Fishy Business

Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
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Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Blog Osaka

So after an epic 48 hour boat journey across the East China Sea, through the Korea Straight, then through the Genkai-Nada Sea, the Sue-Nada Sea, the Bungo Channel, the Seta Inland sea, the Hiuchi Nada Sea and finally across Osaka Bay. I didn't even know that most of those seas existed let alone that we would spend the night sailing through them!  Upon our arrival in Osaka we experienced something new and exciting, not the mad technology that we were expecting or elements of the crazy culture that we could not wait to get a slice of….no, we got land sickness.  Seemingly after 48 hours on the high seas we developed sea legs that no longer worked correctly on land, brilliant.

So we arrived at our hotel and dropped our bags (annoyingly Japanese hotels have a check in time of 4pm, rude) and swayed our way to Osaka castle.  Given the extreme temple phobia we had developed from so many sights in China, this was a little wasted on us and we didn’t bother paying to go up it but we did have a wonder around the gardens and discovered that seemingly children don’t go to school in Japan they spend their days at local tourist attractions, there were literally huge groups of school children everywhere. Some of the brave ones would practice their English and shout hello at us whilst all the others would giggle and run past.  The castle is very pretty and given that it is in the middle of the business district and surrounded by skyscrapers it is quite a contrast.  We had a great time playing with the face cut out photo opportunity things which were scattered everywhere around the garden, it is amazing how much fun you can have for free!  Then we found the immense Tako-ishi or "Octopus Stone," the largest single block of stone in the castle, with a surface area of about 60 square meters and a weight of 130 ton, it is literally unbelievable to think how on earth this got put here as you can see by the photos we look minute next to it!

On our way back to the hotel we discovered that not only are Japanese sewers more developed and civilised than China they even go as far as to decorate their drain covers, I think we are going to like this country!

So after a goodnight sleep our legs were no longer feeling like jelly and we set off for a day of exploring.  We knew Japan was going to be more expensive than China, but WOW, not that expensive.  It is literally London prices for everything.  £7 to just get in a taxi, £2+ for a metro ticket, £1 for a bottle of water and £5-10 for food, yikes!  The most annoying thing about food being so expensive is that it makes us less enthusiastic about trying the random looking things on menu.  Luckily Japan is covered with 7/11’s and Lawsons (both a bit like Spar), so worst case scenario we can survive on bread and cakes for the next 3 weeks and not break the bank.

Our first day trip was to Tsutenkaku Tower, this is an observation tower giving great views over the city, when it was originally built in 1912, it was the second highest structure in Asia standing at 64 meters tall, but when it was damaged in a fire in the 40’s it was dismantled to supple iron for the war.  The local citizens lobbied for the beloved tower to be rebuilt in 1956.  On the 5th floor of the tower sits a statue of Billiken, the god of good luck.  Apparently if you rub his feet your wish will be fulfilled.  Annoyingly there was such a huge queue of people trying to get a bit of Billiken we could not get close, no good luck wishes for us :o(  The views from the tower were really quite cool and I especially liked the fact that it is right next to the local zoo and you could see Zebra’s wondering around their enclosure.  The streets under the tower “Shin-Sekai” were filled with pachinko palours (the gambling machines that take ball bearings) and restaurants many of which sported the giant blow fish lanterns to show that they sell 'fugu’ the blow fish delicacy which if not prepared properly will send you to the morgue.  Fortunately as with most other food stuff in Japan this was well outside our budget, phew!

No trip in japan in complete without seeing the bright lights of the city and Osaka definitely did not let us down here and provided us with more than a few photo opportunities as the city lit up and came to life.  Neon signs a plenty, drink vending machines on every corner and restaurants with plastic mock ups of all their dishes set out in their windows.   No sign of used knickers in the vending machines but we will keep looking!

Desperate for a glimpse of the crazy Japanese culture we set off to the area called America Mura, this is where the first shops were that imported American clothes so all the cool kids used to hang out here.  It is still the same today and is filled with cool boutiques and even has a few shops selling the ‘Harajuku’ dresses (the puff ball dresses which the girls wear to look like dolls).  We saw a few girls in the full Harajuku dress up but none that we could get a photo of, also a few people in the full Kimono’s which were cool.  This area was definitely the most diverse, with one man doing karaoke from his shiny truck parked at the side of the road, lines of men reading manga comics in the street and even a cat café.

As always we decided to head off to explore the more extreme ‘tourist’ attractions.  So off we went to the red light district which is apparently run by the Yakuza.  I expected this to be bright lights and ‘adult’ shops with a red light district disguised behind bars and dvd shops.  The walk to this area was through a covered shopping street and I was beginning to feel a little awkward when I had not seen another female for a good 15/20 minutes.  We contemplated turning back but having got so close we stuck with it.  As we got to the red light district I could not have been more surprised, it was exactly like Amsterdam.  The girls were sat in a room looking out into the street with an older woman there to supervise them and to negotiate.  Unlike Amsterdam there was not even any glass separating you so this did feel quite awkward.  They looked quite shocked to see us foreigners “Gaijen” wondering around.  Having been and seen it I have no doubt that this is definitely yakuza territory!  I have added a photo from Google street view to show you how it looks!

We had every intention of going to Kobe for a day trip but unfortunately despite the important looking people having taken my temperature only days earlier, I came down with the most awful flu.  This is really annoying in Japan as it is terribly rude to blow your nose in public, I contemplated wearing a sars mask stuffed with loo roll but instead opted for a day of sleeping it off and staying out of the pouring rain which has descended on Osaka.

Feeling better and having found a pharmacy that sold me cold medicine (for £10!!!) we opted for a relaxed day trip to the Aquarium.  With 580 different species, 30,000 specimens and even a whale shark this claimed to be one of the biggest aquariums in the world. Everything in Asia seems to be the biggest, fasted and best!  However this aquarium did live up to every expectation and is the most genius design.  Set out over 8 floors, you start at the top and work your way down.  At the top of the tanks are land/sea animals like penguins, seals and otters, then as you work your way down you can see them diving down in their tanks. In the middle is the ‘Pacific Ocean’ which is sunken through the next 4 floors, so you can see the rays, sharks and swarms of sardines going from the top to the bottom of the tank.   Aside from the giant Pacific ocean all the tanks were filled by ocean or area, there was a Great barrier reef filled with colour, the Gulf of panama with ring tailed coatis in the trees and porcupine fish in the water.  My favourite was the Ecuador Rain Forrest with some crazy looking fish in the water and on land the Capybara.  I have never seen a Capybara before, it is the largest species of rodent in the world and looks a bit like a pig sized beaver, not what I would expect in an aquarium but cool none the less.  This place definitely had it all, seals, dolphins, otters, sharks, turtles and octopi.  The amazing thing about the Pacific Ocean tank is that it is 30 feet deep, contains 5,400 cubic meters of water and the acrylic glass is 30cm thick, that is one big fish tank.

Osaka had Ferris wheels everywhere, but we opted to go on the Hep 5 Ferris Wheel which is on the top of a shopping arcade.  We hopped into our red pod and having read up in advance knew that it had an ipod station so we put the pod on and had Kasabian blaring as we did a circuit taking in the city view watching night descend and the neon light up.  What a great way to finish our stay in Osaka.  Next stop Kyoto!
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