Guest post sent by Maria K. from Osaka
| Published : 20/Apr/2007 00:00
Japan seems not-so-far-away these days. United and American have more
flights going to more cities like Osaka and Nagoya,
and often have last-minute sales for as low as $399… Roundtrip! I took advantage at a point when the price was so low it would have been a waste of money NOT to go.
I flew in to Osaka, but immediately hopped a JR train to Kyoto
to visit a friend. He and I would make day trips back there
to go shopping, or night trips to hit the clubs, but it wasn’t
really a top destination on such a short visit. However, on my
way back to the airport at the end of the trip, I hopped off the
train to check out a highly recommended destination: The Kaiyukan
The floors wrapped around the tank, gradually leading you down to the bottom.
The neighborhood leading to the aquarium felt like a Japanese version of
Atlantic City. Bright lights, big fun, but minus the sleaze factor.
They’re just begging you to have the best time of your life. Yet on
that day in December, it was overcast and chilly, and the boardwalk
and shops were depressingly deserted save for a few school kids or
some meandering tourists. Against that backdrop, the aquarium glowed
like a Technicolor beacon at the end of the boardwalk, just past the
giant Ferris wheel and next to the Santori Whiskey factory.
Perched beside the bay, the primary-colored building looked like something straight out of underwater Legoland, architecturally goofy with a mosaic of dolphins and other aquatic friends splashed across the length of the entrance.
Creepy spider crab up close.
You ride an escalator all the way to the top floor, about seven or eight stories, and slowly wind your way down around a path that circles the showpiece of the building: an enormous Pacific Ocean tank filled with over 5,400 tons of water that spans the entire height of the building and is occupied by a whale shark and a manta ray, among many, many other creatures. It is mesmerizing. I watched hypnotically as the manta ray glided effortlessly across the massive tank, flipping and twirling like a solo synchronized swimmer. The blue water radiates into the dark hallways, lighting your path downward. It’s pretty much the only light, actually, which makes you feel like you’re underwater, too.
The outer walls feature small displays of the inhabitants of the “Ring of Fire,” like sunfish and the famously playful otters. There are also some California sea lions that appear to be stoked about being on perma-vacation in Japan. I was thoroughly freaked out by the hands-down creepiest denizens of the deep waters: three-foot tall spooky blue daddy-longlegs crabs. They look like the monster villain in a low-budget horror flick.
Giant spider crab. According to the website, “the largest crab living on the trench slope 200-400 meters below the sea level”
The aquarium is not a cheap side trip —admission is 2000 yen for adults, or about $20—but we had time and yen to kill. If you’re feeling thrifty, just make a stop in the gift shop, which doesn’t require admission to the aquarium itself but is totally worth the window shopping. In addition to the usual T-shirts, coffee mugs, and dolphin sculptures, there is a treasure trove of those “only-in-Japan” goods, including an entire line of marine-themed flatware and utensils in the actual shape of the creature. I splurged on a set of shark knives, octopus forks, and blowfish spoons, and an otter bottle opener. Still regret not buying the lobster tongs.
A place like the aquarium is not really a priority, and it’s definitely geared towards the family, tourist, theme-park-going market — it’s location alone will tell you that much — but after a week of shrines and temples, you just might be ready to hang up the culture cap and have some silly fun.
On a side note, after leaving the aquarium we decided to poke around some of the shops. I loaded up on character goods like Gloomy and Panda Z, then stumbled across an adorable craft shop that was stocked to the gills with the kind of kitsch you buy your grandmother, like little hand-painted hanging signs with cutout wooden letters that read “Grandma’s House.” They had those, but all of the letters were, naturally, Japanese hiragana characters. I spelled out “konnichi-wa” with a nice country home-style script, added a duck and some gingham ribbon, and voila! Perfect souvenir for Grams for less than ten yen. Just in time for Kurisumasu.