The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, 1 October 2006

Trip to Kobe and Osaka Part I

We had a long weekend two weeks ago, so we decided to make a weekend trip to Kobe and Osaka. A fellow Perthie JET lives in the Hyogo prefecture, and she kindly put us up for two nights. (Holly, you're so kind!! I hope we can return the favour one day, although I wouldn't blame you if you didn't want to come all the way up in inaka!) We had loads of fun, exploring the cities and a beautiful castle typically Rob-and-Jean style (i.e. on foot). Needless to say, by Monday we were exhausted and were glad to make our way back home (which is a 5-6 hour trip on the train and bus).


Sannomiya, the happening part of Kobe, is like gaijin (foreigner) district - the first thing I said to Rob when we stepped out of the train station "I have never seen so many gaijins in one place since leaving Tokyo". Rob said that it didn't really feel like Japan at all. I think in a way I'm glad I wasn't placed in Kobe because there isn't much of a Japanese experience there. There is this odd feature at this square outside one of the entrances of the train station. According to Holly, the place is called 'Tits', but funnily enough, the statue is anything but. This square is a favourite meeting/hangout place for gaijins There were a few bands showcasing their music when we arrived in the afternoon.

'Tits' square:

Sannomiya has lots of department stores, western food restaurants and lots of gaijin expats. However, other than shopping, there really isn't much to do in Sannomiya. Initially I was puzzled as to why pedestrians in Kobe kept to the right hand side of footpaths, stairs and escalators - people in other parts of Japan heeded the 'keep left' rule. Then I realised that the city would probably have a LOT of influence from America.

Holly met us in Sannomiya and told us she hasn't really had much of a chance to explore Kobe and its surroundings yet. So first up we decided to walk 20minutes from Sannomiya to catch a cable car to Nunobiki Habu-koen, a 'Herb Hill' at the top of a mountain ridge. It's very pretty up there, and we spent a good half hour looking at the souvenir shop situated at the top (with a very bored Rob). We then walked our way down using a 'gardened' pathway to a glasshouse. The Herb Hill was very pretty with lots of flowers and herbs - and the cable car rides gave us a beautiful view of the city and harbour both during daytime and at dusk.

On our way up to Habu-koen:

With Holly and a nice backdrop:

A rose by any other name...:

Nankinmachi (Chinatown)

We descended down from Habu-Koen at sunset and made our way back into Sannomiya for dinner. We decided to walk to Nankinmachi to have a look-see and perhaps get some food there. There were plenty of food stalls set up along the Chinatown strip selling Chinese fast food like noodles, dumplings and steamed buns. We searched for this gyoza (dumplings) place to eat dinner, but it was all in vain. After eating some food, we made our way back into Sannomiya to meet up with another fellow Perthie JET, also named Hollie (with an 'ie'), also placed in Hyogo. Hollie is a serious shopaholic, and Kobe is her heaven.. We ended up at a kaitenzushi ('conveyor-belt-sushi') place for dinner. Both Holly and Hollie are tiny eaters!

Sannomiya, a shopper's dream - this is just one of many 'arcade/street' of shops, and it was absolutely crowded:

At the entrance to Kobe's own Chinatown:

At the kaitenzushi-ya:

With Hollie and Holly:

Himeji Castle and Koko-en

On Sunday morning, we took the train to Himeji. According to the Lonely Planet Guide to Japan, Himeji-jo (also known as Shirasagi, the 'White Egret') is the castle to visit in Japan (unfortunately, being the castle to see in Japan, there were lots of people). Built in 1580 (although there have been fortifications in Himeji since 1333), it is one of the very few Japanese castles to survive in their original form. The area and gardens surrounding the castle were beautiful, but the highlight was entering the castle - it's like you've stepped into another time (this is, of course, ignoring the other tourists and modern stuff in the castle designed to preserve and protect items. The castle tower is 6 storeys high, and I got a really good leg workout climbing those steep and high stairs. We also visited Koko-en, which is just across the moat on the western side of Himeji-jo. Koko-en is a reconstruction of the former samurai quarters of the castle, and it is really serene and beautiful.

The exterior of Himeji-jo:

In Koko-en:

Just outside the castle grounds, there was this elderly guy who'd brought two hamsters for show. I hate to sound like the other girls around, but the hamsters were so cute! Honestly, I didn't really want to encourage this kind of silly animal display, but I couldn't resist whipping out my camera to take a photo. And the cutest thing? The 'girl' hamster actually posed for the cameras!:

... journal entry to be continued...

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