Mmmm, beefy...

Trip Start Jan 31, 2006
Trip End Dec 11, 2006

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Before we started our trip to Kbe we headed off to the Post Office in Kyto to send back some of the things we'd bought. With birthdays for cousins and nephews coming up we'd found some great presents in Japan and so sent them all back in good time. The lovely ladies behind the counter were very patient with us as we packaged and sent all 5 parcels back home.

At this point I 'must' give another warning to our dear readers - more geeky train stuff ahead! Our trip to Kbe was the first time we got to go on the 700 Series Shinkansen. These trains run faster than the 300 Series, their top speed is 177 mph, and are characterized by their flat 'duck-bill' nose. You can hopefully see the difference on the photos I took.

Needless to say, the trip to Kbe on the train took no time at all and thankfully our hotel was a short walk from the train station so there was no need to clamber our way onto a bus or metro with all of our kit. After a bit of a rest we decided to head out into downtown Kbe have a look around and find somewhere to eat. Kbe was described in our (admittedly crap) guide book as a hill-and-harbour town "that brings to mind San Francisco". I think the author was getting a bit carried away at that point as Kbe looks and feels nothing like San Francisco - the only similarities are that both cities are next to the sea and have hills around them... Despite that, Kbe is still a very charming city and slopes gently downhill from Mount Rokk to the sea. The train station and our hotel were right under Rokk-san with most of the main downtown area next to the water. You may remember that there was a terrible earthquake in Kbe about 10 years ago (the Great Hanshin earthquake) where over 5000 people died and around 100,000 buildings were destroyed. However, walking around town it is impossible to tell that such a big disaster took place not that long ago. The only way I think you would be able to see the difference is if you were actually from Kbe and knew what the city looked like beforehand.

After walking to Sannomiya station which is the main downtown transport hub, we wandered across to Nankin-machi, Kbe's Chinatown. Kbe has one of the largest Chinatowns in Japan, however, given that we had just spent a month in China neither one of us was really up for more Chinese food. However, according to our guidebook there was good Italian restaurant just inside the Chinatown area. Despite the ridiculously vague directions in the guidebook we found the restaurant fairly easily (mainly through luck more than skill) and it turned out to be as nice as the book claimed. We eventually managed to order pasta and pizza and beer (of course!) from our Japanese speaking waiter and settled into the very laid-back atmosphere. The food was excellent and I would recommend Teepee to anyone who is passing through Kbe and fancies something non-Japanese for dinner.

Day two in Kbe arrived with the return of an old friend, the rain... Our plan had been to walk up into the Rokk Mountains and look at the Nunobiki Falls, which are considered one of the three greatest waterfalls in Japan, and then head back down into town to try the famed Kbe beef. Because of the rain we decided to swap our plan round and went for lunch first.

The main reason we'd come to Kobe was, of course, to try the beef which is said to be some of the best in the world. For those that don't know, Kbe beef comes from the Kuroge Wagyu breed of cows, which dates back to 1830 (kuroge means black-haired, wa means Japanese, and gyu is cow). The meat is marbled with fat which is achieved by the cows being fed beer and massaged with sake (it is said that the farmers sometimes play music to the cows so they are happy and sleep well).

Because the beef is quite expensive (one steak can cost over $100) we decided to try it at lunchtime when most of the restaurants have cheaper set menus. The place we chose was like a very up-market teppanyaki restaurant and we sat around the hotplate where the chef would be cooking our meal. We had a 300g sirloin between us with Japanese soup to start, 6 vegetable accompaniments, rice and pickles, then lime sorbet to finish. The whole thing was excellent: our chef took your steak and removed the trimmings before cooking about 2/3 of it beautifully. At the same time he used the fat from the meat to cook the vegetables: peppers; tofu; aubergine; Japanese potato; and normal potatoes. He then gave us some of the fat to taste once it was really crispy - even the normally fat-averse Fiona had to admit that it was very tasty - and cooked the final 1/3 of the steak. For our final 'course' he took the trimmings and cooked them with the last of the vegetables, beansprouts. It was a fantastic meal and the meat is as good as they say, amazingly tender with a very delicate flavour. Again, the amount of artistry and love that went into the simplest of dishes was incredible and had to be seen and tasted to be believed.

After lunch we steeled ourselves for the rain again and headed up behind the train station to see the Nunobiki Falls. After a frustrating 10 minutes spent wandering around looking for the right path we eventually found the entrance to the cable car station. Because of the rain we'd decided to take the cable car up and walk down rather than walking up and down. Thankfully Japanese cable-cars are more sturdy than Chinese ones and we were allowed to share one of the cars rather than having to have one each... Once at the top we headed down really quite a steep and slippery path to the falls. There are 4 falls which make up the Nunobiki Falls and the views once we got there made all the rain and walking worth it. Hopefully the photos will show you what they were like. Because of the rain we pretty much had the falls to ourselves and were able to stroll down at our own pace admiring the views as we went.

After the falls we headed into town but the rain was pounding down harder than ever and having spent the last couple of hours getting very wet walking down past the falls we decided to take refuge in the cinema and watched Broken Flowers with Bill Murray (an odd film...). Unfortunately, our hopes for a respite from the rain were dashed when we emerged from the cinema - it was still throwing it down. We therefore decided to buy dinner in the food-hall of the local Mitsuoka store and retreat to the hotel to eat and dry off before packing up to move on to Hiroshima.
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