Friday, October 07, 2005

Playing together in the sea

Manta Ray at Kaiyukan

The tagline for Kaiyukan - Osaka`s Aquarium - is that visitors can 'enjoy the animals as if they are playing together in the sea'. Well, I`ve been to many aquaria in my time, and never felt that about any of them. Although many of the exhibits at Kaiyukan were good, I only felt like jumping in because of the masses of schoolchildren around. It seemed like every school in the Kansai had planned an outing. Now I`m all for kids learning about marine life - it's how I started after all - but when each tank has three rows of kids in front of it you lose enthusiasm pretty quickly. Instead of lots of small-sized tanks with many species, Kaiyukan has gone for the large tank = big impact method. Some really are incredible - the central tank is a whopping 9m deep (30ft) and houses, amongst other things, a whale shark. Roughly 15ft long, the poor thing cruises round in a circle followed by an ever present flotilla of smaller fish.

The Japanese Giant Spider crab

The aquarium also had about a dozen dolphins in a tank, two 5ft long Aleutian Sea Otters, three species of penguins in a special Antarctic chamber (with real snow falling), and all the other usual aquarium suspects. My favourite - and if you know me this won't come as any surprise - were the deep sea crabs. Not just any crabs either, but Giant Spider Crabs - the first time I've ever seen them alive. Most had hand-sized bodies and spinldy legs a few feet long, but there was one monster the size of a bsaketball that had legs as thick as my forearms. Goodness only knows how old it was. They moved around really slowly, as if in slow motion, and the tank was perfectly lit to give them a ghostly, alien appearance. This one tank made up for all the razed schoolkids before - it was incredible.

Hikari Rail Star Shinkansen - a thing of beauty

Later that day we left Osaka and headed for Tokyo. One incident that happened to us serves as a useful example of the Japanese pride in customer service and willingness to help. We used an automatic ticket machine to buy a one-day subway pass - but when we tried to use it the inspector at the ticket barrier looked at his watch and took them off us. The last time something like that happened to me, it was on the Budapest metro and I was fined for having an invalid ticket - so when he marched us off to the 'Station Master`s Office'I was wondering what was going on. Inside were a number of officials, and one took the tickets, opened up what looked like a petty cash box, and counted out what we had paid for them - which he then gave to us. He put on a peaked hat, and motioned for us to follow him outside, so we did. It turned out that we had paid too much for our tickets - on Fridays a special offer meant they were Y200 cheaper. The ticket guard had noticed this, realised it was Friday, and asked the station master to get us the discounted tickets to which we were entitled to. He led us to the ticket machines, and took the correct money. pushing the buttons and giving us the tickets. All this because we had inadvertantly paid Y400 (GBP2) too much for our subway passes. Would this help have been given anywhere else? Somehow I doubt it.