided to give it a go. The previous curry was at Nagano which was cheap and cheerful, and was looking forward to seeing a full-on Indian-Japanese experience. I guess my English expectations got in the way a bit, because it was not that well received; the range of curries was better, but when my Chicken Masala arrived it tasted a bit strange and had egg in it. There was crunchy bits in the naan bread, and the rice was sticky like the rice used to make rice balls. It cost a bit too, 3250yen is about 17 quid, which was about the most expensive meal I'd had. (in the UK that would be pretty standard price, but I was used to the cheap stuff!)

After getting filled up, I walked through the night air back to the hotel, answered a few emails and then piled into bed.

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