Sunday, March 06, 2011

Osaka Aquarium

Checking out his own reflection

For our last day in Osaka, we got up early and went to the Kaiyuken, a huge aquarium near Osakoko subway station. It's an enormous building, vaguely reminiscent of a house made of lego, and apparently contains 314 tons of hardened acrylic glass (one and a half year's worth of global production).

I would normally be excited by the quantities of different materials required for a building. I fail to be astounded by the amount of loose shale employed by British Railways, for example. But the reason the aquarium needed so much glass was that most of the tanks are five or more storeys tall, with the observation corridors looping around them in a long square-cornered helix, so instead of just seeing the fishes' habitat at one level, you get to see them at all different heights - particularly fun with the penguins and the seals.

Osaka has a whale shark (and lots of other sharks, including hammerheads that were notably not busy eating the rays in the same tank) but we were more excited by the prospect of the sunfish, or mola mola. This is an enormous and quite ridiculous looking fish that bumbles gracelessly around the largest of the tanks, and just as the website puts it, "looks disappointed".

I've never seen a disappointed fish before, so this was a special moment for me. Its mouth has an odd curl to it, like it's either about to break into tears or hurl abuse at you, and its two tiny side fins look more like it's trying to steer by waggling its ears. We spent ages looking happily at this doleful animal - maybe that schadenfreude points us out as bad people.

Beyond the sunfish is a tank with ten or more evil looking giant spider crabs, most of them lined up in ranks as though they're preparing to break through the glass and kill everyone. After that is a small exhibit of some beautiful jellyfish, and then we fell out into the outside world again, with a shop selling soft toys, just in case you required a plush whale shark.


It's a pretty good aquarium, but Sunday is not the ideal day to go as it's packed full of families. There are some very strange species I've seen nowhere else, like the bluefinned searobin, which is a fish with legs and wings, but I think it falls behind both the Kuala Lumpur aquarium (much longer underwater tunnel, plus the opportunity to pet some small sharks) and the Taipei Museum of Marine Biology in Kenting, which also has a whale shark.

To be fair, we visited the Kenting aquarium as deep in the off season as was humanly possible, but even with more than ten visitors in it, it probably would have been a more pleasant experience because of it being spread out over a much larger area and thus avoiding the claustrophobia that the Kaiyuken provides for free. Also, Kenting is a pain in the neck to get to, whereas Osaka is a fairly significant hub in North Asia with lots of connections, and the aquarium is only a short train ride from the centre of the city.


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