A carefree day in Japan’s most livable city07 December, 2012 by Chad
Today we visited the adjacent city of Kobe, which was just a short distance away by local train. As per the last visit, we would first head further south to the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, famous for being the longest single span of suspension bridge in the world, connecting Kobe to the distant Awaji Island.
It takes about half an hour to get from Osaka to Kobe and another 20 minutes to get to the bridge. But once you hit Kobe, the rest of the train ride gets quite pleasant. Kobe city is sandwiched between a mountain chain to the north and the sea to the south. A single JR track is all it takes to travel around Kobe and it runs parallel to the coast, making for some scenic views.
During the last visit with Wilson and Yan, we stopped a couple of stations too early and had to walk quite a distance to get to the bridge. That turned out to be a blessing though, since we learned of the Mitsui Outlet Park then.
This time, we dropped of at Maiko station instead which was directly beside the bridge. The result was that we couldn’t see the entire span at one go but it was worth the visit since there’s a nice park and a tourist center located next to the bridge.
For a fee, once can go up to the observaton deck, or even take a walk underneath the bridge. We decided to give that a pass, instead checking out the exhibition center at the pier.
We were drawn there by the bridge’s amusing mascot called “Wataru”, which was supposed to be a cross section of a bridge in the shape of an “A”. He also had a car on top of his head in case it wasn’t obvious enough.
There’s a paid exhibition area inside of the center which we skipped. I doubted that the rest would be nearly as intrigued by such structures as I am. Randy was drawn in by the plushies of “Wataru” on display but after checking with the information desk, we learned that none were for sale. The only things here were the usual souvenir stationery and a smaller keychain version of the mascot which Randy purchased instead.
The rest of the center contains many vending machines and seats. You can take a rest here while enjoying a view of the bridge. There was also what seemed like a life sized plush of the mascot on display, though knowing the Japanese infatuation with mascots, it probably served as a suit as well.
Below the bridge, there’s another entrance that which leads to an observation room on the bridge itself. Here you can also get a tour of the underside and the top of the bridge towers. There are some pretty steep fees involved though. But that must make for a superb view of Awaji Island.
We spotted a park just beside the bridge. The Maiko Park is home to a number of houses belonging to important figures from the late 19th and early 20th century. Owing to Kobe’s history as a port town and perhaps one of the richer cities in Japan, there are a quite a few such foreign buildings that have been preserved around Kobe just for display sake.
These buildings are open to the public, with some serving as museums. Tokyo Girls’ Style used one such building and various landmarks in Kobe as backdrops for their Sayonara, Arigatou music video.
The first building here turned out to be a memorial hall for someone Eri and Randy described as being “Wong Fei Hung’s friend”. We wouldn’t had mind taking a look inside, but the entry fee was pretty steep. Instead, we entered another western building next to it, without knowing what it was.
Turned out it was the former residence of a certain Muto Sanji. I won’t even pretend to know who that is but he seemed like a pretty important political figure from the early 20th century. Still, it was an experience to just look around the old house. It’d be nice to have a house like this, with the amazing view.
Entry was just 100 yen and yet there was a nice old lady here that thanked us graciously for the patronage. That’s the same price as some public toilets in Japan. Speaking of toilets, Randy and Eri were really fascinated by the high-tech toilets inside the building.
More parks stretch across the coast for at least the next couple of stations. We continued onward at a leisurely pace while enjoying the morning breeze, randomly stopping by a playground and fitness center along the way so that Randy could have a go at the monkey bars there.
While everyone tends to avoid sunlight in Singapore like it was the plague. It’s kind of a commodity here. One particularly enjoyable aspect of Japanese weather (at least for 3/4s of the year), is that regardless of how cold it is, being in direct sunlight warms you up quite perfectly.
Past a hotel, and a bit more park, we found the Mitsui Outlet Park. Didn’t spend too much time shopping, since it finally came to mind, that I had neglected to check Mouriya’s lunch timings. We left the hotel at our latest time this morning, so it was already past noon by now.
Still, in the short time that we spent there, I managed to grab a couple of jackets from the Fred Perry outlet here. Had we spent more time here, I would had likely spent more, so perhaps it was a good thing that we didn’t? Apart from replacing some lost jackets, I still had to find a new wallet too. I’ve had the same Vivienne Westwood one for years, and its age was starting to show.
For those interested, you can check out the past writeup for a more detailed explanation of the Mitsui Outlets. But in summary, it’s a chain of factory outlet shopping malls located in spacious obscure areas around Japan. Each one follows a unique theme, making it like a theme park for shopping.
There are a variety of mid-range international brands here for slightly cheaper than their normal retail price. The “downside” is that usually the previous season’s stuff are sold. But in Japan, where the norm is for the next season’s clothes to be sold in advance, this means you actually get clothes which you can wear right now.
We reached Mouriya just in time to see one of the chefs swap out their lunch menu for the dinner one outside. This would mean that we would have to now settle for the pricier dinner options, but having already come this far, we decided to just go for it.
Thankfully, there was a special discount set today featuring some of Mouriya’s grade 8 to 10 “choice” selection, which are cuts from Mouriya’s own cattle for 6,400 yen. These come from the same bloodline as regular Kobe Beef, but not from one of the original farms thus, cannot be effectively labelled as Kobe Beef.
Those willing to look past the title, can opt for the higher grade beef and still save a little bit of money here. The cheapest grade 6 or 7 certified “Kobe Beef”, would still cost a couple thousand yen more.
There’s a very western feel to Mouriya and many of the staffs speak English. At our chef’s recommendation, we all had our steaks done medium rare.
Under different conditions, I probably wouldn’t had come to Mouriya again, since you really only need to try something like this once. But given the company, it was worthwhile seeing their reactions for the first time.
The meal was good, great even. As expected from having paid this much already. This time, we were given counter seats on the first floor. A chef here cooked up everything in front of us, putting painstaking effort into everything served this afternoon. A great deal of attention was put into cooking the garlic bits, grilling them to a crisp and going so far as to remove the cores from each piece.
Each part of the meal was cooked bit by bit separately to match the pace at which we ate. It was thoughtful, but at the same time I don’t quite like having someone stare down over you when eating.
One thing I did take out from this experience though, is that I think I might actually prefer lower BMS beef. After a certain point, the pieces literally melt in your mouth. It’s nice to a certain extent, but after that you’re really eating more fats than beef.
After the meal, we were offered some tea and mints to freshen up.
Our next stop was for Kobe Port Tower. It was quite a distance away, but the rest agreed upon taking a long walk to help digest the heavy meal we just had.
One of my personal points this trip was to visit the Kobe Tower. By the time I had come down Mt. Rokko during the last trip, the tower and most of the shops around Chinatown had already closed for the day.
Kobe Tower is a lot smaller than what you would expect from a capital city but is definitely one of the prettiest. There’s a unique lattice pattern to it and it glows the same rich red as Tokyo Tower.
Entry to the tower is 600 yen. We bought our tickets from the vending machine on the ground floor before taking an elevator to the tower’s 4th floor. You can then climb the stairs up for the 5th floor. The lights here were dimmed and LEDs were embedded onto the ceiling in a constellation pattern.
From above, you get a nice view of Kobe, its mountains and the sea. As the tower is only about 100 meters high, you don’t get as expansive a view as other towers elsewhere but Kobe is also a rather admirable city.
From above, we spotted the adjacent Mosaic at Kobe Harborhand, which looked like it’d be a worth a visit. As the sun set, some signs on the mountain side began to lit up one by one.
There were locks for sale on the 4th floor for couples to write their name on and to hang on the tower. There weren’t too many, so I guess these are probably thrown away after some time up here. Thanks to the media, we hear a lot about this practice in Taiwan and Korea. After a bit of research, it turned out that the practice stems from Europe.
Found another one of those medallion machines on the tower. If I remember correctly the machine here used to be placed on the first floor, but it looks like it’s been moved up stairs at some point. This illusion of exclusivity works. Ended up getting one of the tower’s mascot, Captain Tower, which was just Kobe Tower in a blue suit. I like the ones that are coated with colorful visuals, already have a whole bunch of Hello Kitty ones from other towers.
We came across a cafe, on the 3rd floor of the observation deck. Hoping to take a break inside, we were surprised to learn it was one of those rotating kinds. Back in Singapore, such a gimmick would be reserved only for the most expensive of restaurants. But we ended up getting some snacks and drinks at normal prices (300 to 500 yen each).
Randy grabbed a bear and some cheesecake, while Eri got some wine. I tried getting some of their recommended coffee jelly, but it was sold out. “Special Kobe Pudding” it was. Turns out the special part was that it had alcohol inside too.
We chatted a while at the cafe (you can hear a bit of our silly conversation in the video above). Before we knew it, at least an hour had past and we had made quite a few rounds around the tower.
The only other people inside the cafe were a couple of young ladies. It’s amazing how places like these aren’t crowded at all, when they would be otherwise packed elsewhere. But with everyone in Japan crowding around a few particular cities, the rest of the country ends up pretty idealistic like that.
We were done for the rest of the tower, except perhaps the lowest observation floor, which had some transparent bits on the floor as they do such towers. Back downstairs, the elevator drops you off at a connecting floor between Kobe Tower and the adjacent Maritime Museum and Kawasaki Good Times World (a motorcycle museum). You can get a combo pass for both the tower and museum for just 200 yen more, but the museum had already closed by the time we got here.
There wasn’t much of a souvenir shop at the tower and it was too small to house one either. There were a whole bunch of oddly placed gashapon machines on the connecting floor between the museum though. Many older dispensers here. They were still selling Fourze switches.
Next we headed over to Kobe’s Chinatown, which was back in the direction of the station anyways. A few more shops were open than my last visit but most of the shops were already closed even though it wasn’t even 7 PM yet. The once that were open sold ridiculously overpriced street food that we skipped.
One interesting thing about Japan’s Chinatowns is that since it’s primarily a tourist attraction, they’ve managed to fit just about every Chinese stereotype into this small area. Panda and dragon motifs everywhere.
We passed by a shop selling clothing for pets. There are a lot of pet stores all around Japan and the variety of accessories and lifestyle goods you can get borderline on the obsessive. Randy bought one of the panda outfits here for his Shih Tzu back in Indonesia. The staff here was really friendly, and attempted to work out together with us what was the best size for this dog.
Back at Motomachi, we found a pharmacy where Randy and I ended up buying some padded insoles for our shoes. Our feet were pretty sore from all the walking already, and there are still many days to the trip left.
After, it was back to Shin-Osaka, stopping by Manneken along the way to grab some more waffles.
Realizing that we had yet to have dinner, Eri and Randy stopped by the adjacent Family Mart convenience store again to get some takeaway. I ended up getting a sandwich from the Subway just next door.
Back in Singapore, I have Subway for lunch somewhere between 3 to 4 days a week, so I figured it would be kind of amusing if I tried some here. The “subs” cost about the same as they do in Singapore, around 300 yen a pop but there’s a whole wider variety of flavors and sauces to choose from in Japan. I ended up trying an avocado shrimp sandwich.
Amusingly, while the vegetables were definitely crunchier, it ended up tasting like all other Subway sandwiches. Back at the hotel, the SUPER☆GiRLS CDs from CDJapan had finally arrived. A little too late by now, but I guess we could still use them for the Tokyo event. We were still awaiting a more important shipment though.
Nothing really exciting but we still enjoyed the carefree outing at Kobe today. The highlight, at least for myself was in finally being able to visit Kobe Tower. Having to miss the tower during the last trip, was one of the major downers then, so there was some sense of completion in putting things right.
Kobe is definitely a lovely city. It’s no wonder that it’s been consistently voted by foreigners as one of the most livable cities in Japan. Well, it definitely ranks high among the cities I most want to stay in. The scenery is great, and some of the best things I like about Japan are available here. Would gladly visit Kobe sometime again. Perhaps then we could finally check out some of the farms on Mount Rokko?Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.