Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Marathon Day

Yesterday was my last full day in Osaka, so I decided to make the most of it (and the nice weather). I'd read that the Osaka Aquarium was the best in Japan and decided to go check it out first. Little did I know that I would end up walking nearly eight miles - not a real marathon but exhausting (in a good way) nonetheless!

The aquarium is impressive for the number of species and design of the tanks. It's pretty cool how you start at the top and slowly circle your way down to the bottom of the building. As you do so, you see the top, middle, and bottom of the tanks - so at the top you may see otters playing on logs, and at the bottom you see fish swimming around. Most of the tanks are akin to what you'd find at the Vancouver Aquarium, where they try to simulate the natural environment by putting things like logs, coral, and plants in the tanks. However, some of the tanks are just completely empty except for some gravel on the bottom - and that makes it look pretty sad. There is one such tank with a finless porpoise swimming around in circles with nothing but the porpoise and the bare tank. I also have trouble with the caging of large mammals for aquariums and zoos; there were no whales but the larger otters, dolphins, and porpoises didn't have very large tanks and some of them, particularly the otters, looked pretty listless. :(

That being said, the largest tank contains large manta rays and whale sharks. The best time to see them is during feeding time. I've seen manta rays while snorkeling but never whale sharks, and I don't know if I'd ever get a chance to see them in the wild, so I appreciated that quite a bit. They are impressive creatures! The spider crabs and jellyfish exhibit were also neat.

After the aquarium I walked over to the nearby Suntory Museum. This is a modern art museum and the exhibit was the history of posters, which was pretty cool! My favorite was the IBM, but they had some Jimmi Hendrix, old French art house, and WWII US Army posters that were neat too. The museum is two floors for 500 yen, and given the beauty of the building itself combined with the extensive exhibit, I think it was more than worth it.

Eye Bee Em

Everyone had told me how the ferris wheel nearby was really great and much better than the one in downtown Osaka, but actually I thought the view from downtown was more exciting. Maybe it was because I did the downtown ferris wheel at night, while I did this one during the day, but I just thought the view wasn't as grand. However, there was a nice view of Osaka Bay and Kobe, and the weather was great. This ferris wheel seems a bit older and rickety than the one downtown too, so be warned. Also, to get to the wheel you have to walk through a pretty depressing shopping mall.

Me, on the giant ferris wheel.

At this point it was lunch time (since I'd had a pretty early start to the day) but I couldn't find anywhere good to eat nearby. I decided to head to Sumiyoshi Taisha, which Rough Guide describes as "Osaka's most important shrine", and was apparently built in the 3rd century and has a unique architectural style called sumiyoshi zukuri. I got some snacks from the station and went for a walk around to take pictures, which was pretty fun. :) The compound also hosts some ancient trees, some of which are actually merging with the shrines built beside them!

Since it is apparently a '15 minute tram ride' (you so lie, Rough Guide) from Tennoji station, I thought I'd head up there to try to find Shittenoji temple, which I'd had such a hard time finding the day before. It still took me an hour to find it the second time. :( Rough guide did not include any maps and Osaka could do a lot better about posting signs for such places. I finally did find a sign, but only after first asking for directions at the Zoo, walking through Tennoji Koen, stopping for takoyaki at a roadside stand and asking the owner, and walking far more than the Rough Guide's stated 15 minutes from Tennoji station. I did, however, find it, because at that point I probably would have done a grid search of the entire area to do so, that's how determined I was! The takoyaki was a find, though, best takoyaki I have had so far in Osaka and the owner was really nice, telling me to 'take care' as I left (the whole exchange was done in Japanese too!). Incidentally, on this long trek I also found a remnant of my former alma mater:

OMG, it lives!

Shittenoji is a large temple complex which apparently has some ancient costumes on display (which I never did see), but what the Rough Guide doesn't tell you is that you can actually climb the pagoda. I saw the doors were open and went to take a look inside, and there was a very friendly attendant there. We had a chat about Canada and then he told me I could go up as long as I put on slippers, so I did. Unfortunately, this got me reaquainted with my afforementioned love of stairs. -_-

On your way up, the walls around the inner stairway are lined with small gold sticks with writing on them. I am not sure exactly what they are but there must have been hundreds on each floor. Also, I think people were a lot shorter/smaller back then, because I'm 5'2" but I still had to crouch and squeeze through a lot of places in the tower! Once at the top, you can stand on the ledge outside for a fantastic view, but only if you can fit through the roughly two foot wide, three foot tall openings to get there. There was another attendant at the top watching this with great amusement, and another visitor who chatted with me in Japanese and English about the view and the tower. Sugoi ne! People are very friendly in Osaka - I never had attendants chat with me like that in Kyoto or Tokyo, and a higher percentage of everyday people seem to like to talk as well (and not just to practice their English, which happened to me a lot in Tokyo).

I guess not many people actually climb the tower, since it doesn't seem to be mentioned in the guidebooks and it's not very discoverable otherwise (particularly if you don't speak Japanese). That's a shame because it's a neat experience and gives you an inside view of the temple, its architecture, and its artifacts.

You would think that after all this, my day would be done. Well, I did have a bit of a rest at my hotel, but I had worked up quite the appetite and decided to head to the Osaka Hikari Renaissance, a light show by the river nearby my hotel. There were tonnes of exhibits, but my favorite was the 'tree of many colours' (which changed ala the horse in the Wizard of Oz) and the dragon made of sticks with marshmallows stuck to it (for snow, I guess). The highlight, however, was the festival food! At Japanese festivals you'll often see tents set up filled with vendors selling snacks such as yakitori, yakisoba, korroke, etc. (mostly fried delights). I ended up having a korroke, yaki ika on a stick, okonomiyaki on a stick, and some osakan donuts. Oishii!!!


Angelica said...

Wow! What an activity filled day :D glad you got so much out of Osaka ! Gave me some ideas for what to do myself, too ;)

Kate said...

Cool! Hope you get to the Suntory Museum - and I bet you guys would have a blast taking photos at the aquarium. :)