Yesterday I complained bitterly about the terrible weather on our trip to Hikone Castle. We definitely weren't going to make the mistake of choosing an outdoor activity the next day, so instead of going out on Sunday evening we browsed city and travel guides for the Kansai region. 99% of the options were more shrines and temples, which we had our fill of the week before. But in a stroke of luck I stumbled on blurb in the recesses of the internet about side trips from Kyoto, which at the very bottom of the list mentioned the Kaiyukan aquarium.
I knew it would be a hit with Sweetie, who was lying lethargically on the hotel bed, depressed at the lack of prospects and dreaming wistfully of Steak 'n Shake and his PS3. I nonchalantly said, "How about the aquarium with the largest acrylic tank in the world?" At that he bolted up and said, "Where is it? Can we get there? Is it open tomorrow? Is it open tomorrow?" He was anxious that the place would be closed on a Monday like many museums, but it turned out that Kaiyukan has very few closing days in the year and was actually opened earlier than usual for the summer during our stay. The next day we battled rain and rush hour crowds to get to the station for the ride to Osaka. For some unknown reason the scheduled special rapid service we were counting on didn't show up, so we spent fifteen extra minutes on a local train. No biggie--arriving a little later gave the school groups some time to clear out.
Though we were walking under another deluge from the Osakako station towards the aquarium, it was very, very difficult to get lost. The entire section of the city seems devoted to the aquarium--there were banners on every post along the street and the flower planters were painted with fish and penguins. The building itself wasn't terribly discrete, either.
We deposited our wet umbrellas in a locker for 200 yen (which I would usually refuse to pay, but we were there to enjoy ourselves and that was much more easily accomplished with free hands) then bought tickets for 2,000 yen each. Being a tourist-friendly institution, Kaiyukan takes VISA credit cards, which was very fortunate because I think we only had a few hundred left in cash. Before proceeding to the exhibits we waited for a rambunctious herd of preschoolers to swarm on through, their shouts dwindling as they were carried up the escalator to the eighth floor. Then we could enjoy our walk through the Aqua Gate: a tunnel surrounded by fish (and a staff member in scuba gear).
The tunnel led to the escalator to the eighth floor, which was the start of the Japanese Forest and Aleutian Island exhibitions. The highlight of this section were the playful sea otters.
Those little weasels (and yes, they are in the weasel family) are fast. They were playing so happily, diving off rocks and tackling each other and darting through the water like they had jets affixed to their tails, that they were very difficult to capture on film.
Down one floor was the Monterey Bay exhibition, with seals and sea lions making their rounds blissfully unaware of the audience.
In the South American sections we admired the reptiles.
The expression on the iguana's face is priceless. Obviously it's a nice place in there; Mr. Tortoise needs to lighten up.
For reasons I don't quite understand, aquariums always insist on devoting a section to penguins.
Penguins aren't creatures you would associate with fish tanks, you know? Sure, they live next to the ocean, but so do seagulls, and I've never seen them up for display at an aquarium. But at least penguins make more sense than capybaras.
Have you noticed a distinct lack of something integral to an aquarium? Like fish? There were plenty of fish on the top two floors, but it didn't really get interesting until we reached the Pacific Ocean tank on the 6th. This tank was the aforementioned largest in the world, and believe you me, it needed to be.
The fish were HUGE. Sweetie put my head in these shots for perspective--the first one wasn't technically in the Pacific tank with the rest, but it was longer than I am tall, and the last two are of the prized whale shark, which is wider than I am tall, never mind the length! This tank also housed your garden-variety shark:
Some creatures which appeared to be symbiotic:
And some that were downright weird:
As we passed the cafe near the exit we saw that the hugeness of the specimens wasn't limited to fish. Here's me for your sample size again:
Around 1pm we finished the main exhibits and exited through the hall of jellyfish.
We were both starving and anxious to get some food in our bellies, but we made a quick stop at the museum store to claim a plushie we couldn't resist:
A frivolous and impulsive purchase? Yes indeed--but it was only 520 yen and we were severely under budget. So there.
We ducked under the eaves to the shopping center next door for lunch, where we found a nice sushi restaurant on the second floor (wouldn't you be hungry for sushi after seeing all those fish?) The place was simply named "Ganko" and had a very classy feel.
The decor was much more elaborate than we had grown used to, and I think on a nicer day we would have had an amazing view of Osaka Bay.
I ordered a lunch set with some variety to it so I could check several foods off my list.
The set included fatty tuna sushi,
and a serving of cold soba noodles for dipping and slurping.
Can you believe all this was for only 880 yen? Sweetie's meal only cost 900-something and included hot soba with aburaage and rice with fish eggs.
I sampled a bit of his eggs, and they were very salty. He said they were great mixed into the rice, though he couldn't finish all of them because they had given him way more food than a human should consume in one meal. Mine was more reasonably portioned; I ate everything except for one of the pieces of shrimp tempura. The meal contained several foods I had never officially eaten before: sushi with raw fish in it (I'd only eaten vegetable and cooked tuna rolls), cold soba (which tasted remarkably little like the buckwheat monstrosities I'd attempted at home), and fried cantaloupe. The fried cantaloupe tasted nothing like its original melon form, but it was sweet and yummy anyway ;)
Maybe the place was so cheap because the quality wasn't good and we just couldn't tell, but I'd still recommend it to tourists in the area who, like us, wanted to try something new with minimal monetary risk.
After lunch we wandered around the mall. Sweetie salivated over action figures he would have loved to own as a kid, and I almost purchased a glasses case from a silk prints shop that was oh-so-pretty but too big for my glasses. They would have rattled around and gotten scratched up, so I had to walk away :( We returned to Kyoto just in time to watch some more sumo and gobble down the last of our convenience store purchases before packing up for the next day, when we would spend many hours on a train back to the Eastern coast.