Today was my first day off since returning to Japan.  I tried to make the most of it.  Waking up early to “enjoy” the ANA Crowne Plaza’s free breakfast, then running around the town trying to see as many sites as time would allow.

The heat slowed me down a bit, reaching 34c in the early afternoon.  I ducked underground a few times to enjoy the shade and cooler temps.  With so many metro lines cross-crossing the town, it’s not hard to find a spot to cool off.  And many of them have shops where you can pick up a cool beverage to rehydrate.  Just what you need on a day like this.

My first time using the metro was a breeze.  I found a machine outside the gate that sold me a pre-paid card.  Just put in 1,000/2,000/3,000 yen ($10/$20/$30) and it spits out a paper card with a magnetic stripe.  It’s quite similar to the system in Tokyo, complete with English instructions.

As per my usual routine in a new city, I had mapped out the route ahead of time using Google maps.  I don’t have a printer here, so I took down a few cheat notes.  All the lines and stations that I’d need for the trip today.  The metro signs are almost all in English, so really it’s quite simple.  The number of people using the trains might be a bit overwhelming for tourists here, but if you’ve been on the train daily through Shinjuku Station, the crowding on these trains won’t bother you a bit and perhaps you’ll even find some comfort in all the additional space.

Arriving at the Osaka Aquarium, you’ve got to walk past a small touristy mall to get to the main entrance.  You don’t have to go in, but of course, they want you to.  I bought my ticket and entered.  Upon entering the building, you go up a very tall escalator.  Reaching the top, I started to unpack my camera and set it up to take lots of (hopefully) cute fishy pictures.  Turning the camera on, my heart skipped a beat.  There was no memory card in the camera!  Ohhhhhh.  Blunder of blunders.  Here I am about 45 minutes away from the hotel.  The round trip to get a card and come back would be brutal.  I see a staff member and ask her if they sell cards in the shop downstairs.  It takes a few minutes to make her understand, but she gets it.  She says no, they don’t have any but there must be some for sale in the market that I had passed on the way in.  Perfect.  Then I see a sign that says “750m to exit”.  Yeah…  That’s a bit far.  I politely ask her if there is another way to, instead of walking through the entire maze-like aquarium.  She asks me to wait and starts to call people on the radio.  Next thing I know, I’m being escorted through the staff areas of the building.  In 2 minutes, I’m out the door with a hand-stamp to get me back in once I’ve bought a new card.

At the market, no dice.  I search high and low, finding many very interesting things including a petting zoo and the world’s largest ferris wheel, but no card.

Back at the aquarium I’ve no choice but to simply enjoy my time walking around with just a cellphone to take a few snapshots.  As it turned out, my Blackberry’s camera really surprised me.  I won’t spend a lot of time cleaning up the pictures, but I’ll post some of the better ones later.

Of all the aquariums and ‘oceanariums’ I’ve been to, this one is definitely in the top 5 worldwide.  They probably have the biggest main tank I’ve ever seen.  And their star attraction in that tank is a whale shark!!  Sadly on this day, it was receiving medical care in another part of facility.  But it gives you an idea about how big that tank is.

Leaving the aquarium I head back to the mall to take a closer look at that petting zoo.

In Tokyo there are quite a few ‘cat cafes’, and I even visited one to see what they’re all about.  Basically, if your lease forbids you to have pets in your tiny apartment, you can come to a cafe and pay an hourly fee to lounge around and play with their cats.  The one I visited had about 50 cats and plenty of space in a rather large multi-floor cafe.  And they didn’t make a bad cattuccino either (lol).

This petting zoo is a whole new level.  I didn’t go in, but I saw a half dozen cats and small dogs.  Then there are tortoises, rabbits, hares, several large I-don’t-know-what-that-is’s (look like a super guinea pig, but I really have no clue), an owl, a kangeroo and an iguana.  Wow.  Overload….  The Japanese have a reputation for being crazy and ‘over the top’.  I’d say they’ve earned it!!

I did ride the ferris wheel.  It’s not cheap at 800 yen ($8) a ride, but it did last quite a long time and you can sit in an all-transparent car for no extra charge.  They are only 4 of them, so the waiting can be long.  But they’ve got a transparent floor and seats.  It must be quite the experience.  I opted for the normal car and was able to walk right on.  Some that were waiting in the other line, were still waiting when I got off the ride.  Amazing views, I must say.  Osaka is a very large city, but it lacks the huge numbers of high-rises that Tokyo has.  It feels like a much smaller city than it really is.

[UPDATE:  Here are the pics from my camera phone.]

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