2006-04-03, Day 3

Jess woke up at 7:15, 15 minutes after the alarm was supposed to go off (but didn't). Oops. We got up, showered, packed and headed down to the complimentary breakfast. Jess went Western-style: corn flakes, 4 breakfast rolls, fruit salad and oj. Jer leaned toward Japanese-style: two rice and nori triangles (one with salmon and one with pickled plum), a grilled rice cake (which Jess thought tasted like Liquid Smoke), a mini croissant, fruit salad and oj. Jess used hand signals to explain the toaster to a Japanese guy, who bowed quite low while thanking her. She was charmed.

Thus fortified, we headed to the subway, bought One Day Passes and set off toward Osaka Jo (Osaka Castle). The trip to the castle was a mitigated success — we got off one stop early, but just hopped back on when we realized our mistake. At Photo we took the castle, we presented our passes and got ¥100 each off our tickets. The park around the castle is quite nice — there was a display of Photo we took miniature garden landscapes going on. Oddly, we saw many, many makeshift structures made of blue tarp tied to trees, some of which looked quite permanent and well-developed. We could only conclude that people were living in the park. There's also a shudokan that teaches judo, kendo, and naginata. Unfortunately, there were no classes going on when we were there. There was also a Shinto shrine that we walked around.

The castle itself had a bunch of exhibits, with each floor having a theme. We were supposed to go to the top and work our way down, but we did it backwards by accident. We mostly enjoyed the armor exhibits, especially the more ornate and silly helmets. Jer also enjoyed the models of the castle. We might've enjoyed the weird video-enhanced dioramas, but they were really crowded. On the top floor of the castle is an observation deck. The Photo we took views over Osaka were nice, but Osaka is not a really inspiring city from afar. It's far more interesting from street level.

We made up for having a hard time finding our way out of the park by getting to the aquarium flawlessly. Before heading into the aquarium, we stopped at Tempozan Harbor Village (a mall) to grab some lunch. We stopped at a donburi (rice bowl) shop, where Jer ordered shrimp tempura donburi, and Jess had katsudon (fried pork cutlet over rice) and a steamed pork bun. We both had strange green Fanta, which wasn't any identifiable "green flavor" (lime, watermelon, mint, etc.), but was pleasant.

The Osaka Aquarium (aka Kaiyukan) is expensive to visit (¥2000 per person), but we each got a ¥100 discount with our pass, and the exhibits were definitely worth the admission fee. The theme of the aquarium is "Ring of Fire, Ring of Life" (featuring the marine life of the volcanic areas around the Pacific). Among the many animals featured were Photo we took cuddly short-clawed Asian otters (Japanese Forest), Photo we took Gentoo, King and Rockhopper penguins (Antarctica), Photo we took playful sea lions and harbor seals (Monterrey Bay), very active sea otters (Aleutians), a giant sunfish (Kelp Forest), two Photo we took cute sea turtles with expressive faces (Cook Strait), Photo we took graceful manta rays, a ginormous whale shark, leopard sharks and lots of schooling fishies (main Pacific tank), and Photo we took eerie spider crabs that Jess wanted to eat (Japanese Deeps).

There were lots of families visiting the aquarium, and we were barely able to contain ourselves when, upon seeing Photo we took clownfish, a tiny Japanese girl exclaimed excitedly "Nemo!" (Even half a world away, some things are just the same.) It was fun to see the hip Japanese dads with spiky hair and trendy clothes, excitedly pointing out fish to their little kids. We also encountered a Photo we took gaggle of Buddhist monks, in their saffron robes, taking in the exhibits. For some reason, this struck us as funny. It's hard to imagine a flock of Benedictines on an aquarium field trip, I guess.

After we finished our visit, we caught the subway back into central Osaka to pick up our bags and check into our new hotel. As it was rush hour, we were lucky enough to see a women-only subway car. It was pink! We made it to our subway stop without incident, and by pure luck managed to choose the right direction out of the subway exit. The new hotel (Dotonbori Hotel) was weird and wonderful. Beyond the Photo we took statues out front (which, incidentally, had butts), Photo we took our room had wood floors, fake blond wood wallpaper, and even a fake wood plastic door stopper pad. We took a brief nap (too brief for Jess' taste), and headed out for dinner at Cui-daore, a multi-level restaurant complex.

The street scene outside our hotel was much livelier than at our other one. Light from jumbotrons illuminated the people parading below. Barkers shouted their messages and waved their flags, while Photo we took animatronic signs waved their various appendages. (Cui-daore has an animatronic clown beating a drum.) We found the restaurant to be a tourists' paradise, with plastic food and bilingual menus with pictures. Our waitress, however, didn't speak English. No worries, Jess pointed at the takoyaki (octopus fritters) au gratin, and Jer whipped out his Pilot, fired up the calculator, and typed in the item number of the beef curry udon. The food was good, though not exceptional, and the waiters gave us clown-themed chopsticks to take home.

After our meal, we headed over to the AM PM convenience store to get dessert. Jer picked out a pudding cup with what appeared to be noodles on top. Jess grabbed a pre-packaged Belgian waffle, and we split a package of biz (candies made of chocolate, crisped wheat and sugar syrup). On our way back to our room, we bought tickets for the next morning's breakfast (a steal at ¥500 per person). It turns out that Jer had egg custard with some sort of piped topping (not noodles), Jess loves packaged waffles and we both love biz. Having satisfied our sweet teeth, we turned in early (9:30ish).