Location: Kobe, Japan
Virtual date: 2007-03-28
On Wednesday morning we checked out of the Park Hotel for a break from the really big city. We dragged our bags to the Shimbashi Station, took the train up to Tokyo Station, and trekked to the Shinkansen tracks for a ride on a bullet train.
This is a Nozomi, the fastest of the fleet. Our rail pass didn’t cover riding the Nozomi, so we had to settle for the slower Hikari model.
As the arrival time for our train approached, a squadron of women in pink uniforms gathered by the gates.
This is our Hikari. It’s no slowpoke, capable of speeds up to around 280 km/h (that’s 174 mph for you Americans). When it stopped, all the passengers got off and the pink ladies rushed in to give the interior a quick cleaning before we were allowed to board.
Inside it’s roomy and comfortable, with way more legroom than anything less than first class on a commercial airliner. The trip to Kobe took a bit over three hours, with stops at various cities along the way.
Here’s a shot taken out the window. The ride is amazingly smooth, but it’s still not easy to get a good picture out the window when you’re making that kind of speed.
Kobe is a seaside town, much smaller than Tokyo, and with a less developed mass transit network. From the train station we had an amusing ride on the City Loop bus, a trolley-like affair that got quite crowded as we made our way through town. With all our luggage it was quite an experience.
We stayed at the Hotel Okura, which was likely a very elegant and modern facility 30 years ago, but now looks a little ragged around the edges. The color scheme centers on a pale green, and the whole place smells of cigarettes. But the view out our room’s window was interesting. In the foreground is a Maritime Museum, and the odd-shaped building is a newer hotel.
I didn’t mention the bathroom facilities of the Park Hotel, but they included one of the famous high-tech Japanese toilets. This is the one at the Okura, which has even more controls. The seat senses pressure and turns on a warmer, and it features a sprayer inside to help you clean up, with controllable water pressure, temperature, and oscillation. Why this kind of thing hasn’t caught on in the US I do not know. It is a true example of technology in service of the greater good.
Being a seaside town, fish are celebrated. This thing was made of metal mesh and lit from within at night.
With the rest of the afternoon free, we wandered around town. Just as in Tokyo, shopping seems to be the major activity of people’s days. This is on the street labeled “Chinatown” on the city map. I saw many booths selling the same kinds of things I see in Beijing all the time, including a wide variety of food items on skewers (no scorpions, though).
We came across an a cappella group called Unite doing a show on the sidewalk outside a coffee shop.
Like I said, shopping. This is a covered street that’s been made into a pedestrian mall full of shops. There were several others like it in Kobe.
Given the premium of land in Japan, I shouldn’t be surprised to see that every square meter is put to use. Underneath the elevated train tracks there are shops, and when it’s wide enough, there’s a little alley down the center with another row of shops facing inward.
To the outside world, Kobe is known for one thing: beef (unless of course you remember the massive earthquake they had in 1995). We would have been remiss in our touristly duties to visit the town without sampling it, so we went into a place called A-1 and gave it a try. It was tender and luscious, served with some fried potatoes and greens. The set meal also came with soup (beef vegetable) and salad, along with a bowl of rice and a glass of wine. It was not cheap – easily the most expensive meal we had on the trip – but D in particular was in gastronomical heaven. The meat was grilled, flamed, and quickly sliced into convenient pieces for eating with chopsticks.
After we finished eating, D took some great pictures of the staff at work. Note the local wearing a bib at the counter. It may look foolish, but it’s a good idea with this meal if you don’t want little stain spots on your clothes.
At night, the Maritime Museum is lit up, and so is the Kobe Tower.