I arrived in Osaka around 6:30 pm, and it took me an additional hour or so to actually get to my hotel from JR Osaka station due to some confusion about subway exits; the hotel recommended taking exit 1 or 3, but I took 2 since there was an elevator. There are *18 exits* for the Honmachi station on the Midosuji Line. My first impression was of the beautiful lights lining Midosuji Street; all the trees were lit with white or blue lights up and down the avenue like a mini-Champs-Élysées. And miracle of miracles, I found a nearby Starbucks without even trying.
Osaka, morning: Starbucks. Motown (Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and Percy Sledge; not Motown, but soulful). I started out buying a one-day subway pass and checked out the Doguyasuji restaurant supply district; about 40% of the stores were closed for the New Year's holiday, so I didn't find any food samples like I'd hoped (I saw a food sample truck in Nara Park, but alas). Next I checked out the three major department stores in the area: Takashimaya, Hanshin, and Hankyu. Overpriced designer labels like other stores I've visited in Japan. The Tower Records was beautiful; like old brick-and-mortar CD superstores USED to be, with a HUGE Soul / R&B / blues section with obscure releases by Mel & Tim, Stax artists, even Hip-O Select releases.
In the afternoon, I headed out to the Osaka Aquarium. Maybe it was due to all the kids being on vacation for New Year's, but the place was mobbed (and not cheap at 2000 yen admission, but worth it). The beautifully-designed aquarium featured bilingual labels on all the exhibits, and an optional audio guide was also available. There were "photo moment" stops for kids and a fish "petting zoo" (uh, no, I skipped that one, thanks). The most beautiful surprise was after sunset, when I went outside to see all the displays lit up. There were whales, stingrays, dolphins, penguins and more around the entrance to the aquarium.
I got slightly lost (and more than a little frustrated) in HEP Five trying to get back to the subway; by early evening the place was swarming with twentysomethings posturing (guys trying to attract girls, mostly). No sign of Osaka's infamous host boys (slightly wrong neighborhood for that), but plenty of host-boy hairdos (Rod Stewart would be proud!). Finally got back to my room around 8 pm.