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Japan Day 2: Aquarium, Osaka Castle, & Umeda Sky Building

Since we booked our rooms incorrectly, we only had part of one day to see Osaka. We didn’t have many plans, but Leslie’s top destination was the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, since it’s among the few aquariums that has a whale shark.

We spent a lot of time on foot, walking 29,800 steps, or roughly thirteen miles. This article is written from my notes on November 10, 2015.

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

I was hesitant to visit the aquarium, due to my unnatural fear of fish; knowledge of my phobia has encouraged my niece to mail me octopus postcards in the past. We visited the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium before our trip, which bolstered my confidence.

The morning commute was fascinating, borderline overwhelming—I’ve never seen so many people walking and biking at one time, and at such a quick, orderly pace. We did our best to eat a konbini (convenience store) breakfast without getting in their way.

We got lost trying to find the aquarium ourselves, so we returned to the Guesthouse U-En Osaka hostel to ask for directions. They also had aquarium tickets and, for ¥200 extra, it came with an all-day subway pass.

  • Take Chuo subway line Osakako (C11)

En route to the aquarium was a display for the nearby Legoland:



The aquarium is beautiful.



First, we went through some smaller exhibits.



We stepped through what became, to our surprise, a spiraling walkway through exhibits that were upwards of 30 feet tall. Land animals were represented at the top.



The stars of the aquarium were the whale sharks, which were in the center tank. There were plenty of opportunities to see them, as we spiraled to the bottom of the aquarium. I expected such large sea creatures to make me uneasy, given my phobia, but their beauty won me over. I greeted each meeting with a smile, and stared at them, in wonder.



The whale shark had some strange house mates.



We stopped to get some green tea soft cream. As expected, Japan makes adorable treats.



The art work was a nice touch.



At the end of the exhibit, I pet some sting rays and sharks. I’ve made huge strides. I gotta say, though, being the only adult (aside from Leslie, of course, who would never pass up a chance to pet a shark) doing it didn’t boost my self-esteem. Still, I wish I had a photo to send to my family as proof.



After the aquarium, we headed to the Legoland out of curiosity, since the giraffe impressed us so much. We only stopped by the store, and didn’t pay to enter, because we wanted to see more of Osaka. If we had more time, we may have checked it out, since there were some amazing Lego models of Osaka Castle.



Osaka Castle

We took the Chuo subway line from Osakako (C11) to Morinomiya (C19).

I’d been to Osaka Castle once before, and honestly, if you only have time for one Japanese castle, I’d recommend going elsewhere, such as Himeji (even though it’s more crowded). I don’t want to sound negative, there’s just so many options in Japan.

The inside is modern, which detracted from the feel. However, the outside is excellent, brimming with gates, walls, and moats. The top of the interior features a good view, and there’s a lot of fascinating antiques (though the relics in Bishamondo near Kyoto were more enthralling).



I later read on Trip Advisor that the audio guide enhances the Osaka Castle experience. I’ve never listened to it before, but that’s something to consider if you’re set on this castle.



These photos were taken in the area near Osaka castle:



Umeda Sky Building

The Umeda Sky Building in Osaka was high on my list. I’m normally not a city buff, but mixing modern and historical sites in Japan optimizes enjoyment. If you just visit historical locations, you might become “shrined out.” Leslie experienced a similar phenomenon in Europe, where there’s so many incredible churches that your enthusiasm dulls after a while.



I had seen it called a “Floating Garden Observatory,” so I assumed there would be plants on top of the building. Photos of greenery overtaking a boxy structure outside of Umeda Sky Building furthered my delusions.



Unfortunately, it was just the top of a building—no plants. The view showed how far Osaka sprawled, and, coupled with the throng of people going to work that morning, gave Leslie an existential crisis. In a way, that was worth the ¥1,600 joint entrance fee, but there are many opportunities to see Japanese cities from a tall building.



When finished, Leslie took the escalator down, not realizing that the walls were transparent and you could see far below you. “Why’d I do that!?!” she yelped. In one day of Osaka, I experienced my fish phobia, and Leslie went head-to-head with her fear of heights.

Beneath the Umeda Sky Building is the Takimi-koji gourmet street, which is a replica of a road from the Showa period that houses 1920s photos of Osaka. We didn’t go down, because we didn’t know it existed. The Umeda Sky Building is mostly offices; we only encountered four other people during the time we were walking around.

Onto Kyoto!

At some point, I spotted this pizzeria, which reminded me to pick up some pizza chips.



We picked up our luggage from the Guesthouse U-En hostel, snapped a quick photo on our way out, and headed to Kyoto station.



Closing Remarks on Osaka

The aquarium is one of the best things we did in Japan. Many of our fondest, most distinct memories, are from meandering through the spiraling walkway and gazing into the four-story tall tanks.

I wish we had the two days we originally intended to spend in Osaka. There was a lot more I wanted to see:

  • Namba Park
  • Spa World Onsen
  • Kitashinichi District at night
  • Bunraku theater
  • Dotonbori at night, including the iconic Glico Man



I’m sure Osaka has much more to offer, but planning this vacation took hours, and we wanted to dedicate most of this trip to Kyoto.

Marking destinations on a map is a fantastic way to travel. Leslie put one together for Kyoto, which made it much easier to visualize what’s near your current position. We didn’t feel as prepared in Osaka, where our destinations were just listed in the little black Moleskine notebook that I carried with me everywhere.

The Guesthouse U-En Osaka was exceptionally friendly and accommodating, even though we screwed up our arrival date. It was the most comfortable and beautiful of the three hostels we stayed in, and the employees were happy to speak Japanese with me. I’m nowhere near fluent, but they adjusted their speech to use words and grammar I could understand and spoke with respect. I’d love to return someday. They occasionally have opportunities to work in exchange for free stay, if you can do a month or more; I think this would be a wonderful opportunity to escape normal life, meet new people, and have plenty of free time to write.

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