The best place to live in Japan05 March, 2011 by Chad
Today, we visit Kobe, the city voted year in, year out as the absolute best place to live in Japan. The rich metropolitan city was wedged between the Seto Inland Sea to the South and the Rokko mountain range in the North, making it one of the most beautiful scenic cities ever. Continue reading for the photo walkthrough and full day’s happenings.
Kobe was just adjacent to Osaka, so there was no need to get seats in a Shinkansen today. In fact, it would had take longer than the 15 minutes via Limited Express if we had taken a bullet train since the Kobe Shinkansen terminal was pretty far from the main city.
We got off at Kobe Station before realizing that we could had continued on in the Limited Express train. The train transformed to a local train after reaching Kobe.
Transport in Kobe was really straight forward. Despite being more than twice the size of Osaka, the entire city was laid out as a long stretch beside the ocean. The JR line ran parallel to the other company tracks, straight through the city. So unlike at Osaka, we could just use our JR Passes to get around conveniently.
One of the things I always miss the most are the deep blue skies in a temperate country like Japan. When the weather was fine, the skies were truly blue, the way they should be. And not the different washed out tones of green and gray. I didn’t have to Photoshop a sky into my pictures like in Singapore.
The weather had been pretty gloomy the past few days, so I was glad that this morning the skies finally cleared up for the finest weather so far this trip.
We took some time to admire the wonderful weather in the park while munching on the rice balls we bought for breakfast on the way.
It wasn’t long before we reached the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, which holds the record as the longest suspension bridge in the world.
The seas surrounding the area were especially well known for its whirlpools, and the ships ferrying people from Awaji Island often capsized. Someone eventually figured that having to take a life threatening boat ride just to get to work everyday wasn’t the best for morale, so the bridge was build a decade ago to solve the problem.
While walking to the pier, we got distracted by a collection of Mediterranean style buildings to our left. It turned out to be the Marine Pia Kobe Mitsui Outlet Park, a collection of more than 140 factory outlets for international and local medium range designer brands like Coach, Porter, agnes B and Lacoste.
The shops were split into a number of different buildings and we ended up spending quite a bit of time here. Wilson spotted the agnes B bag he bought from Hong Kong for sale at less than half the price he had paid and about a third of what it would cost in Singapore. Giddy, we both walked away carrying paper bags from different stores.
The mall was in perfect view of the nearby bridge. Some yachts were parked outside. Some older folk were fishing by the pier. A lone traveler went to see what they were up to. The folk there offered her a go at fishing and they ended up taking touristy photos together. Other than a few other travelers and retired folk there weren’t too many other people around this Wednesday morning.
After we had absorbed enough of the marvelous atmosphere, we headed back to Kobe city where another experience awaited us.
When in Kobe, it was kind of only necessary that we eat the beef there. Moriya came highly recommended to us by Geraldine. They served actual Kobe Beef from the original cows as well as their own bred offspring of 80% the bloodline. We chose the cheaper of the two, which was still pretty darn good.
The staff here spoke English pretty decently. In between our oh so tasty appetizers, one of the two waitresses that were serving us brought the meats and laid them out on the table and asked us how we would like them done. She left them there for a while, which left us kind of stumped for a moment before she explained that she actually took them out for us to take photos of the meat.
The steaks were served plain with some greens and an unlimited supply of top grade Japanese rice. Small amounts of garnish were left along the side of the pan but even without any, the tender chunks were already exploding with flavor. If any, I felt that the original flavor went the best with just a little salt. It was a pretty heavenly but also our priciest meal yet. Wilson was left asking that if this was 80%, what did 100% Kobe beef taste like.
Next up was to visit the looming Mt Rokko. It’s really hard to get lost in Japan, when all the train stations are either named after the area or the most prominent landmark nearby. Unlike in Singapore where stations are given imaginary Final Fantasy names like Pheonix and Coral Edge.
Couldn’t resist the Strawberry Daifuku for sale at the station. So ended up grabbing a bunch.
From Rokkomichi Station, we took a bus up to the Rokko Cable Car Station. The bus whirled up the base of the mountain where everyone in Kobe seemed to live.
It was 3.30 PM by the time we reached the station. There were a few different ticketing options for the cable car up the mountain and the original plan was to get a 1400 yen pass that would give us full use of all the facilities and transport on top of Rokko.
Sadly, we learned from the conductor there that the last bus for the goat farm that Yan was looking forward to had already left and many of the other parts of the mountain were closed for the Winter. Still, we had come this far so we’d might as well go up. Tickets for a normal two trip cost 1000 yen.
Mount Rokko peaks at around 930 meters above sea level, not the tallest of mountains but there was still a significant temperature drop up there. After taking a look around, we decided to take shelter at the heated waiting room inside the charming station.
Yan and I shared the Daifuku that I bought earlier from the station. He was pretty alarmed at how sweet the strawberries were. I particularly enjoyed the green tea and milk (custard) flavored ones.
The both of us dozed off for a while (remember, hardly any sleep for days) while Wilson disappeared to explore the roof of the station. A young lady entered the cozy waiting area and promptly joined in the dozing too.
Eventually, we decided to head outside and brave the cold.
The second floor of the station building was a sheltered car park area, while the 3rd featured an open air viewing area. We found Wilson here making tiny snowmen.
From the roof, we could get a clear aerial view of Kobe, as well as Osaka city in the distance. There was also a tiny gallery building displaying some historical information. Two counter staff were stationed permanently. I doubt they got too many visitors in winter as we were the only ones around. Most just dropped by the station on their way to the ski resort or hot spring town below the other side of the mountain.
While Wilson and Yan were busy playing around in the snow, I spotted a cat down below at the car park. It looked up for a while before disappearing off somewhere. We went down looking for it later but it was no where to be found. Instead we found a bouquet of flowers left nearby for someone who had probably jumped from the cliff here. Creepy.
Wilson wanted to witness and take some photographs of a sunset from the mountain, so we decided to wait around till then. In the meantime, we had more than an hour to kill so more snowmen were assembled.
The sun typically starts setting at around 5.30 PM and most of our days were spent wishing there were more daylight hours in Japan. But today, we were in a hurry for it to get dark. The last car down the mountain left the station at about 5 minutes before 6 so we didn’t have that much time till then. There wasn’t enough time to wait till it got dark enough.
A bunch of Korean tourists took the prior car up, looked around for just 10 minutes before heading back down. One of them was terribly hot but the rest of the family weren’t. A genetic jackpot or the wonders of plastic surgery?
The Koreans had a tour bus waiting for them downstairs, while we made our way over to Motomachi, Kobe’s equivalent to Ginza or Shinsaibashi. There wasn’t any time for shopping at the high classed cosmopolitan streets or the wide underground bazaar. Instead, we headed for Nankinmachi, Kobe’s Chinatown.
Nankinmachi wasn’t nearly as large as Yokohama’s Chinatown (the largest in Asia) but it definitely felt more pleasant. The locals here spoke Cantonese freely unlike in Yokohama where you’d wonder which stores were actually Chinese owned. Still, like any other Chinatown, Nankinmachi came across as yet another tourist trap.
The main attractions at Chinatown were the central pavilion and 3 different denoting the area. We went about taking photos of the different gates but will only bore you with another.
Next we headed to the harbor to check out the Kobe Port Tower. It was just a few blocks from Chinatown, so we didn’t have to go far before the unusual structure was in sight.
It is quite apparent from the past two day’s exploits and this scale model of Tokyo Tower that I really do have a thing for towers. Kobe’s tower had the most interesting design among the those that we would visit so I was definitely looking forward to the visit.
Sadly, while the tower typically opened till 8 PM, we would learn that it closed two hours earlier during the month February.
Disappointed, we walked around the pier that looped around the tower and the Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel before bidding a last farewell. I considered way to return to Kobe solo on one of the following days just to visit the tower but alas, there simply wasn’t any means as I was the only one who knew the way around and the other two would had been pretty lost otherwise.
On the way back, we passed by a bakery. This and some pasta from 7-Eleven would be the dinner for this busy day, after retiring at the hotel back at Osaka.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.