I woke up from a decent enough night’s sleep and decided to take in the view from my hotel room’s window - it was underwhelming to say the least:
Scenic view at the Dormy Inn
I checked out of my room and made my way to the station to catch the Shinkansen that would get me close to Kobe - I wouldn’t be taking the train all the way to Kobe though. Since I had booked a hotel, the Seaside Hotel Maiko Villa Kobe, close to the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge I needed to transfer to a smaller train before Kobe. Technically the hotel was on the outskirts of Kobe, so I would need to take a commuter train for about 30 minutes to get to downtown Kobe.
Okayama station granted me with a pleasant surprise: I was going to be riding on the Hello Kitty Shinkansen. I’m not what you’d call a Hello Kitty fan, but the sheer novelty of riding on a train that leaned so hard into a cutesy was something different and exciting. I could see a few other people taking pictures of the train with grins on their faces as it pulled into the station.
Hello Kitty Shinkansen!
Inside of the cars was lightly themed, but as you made your way further up the train it would become more and more Hello Kitty themed. This went on until you reached the car at the front of the train, which was entirely dedicated to a Hello Kitty gift shop. I didn’t buy anything, but made sure to snap several pictures and record the “Heart of Darkness” style experience of walking from car to car.
After I had moved from the Shinkansen to the commuter train and arrived at the station closest to the Maiko Villa hotel, I could see the Akashi Kaikyo as soon as I walked outside of the station. I wanted to drop off my bags at the hotel, so I made the short walk to the hotel, which included an elevator that traveled uphill at a 45 degree angle. That was a first for me.
With my bags checked at the front desk, I went back to the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge and went up to the observation deck/walkway that is under the traffic deck of the bridge. While the walkway doesn’t extend too far under the bridge, it was pretty cool to be able to get a close-up look at such a big bridge. Several parts of the walkway had glass floors, which made me woozy when I walked over them.
Satisfied that I had done as much as I could with the bridge, I went back to the station to take the commuter train to downtown Kobe. I checked my list of suggestions for Kobe, and noticed that it was a bit light. I figured a good start could be to walk around the harbour and to take in Great Hanshin Earthquake memorial that was down on the water.
Starting in the harbour of Kobe was not a great idea. It didn’t really give me a positive first impression of Kobe - apparently it’s a popular cruise ship destination. As somebody that lives in a town that is a frequent cruise ship stop, I personally know how many bland and tacky attractions and chains cater to the cruise ship crowds. One of the first things that set my senses off was a statue of Elvis Presley: what’s he got to do with Kobe? Not much. And then I saw a sandwich board sign for The Old Spaghetti Factory. Once I saw a Tony Roma’s, I knew this was not the part of the city that I wanted to be in.
How you know you’re in the wrong part of town
I stopped took a couple of pictures of the “Be Kobe” monument, which was about the same as any other attraction that spells the name of the city that you’re currently in. I’ll admit that the area of the harbour that they left intact to show the scale of damage from the Great Hanshin Earthquake was really something to see - it definitely made me wonder whether I’m as prepared for an earthquake as I should be! But I decided to cross the highway into downtown Kobe proper - past the signs telling cruise ship people that they shouldn’t go beyond unless they had a proper passport.
Just what does Kobe want me to be?
While taking the bus to Kobe I had read that Chinatown in Kobe was one of the best in Japan, so I figured that would make a good destination. I figured I could walk through it while on my way to the Nunobiki Herb Garden, which I had read offered one of the best views of Kobe. Since I was working with a limited timeline, I figured it would be alright for me to cheat a bit and take the ropeway up the mountain to see the view.
Chinatown was the first part of Kobe that I really liked - the streets were alive with the smells and sounds from small restaurants that offered their wares directly on the street. I grabbed myself a riceball on a stick, and prayed that it didn’t contain any shellfish, because I didn’t want to deal with the language barrier. I didn’t die, so I guess it all worked out.
Street food from Chinatown
After leaving Chinatown I made my way north, towards the mountains that tower over Kobe. I wanted to get a better view of the city even though it was becoming cloudier and cloudier. Rain had started to fall while I was in the harbour, and it showed little sign of letting up. I didn’t want the weather to get in the way of seeing the sights since I only had one day in the city.
Deserted Herb Garden
The Nunobiki Herb Garden was nearly deserted thanks to the weather. I didn’t mind that at all. It was nice to wander the hills in the rain and to try and snap decent pictures from the gondola car that I had all to myself. At several points I wished that my wife, Katie, was there with me - we had visited places similar to the herb garden on our honeymoon in Maderia.
View from the herb garden’s Gondola
As I expected the view of the city wasn’t all that great thanks to the rain, but I didn’t feel like the visit to the herb garden was a bust. I was getting hungry though, so I made my way down the mountain and looked up a Sushiro. It had been a long, rainy, and busy day, so I really wanted something that would let me stuff myself with as much sushi as possible for a decent price and minimal human interaction. I love sushi conveyor belts - I really wish that we had more of them in North America.
After dinner I had had quite enough with the rain, so I hopped on the commuter train that would take me back to the Maiko Villa. I stopped by a grocery store in the station to get some snacks and made a fool of myself while trying to figure out the payment machine, but eventually was able to pay and retreated to the hotel with my pride in tatters. It was okay though, I consoled myself with a soothing soak in the communal bath, followed by the snacks I had bought. I ate them while sitting at the small table in my room, looking at the lights of the Akashi Kaikyo bridge.
Akashi Kaikyo at night
I unfurled the thin mattress on the tatami floor of the traditional room I had booked, and laid down for a deep sleep. I was headed to Osaka the next morning and wanted to be well rested. When I traveled to Japan in 2017 Osaka was one of my favorite places.