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Osaka

Rest assured panicked readers (hello Mum) I am not going to let my parent’s trip turn into another Tokyo, I do intend to eventually talk about all of it.

So let’s knock off a couple of quick ones now before we get into the real meat of the trip.

Eww, that didn’t sound nearly so dirty until I wrote it down.

Himeji Castle.

Hey look everybody its Himeji castle, a place I have written about several times before. Taking my family was fun but not as much fun as the first time I went. This is mostly because nothing about it had changed. Himeji castle was cool the first time and it is still a really amazing building offering a simply wonderful view but, well I’ve seen it now.

Also contributing to the slightly less fun-ness was the conflict between my Dad, who like me enjoys reading everything in a museum and my brother and mother who apparently like to whizz through it.

There was also the slight problem that it was absolutely packed to bursting with people! We went during what we thought was a regular day but Himeji-jo was absolutely rammed. The queue to get into the main keep was nearly 40 minutes! Every other time I have visited I practically walked straight in.

Even more strange but when we got to the top (having slowly trudged round for hours) no sooner were we at the top of the tower than a man made some kind of announcement in Japanese and everyone started to go downstairs again. My Japanese is improving but I had absolutely no idea what he had said, I just knew that there was simply no way I was going to go back down and leave the tower after spending such a long time waiting patiently to get to the top. So I did the only sensible thing in such a situation. I studiously avoided the man and feigned all ignorance of Japanese. Then when nearly everybody had left the tower he suddenly stopped directing people to leave. My initial thought had been that there was some kind of safety issue and a certain number of people had to leave for the floor to be safe. However, now he was no longer instructing me to go downstairs I was suddenly very curious about what the commotion was all about. In broken Japanese I discerned that we had elected to go Himeji on a very special day. For a limited period a room in the keep that is not normally open to the public was going to go on display.

And he had told everyone to go see it.

And we couldn’t go see it again for an hour.

Arse.

I can’t tell you what was in that room or if it is worth seeing because I never saw it. My family not wanting to wait an hour (rather sensibly I thought) we dithered at the top for a bit and then made tracks to the nearby Japanese garden.

Probably the highlight of that particular trip for me personally was introducing my brother to ramune. Ramune is a Japanese soft drink that is kind of lemon-lime flavoured but also has its own distinctive taste. The best thing about it though is the very strange bottle. Ramune is sealed with a marble and comes with a kind of plastic bottle stopper. To open the bottle you have to strike the bottle stopper very hard to dislodge the marble. The neck of the bottle is really thin so the marble rests just above the neck and rolls around making a noise when you drink it. It is entirely pointless. It obviously takes a lot of effort to make such a weird bottle and it is difficult to use and drink from. It has no benefits whatsoever except that…well, weird things are fun, aren’t they.

Actually it does have one cool use. With practise one can get the marble to sit into the seal again using your tongue. You can then carry the bottle around without it spilling or losing its fizz. My brother was fascinated by it, and brought a load home.

The main reason I wanted to talk about this trip to Himeji though was as an excuse to post a load of photos of Himeji castle when the cherry blossom is out.

I am totally and utterly infatuated with Himeji castle. I think it is the most handsome building in the whole of Japan, possibly one of the most handsome every constructed. It may not be the most ornate or striking; the architecture may not be the most original or unique but it is just striking enough, the architecture is composed just perfectly. Himeji castle harmonises its own aesthetics with the surrounding area like no other building I know of.

It is bloody gorgeous!

As such I will not pass up any opportunity to post photos of it. Enjoy!

Osaka Operations

I’ll spare you most of the description of my parent’s trip to Osaka because, well because I wasn’t there. I had to work that day and I showed up, very late, very frustrated with a phone charger I had bought, very tired and very wet at Osaka castle just in time for everybody to leave and meet me outside. I soon cheered up though.

I avoided some of the places in Osaka I usually frequent and instead directed everyone to head straight to the Umeda Sky Building for some fine dining and finer views. The Umeda Sky Building, as the name might imply, is in Umeda. Sadly this means that to get to it one has to walk through a long tunnel that goes under the river.

What’s so sad about that, you may very well ask. It is the smell. The foul stench of rotting eggs, presumably coming from the river, that hits you like an odorous brick the second you step into the tunnel and doesn’t let up until you well out the other side.

In fact it is worse than a brick. It isn’t just the initial shock but the persistent encroaching growth of the smell. It seems to enter into you and crawl all over you. Essentially it is a very smelly tunnel.

The destination is worth the discomfort though. The Umeda Sky Building is one of the many sightseeing towers that seem to spring up in every major Japanese city. Kobe has Port Tower seen in the above picture and Tokyo has Tokyo Tower and Tokyo View and is also in the process of building a new one, Tokyo Sky Tree. Apparently the thing to do in Japan is to go to a very high spot and look at it as these viewing towers are a major attraction in every big city.

Osaka has a few towers but the one offering the best view is the Umeda Sky Building. I mean, just see for yourselves.

The southern coast of Japan is basically one big metropolis, running all the way from Hiroshima on the Western tip to the North-eastern prefectures. It is the biggest single metropolis in the world. It is effectively the Mega City from Blade Runner in all but name (and flying cars dammit!). During the day and at ground level Japan seems very urban, complicated and built up but at night and from a high perspective it seems positively alien. Gazing out over the endless city is less like sight seeing and more like star gazing. The sky inverts so that the world you look upon seems to encompass a whole universe. It is astonishingly, unbelievably, uniquely beautiful. Romantic poets would be horrified at the lack of nature in all this but the metropolis possesses its own strange beauty all to itself.

My family and I wandered around for more than an hour just drinking this all in. It really is, in the real sense of the word, awesome.

And after the shock of the view had worn off there was still plenty of cool things at the top of the tower. There was this seat for example. Although we didn’t know it at the time this is actually a kind of love tester. Couples sit on the bench; hold each other’s hands and a metal pole. The harder you squeeze the bigger the heart gets. Sadly Fran and I didn’t work this out until after we saw the photo and so didn’t really try the game.

There was also a small dark room with couches and a screen on the floor. The screen made visualisations that reacted to how people moved on the couches. It is all too easy to imagine what three men got up to when presented with a toy that made colours and shapes in relation to how you bounced on a couch. Although the young Japanese couple in the room with us seemed positively embarrassed to play we were bouncing up and down like coke fuelled six year olds on a hotel bed. Joyous fun.

The building itself is an amazing piece of architecture too. It consists of two towers, joined at the top to create a kind of arch shape, but with a circular hole in the top section that makes the building look a little bit like a UFO. Going across the hole are two walkways which one has to cross to get to the viewing platform. This is great fun, even for someone with a minor fear of heights like me, as you can look through the glass bottom of the walkway to see the dizzying heights. Fran was less keen on it than I though.

This design, whilst cool, is hugely impractical. The building has a hug foot print consisting of both the towers and the viewing section at the top. But underneath the viewing section there is no more building. So the Umeda Sky Building wastes almost a good third of the potential space it could occupy. A third of the space wasted is simply atrociously bad architecture from a practical perspective. However, it does look cool. So sod the impracticality, I’m not paying for it.

Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that underneath the Sky Building is a faux pre-war Japanese street complete with fake shop fronts, fake posters, fake lanterns, etc, etc all trying to evoke that “Suki Wong” 1920’s eastern glamour. These are surprisingly popular in Japan and crop up in a fair few places but particularly in Osaka. The specimen beneath the Sky Building is nothing special but it did have a nice Okonomiyaki restaurant where my family got to try their first taste of this Osakan speciality. Verdict? They liked it but struggled quite a bit to actually eat it.

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For some reason great things in Japan come in threes.

For example, any guidebook on Japan will tell you about the three most famous views in all of Japan. The floating torii in Miyajima, the Amanohashidate sand spit in Kyoto and the Matsushima valley in Miyagi.

Similarly there’s also a set of three most famous night views, three best onsen, three best gardens, three best castles etc, etc.

The set relevant to today is the three greatest festivals/matsuri in Japan. Number 1 is the Gion festival in Kyoto, number 2 is the Kanda and Sannoo Matsuri in Tokyo and number 3 is the Tenjin matsuri in Osaka.

I sadly had to be at work for the Gion festival this year* and Tokyo is a long trek to look at floats but I was not going to miss the one in Osaka. Thus last Friday I set off to Osaka along with my girlfriend Fran and three of her friends.

* However my girlfriend did attend Gion matsuri and she is hopefully going to do a guest post telling you all about it.

Unfortunately I only knew three things about this festival.

1. There is a float incorporating a shrine to a god.
2. At some stage it is put on a boat and traverses the river.
3. There are fireworks.

And I’ll own up to the following right away, I missed nearly every event that was happening during the festival. Apparently at a shrine in Osaka the god is paraded around up and down the street on an enormous float. There are more floats, dancing, chanting, music, etc, etc. My friends and I saw almost none of this because we were wandering about near the river where we assumed everything was happening.

In fairness considering the only things we knew were happening involved boats this wasn’t entirely wrong of us, and the riverbanks were lined with tents.

Yup, tents selling food. This is the defining feature of Japanese festivals. I may have explained the principle of Japanese festivals to you all before but allow me to reiterate.

What one does at a Japanese festival.

Firstly one dresses up in Yukata. Particularly if one is a lady.
Secondly, one goes to a tent and buys enormous quantities of festival food, a kind of food that is quite unlike most other Japanese food.
Thirdly, one sits down and watches whatever spectacle the festival is in aid of.

Lacking a yukata yet (although you just wait) I skipped straight to stage two and wandered about looking at all the bizarre food. 

Highlights included;

These enormous takoyaki, the size of my fist. Takoyaki are octopus dumplings and usually they only contain part of one octopus tentacle. These takoyaki contained a whole octopus each. They were absolutely enormous.

Delicious pineapple slices on a stick and even more bizarrely watermelon on a stick. There really is nothing that the Japanese won’t put on a stick.

These awesome looking barbequed fish. Not pictured, the barbequed sea snails that seem daring for even the bravest culinary adventurer.

Some strange snack thing consisting of a giant prawn rice cracker coated with takoyaki sauce, sprinkled with something crispy I couldn’t identify and topped with a fried egg shaped like a heart. Nice but an odd combination of elements.

We also made a brief alteration to stage 2 to pause and play some of the traditional festival games.

This game involves using a paper scoop to try and capture goldfish before the paper disintegrates. You can then pay extra to keep the fish. I didn’t try it as scaring fish for amusement is not really my cup of tea but Fran had a go and captured an impressive 18 fish! Considering I’ve watched people fail to capture one that is a sterling performance.

There was also a variant of this involving some turtles which turned all the girls I was with very kawaii. Fran had a long and very intense argument with herself as to whether or not to get a turtle.

Finally, refreshed and having completed stage 2 we moved onto stage 3, in this case watching things happen in the river.

Japan wins at fireworks by the way guys. The rest of the world can just give up now because Japan has won. The firework displays in this country are immense stunning things. The entire sky is constantly illuminated from one end to the other. I lack the words really to convey quite how superior the fireworks here are to those in Britain. There simply isn’t a shared frame of reference that can be used to compare them. In fact, even mentioning such inferior fireworks as the kind we have in Britain devalues the spectacle a little bit.

And spectacle is definitely the right word, particularly when later into the night the fireworks were joined by hundreds of brightly lit barges (many sporting music and giant illuminated advertising mascots) and a small boat, containing the shiny golden casket that the god the festival celebrates resides in, zipping about. Fireworks, Noh dance, barges and golden casket all combined to create a visual effect that completely overwhelms your ability to take it all in at once.

Sadly my videos failed entirely to capture the scale of what was going on. Especially the fireworks.

The only thing more sensory overloading than the visuals is the absolute crush of people all around you. There were a lot of people lining the riverbanks, an awful lot. As I have mentioned before it is easy to forget quite how many people there are living in Japan until they all try and occupy the same space. I have been more crushed in my time (Arcade Fire at Leeds Festival springs to mind) but that was in a small tent. This was a perfectly open environment and it was already swelteringly hot. The combination of heat, sweat, physical bodies and smell was the only thing that could potentially rival the visual feast for my sensory attention.

Fireworks dispensed with we descended upon the festival tents to eat something (barbequed corn and yakitori for me) and tried to leave at around roughly the same time as several million other people.

I love Japanese festivals unreservedly. There are perhaps more exciting ways to have fun but nothing makes me feel more like I’m making the most of my time here than going to a festival.

Some of the things I have talked about recently on Mummyboon have cropped up again in the news in short order so I figured I’d take the opportunity to follow up on them.

The saga of the mega-monkeys (or metabo-monkeys*) continues as the keeper updates us all on how their diet is going. Apparently it has been 2 months since they were put on a healthier diet of grains, vegetables and small fish and less bananas and sweet potatoes. The caloric intake of the monkeys ahs been cut by as much as 60% and signs and barriers have been erected to stop people throwing food to the monkeys. The keeper claims that there has been a noticeable improvement in the health of the monkeys but it certainly isn’t evident from the above photo.

That might be because some people are STILL feeding the monkeys! In fact the keeper is still finding candy wrappers and peanut shells in the monkey area (it isn’t a zoo but a park so the monkeys aren’t in cages). This is despite the high profile media attention the fat monkeys have been receiving and the fact that they clearly have obesity problems. I honestly cannot believe some people. They are either incredibly naive not to realise that the signs and warnings are in place for what is quite a serious health problem or are some kind of sadist that is actually trying to kill the monkeys. Knowing the general character of Japanese people I’m actually going to vote for the former.

*This is another great Japanese news story recently. The government have been trying to increase the Japanese peoples’ awareness of the health risks or obesity by renaming obesity/being fat as being “metabo.” Their hope is that “metabo” doesn’t have the negative connotations of obesity so people will be more confident seeking out medical attention from their doctor. They’ve published a fact sheet telling people when they qualify as being “metabo” and they hope that the “metabo” members of the population will feel less stigmatized and will seek medical attention earlier and with less fear. I have only two real thoughts about this. Firstly, that this is easily one of the stupidest things I have ever heard of any government doing and secondly that I have no idea why the Japanese government feels the need to create such a program when it has one of the healthiest populations on the planet.

Also it seems that the BBC has bought the rights to air “Tunnels”; the Japanese TV show that features the “human tetris” short I mentioned last month.

I reckon that this is probably going to be part of some “Tarrant on TV” style clip show making fun of Japanese TV (as is only right and proper. The international media gets Japan horribly wrong a lot of the time but Japanese TV deserves everything it gets) however I would be thrilled if the BBC are planning to produce their own version of human tetris.

Hrmmm, bit short. Tell you what, let’s talk about a uniquely Japanese phenomenon.

Everybody loves a good TV theme tune. Many’s the time I’ve had discussions with my friends about what the best them tunes of all time are and we’ve spent happy hours humming them away. However, with a few rare exceptions TV theme tunes remain as just that and rarely does a good tune cross over and become a genuine pop hit.

Not so in Japan. Most of the theme tunes for popular anime and dramas are done by established pop acts and the theme tune becomes a chart song, even an album track usually. In fact, some TV shows thrive purely on the strength of a really good song. Anime themes are everywhere in the pop culture of Japan. As song choices in computer games, as karaoke songs, as adverts, as number 1 hits and indeed as the theme tune to anime shows.

So here are a few of my personal favourite anime themes.

Let’s start with my all time favourite and the only one I have ever been known to sing at karaoke. “Flying in the Sky” from G-Gundam. My undying love for the sheer unbridled creative stupidity of G-Gundam has been mentioned a couple of times on this blog. Yes, this is the show with the giant robot fish.

However my love for the theme tune is entirely un-ironic. This is the best cartoon theme tune the world has ever known. It’s epic, ballsy, soaring and unbelievably 80’s. And most importantly it features Japanese people (or drunken gaijin) screaming “Flying in the Sky”, “Shining Finger” and “Bright you now” with pure unbridled joy in their hearts.

If this song doesn’t make you happy then you and I can’t be friends anymore.

Another popular karaoke song with my friends and the opening theme tune to “Full Metal Alchemist.” This is by the brilliantly named “Porno Graffiti” which I once thought my students were pronouncing as pornography. This has an insanely catchy tune and some of the most esoteric lyrics I have ever heard.

One of the many opening themes that Naruto has had and my personal favourite. The song is a bit shouty but it fits the character really, really well and I’m a big fan of the guitar work.

In contrast here is the first opening theme for Naruto. I can never decide if I like this song or not. It sounds sort of vaguely Billy Joel-ish but sung really badly.

Then he says “I waana rocks, rocks to the chest” and I burst out laughing.

From Cowboy Bebop. I hate Jazz and even I have to concede that this is amazing.

I am not hugely familiar with Fist of the North Star and this theme is not particularly inspiring (at least not until the Japanese Shirley Bassey kicks in and then it briefly turns into Led Zepplin) but I do know that it is incredibly fun to yell “You Wa Shock!”

This is only an anime on a really thin technicality (it was a French/Japanese co-production) but it squeaks by being bloody awesome. I opted for the longer song in favour of the actual opening theme with the proper lyrics. Why? Because more Ulysses 31 is always a good thing.

I guarantee that at some stage tomorrow you will yell either “uly-ey-ey-eysees” “bright you now” or “you wa shock!”

Odds and Ends time today as we play catch up on some things I did recently that don’t merit a full post but might be of interest.

The Kobe Matsuri

The hot weather is coming and Matsuri (festival) season is approaching. At the moment we’re stuck firmly in the rainy season in Kobe so the weather is changeable, wet and generally not very nice. However for a brief spell before the rainy season started we had a couple of brilliantly sunny weeks and I got a preview of what summer in Japan will be like. Not fun, although I am looking forward to the festivals.

The Kobe Matsuri was a bit contradictory in many respects. It was partly a huge event and partly a bit of a non-entity. For starters none of the things I associate with Japanese festivals were present, no stalls selling tako-yaki, no goldfish catching games and nothing to do with religion or tradition.

What it did have though was a parade. I’m not particularly well versed in parades as Leeds is not known for any particularly famous ones and so my experience of them is largely limited to Disney World and the Scholes Village Gala. I can safely say that the parade at the Kobe Matsuri was better than the Scholes Gala but probably not as good as Disney World. Yes I know; that’s hardly particularly illuminating but what can I say, I know sod all about parades.

The highlights included.

A group of Beavers, Cubs and Scouts that carried tents in the parade. Of all the things I expected to see small children hefting tents about was not one of them. I’ve seen tents and they don’t really impress me, even if they are hefted by children.

A samba troupe. This group must have been enormous because they had actually managed to set up a second smaller parade on the way to the main one. In the main parade they had legions of women of various ages and body shapes dancing along with a band. The band was pretty fun. Again I know nothing about samba music but I generally dislike most Caribbean music and this was fun and cheery. I feel sorry for the guy singing though; he had to repeat the same phrase again and again for hours. I can only imagine the state his voice was in afterwards.

And finally giant ambulatory cigarettes. Because nothing says Kobe like waving fags.

The parade was a good laugh but the rest of the festival was a distinct disappointment. Events were spread out between the city centre and “Harborland” near the port. The stuff in the city centre wasn’t even vaguely diverting and the “Harborland” attractions had closed by the time we got there from the city centre.

Universal Studios Japan

Due to poor weather Fran and I had to abandon plans to attend a barbeque and were left with a free Sunday and no real plans.

We decided to go to the theme park that’s just on our door, Universal Studios Japan, or USJ as it is more commonly known.

I’ve been to USJ before and I can kind recommend it. If you’re an English speaker than I don’t really recommend it, at least not in preference to the park in Florida. The rides in USJ (Back to the Future, Jaws, Spider-man, Waterworld, Shrek 4-D, Jurassic Park and Backdraft) are all exactly the same as the originals with one exception. They’re all translated into Japanese. This would be a serious disadvantage if you didn’t speak Japanese because most of these rides are story driven and knowing the plot is integral to enjoying them. Only Spider-man and Jurassic Park are really rides with the others being more along the lines of shows or simulators.

However, as I have been on all the original rides I have the luxury of knowing the plot in advance and being able to compare it to the Japanese version. This for me is part of the fun, in that the Japanese attendants are super-super-ultra-genki. The staff in the theme park in Florida are some of the syrupiest, most gee-whiz and golly gee perky monstrosities to ever walk to earth. Doubly so because I’m British and we don’t do perky. But my god, they have absolutely nothing on the Japanese staff. These people are so happy they look like they might explode at any moment and reveal Hello Kitty’s head in their place. They actually applaud you when you complete the ride. Their smiles are like staring into some kind of diabetes hell. Sterner men than I have gone mad gazing into that grin. And yet it holds some kind of bizarre fascination for me. The abyss not only gazes into me it invites further gazing.

There is one attraction which as far as I know is unique to USJ; the Hollywood Dream roller-coaster. It’s a pretty generic coaster, nothing too exhilarating and pretty tame but it has two distinguishing touches, one great and one incredibly lame. The great touch is that riders can select theme music to be played whilst they are on the rollercoaster. I love roller-coasters but I have decided that what I love even more is blasting around a track at high speed whilst the Beatles tell me to get back, get back, get back to where I once belonged.

The distinctly annoying touch is that riders are requested to empty their pockets completely and put them in a locker before riding. Why? I have been riding roller-coasters for years and whilst I have voluntarily divested myself of some things I think might get lost (mostly hats) I have never, ever been requested to entirely empty my pockets. Mostly because it isn’t necessary. G-force pushes stuff back into the seat. Even if you turn upside down (which you don’t) the majority of your pocket contents will stay in your pocket. I know it’s a minor thing to whinge about but the Japanese staff are so bloody insistent about it, constantly checking your pockets and actually checking to see if you have bulges. It feels insanely patronising which is one the biggest issues with being a Gaijin in Japan, the feeling of being patronised constantly. It’s a palpable hatred in the first few months but it eventually fades as you learn how to fit into Japanese culture more effectively.

By far the best thing about the Japanese version of Universal Studios though is the shopping. All I really need to say is that there is a shop called “Hello Kitty Celebrity Style.” Fran was very, very pleased. Pictures of my Helloy Kitty themed humiliation will be posted later this week.

Beer Festival

I love beer.

No, I really, really do.

I don’t drink beer for the alcohol, I don’t even particularly relish being drunk, but if it wasn’t so bad for me I would drink beer with every meal and all day long.

Beer is simply my favourite drink.

And I mean beer here, not lager and not that crap Americans laughingly call beer; actual beer. Ales, stouts, bitters, porters, blondes and all the rest.

I was pleasantly pleased when I moved to Japan and found the beer here to generally be to my liking. In my experience outside of Europe it is a real struggle to get what I would term a decent pint and I was deathly afraid that I would be stuck drinking Asahi Super Dry for three years.

Much to my relief Japanese beer tends to be very strong tasting and flavourful, particularly the “All Malt” and “Hop” versions of the main companies beers. They have a rich and complex palate but are sharp like a lager. Japanese beer uniformly has the body and consistency of a lager too although not always a carbonated one. This generally doesn’t bother me too much as the thinner, waterier beer suits the warm climate. However once in a while I do get a hankering for a proper English Ale.

I was very intrigued then when I was offered a chance to attend the Great Japan Beer Festival in Osaka. For a mere 3000 Yen (about £15) I could drink as much beer as I wanted for 5 hours and sample a variety of brews from across Japan and around the world. Another example of something in Japan that simply would not work in Britain.

When you enter you get a free glass with this brilliant environmental slogan.

I have no idea what it refers to but that is some green thinking I can get behind.

You can take this glass to receive a free sample at any of the various stalls in the building and at various points there are stations where you can rinse out your glass to prevent the cross contamination of flavours.

I had a brilliant day, went with a group of friends, drank many delicious ales, got very tipsy and ended up at the karaoke.

Of the beers I sampled the Japanese beers played to type by all being deliciously flavourful but completely lacking any sort of body. This was especially pronounced in the porters and stouts which were far too watery to possibly bear those names.

Stands out included an “Inperial [sic] Chocolate Stout” which was a wee bit watery but very strong and richly flavoured. Conversely all my friends thought it tasted of tar. A grape beer was highly regarded amongst my companions but to me tasted like a child’s melted lollipop in some beer. A caramel beer from Hokkaido was a massive hit with all concerned and quickly sold out but was my favourite of the day. Rich, sweet, fruity without being sickly and with a caramel undertone that put me in mind of my favourite beer in the world, Deuchars Caledonian IPA. Also a man with a clip-board whom I assumed was quite clued up recommended a Coriander Ale which was one of the foulest things I have ever drunk.

However for me the overall winner was a Palestinian brewery called Taybeh. They produced a range of ales from an IPA to an amber to a very dark ale that were all quite sweet but refreshingly well bodied and very complex on the palate. Their slogan also drew some interest. “Taste the Revolution.” Hmm, possibly not in the best of taste.

Oh and as an added moment of surrealism the food people were selling Shepherd’s Pie.

I shall have to start including that in my self introductions. Nobody in Japan claims to know any British foods outside Fish and Chips so maybe I can surprise them with the revelation that shepherd’s pie was how I used to fortify myself at University.

That’s all for tonight. This week I should have some videos from the festival, pics from USJ and an article I wrote some time ago but that has been sitting on my memory stick at school.

Sumo wrestling poses a great question.

Is it an ancient and revered martial art that is adored by its aficionados and greatly respected in Japan? A true martial combat that is all about strength and manoeuvring; with participants that are honoured and respected individuals.

Or

Is it a sport where two fat guys slap and push each other?

The answer is it is both and it is fantastic.

Saturday the 15th of March (yeah, sorry it took so long to get this post up) I had the great privilege to watch a live sumo wrestling game in Osaka. I was immensely excited. Although sumo itself is not something I came to Japan to see it is exactly the kind of thing that I came to Japan for. Unique experiences of another culture that I simply couldn’t have anywhere else.

Sumo is a sport unlike any other in that it hasn’t become tainted by commercialism and the desire for money. Instead all the ancient rituals and pseudo-religious ceremonies associated with the sport remain intact and it is a much more arresting visual spectacle and a much more interesting sport for it.

The one concession I saw to commercialisation was that some wrestlers have endorsements. However even these are wonderfully arcane and ceremonial. Before matches begin several attendants walk around the ring carrying flags and banners on which only kanji and embroidery are permitted. This is all the advertising he is allowed and then the game resumes. There is something brilliantly ironic about a mobile phone company resorting to waving cloth banners around in order to advertise. Other than this though Sumo is the most ceremonial sport in the world.

And make no mistake, to the Japanese people sumo is more than a mere sport. According to Japanese legend sumo is part of the very origin of the Japanese people.

As legend would have it the Japanese were just one of many people’s living on the islands of Japan. The right to supremacy over the island was decided by a sumo bout between the god Takemikazuchi and the leader of a rival tribe. I know football is important in the U.K. but we certainly don’t have any legends of Viking conquerors winning fair albion off the Saxons in a penalty shoot out.

The intrepid explorers off to witness this most ancient of sport consisted of myself, Fran (my girlfriend), Ryan (well known to readers of this blog), Yuko, Farrah, Dustin North, Ovando and his wife Memery (whose name is quite easy to remember). We set off with high hopes and not much knowledge (bar Ryan who is a bit of a sumo –fan) to Osaka.

The excitement began long before we actually got inside the stadium because no sooner should we arrive than a taxi should pull up and out would emerge one of the most enormous men I have ever seen with my own eyes. The wrestlers pull up in cars and arrive at the front entrance as adoring fans take quick photographs of their heroes. This early in the day nobody truly important or famous was arriving but they were all still impressive sights. They are absolutely huge buggers, tall, wide in fact the most accurate expression is probably “great of girth”.

This provided the first laugh of the day as one taxi pulled up and an endless stream of enormous men emerged from it. Honeslty it was like one of thos clown cars at the circus. We simply couldn’t believe how many sumo wrestlers you can get in one taxi.

Their hair is also incredibly impressive. It’s absolutely rock solid and tied up in a kind of top-knot. Apparently this offers some sort of head protection in the case of falls but it is mostly intended to look fierce. Up close I can tell you it certainly does that.

Sumo wrestlers must wear traditional Japanese dress at all times in public. They can never just step out to a club in a pair of jeans and a shirt but must always wear Yukata and Kimono. This isn’t to say some sumo wrestlers don’t go wandering around in normal togs but it is highly frowned upon. This kind of dedication to your chosen profession, to the extent that it influences aspects of your life at all times, is something I think is uniquely eastern. Can you imagine if footballers had to wear their team colours at all times for example? But sumo wrestlers (or rikishi) aren’t just athletes they’re living emblems of the martial culture of Japan and the pressure on them is enormous.

We wandered into the arena and took our seats (good seats too right smack dab in the centre, shame it was on the wrong side) and began stage one of sumo enjoyment.

Stage 1.

Sumo bouts only last a matter of seconds but to compensate there are a lot of them. The tournament lasts 15 days and on the day we went matches were being played from 8.30 in the morning until 6.00 at night. The quality and rank of the rikishi progressed throughout the day and as the rank of the rikishi changes the nature of the match changes. The early wrestlers are all professionals but are fairly junior and a lot of the ceremonial aspects of sumo are denied to them because of this. This means that the junior matches are, if anything, even quicker, and a good 40 bouts flashes by in only a few hours.

Stage one of sumo enjoyment then is marked principally by sitting around with friends drinking and eating and having a laugh, punctuated by short periods of paying attention to girthy men hitting each other and then resuming the general amiable air. As ways to pass an early afternoon there are few finer.

Stage 2.

During Stage 2 concentration on the actual bouts become more focused as the quality of the wrestlers improves and the nature of the game changes dramatically.

Firstly there is the ceremony of the entrance of the rikishi, also known as the dohyo-iri. The dohyo is the area on witch the bout is played. It is a clay platform 18 feet square and 2 feet high. Bag of rice are buried in the clay to form a circle and 2 starting lines. Above the dohyo is suspended a roof that is made to look like the roof of a Shinto shrine (originally sumo was fought on the platforms in shrines). In each corner of the roof is a tassel denoting one of the four seasons.

In the dohyo-iri rikishi from the East and West teams enter the dohyo and form a circle facing outwards. The rikishi are dressed in the traditional garb of sumo. They are wearing a silken loincloth called a mawashi that is very similar to the fundoshi that I wore for the naked man festival. The main difference is that the mawashi is made of silk and has decorative strings dangling from the front. During the dohyo-iri the rikishi have a patterned cloth dangling from their mawashi like an apron. These are fantastically ornate things inlaid with embroidery and sometimes gold. The sight of all these brilliant ornate costumes is both colourful and impressive; two words that pretty much sum up sumo for me.

After standing around for a bit looking mean the rikishi do a very short dance (including one adorable bit where they all lift up their little aprons simultaneously, somewhat detracting from the warrior image) and then leave the dohyo so the FIGHTING can begin.

In a sumo bout both players start on the lines inside the circle in the dohyo. When both wrestlers are psychologically prepared they crash into each other and begin to grapple. A player loses if any part of his body except his feet touches the floor of the dohyo or if he steps outside of the circle.

However before this the rikishi engage in a short bout of psychological warfare.

First both players scatter salt (a ceremony known as shio-maki) to purify the ring. This is solely the right of the more experienced sumo and junior wrestlers are not allowed to do this. Rikishi will also wash their mouths with water and wipe themselves with a paper towel to purify their bodies.

Secondly both players stamp their feet on the ground to chase away evil spirits and do several gestures known as chiri-o-kiru to demonstrate to the gods that they have no concealed weapons.

Thirdly the rikishi approach the mark and adopt a posture of peaceful submission.

Fourthly when both players have reached the mark each player crouches low to the ground and prepares to strike. A rikishi may place one or both hands on the dohyo.

Finally when both players have touched the ground with both hands one player may raise his hands and power forward for the initial strike known as the tach-ai. If the player being struck does not raise his hands to defend himself he is deemed not to be ready and both players resume the procedure again.

The beauty of this ceremony though is that at any time between stage 4 and the tachi-ai a player can simply start the process again. Getting up to go scatter more salt, glaring fiercely at his opponent, deliberately charging early to unnerve him anything goes and it’s all intended to psyche-out the other rikishi and win before a single blow is exchanged. Well anything goes for 4 minutes anyway, after which time the match must begin, but during which time the crowd get psyched up.

As I say sumo matches are over in seconds, but what makes them so watchable is all the ceremony beforehand. A good rikishi is as much a showman as sportsman. Building anticipation until the crowd is in an absolute frenzy awaiting the tachi-ai.

Actual combat varies from player to player. Some favour grappling techniques, grabbing hold of the opponent’s mawashi and manoeuvring to throw him to the ground. Some simply use brute strength and force their opponents back or use their opponent’s strength against them leveraging his momentum into a throw (one guy simply stepped backward and the over-balanced attacker fell over). Still others favour a form of combat that, well my friend Dustin probably put it best when he asked why they were cat fighting.

As you can see above, it is a very slappy game.

Stage 2 of sumo enjoyment was marked by an increasing focus on the actual sport we paid to see but no less talking, camaraderie or drinking. However stage 3 was much more intense.

Stage 3

Up until now we had only been watching the very junior wrestlers and the lower ranked rikishi (known as Juryo). However now it was the time for the big boys, the Makuuchi.





The Makuuchi dohyo-iri was the same as for the Juryo with one marked difference. After the Makuuchi entered the ring it was the turn of the two highest ranked wrestlers in the tournament, in fact two of the highest ranked wrestlers in Japanese history. Hakuho and Asashoryu the Yokozuna.

To become a Yokozuna one must win two tournaments consecutively. In the 300 years since the formation of the Yokozuna class only 60 rikishi have ever been awarded the honour, and here we were lucky enough to see two of them on the same day. Oddly enough both Mongolians.

Being part of the Yokozuna class has two major benefits. Firstly a rikishi in another class may go up or go down a class depending on his performance. Do badly and you get demoted, do well and promotion beckons. However a Yokozuna is a Yokozuna (or grand-champion) forever and can never be demoted. The flip side to this is that if a Yokozuna is doing badly it is tacitly understood that he should resign before he embarrasses the sport. Fortunately neither of the two Yokozuna I saw shall be resigning any time soon as both won their matches with ease.

The second advantage is that Yokozuna have a special version of the dohyo-iri. Flanked by two attendants, one of which carries a samurai sword (katana) and dressed in a special mawashi with a knotted rope at the back and zigzag paper on the front the Yokozuna performs a special dance to cleanse and purify the ring.

You can watch Asashoryu do the dance above.

The Makuuchi matches were much, much more intense than the previous bouts. The arena had been largely empty all day but by this point it was absolutely packed and full of Japanese people screaming encouragement to their favourite wrestlers. The atmosphere before each clash was unbelievably tense and it was impossible not to get swept up in it all.

A particular fan favourite was this guy. Takamisakari also known as Robocop due to his strange way of walking. The crowd absolutely loved him, especially one little girl whom Fran thought was really cute, and he really got them pumped up. Won his match too.

Another fave was Kotooshu a Bulgarian also known as “the David Beckham of Sumo” which must be a little bit demeaning. Rikishi choose their own names when they become rikishi and Kotooshu as a Bulgarian chose “Black Sea”. Ryan likes him so much he got his picture.

Following the actual fighting a final ceremony is performed. This is known as the bow dance or yumitori-shiki. In anicent sumo tournaments winning rikishi would be awarded a traditional Japanese bow (known as a yumi). In gratitude for this prize the rikishi would perform a ceremonial dance with the bow. Now the dance has endured and has come to symbolise gratitude by those rikishi that were victorious this day.

Yumi are absolutely enormous by the way. Longer even than most longbows at a whopping 2 metres plus in length. The yumitori involves twirling the yumi round and making striking gestures with it as if it were a sword. This was actually one of my favourite parts of the whole day and it was really interesting to see such a huge guy move so gracefully.

Enjoying sumo Stage 4.

Leave, buy souvenirs, go into Osaka, argue about where you want to eat, eat huge and delicious burger, play taiko drumming game in Namco land, go home and generally enjoy a fantastic sport that I feel privileged to have seen.

All in all a pretty fantastic experience.

A very pleasant sign seen in Okayama.

Just a quickie this week as generally nothing particularly interesting has gone so permit me if I may to talk about Den Den town.

Den Den town is an area in Osaka famed for its video games, electronics, manga cafes and generally it’s geek stuff. It is wall to wall robots, games, anime and manga and is generally what I thought all of Japan would be like.

This Saturday myself and Ryan hit up Den Den town and along with all of usual stops hit a few new sites.

The only site I have any photos of though is this amazing retro gaming store that we found. Purely by chance we wandered in and I entered into a kind of nerd nirvana. It was full to the brim with computer games and consoles, quite a few of them older than I am.

The floors of this place were papered with screen shots from old 8 and 32-bit game title screens. In the above pic I recognise Streets of Rage, Sailor Moon, Indiana Jones, R-Type, Lemmings, Mickey and Donald in Dreamland, Gundam, Ultraman, Rampage, Dragonlance, Tetris and Castlevania.

One of the more impressive things in here was a working original Nintendo Famicom. This was only ever released in Japan but was re-tooled to become the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in Europe and the States. The NES was the first console I ever owned (and it’s still good fun) and here was its big brother for a piddling £20.00!

Pictured here is another Japanese only console, the colossal failure that was the Virtual Boy. Launched in the early 90’s in the height of the VR fad it bombed hard and is the only console Nintendo ever launched that did so in Japan. Part of the problem is that the whole gear you see before you was meant to be worn on the head. And my word is it heavy. A game boy is meant to be portable and lightweight, this needed a specialised stand to be used. The other big problem was that the system reportedly gave people huge and frequent migraines, not a big selling point. Finally the red lines it used to simulate VR were apparently quite hard to see so some of the games were simply unplayable because you spent all your time struggling to see what was happening. Nintendo themselves only ever released one game for the console and then quietly ignored it.

Still, if I wanted one here it was.

2 of the older consoles on offer. No idea about the “snoopy” but the minestorm is actually asteroids (if anyone remembers that game) that could be played at home! Imagine a world where you don’t need to go to an arcade to play videogames!

These appear to be pictures of Mario drawn in a realistic style. No idea whatsoever what is going on or what the context is but I think the spaghetti eating turtle is totemo kawaii! (very cute)

I have no idea what this is either. I just know that he’s been haunting my nightmares ever since.

However, easily the most impressive thing in the entire shop was this little guy. It’s ROB or the Robot Operating Buddy.

ROB is almost single-handedly responsible for computer games still being alive today. In 1983 there was a massive market crash in the states amongst computer games stockists due to Atari’s poor business practises. Stores in the states were not prepared to stock any new computer game consoles as they couldn’t shift the ones they had. In comes Nintendo with a product this is not a computer game, but in fact a newfangled robot toy, with an attached console that was just necessary to make the robot work. The gamble worked and shops in the states were prepared to stock ROB and the attached Nintendo Entertainment System. 2 games later (gyromite and stack ‘em) all support for ROB vanished and Nintendo started doing their real business. Getting families and shops that didn’t know they’d bought one to start buying games for computer consoles.

Poor ROB isn’t remembered much these days but he is a true hero of gaming history.

Other than the gaming store our big visit was to the Gundam shop. This was two floors containing nothing but Gundam related merchandise. Gundam shirts, toys, models, DVD’s, CD’s, games, FOOD! and most notably a giant Gundam hand thrusting through one wall.

Ryan, who approaches a religious fervour in the presence of Gundam, was happy, to say the least. I was searching for a Tequila Gundam but alas none of the ridiculous Gundam from G Gundam were in stock so I left empty handed.

Having sufficiently geeked out we headed to possibly the nerdiest place to eat on the planet. A maid café.

Japan has a big service culture and a service industry that stops at open prostitution but certainly sidles up to it. There are a lot of very, very stressed people in this country and there exist a huge variety of businesses prepared to “relieve” that stress. These range from massage parlours and spas at one end to the hostess bars at the other. Hostess bars are basically places where men come to pay to flirt with women. They go to see their favourite girl, buy her drinks, laugh with her, flirt, sing karaoke, have some dinner and a few drinks and do everything short of actual touching. I guess the closest western equivalent is an escort service except some of these guys form relationships with the hostesses that are closer than with their own wives.

Maid cafes sit comfortably in the middle of this spectrum. They are cafes catering to a very specific fetish, guys who want to see girls dressed as anime-style maids. Honestly the outfits these girls wear are outrageous. Perfectly modest from a sexual standpoint but incredibly cartoony and unreal.

Den Den town is full of Maid Cafes, most of which offer an , ahem, “refresh service” which is wonderfully vague in the details but appears to be along the lines of foot and back massages by girls dressed as cartoon characters. To each his own I guess.

Myself and Ryan were not seeking a “refresh service” (I am more than happily attached) but I didn’t want to come to Japan and pass up on seeing something so patently bizarre and with my girlfriend’s arrival due imminently I thought this might be my last chance. So we searched and searched and eventually found a place just selling food.

It was hilarious! The girls flirt with you outrageously, they called myself and Ryan “master” dropped to floor level to pour drinks and generally rushed round like we were the most important people in the world ever. I think they gave up on us a bit when they twigged that our Japanese isn’t good but they were continuously flirting with the table next to us.

And the food, well the food was pretty good actually. We both ordered a tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) plate which was huge. The table next to us ordered the “happy time surprise” which turned out to be an omelette and rice (don’t ask) on which the maids drew a little smiley face in ketchup.

I do not think there is another country on earth where grown men pay to have a woman draw a smiley face in ketchup on their food.

No pictures alas, they ban cameras and if you want a picture you have to pay to have one taken with the girls so here are some poached off the internet to give you an idea of what maid cafes are like.

I doubt I’ll be returning but I am glad I went.

Oh and one last thing. Pictured is one of the fabled beer vending machines. However more unusually the bottom row is cans of ramen! Beer and noodles in one machine, what more can a man ask for.

Well sorry everybody for the state of last week’s blog. As I write this I am sick as a dog and only really just got out of bed but here is the entire epic post that I complete last week with all the videos and photos attached.

What follows is all from last week.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

For everybody that was on the edge of their seat my last minute rushed class actually worked out okay. In fact it’s probably one of my more successful classes to date in terms of keeping the kids attention (I question its educational merit but the JTE came up with it and she knows more than I do). It was a bit of mess today though. Between a visit from the local elementary school and the fact that it was snowing it was virtually impossible to get the kids to focus on anything.

Oh until I showed a picture of my friends and they all asked me if the girl in the picture was my girlfriend. Despite the fact that they’ve:
a) seen a photo of my girlfriend
and
b) know that my girlfriend is half-Japanese

One bonus of the elementary school visit was that a boy I got to talk to a boy I see everyday on my way to work and who says hello to me everyday.

Anyway enough work natter lets move onto

EXCITING THINGS 4: OSAKA AQUARIUM

Osaka Aquarium is one of the best aquariums I have ever been to. Not the best, that’s Seaworld, but Seaworld is more a sort of amusement park. It has rides and shows and that’s what puts it over the edge. In terms of simply having really cool fish to look at Osaka Aquarium edges out. I mean it has a whale shark for god’s sake, A WHALE SHARK. THE BIGGEST FISH IN THE WORLD!

I had wanted to see the whale shark for some time now but what actually prompted me to seek out the Aquarium was a mission I was sent on by one of my Nakayoshi kids. Sannai is obsessed with penguins and she’s autistic so she can get properly obsessed with things. People might joke about being obsessed but Sannai really does border on it. She has a stuffed penguin pokemon doll that she has in class with her everyday and she involves it in nearly every activity, if she so much as hears the letter p she yells penguin, basically she really likes penguins.

Incidentally she’s really, really good at cards. We’ve been learning the alphabet recently and playing matching games to practise the lower and upper case versions of letters. You know the game where you have a load of cards face down and have to pair them up? She beats me every time. I used to let her win but now she beats me even if I’m trying. It really is like Rain Man.

The link between penguins and aquariums is of course that Osaka aquarium has penguins. More than that though, for a limited period they have a “penguin parade”. Sannai had seen the flyer for this and really wanted to go but her mother was too busy to take her. Well being something of a penguin fan myself I resolved to go and take as many photos and as much penguin video as I could.

Taking my travelling crew of Ryan and Patrick with me we set off bright and early and got to Osaka around lunchtime. On our way to the aquarium we got stopped by some kids who started speaking to us in English. After a brief and awkward chat (an occupational hazard I’m afraid) one of them randomly shouted Fantastic Four at us. Ryan pointed out that there were only three of us and I corrected him that this was because the fourth member, the invisible woman, was invisible of course.

Before we got to the aquarium we stopped for lunch in some strange marketplace that was made out to look like Japan in the 30’s or 40’s. Complete with old film posters and old cigarette packets. It was really quite cool and completely unexpected. Had we not been on a mission we could have easily spent hours wandering around there. As it was we had a quick lunch of ebi tempura and soba (prawns fried in batter and noodles) and headed on our way.

The penguin parade wasn’t due to start in about half an hour leaving us in the awkward spot of not being able to do anything but having to wait. Fortunately the aquarium had laid on some street performers to keep the waiting kids entertained. The guy we watched had a signature act consisting of giving a rubiks cube to the audience to randomly scramble up then finishing it in less than 30 seconds. Impressive but odd. Then he put a rubber glove on his face and blew it up…….only in Japan.

However, not long did we have to wait for soon the penguin parade began and luckily for you I have videos of such a magnificent spectacle.

Yup, it was completely naff.

Basically the guards put out some crowd barriers between two pens creating a walkway and then chased the penguins down it. As Patrick said, “it was less the march of the penguins and more the leisurely jog of the penguins.”

Still naffness aside we still got to see some penguins and Sannai was delighted when she saw the video.

Most rewarding part of this job? Seeing kids when they’re happy.

Penguins dispensed with we headed onto the aquarium proper which was significantly less naff. Our first amazing sight was this replica of a fossilized Giant Sea Turtle shell. This thing was HUGE! Ryan said it reminded him of Gamera and I had to agree.

This is Gamera.

Gamera is a Kaiju. Literally a Sea Monster but more truthfully a film genre in which blokes in rubber monster suits hit other blokes in rubber monster suits while a really tedious/mad human story happens in the background. Godzilla would be the Kaiju most people are familiar with but Gamera has the distinct advantage of “being friend to all children.”

No really, that’s his catchphrase. Giant fire breathing sea turtle monster thing, friend to all children. In Japan that makes perfect sense.

I am quite a fan of Kaiju films and weirdly myself and Ryan had watched one the night before that unbeknownst to us was set in an aquarium. Ironically though it was sea world (and at not point in the film did they explain why the last defence of the planet earth was being co-ordinated from seaworld.)
After a fairly dull “Japanese Forest” exhibit we moved on to the cool stuff. Sea Otters!

Look at ‘em go. Pay special attention to the little girl in the tank with them. This was feeding time and along with the 2 members of staff they had clearly got some little girl to volunteer to help them. The problem being that the little girl was absolutely terrified. She was too scared to even cry. She was just frozen to the spot staring at these enormous monsters within inches of her. Although as Ryan quite correctly pointed out they are about 3 times the size of her. I know I’d be shit scared of an otter 3 times the size of me.

A sloth, living up to the stereotype.

I have decided that Porcupine fish are very cute. Look at his face, he’s smiling. Awww who’s a cute widdle smiley fish, you are, you are.

An absolutely demonic looking crocodile.

The single ugliest living creature I have ever seen. It’s either some kind of turtle or a genetic experiment.

Rockhopper penguins. Made all the funnier by the description on the website.

“King penguins, gentoo penguins and rockhopper penguins are displayed in KAIYUKAN. You can easily distinguish their differences by their figures, as well as their feet colors. King penguins have black feet while gentoo penguins have yellow feet and rockhopper penguins’ feet are pink.
Their characters are also different. King penguins and gentoo penguins have rather mild characters. On the other hand, rockhopper penguins show an aggressive nature, featuring red eyes and decorative yellow feathers. Being fond of fights, they may tend to fight even with human beings. So, watch out not to fight with them.
Penguins are monogamists. Like human beings, they select their own partners. They sometimes divorce or get remarried.”

The fighting with humans thing is true by the way. When we were watching a woman came in to take the temperature of the water. The penguins clearly thought this was feeding time and wandered over to her. All the swimming penguins leapt out of the water and landed on the ice. However one leaping penguin smacked her right in the shoulder and knocked her back. She did not look best pleased.

The fluffy penguin is an adolescent before his feathers have moulted. So he’s big AND fluffy.

Nemo.

Patrick should have a career narrating nature documentaries. Here he proceeds to make stuff up on the cuff for ages about some phenomenally big and ugly fish. Ryan believes everything he says.

Okay this was more than a bit freaky. When we came to this tank the fish were swimming against the current. What this looked like though was loads of perfectly still fish all looking in the same direction. Now that is creepy.

Especially when we saw that they were all looking at one fish pointed in a different direction. Was he making some kind of a speech? What are the fish planning!?

It was of course at this point that my camera’s battery gave out like the useless piece of crap it is. So from here on out we’re camera phone only. Sorry folks.


This is a Sunfish and its one of the strangest fish I’ve ever seen. It looks like most of it is missing. Also the museum guide for it is hysterical.

“The popularity of ocean sunfish is as high as the whale shark. Visitors love its innocent charming expressions. At the time of feeding, it rushes to the feeder keeping its mouth small and round eyes wide open.
He skillfully eats a mixture of ground shrimps and squids in small bite sizes. When the feeding time is over, it looks disappointed.”

I think in this photo we really captured his disappointment.

Ryan also looks disappointed when feeding time is over.

This Manta Ray was huge! From tip to tip he easily cleared 10 foot. I could have watched him for ages moving lazily through the water, he seemed tso majestic and alien and just plain cool.

There is a Pixies song called “Manta Ray” in which Frank Black screams “fish no swim, fish fly”. Watching them in motion I totally agree. It seems to be swooping through the air not paddling against currents.

Eels scare me.
Unless I’m eating them.
Mmmmmmmmmm Unagi.


There were some awesome (and again huge) Sea Turtles in one tank. I dunno if its because of their age but turtles always seem to look wise to me and kind of melancholy. They’re absolutely beautiful to watch swimming though.

This guy was a “cowfish”. He looks grumpy.


Ryan’s favourite exhibit was the “Japanese Deeps” feature. I’ve used the word alien a lot in this post but it’s entirely appropriate here. These crabs were freaky. The exhibit had some really odd fish too but the stars were these enormous Spider Crabs that littered the floor and walked across it like the alien tripods in War of the Worlds. At one point two even had a fight.

Easily the most disturbing part about them though was that in addition to their legs and claws they each had a miniscule set of pincers above their mouth constantly snapping. And their jaws were just another complicated set of claws. All told we counted about 12 limbs! The things seem to be made of nothing but claws.


Many weird and wonderful Jellyfish.



And here he is, the man of the hour, KAI-KUN the Whale Shark.

Whale Shark’s are the biggest fish in the world, FACT.

“Kai-kun swims in the Pacific Ocean tank very well.” FACT (according to the guidebook)

Unfortunately he wasn’t as cool as the crabs. Still he was mightily impressive. I don’t think my pics give a proper sense of scale so try this video to appreciate just how massive the guy is.

Also take note of the other fish hitching a lift underneath him.

So that was it. I hope you enjoyed looking at fish. I certainly did. However when we left the aquarium we were greeted by an even cooler sight.

POP-UP-PIRATE!

Everywhere I go in Japan Pop-Up-Pirate follows.

I leave you with the cutest fish photo ever.

Awwwwww who’s a cute widdle smiley fishy.

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