We did two day trips from Kyoto. The first was a spur-of-the-moment trip to Osaka.
Originally we thought we’d spend a night in Osaka after Kyoto, but when we stepped outside on our third day in Kyoto to discover that it was miserably rainy our outside-focused plan for the day wasn’t so appealing anymore. So instead we decided to jump on a train and spend the day in Osaka. This is the great thing about flexible travel with another backpacker – so what if this wasn’t the plan, sounds good to us right now, let’s go for it.
Cities are better places to explore in the rain than temples, plus our main attraction for Osaka was an indoor activity: the aquarium. Yes we are just big kids. But they have a whale shark! Who doesn’t want to see a five-meter-long shark without fear of being attacked? Not like whale sharks attack humans, but you know what I mean. Anyway, a quick thirty minute train ride later and we were in Osaka Station trying to figure out how to get to the aquarium. Again tourist information pointed us in the right direction (so helpful all over Japan) and no more than an hour after we’d decided to go to Osaka we were entering the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.
It, like everywhere else, was packed. Does Japan ever work? I’ve heard they actually do more than anyone, but everywhere we went it seemed like everyone else was there too. The aquarium wasn’t too bad once we got past the first animals – Japanese river otters – and into the tanks, which had plenty of viewing space. Kaiyukan has an interesting layout: we moved in a circle, constantly descending, around the Pacific Ocean tank and past other global zones on the outside. They split up each tank according to location, an approach I actually really liked, and even had Monterey Bay! I got to watch some familiar sea lions play around for a bit.
The main attraction was the whale shark, and it was smaller than I expected. I actually enjoyed watching the other sharks and sting rays swim around more than the whale shark. I felt bad for it; it looked too big to be in that tank, and just slowly swam in the same circle over and over again. It reminded me that I never really like places that keep animals in captivity.
Upon leaving I had a weird feeling. This was the first time I’d been to an aquarium since all the snorkeling and scuba diving I’ve done in the past year. The last time I saw sea creatures they were freely swimming around in their natural environment. Seeing them in an aquarium felt anticlimactic, and a little wrong. Nothing against the aquarium, if you like them it’s a nice one, it just felt strange being inside walls with these beautiful creatures.
After the aquarium we just wandered through the shopping center of Osaka – a rainy day was the perfect time for one of those arcade shopping streets – and had a delicious sushi lunch. For some reason I hadn’t had nearly as much sushi as I thought I would when I came to Japan – we kept coming across noodle or donburi places instead – and since it’s one of my favorite foods I was seriously craving it, so even a simple sushi bar lunch was a big highlight for me.
It was a quick day in Osaka so I can’t say I got a great feel for the city as a whole. It seemed like another metropolis with similarities to Tokyo and Kyoto, but more toned down. I’ve heard mixed reviews so I’ll leave my final analysis ambiguous.