Editors Note: So it seems the more I go back with my computer fixed the more pictures I have lost. Sadly many of the great pictures I had of Kobe harbor from the bay and from the mountain have vanished. A moment of silence before you continue reading please.
With the heat in Osaka being nearly unbearable we decided we would make a little side trip to the coastal port town of Kobe. Kobe is also known as one of the most beautiful cities in Japan because its proximity between lush green mountains and the ocean. The city is a narrow strip nestled between the two. From Osaka station it takes around 30 minutes to get to Kobe and there is a train about every 10 to 15 minutes depending on the time of day you leave.
Somehow I had it in my head that being closer to the ocean the air would be cooler. This is not true.
From the train station to the Kobe harbor promenade is about a ten minute walk and we wanted to get down towards the water. I had images of Navy Pier in Chicago and Pier 39 in San Francisco. Sadly the Kobe harbor only resembles either of those in limited ways.
For instance you can go shopping just like on Pier 39 but instead of a quaint wooden dock with a view and an overwhelming mass of tourists you shop in an 8 story sterile air conditioned mall. There are actually 3 malls right there in the Kobe harbor. From a Navy Pier perspective there is a children’s museum and a ferris wheel right there on the end of the dock. The Kobe harbor is home to the Anpaman Museum and ferris wheel.
A brief aside on Anpaman, who is wildly popular with children in Japan, it has run continuously since 1988 on Japanese television. Anpanman is a super hero whose head is actually made from a red bean pastry. Here is a synopsis from Wikipedia.
“The rhythm of the rhyming name might be loosely idiomatically translated in English as “Bean Bun Boy”. He doesn’t need to eat or drink to sustain himself and has never been seen eating, as it is believed the bean jam in his head allows him to sustain himself in this manner. His weaknesses are water and anything else that makes his head dirty (In order to prevent his head getting wet when underwater or in wet weather, he is usually seen with his head concealed inside a protective bubble in such situations). He regains his health and strength when Jam Ojisan bakes him a new head and it is placed on his shoulders. Anpanman’s damaged head, with Xs in his eyes, flies off his shoulders once a new baked head is made for him by Uncle Jam. Anpanman came to life when shooting star landed in Uncle Jam’s oven while he was baking. He has two special attacks: An-punch and An-kick (with stronger variations of both). When Anpanman comes across a starving creature or person, he lets the unfortunate creature or person eat part of his head. He also has super hearing in that he can respond to anyone that calls his name out in distress from anywhere in the world.”
Fascinating. There is a massive museum dedicated to this cartoon in Kobe and we saw many Japanese parents being dragged urgently by children in to the museum atrium. I wondered aloud on whether I would resent my child if they asked me to take them to a place like this…
On an unrelated note there is a statue of Elvis on the Kobe harbor walk with little or no explanation (in English).
Since the harbor walk is mostly lifeless, boring and hot we decided to head to the boat terminal to see about taking a short harbor cruise to see some of the cool things around the Kobe bay. The next boat left in about 45 min so we bought dual tickets that included the admission to the Kobe Port Tower.
The Kobe Tower is a cooling looking red light house like structure in the harbor that offers a decent view of the surrounding environs. However most of the Kobe harbor is quite industrial looking with man made islands and dry docks. Looking west gives a great view of the city proper and steep mountains that hug the city to the water. There is also rotating cafe near the top similar to the Seattle Space Needle, in that it rotates.
After snapping a few pictures we headed back down to the dock in hopes that some time on the water would give us the break from the heat we had been searching for. We got on the poorly named “Fantasy” cruise. At twenty dollars a ticket, a true bargain for a real fantasy. However the boat mostly does an irregular shaped loop out to look at the airport and then back. It totally skips the most interesting thing about Kobe, the world’s longest suspension bridge. Drinks on the “Fantasy” were quiet inexpensive compared to other boats and ferries I’ve been on.
With the boat ride only being a brief respite from the heat we disembarked and headed into downtown Kobe proper. First stop is the largest china-town in Japan, Nankin-machi. While not typically different than any other concentration of Chinese things it is a great place for street food in Kobe. There is a cool little square in the center of neighborhood with zodiac statues and places to sit while you finish your egg roll or fried wonton.
Nankin-machi is very close to the local rail station so we hopped on and headed to the Nada District of Kobe. Nada is famous for housing many sake breweries all clumped together. According to this Japan-guide article and the Lonely Planet it is a great place to try some sake. I will save the major details of the sake tasting for my Gai-jinzake series but for now let me explain something about walking the Nada district. From the Japan-Guide:
“The district makes for a good half-day exploration trip on foot with its nice mix of some older buildings and modern breweries.”
This is only partially true. Yes it can be an okay walk for a half day of sake tasting (excepting when it is brutally hot outside like it was for Shana and I). Any quaintness or charm is completely missing from Nada as a majority of the neighborhood parallels a major urban freeway, is dashed with concrete block apartments and is mostly land for large industrial lots. It has as much charm as a cat hacking up a hairball. We were able to stop and four breweries and taste some amazing sake. If you’re looking for a charming neighborhood with some sake tasting, head to Fushimi in Kyoto. Despite the possible cost, hiring a taxi would be the best way to deal with the Nada district given the walk isn’t very pleasant and its quite far between several of the breweries.
We caught the train back to the main station of Kobe, Sannomiya, and headed up to the Shin-Kobe ropeway. The shin Kobe ropeway is about half price after 6pm. For a full price ticket you can go up and then walk down the mountain through an elaborate garden and see stunning views of Kobe. For a half price ticket you can watch Kobe light up at night and ride the ropeway back down. You can’t do both. After 5 pm they close the walking path from the top so you can only buy round trip tickets. Before 4pm you have the option to do either round trip or one way and then walk. If you really like flowers, go earlier in the day. If you want to get the view choose the half price ticket and watch Kobe light up before your eyes. It is really quiet special.
Also at the top of the ropeway is a bavarian villa.
We I decided for dinner that I really wanted to try Kobe beef, in Kobe. What other time could their possibly be a better reason to get some Kobe beef? The area around Sannomiya station is absolutely electric at night. The streets are filled with young Japanese all dressed up and tourists alike. We decided to make a loop through the main pedestrian area and found the Kobe beef prices to be astronomical. Most of the Kobe beef prices start around $80-$90 for a steak dinner. Some places were as low as $65 but it makes you wonder about their prep. To mull our options we popped into a bar called Hub. A british style pub that brews their own beer in the basement of a 6 story building.
Hub was packed! It was “Hub Day” we found out which is an all day happy hour where everything is half price. This means that a beer is normal price for Americans. Also you can get a proper pint in this pub instead of the stupid 500ml servings you get everywhere else in metric countries. Hub brews their own IPA as well. Although Japanese IPA’s are all malt and no hops. Waiting in line for a pint I struck up a conversation with some local Japanese who were proficient in English enough to communicate with some extra gesturing. We eventually asked them where to get Kobe beef? Everywhere was really expensive, where do locals go?
Proving again that Japanese people can be some of the most generous and nice people in the world, the girl, whose name escaped me the minute after she said it, offered to walk us to a local place. She said that she used to work there and they have sliced Kobe beef rice bowls. She took us to a little hole in the wall restaurant called Red Rock. Indeed for about $9 dollars you get an amazing rice bowl with sliced beef on top. Whether or not it was Kobe beef? Who cares, it was beef in Kobe. That’s good enough for me.
Back to the train station at Sannomiya to catch the express train back to Osaka station.