Japan Journal Day 19: Friday, July 16, 2010: 9:43 PM Kobe Time
Today was our free day, free Friday if you will. I had lots of ideas over the weeks how I would spend this day. Originally, I was thinking a hike in the mountains, but after hard core hiking with Brad and Scott, I didn’t think that was necessary. Another thought was to visit the Emperor’s Palace in Kyoto. This was the residence of the Emperor for over 1000 years, until 1868. But, I had already spent 2 days in Kyoto, and I didn’t feel like spending another 4 hours on crowded trains.
Then, sometime during our day in Osaka, I thought that I really hadn’t gotten to see much of Kobe, the city where our hotel was located. Why not spend the day checking out the local area? Well, I really didn’t want to just wander and find what I could find, so I conceived the idea of having our two Japanese speaking tour leaders, Hiroshi and Brenda, prepare a list of 10 sites in the Kobe area, and having whoever wanted to break into teams of 2 and get their picture taken in front of as many as possible. In other words, do our own version of the Amazing Race, Kobe.
At one point in Osaka, I had 8 people on board, but one by one they abandoned the idea, and by morning it was just Jae and I. Thus, we were racing daylight rather than other teams. After a team meeting from 9-10 for all team members not going to Kyoto [that group had already left], Jae and I got our list from Brenda, and went to my room to Google the ones we couldn’t find on our map. The course was challenging, we would need to use 5 forms of transportation [walking, taxi, bus, train, and cable car – there was also something called a ‘Port Liner’ but it was a modern train that felt like a monorail]. In addition, we would need to go all over town, and even hit two sites outside of town. The final destination was to make it to Okomoto by 7:00 PM, where we would meet up with a group of sushi fans.
Our first stop was walkable from the hotel – ½ mile or so. The skies were lightly clouded, the air was hottish, and the humidity level was high. For those of you into meteorology, the dew point here is 75 right now. Our first objective was a local gardens. Had we more time, we might have actually gone in, but it was 300 yen, and we really didn’t know how this day would go.
From the gardens, we walked south towards Chinatown, our second objective. Had we gone straight, we would have arrived in ¾ of a mile. As it is, we walked 2 miles. Much of the walk was along a covered street – so we did not roast too badly. In China town we had the assignment to eat Chinese street food. It was early yet, and hot, so Jae and I each bought a dumpling for 50 yen each. They were like raw bread dough on the outside, and like broiled pork on the inside.
From Chinatown, we had to catch the train to Sannomiya, to change to the Hankyu line to the Rokko stop to get to the student coop at the University of Kobe, Rokko Campus. This was the same campus we visited before, so we knew the way. If you are ever in Kobe, it is simple. Take the Hankyu line to the Rokko station. Then walk uphill until you melt into the pavement. Although we pretty much knew the way, we stopped and ask directions from a couple of Mormon Missionaries. Yes, they are everywhere in Japan. There is freedom of religion here.
If you remember the view from the campus, you might imagine the hill to get to campus. It was tough. My entire shirt was already wet/damp, and I had purchased a bottle of drink from a vending machine and drained it. We bought a few items at the coop and got our picture taken. We also bought a large bottle of water. We refilled our smaller bottles, and took the rest along as well. This water lasted about an hour.
Our next objective was tougher. We were to take the Rokko Cable Car to Rokko Sanjo Station. This was tougher because our map was not to scale, did not include many side streets, did not label the streets it showed, and rendered landmarks in cartoon format. One thing we knew, we had to hike yet higher up the mountain. We stopped several people to ask directions. A random man on the street, a mailman in his truck with the black cats on the side, two students who discussed between themselves the best way to get there, until admitting that they really didn’t know. In the end we reasoned that if we went further up the mountain, we were bound to see it. We took a street that seemed a direct route.
About half way up the street, a electrical crew was working on power lines. We asked again, this time they pointed further up the street we had chosen. It was still a long way straight up. It was hot. Did I mentioned the humidity? Up we climbed. When we arrived at the cable car station, we had to way of knowing how far up the mountain it would take us. After pictures outside, we purchased round trip tickets and waited to be boarded.
That cable car, as it turns out, is actually two cars that counter balance one another and pass half way [exactly] up and down the mountain. That way, a minimum of power is required to lift the weight up and down the mountain. This made the Shin Kobe ‘Ropeway’ look like an amusement park ride. We just kept going up and up and up. It was more like the cable car at Koyasan, but was a longer ride. When we stepped off at the ‘top’, we had to climb a number of stairs, and we were amazed at the change of climate!
The humidity had dissipated, the temperature had dropped, and we were feeling downright comfortable. The sun put in an appearance and we quickly ran to catch our first view. Wow! What a stunning view from up here! We must have climbed over 3000 vertical feet! The view was amazing. We went from view point to view point trying to see as much of the view as possible. We could see Osaka, we could see Kobe, we could see the inland sea, we could see majestic billowing cumulus congestus clouds. There was also a group of 1st graders there for a field trip [yes, Japanese students are still in school!] and they were cute running around bumping into each other. There were several parent volunteers and teachers, just like a field trip in the US.
We could not stay long, so we descended with the next car. After exiting the station, we hopped on a bus that was bound for the railroads down the hill. It saved time, and did not cost much money. We took the JR Train to Sannomiya where we headed on foot to a section in the North of town that was settled by westerners around the turn of the 20th century who built western style mountains many of which survive to this day. Many of these people donated their homes to the city when they died. Some are museums now, and one was even converted into a Starbucks!
We took our picture in front of the two assigned houses, and made our way back down. Did I mention the houses were perched at the foot of the mountain? You can actually see some of them if you Google Kitano, Kobe. We saw the Weathercock house and the Moegri. Did I mention it was humid? By this point in the day, I already had white streaks on my shirt from dried sweat salt.
Next on the list was to take the Port Liner to Port Island. The “Port Liner” sounds like a ship, but is actually a newish train that runs from Sannomiya station due south onto the man made island called Port Island that liquefied and sank during the 1995 earthquake. It is a beautiful island in part because it is spread out, like in the states, rather than being all crammed together like on the mainland. In addition to convention centers and office buildings, there was a sports center that had a pool in summer and a short track [like in the winter Olympics] in winter. There is also the headquarters of the UCC Coffee Company. We took our photo and walked on.
Our next target was Harborland. This was across Kobe Harbor from Port Island. Our hope was to catch a ferry across, but after walking several miles on the island, and not getting any closer to our destination, we decided to use our taxi ride. As part of the deal, we decided ahead of time that we could take one taxi ride. This was it. The ride cost 1460 yen – well worth it. Traffic slowed our progress and gave us a chance to rest in a very comfortable air conditioned taxi cab. Did I mention it was humid?
The time was past 5:00 now, and we had to rendezvous at 7:00 with more of the team in Okomoto for sushi – our last time at what had become for many their favorite place to eat. It was pushing 6:00, but when we got to Harborland, we saw roller coasters, parks, and a huge Ferris wheel. This was not as massive as the London Eye, but it was larger than the typical fair ground variety by far. There were two cars on the wheel that were specially made out of all plexiglass so you could see in every direction, even down! We looked at each other and shrugged, it was only 100 yen extra per person, so we said – “Why not?” In discussing the matter tickets in hand, we laughed to discover that we were both afraid of heights. It was a nerve wracking but very cool view.
Our victory dinner was at the Okomoto Sushi Place. Although we only got 8 out of the 10 objectives, we felt quite satisfied with ourselves. We walked, rode, and were driven all over the place, got practice using the mass transit system, got to know the city of Kobe MUCH better, and had a great time doing it.
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