We found the beef.........it is in Kobe!!!

Trip Start Mar 10, 2009
Trip End Nov 09, 2009

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Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Tuesday, April 7, 2009

CMB-  Well, Ding and Mambo do it again in Kobe and arrive with no reservations or real good idea of where to stay in Kobe.  Luckily we arrived fairly early and began the long process of hunting down a place to stay.  Per usual, we were somewhat lost as we got off the train at the Kobe station which seemed the logical choice.  We got off and found an information booth of which was almost no help.  Unfortunately, language was more of a problem here.  Even though our Japanese was better at this point is wasn't good enough.  All she could do was recommend hotels around the area that were more than we could spend. 
The word, "Hostel", doesn't translate very good in other languages.  In most cases, they think you are looking for a hotel or a hospital... neither exactly what we needed.  Although, Makely was still sick at this point- going on week 3, and maybe a hospital would be best.  We decided to find an internet stop so we could try to do some research on our own.  We were directed to some sort of Chuck E Cheese like place that also happened to have some computers to use for the internet.  Both of us, getting a bit frustrated with our lack of planning and wasted time as we enter each city head to the computers.  I do a quick search and find a place that was recommended from another person back in Kyoto.  Write down the instructions on how to get there and we at least have something to hope for.  One problem though is it is about 10 min outside of town... not ideal.  
All the while, Makely is typing away on his computer and getting enraged.  All I hear is a constant stream of cursing as pop-up window after pop-up window is locking his computer up.  By the end of it all, Makely almost punted the computer into the pool of plastic balls.  Still with nothing set in stone and frustrated, we grabbed a bite to eat and decided we should stop at the Sannomiya train station stop which we discovered was the main train stop for Kobe (aka the city center) not the Kobe stop as we had thought.  This had another info booth that might be able to give us some other options and ones that would be closer to town.  So, back on the train and this time we were in luck.  The lady at this info booth was able to give us a list of cheap hotels and hostels to call to find a room.  Of course, as smart as we are, we decided to say fuck it, no need to call ahead to check availability and headed to the recommended hostel that I ended up looking up before as none of the others were that much closer and the info lady had thought were more expensive.  
So, on the train again... this time a 10 min venture outside of town near a sake brewery... definitely had promise.  We snaked through some streets to Kobe Dear Backpackers Hostel.  We walked in and prayed.  Luckily they had 1 room left which happened to be a double room.  Nice enough place with free internet and WiFi... can't complain except they had no availability for the following day.  Too wiped from the search that day we figured we would make calls the following day after some good food and night's sleep.
After getting settled, we again head back to the train station to go back to the main part of town to hunt down some good grub and a few long overdue beers.  We quickly found a great little BBQ place where you BBQ Kobe beef strips on a small grill at your table... like a Korean BBQ joint.  Ordered up the special Kobe beef multi-cut plate and 2 big Kiren beers and were ready to unwind.  Food was great and not very expensive and after a few rounds of beers things were ok again.  We typically have been finding places to eat all over Japan by heading down all the small side streets.  It seems that this is where many of the locals head for cheaper but great little places.  Usually cheaper than the main street joints as well.  Nonetheless, we finished up and decided to head to a bar that the waiter had recommended down the street and have a few more before heading back to the train station for the 1000th time that day.
   All we had was the Japanese characters for this bar as it did not have an English equivalent as many bars will display... such as 3 Japanese characters and then underneath in English, "Frank's Bar".  So, we followed his directions and were playing match the characters game... This is not too easy as many buildings through these narrow side streets have signs all the way up the side showing the 8 bars at each of the buildings 8 floors.  Somehow, we find it and match up pine tree, window, cross with detonator, spider, box and head in. Tiny place, maybe 5 small tables crammed in and a 10 foot bar, with a few Japanese people laughing, playing cards and relaxing, that all check out the 2 out of place gaijin that walked in.  WTF are they doing here?  The bar is dark, smokey, with some good tunes playing in the background and "Wanted" with Angelina Jolie playing on a TV in the corner.  I like it. 
So, we saddled up to the bar like we had been here many times and ordered up 2 vodka tonics... sorry Leto, no soda (makely here LT, I wanted soda, but soda water in japanese basically means coke, so no luck - had to slum it throughout Japan).  Lots of things to look at in this place as the bars is full of random books, trinkets and notebooks for people to write or draw random shit.  We got our drinks, we wrote and drew some of our own random shit and started talking with the bartender and others at the bar. 
Had a great time shooting the shit, practicing Japanese and learning more, and playing some Texas Hold'em at the bar for whatever change we had - but one of the highlights had to be the bathroom of this place.  Walked into a tiny room near the entrance and you were overwhelmed with things to look at everywhere... random posters with half naked women or different positions someone might be using a toilet, Japanese Manga anime figurines everywhere, books, Hello Kitty... you name it, it was in there... Makely was first into the lair and said it was a must visit... Lonely Planet missed this one but it will DEFINITELY be in our travel guide.  
Later, while playing Hold'em, Makely got a special sake from the bartender which was very potent.  Not sure what it was, but the sputtering after the first sip told me it was strong.  It was pricey too but he ended up getting it for free... sweet!  Should have gotten some myself.  Well, we were sufficiently in the bag at this point and needed to leave to catch the last train home and not fall victim to expensive cabs like in Tokyo.
    Next morning, I, unfortunately, had finally gotten the sick bug as well and was on my way to the runny nose and coughing that Makely had been suffering from for the past few weeks.  Makely decided to relax for the day to try to get better with some antibiotics we had for something else, but Bert had recommended was also ok for sinus infections and bronchitis.  RN Bert to the rescue! 
I was not to be stopped and had wanted to head to an old medieval Japanese castle nearby that was supposed to be cool - Himeji.  After another 3 hour debacle trying to get another room for that night we finally found one, booked it and planned on meeting Makely back at the Hostel later after Himeji to check in.  Makely was bound and determined to finally get better and catch up on some sleep and picture organizing/blogging.  I head off to the train station to Himeji about 45 min to an hour away.
   Ended up being a great day outside with blue skies everywhere as you an see from some of the pics at Himeji.  Everywhere I looked was a postcard and I probably took over 200 pictures that day.  I would recommend seeing Himeji if you get a chance as it was very impressive especially at this time of year.  Once inside the outer castle walls and moat, there is a huge park where everyone picnicked, enjoying sakura season.  The sakura were in full bloom and the whole scene was amazing.  People everywhere eating, drinking, soaking up the sun under a sakura, sakura leaves already falling off and blowing in the wind like snow, people playing soccer or frisbee... I had a perma-grin all day.  I stayed and watched for awhile to soak it up. 
While I waited, some older Japanese guys came to talk to me to practice their English, other wanted pictures with tall gaijin in the park and others, surprisingly, asked me to take pictures of them.  All of it made me feel very welcome in this place far from home.
   Into the castle.  I can't say enough about how beautiful and impressive this castle was.  There were interior gardens that were stunning - small ponds and sakura abound, outer guard walls with special "openings" to drop hot water or shoot arrows on intruders, curved walls to make it harder for intruders to scale the walls, and the castle itself was very impressive both inside and out.  Almost everything was in English and Japanese so it was easy for me to soak up a a lot of time here.  I hope that a few of the hundreds of pictures I took will do it justice and give you some idea.  Pictures are worth a 1000 words, right?
   With so many things to see and the grounds being pretty large, I was running late to get back to Kobe.  Hopped back on the train back to our hostel and got back about 45 minutes later to find Makely on the computer.  I think the staff at the hostel was also ready for him to leave at this point as he had been there all day even though we had checked out.  Since the staff had left for the entire afternoon, Makely was able to sleep in our room almost all day, but later when the staff came back they were, needless to say, a little surprised to see Makely asleep in the bed that other were supposed to use in a few hours when they would check in.  Makely of course convincingly played dumb and headed to the lounge for some internet time while he waited for my lagging ass. 
   Ok, time to sum this up... I get back and we go find the other hostel which is also 10 min outside of town, but the other side of town.  Get there and check in.  It is a complete dump.  I think I have even blocked the name from my memory.  The bed were like baby cribs they were so small and hard as rocks to boot.  We dropped off our stuff and headed to the local Coco's for some Western style food for a change.  Weird that Coco's is so popular in Japan... never would have guessed that one. 
Makely heads back for some rest in his crib and I venture to Kobe for another go at some of the city's nightlife.  Aftr wondering around for about an hour and finding many places actually closed, I find myself back at the same bar that Makely and I had gone to the night before.  Different bartender and crowd that night but same movie, "Wanted" playing in the background.  Took a good 20 minutes or so but eventually the people at the bar warmed up to me and had a good time trying to explain what I did to people who barely spoke English as well as telling them all of my travels and other random stuff.  Lots of drawing in the notebooks to try to explain many things... was comedy.  
Found myself talking to one girl who was by herself at the bar more than the others as the drinks kept flowing, even bought her a drink or two and I was having a good time.  But, soon the night came to a close as I eventually realized that the girl who I thought was by herself at the bar was actually the bartender's girlfriend... great!... nice work, Birnie!  Buying drinks for the bartender's girlfriend and hitting on her constantly.  Nonetheless, everyone took it in stride and even chuckled when I eventually asked if they were boyfriend/ girlfriend.  They didn't charge me for her drinks and I decided it was time for this gaijin to hit the road so I could get an early start to Mt. Fuji the next day.
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