The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

SayoNara Osaka

on July 7, 2014

All good travelling companions are the ones that show a bit of compromise. So it was that we found ourselves on the way to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyunkan (www.kaiyukan.com/language/eng) instead of Osaka Castle which looked majestic in the guide book. Ah well, there’s always another time.

We took a rapid local train to Osaka arriving in 45 minutes and completely bypassed any other part of Osaka to get to Osaka Aquarium which is also quite near to Universal Studios.

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So when I went to S.E.A Aquarium in Singapore, it apparently was ‘the world’s largest aquarium’ and I believed them. Then I arrive at Osaka Aquarium and that too is ‘the world’s largest aquarium’. How can that be? Should I write to someone about this in case they don’t know?

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The Aquarium is thoughtfully designed leading you up and down five floors and through 10 exhibition areas that are all interlinked like a pathway around the globe. It’s not all about tanks of beautiful tropical fish and playful seals but pay attention and you can see lots of education and conservation work in place educating people on the dangers our demands are putting on the demise of many species

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Osaka Aquarium wouldn’t have been on my list of things to do without #1, 2 and 3 but I enjoyed it very much. If it’s not ‘the world’s largest aquarium’, it definitely has ‘the world’s broadest range of aqualife’. Whilst we were there, we didn’t get to see the whale sharks who had been moved out for a check up. I still don’t get how the smaller fish aren’t eaten up in those great big viewing tanks with lots of different sharks and things.

So that outing was a treat for #1, 2 and 3 and our next train ride out of Kyoto was to Nara, once formerly the capital of Japan. Though I didn’t know this until the day we went. (In fact I learnt yesterday over a few beers with friends back in Singapore for the day that during WW2, the US made a promise not to bomb Kyoto because of its historical value.)

Nara is also about 45 minutes out of Kyoto on a rapid local train. I mention rapid train because the non rapid ones are a lot less rapid as we found out on the way back from Osaka. Even if you have to wait 20 minutes before a rapid one when the non rapid one is going to leave right now, you’ll still get back to Kyoto a lot faster. I don’t know how it works either.

When we exited Nara train station there was hardly a hint as to what glorious sights were hidden within this small town. You know, you just see lots of traffic and modern buildings. Unlike the GNER train approaching Durham station as you pass the glorious Durham Cathedral. That feeling of almost being home never leaves you every time I take that route. I’m digressing. The very helpful Tourist Information Window at the train station have a very helpful map, carefully not drawn to scale with all the temples and shrines to see in Nara. A proper full day starting early in the morning would enable you to take in quite a few sights around Nara but with #1, 2 and 3 we took a city loop bus that dropped us right by Nara Park.

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Nara Park is well known for the free roaming deer that live there and who are no strangers to visitors feeding them. Bouyed on by this fact and the high probability that the deers ought to be feeling quite well fed by the high volume of people feeding them shika senbei. I (who am not a natural one with all things animal) thought it would be within my capabilities to also feed them. Even #1 was successful at doing this. So I get my deer crackers from the stall and start feeding one, then two come along, that’s still ok and then four and now I’m not so comfortable when there’s six deers jostling for cracker space. So I do what comes naturally, I yelp and toss the crackers far away from me. Husband guffawed and regrets he didn’t get a video of it but will happily re-enact the scene for you.

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Within Nara Park is where you’ll find the infamous Todaiji (Great Eastern) Temple with the main hall, Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) that houses one of Japan’s largest bronze Buddha statues. The Todaji was once the most influential Buddhist Temple in all of Japan. It was because of this immense accumulation of power that caused the capital to be moved from Nara to Nagaoka to withhold its influence on government.

Like with many of Japan’s Temples, you are instantly impressed just by the huge entry gates that you pass through, the Nandaimon Gate. It looks a bit weathered as is the duty of gates to be but it’s still beautiful nonetheless. Intimidating even. There’s another building to enter where you buy tickets for the main Daibutsuden Hall and at this point I’m still oblivious to just how majestic the main hall is going to be.

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Then we pass through the ticket check and you see it straight ahead of you. This amazingly well preserved stunning building looking back at you. Even #1, 2 and 3 sat and stared at it for a while.

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Inside the Hall is another smaller Buddha statue, a couple of huge guardians as well as wooden replica models of the original Daibutsuden, this current Hall is a lot smaller than its predecessor. At the time I didn’t know what this school group were lining up for but #2 and I still watched with some amusement as one of them was squeezing themselves into a wooden column as the others looked on. The young, I thought. It was afterwards I read that this hole is the same size as the Big Buddha’s nostril and if you can get in then you’ll achievement enlightenment in your next life. He quite likes a good laugh I think and that in itself can bring enlightenment.

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Surrounding the grounds outside of the Daibutsuden Hall are plenty of smaller buildings and the Todaiji Musuem. We chose to wander up the hill to look around rather than be indoors in the Musuem trying to shush #1, 2 and 3.

As much as the deers are mild and used to people around them, there’s still going to be that natural instinct to protect their young. #3 happened to stop and stare as a doe and her young one walked by when the mother turned around and came back to butt #3 in the chest. Again I yelped in real fear this time but no harm was done. #3 was more surprised than scared that she’d been pushed over by a deer.

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So that was Osaka and Nara for us. Admittedly we didn’t really see much of Osaka but #1, 2 and 3 had the best time at the Aquarium. The day out to Nara was a pleasant surprise with all the open space of Nara Park that I haven’t seen since being back in the UK. There’s something quite soothing visiting the Todaiji and how peaceful the grounds are that you can amble around in for a while. It’s a fine contrast to the hustle and bustle of Kyoto. So different and well worth taking time out to see.

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