Japan Trip-Friday, June 1, 2012

What an interesting day of touristing and photography…

Breakfast was included in the price of the room, a la Stateside hotel like Holiday Inn Express. The difference is that the food here is much healthier. The Hotel 1-2-3 breakfast offerings included scrambled eggs, sausages, plain yogurt with blueberry sauce that you could add to taste, broccoli, croissants, toast, rice porridge, miso soup, milk, juice, coffee, and tea. I’m sure I forgot some things too. Not bad for an included meal.

As if that wasn’t enough, we walked to the train station and had a freshly made Nikuman (pork bun) and stopped next door in the tourist information center and picked up a bunch of maps and literature on the various sites in Kobe.

Then, a short walk to the government center building where we took an elevator to the free observatory on the 24th floor. The building is about 28 years old, survived the deadly Kobe earthquake about 19 years ago, and looks new on the outside (not so new on the inside). From the observatory you can see panoramas of the city in two directions: the harbor and the mountains.

We noticed a park nearby with several huge tents and lots of tables. The observatory guide told us it was for a German Festival (Oktoberfest), set to run for the next ten days and opening today at 12 pm.

So, on the way back to the hotel to meet Hiro, we stopped there to look around. Huge booths to sell beer, sausages, and other food. It was hard for me to imagine the Japanese people showing up in droves for it, but later I discovered how wrong I was…

Back to the hotel to meet Hiro. While waiting we looked through the literature we picked up to learn more about the city.

Apparently Hiro’s wife was born in Osaka and he worked in Kobe for three years, so he knows his way around very well.

We started with a walk to the train station, doesn’t everything… Then, into a nearby department store, and up to the top floor where a bunch of restaurants are located. We ate at a Shabu Shabu restaurant. They kept bring food to us until we were stuffed.

Back down the elevator and off for a short walk to a famous coffee shop named Nishmura’s Coffee which opened in 1948. The interior was very traditional with lots of wood, table clothes, and décor. While I’m not a coffee drinker, both Hiro and Hiromi raved about it. I settled for some coffee ice cream which was quite flavorful.

Next, we hailed a taxi where the driver took us up a very steep mountain climb to an overlook of the city which was much higher than the 24 floors we experienced earlier. While the taxi driver waited for us, we walked to the overlook where the first thing we noticed was a playground looking structure with locks all attached to it. Apparently, it is popular for couples in love to bring a lock, write their names on it along with a date and a message and lock it onto the “sculpture.”

From the overlook, we were able to see Osaka to our left and Kobe City straight ahead and to the right. I took a series of photos to combine into a panorama.

Back into the cab, down the hill into a section of town called, “Kitano.” As it was told to me, Kobe City, being a port city, historically received many foreigners, some of who built houses in Kobe. Kitano is one of those areas, so the houses were very different than the typical Japanese houses you see.

Observation of interest, I’m guessing that there is a seatbelt law in because I noticed the taxi driver had his seatbelt pulled across his chest, but not attached to the buckle the entire time.

We wandered back into the city on foot and experienced a very different Kobe than before. It was literally the other side of the tracks. The side we had experienced earlier was the business side, this side was trendy and hopping with small restaurants, shops, bars, and galleries.

The one consistent thing I’ve noticed in Kobe is the large amount of flowers and sculpture in the city. I don’t recall ever experiencing such a thing in Japan before. Kobe is really a beautiful city at every turn.

We ended up at the Oktoberfest which was bursting at the seems. All the tables were full, the vendors had lines in front of them, music was playing, and people were dancing. None of this was inexpensive, as the beers were around $13 each plus a $10 glass return fee, but it was packed. We had a beer and some food before heading out towards to the hotel. Suddenly a woman appeared who knew Hiro. In fact, she is one of the people in my clinic on Saturday. She brought her mother and Jack Russel Terrier (in a stroller) to the festival. The Jack couldn’t have been friendlier.

After a very interesting day of touristing, back to the hotel for some rest before I will wake up at 2 am, 3 am, or 4 am.

Final interesting Japanese note of the day: I had noticed on my first trip to Japan the following, but had forgotten about it: As a courtesy, drivers typically turn their headlights off when stopping at traffic signals so they don’t shine into the cars in front of them. If we did this in the states, we would think something was wrong with the car in front or behind us.

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