The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

A great part about traveling in Japan is the high proximity of traveling opportunities, especially in the Kansai area where Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Kobe are all within an hour train ride of each other. Taking full advantage of this happy grouping, we headed over to Osaka to explore the informally considered “best aquarium in Japan”.


The unique aspect of Osaka’s Aquarium is it’s design concept. The building is centred around an emormous tank, reaching about 5 stories high. Starting at the top, the floor slopes and spirals around around the tank until it reaches the bottom. This gives visitors a chance to see some sea creatures multiple times and at multiple angles as well as meeting some new ones at different depths.



Aside from the central tank, different species are housed on the surrounding walls as well as in specialized rooms.




The most exciting (or terrifying) room features a large shallow tank that allows visitors to reach in and touch a variety of rays and fish. It looked like the sight of a situational experiment, because all the adults stayed on the outside of the room, shooting each other awkward grins and chuckling nervously as their children stuck their hands without fear into the water.

Next to the aquarium is an enormous Ferris wheel that provides a pretty great view of Osaka and it’s port.



Monkey Mountain: the kings of Arashiyama

Sadly no, Arashiyama (嵐山) does not mean “Monkey Mountain”. Rather, it is the joint “Arashi”, meaning “storm” (incidentally also the name of Japan’s biggest Boy Band) and “Yama”, meaning “Mountain”. I had very little knowledge about Arashiyama, but having never been it seemed like the perfect excursion for a Thursday morning.

The town is a mecca of tourist attractions, including the very famous Sagano bamboo forest, Kameyama koen, and last but (definitely) not least, the Iwatayama “Monkey Park”.



The journey is no small feat, as visitors need to climb some extensive steps upwards on the side of a mountain. Throughout the ascent, informative signs are posted to humour and prepare visitors for their encounter with the park’s furry inhabitants.The three rules of the Monkey Park are as follows:

1. Don’t feed the monkeys

2. Don’t touch the monkeys

3. Don’t stare at the monkeys (it makes them feel embarrassed)

Rules number one and two are dismissed when located in the special monkey-feeding building which has large-gapped screens in place of windows. Monkeys calmly hang off the building and reach through the screens, holding their palms in patient (and a somewhat bored) request for food. Clutching my 100 Yen bag of fruit chunks I cautiously placed a piece of apple in an outstretched hand, expecting the monkey to snatch it up. Years of being fed this way have taught the monkeys that they have nothing to fear from camera-wheeling tourists and the monkey practically rolled his eyes at me.


The third rule (don’t stare at the monkeys) was the hardest to keep. I’m not sure how embarrassed they really did feel as they strolled around the mountaintop, occasionally blocking the walking paths as visitors (OK, me) edged around them.


_DSC0155Monkeys aren’t the only reason to come to Monkey Park (although you might expect as such). The height of the park is higher than that of Kyoto tower (131 Metres), offering a sprawling view of the city below. The climb (although potentially challenging) passes through some pretty beautiful scenery.

_DSC0131 After the Monkey Park, we spent some time wandering the bodies of water, taking in the bright sky and mountains. Although Kyoto is not chaotic by any means, Arashiyama is most definitely a welcome relief of fresh air and picturesque surroundings.



Panda Mania: A day in Ueno Park

Leaving behind a snowy wonderland in Toyama, Tokyo greeted us with open arms of warm sun and crisp breezes. After a midnight bus ride through the Japanese mountain ranges we arrived, slightly groggy but with giddy excitement. Fearing the imminent death of my phone low on power, we braved the crowded basement of a McDonalds. Amidst the travellers asleep on their suitcases and the late night adventurers changing clothes in the bathroom for work, we stealthily snagged at a much coveted power outlet and recharged over orange juice and greasy hash browns.

After dropping off our bags at our hostel we took a leisurely walk to Ueno Park, marvelling out the stillness of the morning. Tokyo, despite it’s reputation as a city of epic energy was unexpectedly tranquil in the morning. Our path led us through the Taito district, which is home to countless industrial kitchen suppliers.

Before entering the park’s interior we stopped at C’s Cafe where we enjoyed some truly mouthwatering sandwiches, mine with herbed salmon and Ebany’s with copious amounts of gooey cheese.

Ueno Park was bustling (given that it was a long weekend) and we marvelled at the sheer size and quantity of museums in the park. If you so chose, I’m sure this sprawling cultural hub would provide several days of enjoyment, at least.

To our Ueno Zoo was currently home to two giant pandas, Ueno and Shinshin, who were being treated like the celebrities they are with a pretty sizeable crowd. Pandas are by far the strangest creatures I have ever seen, their plump bodies covered in fluffy white and black fur, casually munching on vegetation lain at their feet. In a way it really was like seeing a celebrity, in the sense that I was seeing something in the flesh that I had previously only seen in pictures or video. I half expected their furry arms to reach up and lift their heads of their bodies, revealing an animatronic interior or sweaty mascot worker. In the Panda (and Christmas) spirit, we snapped a quick picture with a pretty adorable backdrop. This led to a day of strolling through the zoo- enjoying the beautiful grounds.



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Intent on making the most of the day, we spent a leisurely afternoon enjoying Ueno Park, taking in the sculptures and Monet exhibit at the Western Art Museum. This was another reminder of how English-friendly Tokyo is, as there were explanations in English throughout the exhibits. Perhaps it was the break from my daily grind (oh, I’ve become so cliché) or the change in weather. Tokyo felt at once peaceful, with its quiet streets and sunlight filtering overhead, and ripe yet with opportunity for adventure from the density of people and events in your immediate surroundings.