January 1st we left Osaka and headed for the port city of Kobe, only 25 minutes away from Osaka. We were slightly concerned that nothing would be open, it being both a Sunday and New Year's Day, but when we arrived mid-morning, Kobe was buzzing with people celebrating Hatsumōde
- the first visit to a temple or shrine of the year (which is quite a big event). Lucky for us, our hotel was right next to the beautiful Ikuta Shrine. The road leading up to this Shrine was full of food stalls - from takoyaki (octopus dumplings) and grilled tentacles on sticks, to candy floss, boiled whelks and mochi (sweet glutinous rice balls). We joined in with the throngs, headed to the Shrine and queued up for a New year's random fortune paper, called omikuji.
You shake out a stick out of a box, and the corresponding number gives your fortune. You then tie the fortune paper to an area of the shrine - slightly baffling, but fun, even if we couldn't read our predictions. I since looked mine up online and was chuffed to find it was a "great blessing", as opposed to a range of other possibilities including half blessing,
small curse or great curse.
In the afternoon was strolled through Kobe's lively China Town and down to the bay area, where there is a fantastic tower with great views of the bay at sunset, and a funfair with a pretty Ferris Wheel and a giant inflatable Super Mario.
As we only had one night in Kobe we'd decided to splash out on a slightly more expensive hotel, and we weren't disappointed - the highlight for me (you'll think me very sad) was the amazing computerised toilet that lifted the seat when you approached it and put the seat back down after! Charlie Brooker summarised the delights of Japanese techno toilets
in this Guardian article last week:
"In Japan you either crap into a bluntly utilitarian hole in the ground (reverse squat-toilet style) or, increasingly, into one of their famous hi-tech Toto superbogs with a heated seat and a remote-controlled bum-washing jet."
His observations on asking strangers directions and Japanese TV's food obsession are spot on.....I'm yet to try the green Kit Kats though.
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