Japan Day 8, July 10th
I spent most today with a hang over. By most of, I mean until 6pm. The extremely warm and humid weather couldn’t have helped, and I actually welcomed the rain as it fell on me. I didn’t even want my umbrella. I packed my things, bid farewell to the staff as well as my fellow partiers, and made my way to the Shinkansen.
The ride to Kobe was easy, but finding my way to the hostel was not. Probably a combination of the heat and my hangover lead me to getting lost and wandering Sannomiya for half an hour looking for the Hanshin rail station. Once I found it, I felt rather silly because it was quite simple. Getting to the hostel from Uozaki station was simple, but a bit of a hike. Hangover plus heat plus heavy bag equals exhausted Keith. I made it to the hostel half an hour before checkout begins, so I waited in the air conditioning until a hostel worker arrived. After checking in, I took a quick shower and made my way back to Sannomiya.
There’s not a great deal of sightseeing to do in Kobe. I came to the area for two reasons: one, because my friend Shogo is from Kobe; and two, because I wanted to try some Kobe beef. My only plan for the evening being “have Kobe steak at Wakkoku,” I decided to wander around the downtown and nightlife area, Sannomiya, a bit first. Saying it’s unremarkable sounds like an insult, but that’s the closest word I can thing of. There’s nothing terrible distincitve about Sannomiya for shopping or night life, but it certainly isn’t lacking anything. There’s a great vibe to the place, and Kobe in general. It’s like Osaka in its down home charm, but not as rough or concrete and has a lot of greenery. Suposedly Kobe is one of the best places to live in Japan and I could certainly see that. This is the type of place I want to come back and explore with a local to get the most out of it. Similarly, I don’t think I would have had such a good time in Nagoya if Kana hadn’t shown me around.
The one major tourist area in Kobe is the Chinatown. The place isn’t as massive as San Francisco’s Chinatown, but it’s impressive in it’s own right. The central square is lit at night by paper lanterns strung over ahead from the adjecent buildings. The area is a flat granite field surrounded by statues of the animals from the Chinese zodiac, with a small pagoda in the center. A very nice Chinese-Japanese gentleman explained to me in fluent English the history of Chinatown in Japan, along with the details behind the small American settlement founded in the mid 1800s (don’t quote me on those dates, I need to check them.) He emphasized how the Americans introduced coffee and cake to the Japanese through Kobe, and to this day Kobe’s cake and coffee are the best in Japan. I’ve confirmed this with some natives from other parts of Japan, and some not so scientific experiments of my own. The architecture around Chinatown and Sannomiya was interesting, as much of the architecture across Japan is. I followed Ikuta road to find a small temple with a large wreath that if pass through in a figure eight and then pass straight through is meant to bring good fortune for the year. Let’s hope it works.
Facing my growing hunger, I made my way to Wakkoku for a Kobe steak dinner. I was concerned that because of my hangover I wouldn’t be able to appreciate it fully, but that was not an issue. If anything, I think it cured my hang over. The Kobe steak was possibly the best thing I have ever eaten. The meat so tender that it melts like butter in the mouth, flavorful but not overpowering. The four course meal with a glass of wine ran me a hundred dollars, but it was worth every penny of it. I swear I’m going to be so spoiled by the time I get back to the US.
I returned to the hostel and caught up on my e-mail in the common room. There I met three college students studying Japanese through the local Kobe YMCA as part of a special program. They are living at the hostel for the month of July, and are quite friendly and mature folks. One of them, Barbara, goes to college in San Francisco, so she and I had a bit to talk about. Their program is taking them to Himeji Castle tomorrow, so I will try to meet up with them, and perhaps kill time with them before heading to Osaka to meet Marina.
A quick shower to wash off the summer heat, and then to bed.