Under the sea with Maria.

While most people were sleeping in after two relentless days in Kyoto, I woke up early and hopped the city bus to meet my friend Maria for the day. I’d met Maria (her real Japanese name, written with kanji and everything) at the first welcome party on campus, and we’d kept in touch since. She’s much like most of the girls I’ve met here: her weekdays are dominated by homework, while her weekends are filled with a part-time job. The only reason she was free that Friday was because it was a school recess, meaning neither homework nor job, though she later confided to me that she was technically playing hooky from orchestra club rehearsal.

The artistically-designed Port of Nagoya Aquarium.

She chose a station I knew how to get to, but either she didn’t explain well (or, more likely, I didn’t understand) that rather than taking the bus and then the subway, I could have gotten a bus straight to where we were meeting. Regardless, we found each other and caught the Meijo line to a station I know well: Kamimaezu. From there, we switched to the Meiko line, which ends at Nagoya Port, home of 名古屋港水族館 (Nagoya Port Aquarium). Maria had suggested it as a good place to go, and when I asked if she’d be bored from frequent visits, she assured me it had been a long time since she’d gone. Like most places in Japan, it was a bit of a walk from the station, and the day was somewhat windy, but the sun kept us warm. The aquarium is located at the port, which is in itself something worth seeing. (Despite Japan being an island nation, I rarely see the ocean while here.)

The entrance fee wasn’t too steep, and while there wasn’t a student discount, I did get a 200円 break because I had a day pass for public transport. We got a schedule of events and went in, immediately finding the dolphin pool. The dolphins seem well aware of their visitors, swimming right by the glass (often upside-down). The aquarium also features beluga, which are part of the same family. We went up top to the dolphin pool and watched the keepers feed and play with the show dolphins, giving them fish and ice, then went back in and watched the “Tornado of Sardines.” It’s a tank full of smaller fish that are directed to follow paths by the keepers strategically dropping food in key spots, and the play of light across the silvery scales makes something very ordinary into something really amazing.

We looked at a lot more types of undersea life, but after several photos, my camera battery suddenly showed red. This was the second time it had done this to me, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I tried taking pictures and then immediately turning the camera back off, but that only got me so far before I had to switch to my keitai (which is just not the same).

We took a short break and went to a nearby building that was less of a mall and more of a restaurant complex. In addition to local brands, they also featured a McDonald’s and a Red Lobster, the latter of which I wasn’t aware had extended into Japan. Maria got something from a multi-Asian-style place, while I got a couple things a la carte from a place that sold sausages and fried chicken. I was going to get a small order of fries from the McDonald’s as well, but Maria gave me a coupon good for a free large fries (probably because I’d paid for her lunch). Once we’d filled up, it was back to the aquarium.

Maria had wanted to see a nature movie in their theater, but we still had some time to kill, so we visited the penguins. The birds were behind a massive window that spanned the room and showed both above and below water. They swam, preened, and waddled around (as penguins are wont to do), and the two of us watched and talked while we waited for the movie.

The movie was actually a BBC production called “One Life” that had been redubbed with Japanese actors (instead of the original Daniel Craig narration). It was very well made and produced, but unfortunately overlapped the topside dolphin show we also wanted to see. By the time we arrived, they were just finishing up. By then, the two of us had seen pretty much everything we wanted to; despite the size of the aquarium, there’s only so much you can really look at. We stopped in the gift shop for a little while before making our way out and back toward the train station, with a brief detour to find a post office so I could withdraw some money. The day had grown a bit long by then; clouds had moved in and the wind had picked up, so it was pretty chilly. I gave Maria my jacket, which she accepted (but not without repeated concerns for my own warmth). Thankfully, you’re never too far from a post office in Japan, and we were soon back in the train station. She and I plan to do something again, but I don’t know when — she consulted her planner and actually flipped to December to look for a free day.

We parted ways when our paths split; she went home and I took a short trip to Akamondoori before going home. I don’t remember the last time I’d been to an aquarium, but I had a really good time. I’d sleep in the next day, but not too late — the next two days were the school festival, and I was helping.

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