Large neon sign depicting a runner crossing the finish line with the Glico candy company logo above his head © 2011 Jordan Harper. All rights reserved.

Water and lights

Day 13 — 10 August 2010

Neither Liz nor I are enormous fans of zoos/aquariums, but with five days in Osaka we thought we should vary the shopping and eating a little by heading to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan — one of the largest aquariums in the world. The 346 tons of acrylic glass used in the aquarium is 1.5 times the world’s total annual production so I’m sure you can imagine there are some pretty epic tanks. Being the holidays, the place was absolutely jam-packed with tired looking mothers dragging their screaming kids around while fathers took endless flash photographs of reflective plastic tanks….

I’m making it sound like a chore, but it was actually quite fun — I’d never seen a manta ray up close before and the one that shared the aquarium’s showpiece tank with two whale sharks was a beast. Huge, but gliding around so gracefully and effortlessly it felt sad to be seeing it in captivity. I’m always torn with these kind of places: on one hand it’s a lot of people’s only chance to see amazing creatures like this — and without knowing and being awed by them, it’s difficult to get people to care about their fate — on the other it seems terribly Victorian to enslave wild animals for our own amusement/amazement.

After whiling away a couple of hours in the aquarium — the jellyfish tanks are particularly mesmerising — we headed back into town for lunch at Critters Burger (situated not far from D&Department Dining) before heading to Dōtonbori to see one of the quintessential Osakan sights. Glico Man is a giant neon sign installed in 1935, ostensibly advertising Glico candy but ultimately becoming a symbol of the more exuberant side of Osakan culture. He dominates a pretty impressive array of similar signs and compliments the (almost as famous) giant crab amongst other garish sights lining the entertainment-oriented street.

The street is a pretty intense experience at night, with neon and noise in all directions: takoyaki sellers doing a roaring trade and candy shops blasting out music. We just about missed a heavy rain shower — menacing clouds convinced us to walk the final leg of our journey underneath a covered arcade — and a freshly deposited layer of rainwater on every surface made the whole place glisten and twinkle. I’m not going to pretend there was anything beautiful or magical about Dōtonbori, but it was certainly an experience.

For dinner we found a nice little kushikatsu (串カツ) place on Dōtonbori itself where we drank a few frosty Yebisu beers and dined on a number of different chunks of meat and vegetables, breaded and fried on skewers with a delicious soy-based dip. My personal favourite was the asparagus: loaded onto a wooden skewer lengthways, so you could wave it around like a lollipop. Brilliant.

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