Sunday, June 08, 2014

40 Days of Summer (in Japan) - Part Juuichi

There's something mysterious and magical about the ocean and its denizens. We've sent men to the moon and walked across lunar seas, but there's so much of our own waters that remains uncharted. Something about water just fascinates me; the way it moves, flows, trickles, splashes, surges, streams, sloshes, and waves. Not forgetting the host of wonderful, colourful and innumerable creatures that call it home. Marine biologists and Rector McAdoo (who has gown down the Marianas Trench in the ALVIN submersible) have amazing, enviable jobs.

My host family brought me to the Shinagawa Aquarium near the southern part of Tokyo. They originally had planned to bring me to the neighbourhood flea market/garage sale, but it was raining so it was cancelled. I didn't really mind; I love aquariums and sea creatures so I eagerly agreed to their suggestion.

Translation: This way to immigration. Please state your porpoise here.

There were many, many families out for a day at the aquarium. It seems that most entertainment places are filled with families with young children every weekend, probably because that's the only time parents have time to spend with their kids.

"I found a Crimson Ticket! I'm going to Free Willy Wonka's Ocean Aquarium!"

After wading through hordes of elementary school children, I came across the first exhibit, which depicted the wildlife you could find around the Shinagawa River in Tokyo:

"Oh, nothing much. Just outran a philosophical arrow. Gonna try racing hares next."

Yuka-san quickly pointed out that there would be a sea-lion show coming up soon, so we went to the arena where they held the gladiatorial fight to the death- no, sorry, where the seals would perform stunts and stuff.

Pffft. I could do that.

I was really impressed by how well trained the sea-lions were, because I kept wondering how they were trained. I mean, you can't tell them what to do; even the process of Pavlovian conditioning requires the animal to do something first before you can reward it with a treat, so how do they do it? I also started thinking that while the tricks the animals did delighted the audience a lot, they were also very pareidolic - the sea-lion is just moving its flipper back and forth but we attach a meaning to that action and see that as it waving to us. Things to ponder about.

They let the dolphins loose into the pool after the show, and there were so excited to have a big space to play around in that they immediately started doing warm-ups:

Dolphin couple. Sigh.
There were many varieties of fish on display. Japan, having huge territorial waters and a massive maritime industry, has a lot of seafood to exhibit.

Horseshoe crab: "Honey, I think we're lost. I'm sure I've seen that sardine go past us before."

There was a tank with an octopus and transparent piping, obviously meant to show off the octopus's flexibility. But the guy was just lounging around while I was looking at him.

"Hey, I had a James Bond movie named after me. I think I deserve a little R&R."

There was this huge underwater tunnel section, like what I remember from Sentosa's Underwater World and the new S.E.A. Aquarium. They housed huge fish and giant sea turtles, and a giant stingray which made all the little kids squeal as it passed overhead.

"I just want you to know we're not all Crocodile Hunter killers."

"Sea turtles, mate."

Did you know Japanese spider crabs can grow up to two metres long? That's about the length of a car. Imagine driving this baby down the expressway:

Of course, you'd be travelling sideways.
And I wish I had the chance to take a photo of this flounder for the camouflage assignment for Integrated Science last semester, because I didn't notice this flounder until it moved suddenly:

"The completely butchered my character in The Little Mermaid."
I've always wanted to have the flesh of hand gnawed away by piranhas, and this was the closest I could get: the little tiny fish from the fish spas, nibbling away at my skin. It was really fun; it feels tingly, like a whole mess of little electric shocks. It was a very puzzling mixture of cuteness and awe-inspiring respect for the wonders of nature.

I'm never washing this hand ever again.

For whatever reason evolution decided to try upside-down jellyfish, I hope it's not just to make them the laughingstocks of the deep ocean.

"Aw crap, I dropped my open umbrella and now I can't find it."

Jellyfish are the most enchanting sea creatures.

Bloop bloop bloop.
I was sad to find these archer fish without their green domino masks, blonde mustache and beard, and cynical attitude.

For you non-geeks who don't get the reference.

I think salamanders are the weirdest-looking amphibians. I have no idea how they got mythologically associated with fire, because they're the slimiest things I've ever seen.

Man, those are some racist salamanders.
 Nautiluses! Nautilii!

If they played soccer, there'd be Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea!

I know some fish are transparent because it makes it harder for deeper-water predators to spot them when they're looking at their prey from below.

The uncut diamonds in this tank make this the most expensive exhibit in the whole place.
There was a feeding time show after lunch, and this lady with her really cool scuba mask (equipped with microphone) gets to jump into the tank and give handouts to the stingrays and other fish hanging out in the tank everyday. That's one hell of an awesome job right there.

Just trick it out a bit and you'd have a working spacesuit.

Also, because they're orange:

"With fronds like these, who needs anemones?"
There was a huge shark tank at the end with two bored looking sharks circling around in it. It's really interesting how the Jaws theme has become the de facto music for sharks all around the world. I heard one dad singing it to his daughter as the shark came round to the viewing side of the tank.

This face needs to be made into a meme.

We also managed to catch the dolphin show after lunch, with the dolphins doing typical dolphin tricks like somersaults, jumping through hoops, and making kids squeal after splashing them with water.

There was also a sea-lion behaviour observation room, which had about a dozen sea-lions flitting back and forth. I think they're named very appropriately; they're so sleek and torpedo-like, and they have a kind of majesty that is mirrored in their land-based counterparts.

"Look inside yourself, Simba."
There was a round of grocery shopping at the nearby supermarket on the way home. Japanese supermarkets are essentially the same, except with more Japanese brands. Also, the cashiers don't bag your purchases for you; you have to do it yourself.

At dinner, the family was watching a Japanese variety show, and the first bit showed them carving a giant bowl out of Styrofoam. I thought that was pretty cool; I was wondering what they were going to use it for. It turns out, white-water rafting.

Wait, what?

Because nothing says "Japanese Variety Show" than two men white-water rafting in a giant disembodied Styrofoam Jack-Sparrow Lego head.

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