Sorry, 2016, But This Was a Pretty Good Year for Me

2016

 

My favourite number is 13. Not because I was born on the 13th, or that the number 13 has significance in my life, but because I figure that a number that is unlucky for some has to be lucky for someone.

Much in the same way, the year that was essentially a real-life season of Game of Thrones for the world actually turned out to be a pretty awesome year for me personally. And not because I’m a “Leave” supporter or a Donald Trump fan. My year just kind of happened that way.

So sorry (not sorry) to gloat and rub it in your face, 2016, but you did not break me. 2016 had to be lucky for someone, right? Read more

What’s the beef with Kobe?

Kobe, Japan

Is there anything to see and do in Kobe that doesn’t involve its famous, delicious beef? Essentially, where’s the beef in Kobe?

Well, it turns out that beef isn’t Kobe’s only cash cow. There’s a lot more to see in Kobe to beef up your trip and give you enough to do until the cows come home…

Ikuta Jinja Shrine

Ikuta Shrine, Kobe, Japan

Our first stop was the Ikuta shrine, a short walk from the Sannomiya train station. The bright red torii gates were cool and although it isn’t as grand or significant as other shrines in Japan, it was very charming and a lovely place to just walk around. Plus, we were lucky enough to gatecrash witness a wedding taking place, with the wedding party in traditional Japanese dress, which was amazing and interesting to watch. I also got my fortune told at a booth at the entrance, telling me how excellent my fortune is, which was nice! No beef there…

Nunobiki Falls

Nunobiki Falls, Kobe, Japan

Just behind Shinkobe station, the Nunobiki Falls are a short walk uphill and well worth the steep climb. I couldn’t believe I was only a few minutes from the city, and would loved to have done the full hike up to the herb garden if we’d had time. There are four waterfalls in total, though the most impressive are the Odaki falls. It was quite hypnotic watching the water and a really peaceful and tranquil place to sit and contemplate, even with the other visitors around. The waterfalls have inspired many Japanese artists and poets, and it’s easy to see why. Here’s my personal favourite that I’ve found, taken from the Tales of Ise:

It looks as though someone

Must be unstringing

Those clear cascading gems.

Alas! My sleeves are too narrow

To hold them all.

And not a steak in sight…

Kitano-cho

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Of all places, Kobe is actually well-known for it’s big expat community, many of whom settle in the Kitano-cho area. This district was really good for walking around and just looking at the mix of buildings, from English pubs to the mansions of ex-diplomats! Didn’t see any beefs…

Hakutsuru Sake Brewery

Sake in Osaka, Japan

There are several sake breweries in the Nada district, but one of the most-visited is the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery for it’s museum and sake tasting sessions. Not that I would know, as we arrived a little too late and the brewery was closing so we didn’t get a chance to peek inside and see how sake was made. However, just walking around Nada was an experience – you could really smell the sweet sake fragrance in the air (and no beef)!

What does sake taste like? – I was expecting something similar to Korean soju, which I find unbearably strong, but actually the sake I tried was very sweet. I had it served ‘cold’ (room temperature), though you can also have it hot. I can’t say I liked it, but I sipped away happily and the small jug and tiny bowls it came with were pretty cute.

The best way I can describe sake is that it tastes like Christmas. I’m not sure if it’s because of the sweet and nutty taste, or whether it’s because Christmas is the time of year when you drink all the random liquors in the drinks cabinet…

Nankin-machi (Chinatown)

Nankin-machi, Chinatown, Kobe, Japan

Coming from Hong Kong, we weren’t too fussed about visiting Chinatown, but thought we would pass through on our way to the waterfront. However, we were proved wrong! The street food there was amazing, from Peking duck wraps, to steamed buns, dumplings, fresh fruit… Hong Kong could definitely learn a thing or too from Kobe’s Chinese street food culture, and we couldn’t help but grab some assorted foods on sticks (the Japanese love their random foods on sticks!) and snack away, drifting through the streets of vendors. Ok, there was definitely some beef here.

Harborland

Harborland, Kobe, Japan

Sadly, by the time we headed out to Kobe’s waterfront it was pouring with rain, so we took shelter in Chinatown and when it didn’t hold off, we had to admit defeat and head home. However, from what we heard from other travellers we met, it’s definitely worth a visit for a walk on the beach and a view of the Kobe Port Tower all lit up at night. Here’s a picture that we didn’t take because we weren’t there (too distracted with our Kobe beef, obviously…).

Himeji Castle (Himeji)

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Ok, so it’s not in Kobe, but coming from Osaka it makes the most sense to take the train to Himeji first, then stop in Kobe on the way back, which is easily doable in day if you lave early enough (we did them on separate days, but wished we’d squeezed them into one instead).

Himeji Castle, the largest and most-visited castle in Japan, is pretty impressive and it’s expansive gardens and grounds are very beautiful to walk around. The castle is also lit up at night, so we stayed until after dark to see it. However, though it was great to visit and a must-see attraction that many people say is the highlight of their trip to Japan, we secretly preferred Osaka Castle (shhh!).

Kobe beef

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Ok! So we tried the beef! We had actually resigned ourselves to not being able to afford to try to proper stuff because we’re talking thousands of yen for steak at one of the certified restaurants. But in fact, after stuffing ourselves in Chinatown, we came across a burger van that was selling Kobe beef burgers. It had a little gold beef trophy outside so we figured there was a chance it could be legit Kobe beef, or if it wasn’t then at least it was beef in Kobe, which is something.

What is Kobe beef? – To count as true Kobe beef, the Wagyu cattle have to be raised in a certain way that includes a diet of sake and daily massages. Drunk and massaged all day? Sounds like a good job to me. The meat is marbled with fat, which gives it a strong flavour. In fact, it’s so good that Kobe Bryant is named after it (that’s an actual fact – google it).

Verdict – Still no idea whether what we had was true Kobe beef, but regardless it tasted amazing!

Holy cow! So, it turns out that there is more to Kobe that just beef! So, next time you’re in Kansai, especially in Osaka for a few days or more, take the bull by the horns and visit Kobe!

For more bloggings on Japan (without beef puns), read An Osaka Day, Told Through The Medium Of, Japanese Haiku, and watch this space for more blogs on Nara, Kyoto and Tokyo.

Travel – For anyone wondering about travel details, the train from Umeda station in Osaka to/from Himeji cost us around 1,200 yen each way (it takes over an hour and a half, stay on until the end of the line, Himeji station) and the train from Osaka-Namba to/from Kobe Sannomiya station was 400 yen each way and took 45 minutes. We didn’t have the JR pass, but if you do then you can get faster and better value trains if you’re tripping around Japan for a few weeks. Google maps show train times and prices, which is really helpful, and Japan Guide was an invaluable source of information during our multi-city trip.

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