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2009年1月16日 (金)

An Afternoon at Osaka Harbor

by Sam Bett

The Osaka Aquarium, or Kaiyukan, is perhaps one of the Osaka’s most popular attractions among both Japanese and foreign tourists alike. Yet for those with only a day or two in the city, a trip all the way down the blue line to the harbor and back might feel like an imprudent way to spend one’s time unless there’s more to see than an aquarium once you get there. Yet with a little effort and curiosity, you can spend a full, satisfying morning or afternoon in Osaka-ko, and explore a part of the city that most tourists overlook.

356A great way to start the day is first to follow the signs from Osaka-ko Station down to the Kaiyukan and take in the atmosphere of the area. You’ll quickly notice that the wide streets of Osaka Harbor are very different from the clustered, concentrated bustle of Namba or Umeda. Next, take in a bird’s eye view of the district from the towering Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel, one of the tallest ferris wheels in the world. It’s great fun to try to retrace your walk from the station, and pick out a route to take once you get down. You can also take excellent pictures of downtown Osaka from the peak of the ride. The distance between the harbor and the city makes it possible to take photos of almost the entire city skyline. Perhaps the best part about the ride, though, is that it gives you a taste of Osaka’s rich history as a harbor city. Osaka is often called “Japan’s Kitchen” by Japanese because of its active fishing and food industries, but seeing the city’s waterways for yourself provides a clear image of just how important maritime commerce is to Osaka.

Once you come down, you should try to seek out some of the sights that caught your eye while you were up in the sky. If your appetite is already calling you, there are a number of eateries on the street to the station that offer both fresh seafood and standard Japanese fare. If you are especially hungry or just looking to try something different, head over to Greens, a vegetarian buffet located nearby the ferris wheel. To get there, descend the ferris wheel staircase and turn left, cross the short crosswalk, and continue straight ahead. Greens offers a delicious buffet at a very reasonable price that includes salads, pastas, fresh bread, and even desserts that will fill up both vegetarians and their meat loving friends. Drinks are included as well, so you can help yourself to coffee or tea after your meal. Greens is open every day but Thursday and Sunday from 11:30 PM to 2:30 PM.

If you’re satisfied with exploring the area for the moment, head back toward the ferris wheel and up the neighboring plaza toward the Kaiyukan. Backpackers who have come this far with their packs will be relieved to see the ample lockers on the ground level of the entrance, but even if you only have a small bag it’s a pleasure to take your load off so that you can leisurely enjoy one of the largest aquariums in the world.

323_2 Once you’ve passed through the first few tank rooms and the tunnel tank that surrounds its corridor with water, you’ll find yourself in a descending spiral around the largest aquarium tank on the planet. This tank is home to the Kaiyukan’s pride, a whale shark that is also its mascot and emblem. Just as the posters that adorn most of Osaka’s subways advertise, the whale shark is truly a majestic site as it glides through the water in slow, deep swaths, tailing a small school of fish behind. However, the Kaiyukan has several other noteworthy attractions. One of the most intriguing if unassuming is the octopus tank, a tall and narrow tank the size of a large elevator shaft with glass on all sides situated opposite the main tank at a bend in the route. Children and adults alike will enjoy searching among the seaweed and rocks for the octopus that hide just within site. Some even hide in tako tsubo, or the clay pots used by Japanese fishermen for hundreds of years to catch this elusive creature. If you wait for a little bit, you might see on of the octopuses spurt up from the bottom and propel itself through the water.

Rivaling the grace of the whale shark is a great black manta ray, housed in the main tank but corralled in its own enclosure by a net wall. Every minute or so the ray swims down to the bottom of the tank and slides its belly up against the glass walls as it rises, showing off its white underside and humanoid mouth to all the aquarium guests.
Another stimulating sight are the king crabs kept in a low-ceilinged, dark tank toward the end of the exhibit. Since these crabs normally live at great depths, the tank is highly pressurized, enabling these peculiar creatures to walk on skinny legs like bugs on stilts. If you’re patient you might see one balance on its back legs and waving its claws at the glass, or even start a scuffle with one of the other crabs.

After all this fun, what better than some ice cream? A small cafeteria at the end of the walking route is available if you feel like a snack, but the cafeteria is worth entering even if you aren’t yet hungry. Situated at the corner of the building, it offers another elevated view of the harbor, which may by now be reddening with sunset if you came in the afternoon. There are also a few cafes on the walk back to the station that offer a nice place to talk about the strange creatures you’ve seen in the Kaiyukan’s various tanks and relax before you return to the urban excitement of downtown Osaka.

Sam Bett 

SamA native of Boston and a senior at The University of Massachusetts, where he's majoring on Japanese and English Literature.
When he's not studying, he enjoys writing letters to friends,cooking,and playing the banjo. His favorite Japanese foods are tamago kake brown rice with natto and goma no aemono. His favorite sightseeing spots are mountains & shotengai.

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