Well rested, I was up bright and early for a day of exploration in Kobe! A city I’ve always wanted to visit, as a) from what I’ve seen it looks like a lovely place, and b) it presented a chance to try the legendary Kobe beef!
The trip across was only 280 yen on the Hankyu line, 30 minutes or so later I was wandering around the streets of Kobe. Arriving at about 9.30am the area was actually pretty quiet, though I headed north from Sannomiya station, which as I discovered later, is an area that really springs to life in the evenings. The streets were packed with signs, narrow alleyways and restaurants listing Kobe beef! Though none were open at this time.
After a little wandering I ended up at a small shrine, a ceremony of some form was in progress, though I’m not certain what it was for. As well as the shrine maidens and the priests, it seems that a lot of people in suits were part of it, so it might have been a business related thing. The ceremony took place in the main hall and didn’t seem to close off any public areas, so I don’t think it was a major event.
More walking to the North and I discovered a small cherry blossom festival was being held (though as it’s been cold the cherry blossoms aren’t actually in bloom yet), lots of food stalls 😀 Lots of dancing, taiko drumming, and singing. I love how there’s always something going on somewhere here! And this is why I walk most places in Japan, once again there were no other foreigners at this festival, I assume mainly because it wasn’t near any tourist things or subway stations. So many people lose out because they always use the subway from one tourist spot to the other, not that I care, it’s their loss and I prefer being the only foreigner around, makes it feel more unique!
Lunch was a quick stop at a Yoshinoya, a cheap fast food rice bowl was good enough for now, I’d decided to save Kobe beef for dinner. Fuelled on food it was time to head off an explore the southern area of the city. The second I was a couple of steps south of Sannomiya station it instantly because clear this was the busy daytime area of the city, there were massive crowds of people, all the shopping streets were packed, road crossings were as busy as what I imagined Tokyo would be like! (which means Tokyo is going to be a lot busier and more insane than I’m imagining!).
After winding through several shopping streets and side alleys, I ended up weaving my way through the city and emerging in Chinatown. This area consisted of two main narrow pedestrian streets, in a cross shape with one intersecting the other. At the centre was a large open plaza area with a small pagoda in it’s centre. The whole place felt really alive and bustling, long queues were snaking their way out of every restaurant. Each alleyway was lined with numerous food stalls, all cooking fresh food, a mixture of Chinese and Japanese snacks were available, the steam and smells from the food being cooked really added to the atmosphere.
By contrast it also demonstrated just how pathetic the London Chinatown is! London Chinatown for those who haven’t been, is basically now just one really short street, and over half of that street is now actually small casinos, bookies, an Irish pub, Pizza Express and a coffee shop!
Anyway, back to Kobe!
After Chinatown I headed down to the port area, entering from the western side led me to an earthquake memorial. This was quite an eerie sight, part of the old port had fallen into the sea, cracked steps, concrete, and lampposts had been preserved in exactly the same position that the quake had left them. It really hit home just how destructive quakes can be. The area was almost silent, with only the splashes from the water to be heard.
Moving onward from the memorial I cut across the main port area, a large open space with some sculptures, water features and the rather elegant looking building of the port museum. This led to Kobe tower, a large observation tower, a small market that was on, and the port, across the port was the ferries wheel of the harbour theme park.
I spent some time exploring the market, full of various handcrafted items, more food stalls (of course), and listened to a bit of live music from some people on a small stage that had been setup at the end.
After a bit more exploring I ended up coming across a boat offering tours of the harbour, being a nice sunny day it seemed like a pretty awesome idea! The boat was a large sailboat, but the sails were stowed and a large engine chugged the boat along. The tour was about an hour, it started by heading out along the port, showing views of the harbour, the docks, a massive floating dry dock for ship building, there was even a submarine moored up!
The boat then headed out of the harbour into the sea, giving views of Awaji island in the distance, as well as specular views out to sea. After a bit of cruising around at sea the boat then headed back through the eastern side of the port, passing several docks, company HQs, and presenting an amazing landscape of the city of Kobe. During the cruise there had been some announcements as to what the sights were, and it was actually a really nice feeling that I understand some of what was being said! More than I would have last time, so that’s progress! I’ve also found that this time around I’m reading a lot more of the random signs on shops as I go down the street, and even understanding some kanji!
Once back on land I headed across and up to the observation platform of Kobe Tower, the 360 degree view of the city and sea was incredible, though the tower wasn’t as high or big compared to others like Kyoto Tower. I wasn’t actually up there for long before heading back down.
With evening approaching I decided to head all the way back to one of the most northern points of the city, an area that housed the station to the shin-kobe ropeway, this would take me up into the mountains for a view of the city. I think this is the lowest of the three ropeways in Kobe, one of the ones further east offered a better view of the city, but it was another 30 minutes away by bus, so I opted for the shin-kobe one.
After a small ascent by foot to the base station I got in one of the small bright red ropeway cars (actually shaped a bit like an apple), and began my ascent. The view on the way up was breathtaking! I could see Osaka on the horizon, all of Kobe, the mountains, and out to sea. However I also had to calm myself a bit with some meditative breathing as it turns out being in a ropeway car feeling exposed to the wind and massive drop below, triggers my fear of heights! I’m fine being on a plane, or tall building, but that’s because planes are meant to fly, and buildings have sturdy walls and a floor! But the ropeway car felt like it was swaying about and ready to drop at any second!
After a while ascending further up the mountain, passing over some herb gardens and forest, I arrived at the top in one piece. The top contained a large lodge building, the architecture seemed like a western style Tudor period building, quite a lovely and cosy building. As the sun went down this was lit up in a rather nice purple hue. The viewing platform allowed a view of Kobe through the mountains, the city at night was a sight to behold, the sea on the horizon, the distinctive red lights illuminating Kobe Tower in the distance, and the lights all over the city showing just how busy it was.
After taking in the sites and grabbing an overpriced coffee I made the ropeway trip back down, due to the darkness that had now flooded the mountain I could no longer see the drop below me, so the trip down was actually a lot more relaxing! Once arriving at the bottom it was then time to find dinner, or rather Kobe Beef!!
Finally it was happening! Kobe Beef time! There was no shortage of places in the city where Kobe Beef was available, however it took a lot of wandering around before deciding on somewhere. First I had to rule out all of the places doing the most premium cuts that I simply couldn’t afford, cuts that were 20-30,000 yen (about £150 – £250) for a 100g were just out of my price range. Cuts about 30,000 yen were of course out of the question too! I can only wonder what such high end food is like!
I ended up working my way through the cities alleyways comparing different prices and meals, I actually covered most districts from the northern, central and southern areas of the city before deciding on a place! I accessed WiFi to find a suggested place, however upon reaching it the queue was crazy! I asked one person in it and they had been told a 45 minute wait! Under different circumstances I might have been tempted to join the queue, as the place apparently was that good! However I was starving, and would not have survived the wait! I continued on wandering Kobe like a zombie, muttering “so hungry” and “beef, need Kobe beef” every so often.
In the end I settled for a 2000 yen option of still A1 grade Kobe beef, though I’m not sure what the cut was, served on a rice bowl. It was only 80g of beef that was cooked medium rare as I waited, exciting times!
Now the hard part, describing the taste! The simple way I’ll put it is, it lives up to, and goes beyond the hype! There is no taste like it! It just dissolves and melts in your mouth, and elevates you onto another plane of existence! I swear Kobe beef is not actually of this world, but instead it is the food of some supreme race in the universe! If you ever get to try it, even if only a small lower priced bit like I did, then it is a must to have! It was so good I was in tears of happiness as I ate it!
One word of warning though, if you are going to try Kobe beef, come to Kobe! Outside of Japan most places that brand as selling Kobe beef (even high end restaurants that brag about it and charge extortionate prices), are fake! As an example there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of restaurants in the US claiming to offer Kobe beef. However due to strict and limited exports on Kobe beef, the number of restaurants in the US that actually have REAL Kobe beef, is low double digits! I think from what I’ve read, it’s about 10 or so in the whole of the US! So come to Kobe!
Having enjoyed my experience of Kobe beef, I didn’t so much get the train back to Tsukaguchi, more floated back there on a cloud of warm feelings and happiness! In the end a very action packed, eventful and wonderful day. Sleep came easily that night, as during the day I’d covered 14.5 miles!
Note: Neo-Kobe Pizza
One thing I am sad to report, is that if anyone has memories of the Mega-CD game Snatcher, will no doubt remember a certain part with Neo-Kobe Pizza! For those that haven’t played it, it’s a rather epic, tense and exciting game about cyborgs killing and replacing humans with a cyborg version (before that concept became a bit mainstream!), set in the futuristic location of Neo-Kobe. Neo-Kobe pizza does not seem to be a thing in actual real life Kobe. So if you’re expecting a slice of pizza that you sink into a pot of flavoured soup broth till it floats back up, then I’m afraid it just isn’t going to happen.