We hopped on a train and made our way to Kobe. Kobe is actually quite close to Osaka, only about 20 minutes on the train and we were there. Luckily, our hotel offered a free shuttle, that runs all day, from the train station to the hotel, so that was convenient. The Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel is a pretty fancy place. We booked two rooms with a water view, but didn't realize that the hotel is on a little peninsula in the harbor, so most of the rooms face the water. But, we were lucky enough to receive a room facing a ferris wheel that lit up at night and was a constant swirl of color throughout our stay.
Kobe is a smaller city with tons to see. Our first day we woke up and decided that the buffet breakfast in the hotel would be interesting. We ate unlimited amounts of pork bao and shumai with delicious dollops of super spicy mustard. We tried little bits of Japanese cuisine, like pickled cucumbers, miso, noodles, fried pork, steamed salmon and much more for breakfast. Yum! After breakfast we slowly made our way to the Ikuta shrine. Japan is a mix of Buddhism and Shinto. Shinto is a nature based animistic religion, but more a way of life than what Westerners call religion. This applies to their version of Buddhism as well. Anyhow, the Ikuta shrine is a Shinto shrine. We walked around, admired the red 'arches' and even got to watch the blessing of a baby. The grounds of the shrine are beautiful and quite peaceful.
After the shrine we decided to visit the nearby gardens. We were a little confused because on the map it looked like it was in a building, but we figured there was a garden in the building. We were surprised to find that it was less of a rock or tree garden, but a bit of a food garden! It was a building with little shops that sold specialty foods, which is just as good as a garden with trees. Since chestnuts are in season and seem to be a big deal over here, we partook in some chestnut soft serve ice cream. It was really good. The creamy, nutty ice cream was accentuated by little chunks of the nuts themselves. We eventually found a little fudge shop where the owner was extremely proud to let us sample his chocolates. We ended up leaving with a little sample box because they were so good! On the way out we, also, found a shop with semi cured mushrooms and meats and that was fun to buy. The two women shop keepers were very helpful and quite excited to have us. But, then again, everyone in Japan is so nice it shouldn't be a surprise anymore.
We thought that the best way to end our day would be to head to the sake breweries and to try some sake. We made our way over to the sake district of Nada, only to find that sake breweries offer tours from 9am through 4:30pm and it was already 5pm. Boo! That was a bummer. But, we found a little sake shop, bought some local sake, and slowly made our way back to the hotel. On the way we stopped at a little ramen shop. Boy that was some good ramen, it was full of that yummy miso flavor and jam packed with noodles and other goodies!
That night we went back to the hotel to drink sake and play another round of Farkle. That was fun, as always, and though Seth won, it was a pretty close game.
In the morning, Steve wasn't feeling too great so he decided to hang out at the hotel until evening. So Seth, Joan, and I made our way to visit the Nunobiki Waterfalls and the Herb Garden. To get to the top we took the super awesome gondola. Apparently this is the norm at Colorado ski slopes so they weren't as impressed as I was, but the view was nice. And we went pretty high. The herb garden was quite large and had many types of herbs and edible plants I had never tasted before. We did a lot of rubbing leaves and sniffing. That was pretty neat. We then hiked all the way down to where the waterfall was. It was a pretty impressive hike for Joan to do in her Birkenstocks. The waterfall is said to hold some of the purest, most sacred water in Japan, and is on the top 100 waterfalls in Japan list. It was very peaceful.
On our way back to the hotel the most unlikely thing happened, we ran into our Osaka tour guide friend Minako! We were all shocked, but pleasantly surprised. It was truly nice to see Minako one more time.
Back at the hotel, Steve still wasn't feeling well, but insisted we continue our plans for dinner at a Kobe beef steak house without him. Kobe beef comes from the black Tajima-Ushi breed of Wagyu cattle from the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan. There is no exporting of beef from Japan so you can not obtain it in the US, despite what some vendors purport. Kobe cattle are fed beer during the summer months to stimulate appetite when it is hot. The cattle are given massages to relieve stress and muscle stiffness. It is thought that the meat quality is effected by the contentment of the cows. Similarly, some producers believe that hair coat and softness of the cattle will improve the overall product and therefore they brush sake over the cow's coat. At the end of the day you get a very pricey piece of extremely delicious meat. But, be warned, this is not anything like American meat. This meat has an extremely high fat content and some may find it too greasy. But, we thought it was amazing. The rich, umami flavor that i hope to experience again, nearly melted in my mouth. Similarly, the restaurant, Miyasu, was amazing. The rest of the meal was impeccable as well.
The next morning we were surprised to hear that Steve was not feeling better, even after a full day's rest. So, Steve and Joan went to get him checked out and we wandered around Kobe. We eventually found an underground area with tons of little restaurants. We stopped at a place that was serving up noodles on a fry top right at the counter. We had to order from a little machine and grab a ticket to give to the hostess when we were seated. For this we needed assistance. We, obviously didn' t know all of the options, but we were able to point to some pictures on a cardboard cut out and ask the two guys in front of us which button meant those. We ended up getting the right pictures, so we did a good job. It was delicious. Any place with a line is bound to be tasty.
We hopped back on our free shuttle and made our way back to the hotel to check out the pool. The pool pass came with a list of rules. You must wear a swim cap in the pool. You must shower before entering the pool. You must wash in between sauna and pool. No tattoos are to be exposed in the pool area (but when I asked she said it was ok). And the list went on. But, it was nice to soak a bit. It was a rainy day, so looking out over the harbor was nice from the lukewarm hot tub. And we got to check out some interesting hotel visitors, as well. There was one guy, probably in his late 30's to early 40's who spent almost the entire time we were there sitting in one place, walking to another and sitting, and returning, and so on. He happened to be wearing a tinsy tinsy, almost thong like neon color bottom. He was scoping the scene for ladies, and I think the pool crowd was too old for him. I made sure I stuck close to Seth. LOL