Saturday, May 27, 2017

Osaka

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The saying goes that while people from Kyoto will ruin themselves financially for fashion, people from Osaka will do it for a good meal. We came to Osaka to eat, but enjoyed the city for so many other reasons as well.  After dropping our bags at the hotel, and then switching rooms to one that hadn't been smoked in (there were No Smoking signs everywhere), we headed out to check out the area around the hotel. We'd chosen to stay in Dotonbori, because that is where the food stalls are, but also because it was said to be a very interesting area and close to trains and subways.

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In addition to its proximity to food, it was also about two blocks from the canal, which is surrounded by impressive display of neon and jumbotrons. We wandered around for a bit, just taking photos of signs and soaking up the city.

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While wandering we came across something called the "Puppy Hotel," which David took a photo of and wondered about it's name. Lana pointed out that it was likely a love hotel, more likely to have a "rest" rate than a "stay" rate, and no puppies.  We kept walking.

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The arcades in the surrounding area were heaving with people at night. It was nearly shoulder to shoulder, everyone shopping, eating, meeting friends. It was the kind of situation, much like the Shibuya crossing that makes you realize just how many people live here.

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We headed out to Osaka's aquarium, Kaiyukan, the next morning. As we were leaving our hotel room we got a call that our guide was downstairs. We'd hired a guide for a food tour at 4:00 pm, so we went down to figure it out. Apparently he thought we'd signed up for a morning tour.  Given the fact that we'd already arranged our morning, we said we'd see him at 4 and set off--not without some apprehension about what that boded for the quality of the tour.

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As could be expected, we weren't the only visitors to the aquarium. We were joined by about 100 schoolchildren, easily identified by their red hats and multicolored backpacks. We were filled with a little bit of dread of the excitement that might be in store for us, but the kids were largely well-behaved and polite. Certainly better than the experiences we've had with American children at the Monterey Bay aquarium.

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Then again perhaps we were so distracted by the contents of the aquarium that we weren't really focusing on anyone else. The aquarium houses all kinds of sea life from around the Pacific rim, including whale sharks, dolphins, otters, and penguins, among others.

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It was very well designed with an enormous tank (1.4 million gallons) in the middle with a ramp that spiraled down several stories around it, to give you an idea of the sea creatures who live at various depths, with more information about each atmosphere and the surrounding plant life and vegetation.

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The whale shark was one of our favorites, and we spent a lot of time watching them feed. The big tank had beautiful rays and hammerhead sharks as well. No matter where you looked, something was happening in the big tank.

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There were lots of auxiliary tanks as well that housed various creatures, from Ecuadorian fresh water rainforest fish, to exquisite jellyfish and seahorses. We've seen a few aquariums in our travels, but Kaiyukan has become our new favorite.

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After we left the aquarium we wandered by a Legoland (no admittance without a child--seems like a good idea for everyone's sake), and then headed off to our next destination, the Umeda Sky Tower. Every guide book had insisted it was a must-see, and that the views were unparalleled. While the suggestion was to go at sunset, we had a guide waiting for us at 4:00 pm, so that wasn't an option.  The final ascent to the outdoor observation deck was a tall escalator in a glass tube.

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Lana wanted to touch so badly.  Below, you can see the framework for the up and down escalators that cross from one tower to another, while the sky deck bridges them in a wide circle.

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After seeing the city from the Umeda towers, we made our way back to our hotel for our 4pm tour.  It wasn't a good tour, so we'll refrain from detailing who it was that we booked it through or who our guide was. Suffice it to say that when he started telling fat jokes, it was over for Lana.

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One of the weirder/interesting parts of it, however, was a trip to the other well known tower in Osaka, the TsÅ«tenkaku tower in the Shinsekai area of Osaka. We just happened to be there at sunset, so we did get that view:

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The base and one of the stories were dedicated to Pocky, and we spied this Hello Kitty dressed as a takoyaki (an octopus filled street-food treat), holding a takoyaki pan with a cute little octopus on her back. 

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This pretty well sums up what the tower was about. That below on the left is a replica of the tower made out of Pocky boxes. The below right is the actual tower photographed from the street. Anyway it was random and strange and might have been a more enjoyable experience if we hadn't had the odd and awkward tour guide at our elbow. 

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On our way back to Dotonbori we found some of the most beautiful manhole covers we've ever seen. This sort of attention to art in the ordinary, and making everyday objects beautiful, felt very indicative of Japan as a whole to us. 

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