Osaka eye opener
03.09.2007 - 05.09.2007 25 °C
With an emergency exit seat, two friendly young business men next to me and a whole catalogue of movies at my viewing pleasure, my Changi Airport bound flight was set to be a comfortable experience. Several hours later with several new releases ticked off the film list, the plane touched down in Singapore, my second time ever, on foreign soil. It was lucky I had no Singaporean currency, as my hours in transit could easily have been spent participating Singapore`s vast retail experience. Instead I chose the comfy, blue, velvet couch to curl up on with the latest Tracks magazine. Next thing I knew I was fast alseep on the midnight horror flight to Kansai International Airport in Osaka.
Collecting my bags and walking into the main terminal was a curious sensation as I had never been in this situation before. The surrounding peoples faces and voices faded into an unfamiliar blur as my head began to ache with the stress and excitement of this new experience. I found a seat, hoping to overcome this sensory overload then finally proceeded to the tourist information counter. The lady behind the counter was incredibly friendly and helpful, and to my luck spoke fluent English. With half a tree worth of useful pamphlets and an X marking the youth hostel on my map, I gathered the confidence to tackle the Osaka rail system, Navigating my way across the largest metropolis I have ever seen. The rail system in Japan is great as the trains go everywhere and generally have some English signeage. But wandering the city streets can be frustrating as most buildings look the same. The hostel was situated on the 8th floor of a Central Shin-Osaka office block with views out over the city, reaching towards the distant harbour and mountains in the opposite direction. With a massive sense of relief that I was no longer carrying twenty four kilos of luggage I set of to explore the hidden wonders in this vast city.
Having being born in Exmouth, a sleepy coastal town emmersed in the amazingly beautiful Marine paradise of the Ningaloo Marine Park, you could say I am passionate about the wonders of the ocean and the extraordinary creatures that inhabit it. Therefore when I skimmed the brochures to find out that Osaka has a world class aquarium, my curiosity got the better of me. Strolling through the massive maze like complex was all part of the fun as it became an adventure discovering new passages filled with exotic species. I was led in a spiral, sampling the different zones and regions which border the great Pacific Ocean, from the tropical mangroves of Panama with its tiny monkeys and giant freshwater fish, to the deep Giant Spider Crab filled trenches off Japan's coast, to the Dolphins of the icy waters surrounding New Zealand.
However the most exciting exhibit was the enormous tank in the centre of the whole building, from the first floor to the roof of the fourth, filled with the majestic creatures from the heart of the Pacific. The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling around its circumference gazing at the Whale Shark, Manta Ray, Bluefin Tuna, Mackerel, Trevally, Reef Sharks, enormous Cod and every other pelagic species imaginable.
Located on Osaka Harbour, Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium will bring out the marine biologist in anyone.
However as a result of communication barriers and my shyness, I had not eaten since the flight the previous night. My grumbling stomach was beckoning to figure out a way to purchase food, as it is very difficult if you are unable to conversate with anyone. This moment sparked my dependence on 'Convenies,' a fabulous creation similiar to a corner deli, situated on virtually every city block. All I had to do was skim the shelves taking a lucky dip on the various ridiculously overpackaged foods, then have a big smile as I handed over the cash corresponding to the screen on the till. "Foolproof!" Beverages were even simpler as there were more streetside vending machines than I'd care to mention. With these essential necessities readily available, I became confident to face the rest of Japan.
A peak hour train journey back to the hostel saw me packed into a carriage like a sardine. With my hunger quashed my next goal was to make some new friends. The Hostel common room seemed the obvious place to start. Strumming away the evening on the communal guitar I watched the room fill, then ambushed two pretty Taiwanese girls sitting at the next table. To my surprise and relief they both replied to my basic Japanese, in English allowing me to easily gatecrash their plans for the following day. My first night in a crowded hostel dormitory, full of snoring men was tiring however I woke bright and early ready to commute across to the next city, Kyoto.
Lin and Li were fluent in English, Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese so it was a breeze to follow their lead as they translated all information, guiding me through the city. The first stop was the amazing, solid gold Kinkakuji Temple, nestled amongst traditional gardens and overlooking a vast pond.
It was definitely impressive, however after seeing one temple, I began to feel I'd seen them all. So instead of temple hopping through Kyoto's streets we headed back into Osaka. Situated in the middle of the city is Osaka-jo, a huge feudal fortress, surrounded by expansive gardens, courtyards and a septic moat, coated with toxic algae and drifting rubbish.
With very little money left in our pocket we avoided entering the castle, to instead laze away the afternoon looking out over the city from the central courtyard.
Once again the common room was filled with new faces and people separated into their degree of Japanese fluency, sipping tea and discussing their adventures. It didn't take long to realise that my smooth guitar riffs weren't attracting potential friends, forcing me to meander over to the main congregation. I figured my best bet would be the two guys speaking German, as Europeans generally can speak a couple of languages. Chris and Ben both spoke English resulting in joint plans to explore some more of the city the next day.
Standing on the roof of the Osaka Sky Tower was amazing as we had a bird's eye view of the massive metropolis stretching to the horizon in every direction.
However with a book full of discounted sights to see we had no time to smell the roses, or the thick smog which chokes the city. Next stop was the Kaiyukan Aquarium, where I once again stood staring in awe at the whale shark, manta ray and other species peacefully cruising past within arms reach.
After being inspired by the majesty of this planets sea creatures we decided it would be great to check out The their land based relatives. Braving the heat and resulting dehydration we crossed the city to the Tennoji Zoo to find a sickening, derelict centre filled with a vast range of animals, sitting almost lifeless, staring out from their tiny, dirty concrete cages. It was depressing to see, however we continued wandering the paths, excited to find the monkey and ape enclosures. Repulsed by the sight of our closest living relatives trapped in tiny concrete boxes, we ran for the gates and the hustle and bustle of our own concrete jungle.
There was no time to lose if I was to catch the evening ferry to Miyazaki. A quick goodbye to Chris and I was set to be perfectly on schedule to collect my gear then navigate my way to the Osaka Ferry Terminal. Eveything was going swell as I rushed through the train station to find a massive crowd of people standing infront of the gate I wanted to enter. The train was delayed! Panic began to set in as I watched the minutes tick by on my watch, hoping that my knees would't buckle under the weight of my bags. Finally after half an hour the gate opened. Stressed out and drenched in sweat I leaped onto the train following the rest of Osaka's rush hour traffic, doing my best to keep my surfboard and other bulky luggage out of everybodys way. At 7:00pm the train rolled up to the Osaka Port train station, with the ferry scheduled to leave at 7:30pm and a boarding time of 6:30pm. Glancing at the dot on my map, while beaming out into the night sky I could make out the faint lights of what could be a ferry in the distance. I was finding it hard to believe that my plan was crumbling as so far eveything had fallen magically into place.
I began to sprint, braving the ache of my pack, my trembling knees and sweat pouring off my body, with a ticking clock and the slight glimmer of hope to push myself to keep running. Doubt quickly began to set in along with the welling tears and overall weak body. The thought of missing the ferry, wasting the hundred dollar ticket and having to camp out somewhere in the dirty industrial port didn't amuse me. So as the Ferry finally came into my line of sight, just over a kilometre up the road with five minutes until its departure I pushed on. At last stumbling into the terminal thrusting my passport and ticket at the receptionist, glancing at the 7:29pm on the clock behind him. To my total relief he smiled, lifting the radio transmitter to his mouth, giving the green light for the crew to reattach the bridge allowing me to stumble onto the colossal ship. In a state of euphoria I collapsed in a sweaty, burned out heap on a futon in the substantial communal cattle class room. Still overwhelmed by the past three hours I summoned the energy to change my dripping shirt and devour an ice cream before drifting into a deep sleep. Lullabyed by the typhoon swells rolling across the open ocean.