Wednesday, September 19, 2007

AAAH! WHALE SHARK!

(Umeda OS Hotel, Osaka)

The Agnes has to have been the quietest accommodation I’ve had this trip. It was appreciated, greatly appreciated.

A continental breakfast was included in the cost of my room, so I went downstairs fairly early to get eating out of the way. It was a continental breakfast in the loosest possible definition of the term. There was some toast, and eggs, and from there it went weird. There were frankfurts available, a garden salad, miso soup, tofu, some sweet seaweed package things that were tasty and bizarre – but they had orange juice. They got that bit right.

I checked out, left my bags, and headed over to the bus terminal. I figured an hour and a half would give me enough lee way with travel time to get lost and get my bearings again. There was no romanji to be seen at the terminal, so I had to ask where the bus for Naruto Koen (park) was; fyi, bus stop #1, bus #27. This bus leaves on the hour, every hour, which was cutting it fine, as the height of tide change was slated to be at 10.

The driver of this bus was actually surly, which pleased me to no end. About time someone was disgruntled and bored and not the least bit inclined to be bright and perky at customers. The trip took just under an hour.

There are two viewing options for the whirlpools, either by sightseeing boat, or on a walkway constructed beneath a bridge going over the strait. None of the signs at any of the stops were romaji, so I ended up opting for the boat trip, if only because it was obvious to make out when the bus stopped. I’m still not sure, having gawked around a bit, how to get to the walkway.

The boat was 2100 yen for Aqua Eddy, which zipped out to the strait pretty much straight away. There were windows in the hull to view the whirlpools from beneath the water, but there wasn’t much to see. The view was much better from the deck.



The tide difference at the strait is 1.2 metres, so every day on the change whirlpools are created. Alas, they weren’t as deep or steady as I’d hoped they’d be. They were definitely there, but there were no giant raging maelstroms (not that I was really expecting giant raging maelstroms, but you know…). At a new or full moon, they might be bigger (I haven’t seen the moon since arriving here). During the king tides, they’d definitely be worth checking out. Otherwise, they’re not quite impressive enough to feel like time and money well spent.

The buses back to Tokushima station were few and far between, and I had to wait an hour for one to turn up. I arrived back at the station with just enough time for a quick lunch before picking up my bags and jumping on the bus to Osaka.

Sitting in on the bus was like swallowing a whole bottle of sleeping pills. I don’t remember the trip. Vague glimpse of the Sea of Japan, as we went over the bridge to Honshu, but that’s it. Methinks I was tired.

Osaka station is, of course, another great sprawling maze of interconnecting buildings and various levels of basement, and it took me several walkings back and forth before I’d identified enough landmarks to know where in the station I was, and what direction I should be heading. Thankfully, my hotel was quite tall, and had a nice big and bloody obvious neon sign at the top, which made it easy to locate, but not to get to. This area is a maze. Just finding a way to cross the road took some exploring.

After a very thorough shower, I ventured out for dinner. There’s a shopping centre across the road, so I figured I should be able to find something in the basement levels. I don’t think I should be allowed underground. I have even less sense of direction underneath the streets, and these basement levels actually spanned across several buildings and blocks.

The problem with the bigger cities is not finding somewhere to eat, but choosing somewhere to eat. Even me, on my own, not trying to cater to another person’s whims or preferences, had a terrible time picking a spot. I ended up finding somewhere quiet that served cold noodles. Interestingly, most of the other customers were single women as well. There were plenty of izakaya around (sort of street-side pub/feeding holes that deal specifically with the after work crowd), but they tended to be very busy, and full of business men. I’m game, but not quite game enough to be the only woman in the place, especially lacking any other company, being a clear gaijin, and being as front heavy as I am.

I will say this, Japanese men do not know how to be covert about checking out boobs. Probably because there aren’t any boobs in this country to check out. They haven’t had the chance to develop the art of a subtle headcheck.

This was followed by a glamorous evening sitting in the laundry.

I let myself sleep in this morning, which felt luv-er-ly. Osaka being much smaller than Tokyo, the subway is much easier to use, and I got to the Tempouzan Village area without hassle. My goal there was the Osaka Aquarium, which despite setting out from the station with no real idea of where it was, I found easily. It’s a pretty distinctive building (but the real trick is to just head towards the ferris wheel).

Would you like to know a secret? You’ll never guess it. I’ll tell you: I like fishy things. I know! Who’da thunk it? It’s a strange old world, innit.

2000 yen is about standard fare for aquarium admissions. I know it costs more to get into the Melbourne Aquarium, and that one is a hole and gives you legionnaires disease. Trufax.

This aquarium just rocks the motherfucking kazbar. Trufuckingfax.

It has several tanks pertaining to different marine ecosystems, and the path moves down in a spiral through them, so that you visit each tank several times, at different depths, to see what fishies are lurking around. All sorts of marine habitats were on display, from the Panama Gulf to Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef and so on. Sea otters are bloody enormous in real life. I though I was watching two otters have a wrestle, but it turned out to be one otter having a very involved scratch. Huge! And so adoreable!


(This guy is just a normal otter, not a sea otter. The big guys wouldn't stay still long enough for a non-blurry picture, where as this little guy was more than happy to pose for the camera.)


(For some reason, this little guy had climbed up a couple of metres out of his tank, and was lodged in that little nook in the wall. I'm guessing all the other crabs were bullies, and had stolen his lunch box, and pushed him over, and he was plotting an elaborate revenge. It involved peanuts, no doubt, and was very exciting.)

I had the slight and amusing misfortune of entering the same time as a stack of primary school students. Little kids in enclosed spaces are aural torture. It hurt, I tells you, it hurt. Also, little kids play dirty when it comes to getting a place by the tank.


(Nasty, tricksy little hobbitses.)


(You're seeing right: there is a duck in that tank. To be fair, it's a duck from PANAMA, but still...a duck. Can't escape the rascally rascals.)


(The penguins loved the guy cleaning their ice. They followed him around, flapping and wiggling. He gave one of them a rub under the chin.)


(I caught this octopus with tentacle inserted in gill. Pretty sure that's the same as having finger inserted in nose. As you can see, le octopus got terribly fluffed up about having been caught, and having a camera drawn.)


(This school of fish was just hanging, all at the same angle, not moving. Creepy.)

The main attraction of the aquarium is the Pacific Ocean tank, which is home to a WHALE SHARK. Wait, I think some of you might have missed that. I saw a WHALE SHARK. He was king of the tank, he was. Swimming around in lazy circles with a whole posse of fish trailing in his wake. He actually wasn’t as big as I’d believed, but still a big fishie.




(WHALE SHARK!)

In the same tank, but in a netted off section, was a manta ray. Said manta ray was so big, it totally could have taken on Mr Whale Shark. Hence the net, maybe. Manta Ray was beautiful, zooming around, and around, and around.


(You can make the 'zoom, zoom' sound effects yourself.)

In yet another tank was a Sun fish. Yeah! I was terribly happy to see one, even if it was small and floating up on the surface waiting for someone to come and preen it. For some reason, it was netted off from ALL the other fish in its tank. Presumably, sun fish don’t play well with others. There were also a great many signs asking people to please not agitate the sun fish with ‘flames of flashlight’ from their cameras. Sensitive critters. Daft critters. It was kissing its own reflection.


(You can make the "duuurh, duuurh" sound effects yourself.)


(I, Ugly.)


(This lot kept going round, and round, and round the rock, and had probably been doing so since they were dropped in the tank. It was hypnotic, like a large, living lava lamp.)

There were two old men keeping pace with my ambulations. I took a liking to them. They stood out from the hordes of young couples who would cry ‘kawai!’ against the window, snap a photo on their phone, and then move on. These two stood and nattered comfortable by each tank, pointing out individual fish and taking the time to actually see what was before them. It was the one time the language barrier made me sad.


(Porcupine Fish, not to be confused with Puffer Fish. Do you think the little fuckers would stay still for the camera? Nooooo. Turds. I heard them mutter, "fucking paparazzi," as I walked away.)

Most of the posters advertising the aquarium feature cute happy crabs. I would like to point out that the crabs are also FUCKING ENORMOUS and CREEPY AS ALL HELL to look at. They’re not cute. They’re scary. I was on to something with my giant crab story, I tell ya.


(I reiterate: creepy as all hell.)


(Even more disturbing when the big crab has the small crab up against the wall like a prison bitch...)

The best room was kept till last – jelly fish! A great many beautiful wobbly jelly fish, I did love them over and over and over.


("You're invading my personal space there, partner.")


(Too funky for bones.)

Unfortunately, the shop at the end mostly stocked the cute animals – seals, otters, dolphins – but I did manage to find some ugly fish hidden away in there. I bought myself a plush ‘piraucu’ (lungfish), of all things.

The Tempouzan Harbour Village was right next door, so I figured I’d give it a squiz. It’s mostly full of kitschy shops for tourists, but there were a couple of neat places on there. One shop I found sold samurai armour. I couldn’t tell if they were replicas or originals, but they cost a hell of a lot more than I could afford. Pity.

I was sucked into a Ninja House, which was a bit like the Ice Land exhibit at Yokohama. It wasn’t a haunted house, it was a ninja house, full of weird little corners and rooms, and portcullises that didn’t quite stab you in the head and ninja dummies that jumped out of nowhere. Terribly cheesy, and terribly amusing. Not 500 yen wasted.


(I don't know what was going on with this guy either. I activated the room a couple of times, to check I wasn't missing something, but no, it's a ninja in the bath with his tub on his head.)

For lunch I landed in a place called Fugetsu, which did the Osakan specialty; okonomiyaki. Part pancake, part pizza, part omlette, part patty, all yummy. All the tables had hot plates built in. The staff brought the ingredients to my table, stabbed them all into submission, and plopped the mass down onto the plate to cook. It was an agonising wait, it smelt that good. I had squid and prawn (it was written as shrimp on the menu, which is WRONG), covered in whatever sauce they offered, and it was awesome. Very different from all other Japanese food I’ve eaten, it has a bigger, fuller taste, and instead of each ingredient being segregated off from the rest, it was all mashed together. Great, tasty good stuff.



I jumped on the ferris wheel while I was in the area. This one claims to be the biggest in the world, at 112 metres. The view was quite short, as there was a humidity and pollution haze pretty thick in the air, but it gave an excellent view of the city. Osaka seems to be full of interesting and strange buildings and domes.


(Your standard "I'm up high look at the city" pikchur.)


(Apartment blocks on the harbour. People stare in their windows everyday.)

Osaka-jo (the castle) was on the same subway line, so I figured I might as well squeeze a visit in. The castle is a replica, built in 1931, and in itself is nothing special. Beautiful from the outside, but no effort has been made to make it a ‘castle’, as such.



That said, it was well worth the visit to see the museum housed inside the castle, which features various exhibits and displays on the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the man who began the unification of Japan (a process completed by Tokugawa Ieyasu). I had always assumed that the Toyotomis and Tokugawas were always at war, like feuding neighbours, but today learned that at one point, Ieyasu actually worked for Hideyoshi, and it was only after Hideyoshi’s death that Ieyasu went off and got his own ideas. They have some excellent artefacts on display; hand written letters, armour and weapons, art works and more. There was also English signage and explanations everywhere, which was wonderful.


(A rather elaborate set of models reconstructing the initial battle between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyase, from memory.)

From there, I jumped on the subway again, this time for Dotonbori. Dotonbori is basically a strip designed to haul in tourists; its glitzy and full of elaborately-fronted restaurants and neon signs and intricate lights. A place to enjoy the spectacle, and people watch. I had myself another Osakan specialty for dinner, fried octopus balls, before meandering around. One of the pictures you see quite often of this area is a restaurant with a giant mechanical moving crab out the front. Well, I found three such restaurants. And three fugu restaurants as well, so I’ll be going back tomorrow night to have my fugu dinner.









Ebisu-bashi is toted as having a Bladerunner-esque view (I’d already found that in Tokyo), but unfortunately the bridge is undergoing some refurbishing, and was full of shielding and scaffolding. They weren’t kidding though. It’s ground to rooftop neon advertising back there, great stuff.



I snuck into a quiet tea room for dessert, and had a fantasic bowl of green tea ice cream, red beans, jelly and cream. Nom nom nom. I’m not half tempted to go again, if I survive my dinner tomorrow.

3 comments:

ennis drake said...

"I had always assumed that the Toyotomis and Tokugawas were always at war . . ."

That's from watching too much Ninja Scroll. : )

This is your best post yet . . . I'd like to hear you do commentary for a football game. LOL. Your little addendums had me in knots . . .

Lastly, I'd like to say I'm appalled at the indiscretion of Japanese men (but not surprised); check this out:
http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_7275183?source=rss

Tessa said...

"That's from watching too much Ninja Scroll. : )"

Zing! Good call, Ennis. Haven't watched the film in good while.

The unsubtle checking out didn't bother me. Generally, it was so obvious it was funny. The guy who took the cake was riding a bike out of Osaka-jo Park, dinging his bell at me until I looked up to find him whooshing by with this great, appreciative grin on his face. That was nothing if not hilarious.

Having been on a couple of peak hour trains, and as a result got to know the strangers around me Very Very Well, I can see why they have women only carriages. But I never had a problem, the whole time I was there.

ennis drake said...

I hate to laugh at your being ogled and all, but that bit with the bell is too much.

I laughed. Hard. And I'm not sorry.

It would have been better if he'd inadvertently run smack into a wall, or into a tree . . .