What comes to mind when you hear the word Kobe (in reference to Japan)? Depending on your knowledge of the city, the only two things that you will probably think of are beef and the 1995 earthquake.
And really, that's all Kobe has going for it. Expensive, pampered cow meat. And destruction from natural forces.
But I made a day trip out of the place today, and had quite a good time. The easiest and cheapest way to get to and around Kobe seems to be the Hanshin train line, which runs closest to the waterfront where all the tourist attractions are.
It has been a trend lately for me to start late, and again I found myself about an hour or two behind "schedule" for the day. However I had plenty of time built into today's schedule and I was able to easily see and do all I had planned - and more!
I had originally set up my itinerary to finish in the same way I ended it - with alcohol. But a quick rearrangement meant I would make it my second stop instead of the first. I started with the Kobe Fashion Museum, located on an island full of fashion and design and art centers and schools and shops. It seems to be the island's theme, among the ports of Kobe. Giggle if you want, but I enjoy fashion, especially on attractive women, so it was cool to see some really nice clothing. They had a selection of historical pieces too which I really enjoy seeing at conventions (boy do I miss DragonCon right now). Plus the building looks like a UFO. I wasn't there long before I took the quick monorail (Simpsons joke here) and long hike to a brewery museum.
Housed in authentic, smells-like-its-still-made-here old building, the Hakutsuru Brewery Museum uses its two floors of space to show the complete process of turning rice into drinkable alcohol. Of course, at the end of the (free) museum you can try sake. They had fresh (unpasteurized) sake, an award-winning blend, two types of plum wine an a lemon-tasting liqueur. I forgot how much I like plum wine! But I brought home a souvenir bottle of the real deal, actual sake. I'll share that after work one night with my coworkers.
With a small buzz and a warmth in my heart (from the alcohol of course) I headed to the Kobe City Museum, only to find it closed apparently. I didn't see anything about this but it wasn't a big loss actually. So I continued on to the earthquake memorial and museum.
In an earthquake-proof building, you are shown video recreations of the earthquake's destruction and hear the story of one woman's experience after the quake. Then you your the rest of the museum, filled more with information about the rescue, cleanup, and rebuilding process and prevention than destruction. You can watch more videos, see pictures of the actual destruction you saw on the introduction video, and read information and testimonials through interactive displays. The whole museum is arranged well and despite imperfect English it was easy to understand.
I will mention, as others have in reviews, that the guides tend to be overly attentive (the museum was fairly empty). Sometimes you want to just read and observe silently. However I think my "personal guide" did a decent job of just stepping in, showing me that a display had interactivity or telling me about how the area is laid out, and then stepping back to wait for questions. He was always there but not really imposing.
My second observation of the museum deals with the introductory film. When you first enter the museum itself on the top floor, you are shown a seven-minute film basically showing the quake strike at several locations around the city - train lines, hospitals, houses, businesses, etc. at times I kind of chuckled to myself - the event was serious, but the destruction and suspense shown seemed to be so dramatic! A bus about to drive off the collapsed bridge! A train on a collapsing viaduct! Whole stories of buildings crumbling on top of each other! Concrete and glass raining from the heavens! I had seen some photos but it really felt like a Universal Studios attraction. Remember that one in LA? Or the movie Earthquake?
Well here's a shock: it was all real. The reenactment is verified later in the museum by photos. There is a picture of a bus dangling off a bridge. Trains on collapsed railways. Houses and buildings crushed on each other. Rubble in the streets. It really put the whole event in perspective - I several times found myself muttering "oh shit that was real" when seeing a photo. It's a good museum, and inspiring as well.
Anyway, my last stop was the Kawasaki Good Times museum and Maritime Museum, which shares the same building in Kobe Port next to Kobe Tower. Does every city have a tower? It turns out that there were some festival activities in the area so I enjoyed some great street food before hitting the two museums. They share an entry fee. If you have kids or LOVE motorcycles or ships, go here. Otherwise you're probably wasting your time. I got a kick out of the model cruise ships with great detail including one with a waterside.
From Kobe I made my way back to Osaka and Den Den Town, Kansai's version of Akihabara. I was looking for something specific but didn't find it at the right price. And while some have mentioned how nice the lack of crowds is, there is a lack of stores as well. It is not empty by any means but it is much smaller than Akihabara. I did find a few neat toys that I hadn't seen in Akiba at the right price - or at all? - and it was fun walking through the area.
So I mentioned having alcohol twice today. I ended the day back in the area of Tsutenkaku, which is yet another tower you can go in to see the sights. Located a stone's throw from my hotel room, this is the best place to find kushikatsu - food fried in a light batter which you then dip in a soy sauce. I ended up having four chickens, two beef, potato, cheese, chorizo sausage, and banana. All were great and I could eat this every night if it wouldn't kill me or my wallet (about 120 yen/stick). Plus two beers. Not cheap but delicious and well worth the cost. And cheaper than eating Kobe beef.
Until next time...