The Kansai Episode: There Will Be Fish

The ocean in one place.

Over our stay in Kansai, the weather got progressively cooler and cooler – understandable, with each day pressing closer and closer to the actual winter season. Weather wise, it was teetering between late autumn and early winter, but in reality, the increasingly cooler and windy climate made it almost bone chilling. This morning, the weather was heightened by a bout of light rain – light enough not to be disruptive, but heavy enough to warrant an umbrella which meant I needed to have an umbrella so I bought one at a local convenience store.

But first, breakfast. Having been to quite a bit of Japan, I must say that the Japanese don’t seem to like anything Japanese for breakfast. Restaurant chains like Ootoya, Yoshinoya and Matsuya have single token breakfast sets, but few if anybody take the bait. Visit Starbucks, Hana Coffee or any of the local coffee and boulangerie cafes, and you’ll find them teeming with people munching on breakfast sets ranging from American breakfast archetypes to hotdogs and sandwiches all while sipping their hearty cup of coffee (most likely from UCC), served with the mandatory boiled egg and salad with a Japanese dressing of course. For those who seek the theatrics of Italian and Melburnian baristas, you’ll be sorely disappointed during your stay here – the closest you’ll fine is Starbucks and Tully’s Coffee, or the odd Nespresso machine at those local Japanese coffee chains. For me, the creamer and gum syrup in place of sugar works just fine – the coffee’s alive and good enough. I can’t remember the name of the chain, but this morning, I order a Chili Hotdog set (the words, “chili” in Japan is often thrown around to mean flavors that are rich in spices), and I’m not disappointed – it’s hard to find food that isn’t good in Japan. The bun is well toasted – crisp on the outside and silky and warm on the inside. The accompanying coffee a genuine heart warmer.

Osaka Bay has seen brighter days. Separated from the Pacific Ocean by the Kii Channel to the south, and from Seto Inland Sea by the Awaji Strait to the west, the tides of change have transformed the region. Once known as the “Manchester” of Japan, known for its heavy industries – declined after World War 2 and put to an end after the devastating Kobe quake in 1994 – the region is now pursuing growth in the quaternary industries. Now focused on research, development and information, the Bay gradually waned in importance as firms abandoned the artificial islands reclaimed to foster portside growth for drier, less disaster-prone land for stability on which to build science parks. As a result, Osaka Port has had an urban renewal on the scale of London’s Canary Wharf and Docklands. Today, the port area is more associated with harbour cruises and tourist attractions than actual tonnage, with various amusement parks such as Universal Studios Osaka, Tempozan Ferris Wheel and Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. When we left Singapore, Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan was the world’s largest public aquarium, home to 27 tanks in 16 main exhibits filled with 29,000 animals across 470 species – all of those impressive statistics have now been overtaken by Singapore’s Marine Life Park at Resorts World Sentosa. It didn’t faze us, for Kaiyukan was still the only place on Earth we could see the largest whale shark in captivity.

We make our way as we do, and we will while in Osaka, with the Osaka Subway. The system’s 129.9 kilometre, eight line network carries 2.3 million commuters daily – an unimpressive feat, when you consider that Singapore’s 148.9 kilometre, four line network carries 2.406 million passengers daily. But when the metropolitan areas of Kobe and Kyoto, as well as all other rail operators’ networks are considered, which have to be calculated considering that the urban rail infrastructure is mind-bogglingly dense, the passenger numbers soars by 6 times to 13 million people daily, a distant second to world’s number one, Tokyo with 40 million commutes daily.

Our accommodation near minami-Morimachi station, near the downtown Osaka-Umeda district, makes it easy for us to get around. We travel to Osakako (Osaka Port) station on the Chuo Line via the Sakaisuji Line at Sakaisuji-Hommachi.

Kaiyukan is just, unbelievable, in terms of variety and scale. Each exhibit is bigger than the one previously, and when you get to the Pacific Rim exhibit, the now-second largest tank in the world, you’re awestruck. The tank, while insignificant when you compare it to the size of the ocean, is certainly big enough to sustain a whole, lively ecosystem. You see predator and prey, you see parasitic relationships, and how no species is truly alone. I could just sit there for hours and hours, but alas, when you’re traveling with someone else, your time is only half yours to decide. But it’s unbelievable how many things you can see, even in such a short time.

You take a rather steep escalator from the ground floor all the way to the top.

We start from the surface of the ocean.

These fishes are huugeee…

Penguins basking in very surprisingly genuine “snow”.

The Pacific Ocean exhibition is absolutely breath-taking.

Sardines not in a can.

It’s a very parasitic relationship between prey and predator.

Santa Claus in the ocean.

Crabs.

With scale comes responsibility.

Even fishes can get tired.

Jellyfish

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