Osaka, Japan

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Today we took a day trip into Osaka to explore the city and go see whale sharks at the Osaka Aquarium!  Definitely a good choice of activity.

Our morning started in Kyoto, where we were looking for tempura udon soup for breakfast, but saw some delicious looking “waffles” topped with “whipped cream” and berries.  It turns out that the waffles were actually more of a croissant, and the whipped cream was actually ice cream.  Delicious, but probably not the best choice for a healthy breakfast.

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Next stop was the Kawaramachi train station, a two minute walk from our apartment.  We picked up the Osaka Kaiyu Ticket from the office, which included train travel to and from Osaka, aquarium tickets, plus unlimited train and bus travel while in Osaka.  All for only about $5 more than the price of an aquarium ticket (which itself was only half the cost of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s ticket price).

We hopped on the train and spent the next 70 minutes, including 2 subway changes inside Osaka, getting to the aquarium.  Once there, we made an obligatory stop at one of the vending machines to get drinks.  Japan seems to have vending machines every block and you can get both hot and cold drinks.  The hot milk tea is wonderful, although I have been trying to limit these to one per day and have mostly been getting the sugar-free hot green tea.  James prefers the green tea as well, Jeremy likes the milk tea, and John likes the soda.  I couldn’t resist posing with one of John’s drinks here:

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The aquarium was amazing!  Probably the best aquarium I have ever been to.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium is great, the Beijing Aquarium is awesome with the caveat that they really do not seem to treat the animals well (i.e. the beluga is in a tank that is not much bigger than he is), but the Osaka Aquarium appeared to both have amazing animals and be humane.

As we entered, the first big exhibit we came to were the dolphins, and we were just in time for dolphin feeding!  The boys were delighted.  The dolphins wiggled, they shook hands with the trainer, they made some amazing leaps into the air, and they were rewarded with tons of fish.

Next up was the Monterey Bay exhibit, where we got to see some very familiar animals.  They had Monterey’s harbor seals, followed by San Francisco’s sea lions.  The sea lions even had a special dock that was reminiscent of the one that where you can see sea lions lounging on Pier 39.  The kids were particularly delighted when one of the seals decided to poo.  Then they were grossed out when another came and ate the poo.  Yuck!  In the next tank, we saw a shark poo.  Also a first.  Then later, we saw a sunfish poo.  Again, another first.  The kids were delighted, 9 and 11 year old boys that they are.

The next major tank had the whale sharks!  Such a nice tank!  So impressive!  Definitely a highlight and well worth the journey.  The aquarium starts with an escalator up, then you spend your time spiraling down.  Each time you spiral, you get a different perspective on the gigantic tanks.  Even though each time we thought we were done looking at the whale sharks, each time we spiraled, we felt like we were starting over again and would sit staring at them for a while longer.

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We continued down to the arctic zone, where Jeremy was delighted to find polar bear food, a ringed seal!  He has long had an obsession with polar bears, ever since he met me and found out that I was from Alaska.  There were also king penguins, and several other varieties of penguins.  There was even one sitting on a nest.  We felt a lot better that we skipped the penguins in Oamaru, New Zealand, since these were much more impressive, and they were actually there, rather than out swimming the silver sea.

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We continued on to the “touch pools,” but these were a bit unlike any we had done before.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a place where you can pet bat rays, but the Osaka Aquarium has much bigger ones.  Sea World has shark petting, but the Osaka Aquarium has much bigger sharks.  There were lots of warnings about touching mouths and tails.  I wonder how many people have lost a finger?  Anyway, we let the boys have their fun, and even joined in a bit.

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By the time we were done, it was time for a late lunch, so we went to the mall next to the aquarium and got our tempura udon.  Yum!

We decided to head over to Shinsaibashi and enjoyed looking at all the restaurants.  Too bad it wasn’t meal time.  There were some nice stands selling Kobe beef, tons of sushi restaurants, and lot of shops.

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We continued on to America-mura, which could be thought of as “America-town”.  John loved it and admired the pizza and ice cream, although it really wasn’t all that American.  Does a hot dog bun filled with green tea ice cream remind you of America?  Not me.

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Dotonbori was next.  It was a super fun shopping street, again, with lots of delicious looking restaurants.  We had a lot of fun wandering up and down the streets.  When I was busy with something else, the boys talked Jeremy into one last try with the claw machines.  You know those machines with stuffed animals where you put money in and try to grab them with the claw?  In Taiwan, the machines would cheat and drop the toys early.  The boys also tried earlier in the day at a shop by the aquarium, but didn’t win.  This time, they managed to win a minion creature from “Despicable Me” and felt vindicated.  “See mom, it’s not impossible to win!”  They gloated for about an hour.

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It was still too early for dinner, so we decided to go wander the grounds of the Osaka-jo, Osaka’s castle that had already closed the interior, but was still supposed to be interesting from the outside.  It was quite impressive.  There were two moats, one inside the other.  The castle had a lot of gold trim, and was really quite nice.

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The boys were a bit tired, but not too tired to have a little fun.  Since we were using the subways rather than cabs, they didn’t have as much rest time.  Plus, a simple line change can easily involve 5-10 minutes of walking.  If you have 2 or 3 of these, by the time you get to where you are going, you can already feel a bit tired.  But we are a “walking family” and the kids are used to it and don’t complain near as much as they used to.

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We decided to head over to the main train station, get dinner, and explore the Kita area.  It was fun, but not nearly as fun as Dotonbori.  Since everyone was tired, we decided fast and simple was best and chose another sushi boat restaurant.  I found this one to be much better quality than the one in Kyoto from Tuesday night.  The fish was bigger and I particularly liked the crab and the scallops.  So delicious!  Jeremy was a bit disappointed in the selection, but agreed that the quality was better.  John was sad that they didn’t have any cucumber rolls or edamame, so I sacrificed, ate the fish, and gave John my rice.  Poor me!

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We decided to head back.  The train was quite crowded and we started with 1 seat.  After about minutes and a couple of stops, we managed to all have a seat and enjoyed the trip back to Kyoto.  The kids were exhausted, but managed to get a shower and journals in before bed.

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