In the early morning of March 14, our third day in Osaka, my husband woke me up. “I think there’s an earthquake.” Still half-asleep I wanted to ignore him, but our bed was shaking and I realized it was one of those moments when I shouldn’t respond with, “Five more minutes.”
We sat up and waited it out; I’m sure it only lasted a few seconds but it felt longer. I wasn’t unfamiliar with earthquakes as the Philippines has its fair share every now and then, but since it was just a few days after Japan remembered the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, I called the front desk after the tremors to let us know if there was anything we needed to do. The good people of our hotel, in all their politeness and calm told us, “Yes it seemed to be an earthquake. We will let you know if there’s any more information.” Somehow the tone of the front desk person reassured me and in half an hour I was back to sleep, looking forward to another day exploring Osaka.
After the rainy Osaka Castle outing the day before, one other Osaka attraction we wanted to check off our list was the Osaka Aquarium or Kaiyukan. I’ve always been curious of what these Ocean Park-types of places were like, but have just never gotten around to it here in Manila or in Hong Kong in last year’s trip. Kaiyukan with its popular whale shark attraction convinced me to fork the pricey entrance fee (2,300 yen..which can already buy you a nice meal).
You start the tour on the eight floor and work your way down with the view of the different large tanks that represent different parts of the Pacific Rim around you.
There are different feeding times for the different animals and the first thing we see that has visitors crowding the tank and whipping out their cameras (which I was also doing) was the sea lions being fed. I never thought I would see a sea lion in my life so there I was oohing, aahing and clicking away like the rest of them. I was surprised at how big they were. In my head they stayed cute little sea lions. But the big ones were just as cute and swam and dove with every food given. The playful dolphins put on more of a show, doing tricks and appearing to have a little skit with the folks feeding them.
When we got to the penguins, my excitement and surprise (again, they were huge compared to how I pictured them in my head) eventually turned to uneasiness. They were beautiful.. just as the dolphins were, the sea lions, and even the odd looking sun fish. But the more I thought about their natural habitat, the vastness of the ocean, and the tanks they now called home, I couldn’t help but feel sad for them. Yup, Happy Feet did its work.
When we got to the “star attraction,” the largest tank spanning several floors and housing the whale shark (along with other sharks and rays), I realized the uneasiness wasn’t something I could shake off. After seeing a whale shark two summers ago in the waters off Donsol, Sorsogon, seeing one inside an aquarium just seemed wrong. I have already seen a whale shark in its natural habitat, what made me think seeing one inside a glass tank would be equally amazing?
But when I looked around, I could see kids were enjoying themselves. Their parents were pointing to the different animals and telling them what they were. They pressed their cute little faces on the glass and looked on in amazement. There were also a lot of young students out on an educational field trip with their teachers.
It is reported that the Osaka Aquarium is home to 580 kinds of species, most of which we probably won’t see in their natural habitats. Not everyone can travel to the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica, or dive the depths of the ocean. Places like the Osaka Aquarium allow people to see so many underwater species in one roof. From that argument, I understand the presence of such large-scale aquariums, but I’m not sure if I’ll visit one again. Have you been to one? How do you feel about them?
Feeding time schedule: River otter 11:30, 13:40, 16:00 | Water fowl 16:15 | Sea lion 10:00, 13:15, 15:15 | Ringtailed coati 11:15, 15:30 | Penguin 10:30, 14:45 | Dolphin 11:30, 14:00, 16:00 | Shark & Ray 15:30
How to get to Osaka Aquarium: Take the subway Chuo line and go down Osakako Station. Once you get off the train, you should see signs pointing to which exit you should take. Once you get off the exit, just go straight until you see the Ferris Wheel. Cross to where the Ferris Wheel is, and the Osaka Aquarium should be a few hundred meters to your left.
From an aquarium to a cat cafe
After the Osaka Aquarium, our next stop was a cat cafe. (Yes, I realize that I turned that Friday into an animal day of sorts.)
P especially wanted to see a cat cafe and the one we researched online, Neko no Jikan cat cafe didn’t have very many helpful directions available: “exit at Yotsubashi station, take exit no. 5.” or “it’s between Namba and Shinsaibashi Stations.” The area between Namba and Shinsaibashi covers several streets and notable places such as the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade, Amerikamura and the Dotonbori area. After more than half an hour of navigating the streets behind the Yotsubashi station (parallel to the street where you come out), we found ourselves in Amerikamura. There, a policeman who only spoke a few words of English graciously helped us with directions in spite of the fact that we didn’t speak more than two words of Japanese.
The entrance fee was 1,000 yen, for which you get an hour in the cat cafe and one drink. (Not included in the fee are the use of the toys to play with the cats.) You remove your shoes and wash your hands before coming in. Once inside, flash photography is not allowed and you’re discouraged from speaking loudly so as not to disturb the cats. It was all good as we really just wanted to experience a cat cafe even if it simply meant just sitting back in a quiet room and watching sleeping cats.
Most of the adorable cats appear to have been rescued off the streets. They look well taken care of in the cafe, but most of them seem to want more play time because when you stand near the shelf of cat toys, the cats perk up and look at you expectantly. So if you’re willing to shell out a couple of more hundred yen, you can rent a toy or two for a few minutes (yes, it’s still a business).
After an earth-shaking morning, an eye-opening aquarium trip, and getting a bit lost, spending an hour watching all those cute rescued cats have their cozy naps or getting to pat their fat, furry bodies when they let you certainly felt like a reprieve. I didn’t mind so much that the cats stayed within the walls of a cafe compared to the wild underwater creatures being inside tanks. A part of me hopes though that the cats still get to go outside once in a while to play. Or maybe they’ve done all the playing and surviving in the streets and simply want to rest and sleep.
How to get to Neko no jikan: From the Osaka Aquarium (Osakako Station) we took the subway Chuo line to Hommachi and from there took the Midosuji line to Yotsubashi, where we proceeded to get lost. To get to Amerikamura directly, you can take the Midosuji subway line to Shinsaibashi Station (exit no. 7). Find Sankaku Koen (Triangle Park). If you’re facing the park with Family Mart on your right, take the street with Family Mart. Walk past the first stoplight, but before you get to the next corner, you should see a shop called Afterbase on your right. Look up and you’ll see the ‘Cafe with Many Cats’ sign. The entrance is on the left side of the building.