Japan day 19: Kobe


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Asia » Japan » Hyogo » Kobe
May 24th 2019
Published: June 11th 2019
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Our last touring day in Japan! We went down to breakfast. We had told the hotel that we were vegetarian, and that we ate no meat but we would eat fruit and salad. Our breakfast arrived. We were each given a huge tray on which were five different fruit juices, a bowl of coconut milk with semolina, a small bowl of yoghurt, a big bowl of fruit. Then a third tray arrived and was placed between our trays on the table. On that tray was a box of bread, a tray of baguettes, a pot of coffee, a saucer with three different butters and preserves. We are not takers of food pictures, but we had to take pictures of this breakfast!! See it pictured on Day 21, our last monring in Kobe.

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Sated, at 9 am we were met in the foyer of the hotel by Chiaki Kobayashi for our day’s tour of Kobe. Kobe is the sixth largest city in Japan and is at the base of the Rokko mountain range. The population of the city is 1.4 million of which 14,000 are Chinese. In 1853 it was one of the first cities to open up for trade with the world. We were staying in the Kitano area of Kobe which had many European style houses. During WW2 Kobe was heavily bombed. On 17 March 1945 it was bombed with incendiary bombs and 8841 residents were killed. The city was rebuilt but on 17 January 1995 the city was hit by a magnitude 6.9 earthquake (the Great Hanshin earthquake) which virtually destroyed the whole city. Before the earthquake the port of Kobe was the busiest port in Japan, but since the earthquake it became the fourth. There is a lot of light industry near the port. One very important statistic we learnt: 85% of all Japan’s toilet paper is manufactured in Kobe. People are concerned about where they will get their toilet paper if there is another large earthquake.

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We walked around the Kitano area, which seemed to have more hills than other cities where we had stayed. There were a lot of European houses which were destroyed in the Great Hanshin earthquake. However, the City Council have renovated some houses, and we saw three. One belonged to a German merchant and is known as the Weathercock House, which contains the American consulate. One of the houses is now Starbucks and has been painted Moegi green. This is the name of a green plant. This is quite ironic as the name Kobe means coffee.

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The first shrine we visited today (or rather Don visited) was the Kitano Tenjin shrine. I took one look at the vertical steps going up to the shrine and decided that my energy could be conserved for the rest of the day, especially as it was only 9:40 am and according to my app I had already climbed the equivalent of three flights of stairs. The shrine is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane. He was a scholar born in 845 and was a scholar, poet and politician. He died in 903. He was not of a high status but rose through the ranks. When he had completed his term as governor he was exiled to Kyushu on the southern island. He went with nothing but one cow. One woman gave him fried rice dough with a plum inside, hence the symbol of a plum on this Kitano shrine.

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We then went to see a very new museum - the Museum of Trick Art. It is a museum of trompe d’oeil and is hysterical. We had a very amusing hour in the museum. The photos are the best way of describing the contents. One especially funny moment happened too suddenly to photograph. There was a small room set up to appear like its far wall was a full mirror. I walked into another entrance on the far side of the room just as a woman entered the intended main door. She screamed when she thought she was looking into a mirror but saw me instead of herself.

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Then we walked downtown. Kobe was completely different from any other city we had visited in Japan. Firstly we were quite surprised that it is somewhat dirty and with much litter in the streets. The people were dressed differently - most Japanese women we had met are very modest and formal dressers. This was not quite the same here.

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All around were very modern buildings but we were asked to look down a side street and there we saw a shrine - the Ikuta shrine. This shrine was founded in the 3rd century. There is not just one tori gate at the entrance to the shrine but two. The original shrine was constructed in the 2nd century on top of the mountains. In the 8th Century there was a landslide and the shrine slid down the mountain and is now in the city centre. In 1995 it was destroyed but was reconstructed. As we walked into the shrine area we saw a wedding being conducted. This was, to us, a very simple ceremony. The bride and groom were in black working suits and they were attended by just one set of parents and the priest. We also saw a family whose baby had just been blessed. On the grounds of the main shrine are many smaller shrines, including one to the rice deity. There is also a 500 year old tree in the small garden at the back of the shrine.

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Continuing our walk through the the commercial zone, we came to the only original building still standing on a main shopping street which was like 5th Avenue or Bond Street. That building now houses a restaurant. In front of the left side of the building we saw a portion of the original sewer system which was encased in a glass case.

Another more modern building in that area had banners hanging which caught our attention. Pictured on them was an image of the Menorah - the 7-branch golden candelabra of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Our guide was not familiar with either the Jewish symbol or the shop, but speculated that at one time (or today?) it could have been owned by Jews.

Then we walked through Chinatown which was busy, noisy, smelly and dirty. However, the public loos were there and they were reasonably clean so we stopped for a quick visit.

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After lunch I decided my legs had had enough, and I did not want to wander through another garden or whatever. Don was interested in visiting the Kobe waterfront area sights. So we got into a taxi and Chiaki dropped me off at our hotel while she and Don continued to the waterfront. Don’s report follows.

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The taxi brought us (Chiaki and Don) to the edge of Meriken Park. What does this name mean? This was the port into which Commodore Perry sailed his US Navy ships in 1853. He coerced the opening of Japan to international trade. This was a major event for the world and the Japanese government recognised particularly the American position amongst the trading nations. However they had some difficulty hearing and pronouncing the beginning sound of 'American' so they called them Meriken instead. Thus this waterfront area is named Meriken Park.

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The first thing we saw was a very large sculpture of a fish which is called Fish Dance. This is actually part of the signage outside a restaurant named ... Fish.

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We quickly reached the Earthquake Memorial. This remembers those who died in the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake on January 17, 1995 which shook the area and toppled many buildings. A portion of the memorial preserves a twisted stretch of broken Meriken Pier, with lampposts tilting off the pavement. That also provides a good vantage point to observe the tremendous renewal of the port area with all its new earthquake-resistant buildings.

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From there we walked through the Maritime Museum that highlights the history of ship-building, particularly around this Kobe port of Japan. The many ship models on display include several that are especially significant in the development of the Japanese navy and the development of trading by sea.

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That led to the Kawasaki 'Good Times World' museum. To me (Don) the Kawasaki brand simply meant motorcycles. However I was surprised to learn that product was not the origin of the company. They began as an industrial engineering company, and continue to deliver large scale components and solutions today. They were involved in steam locomotion and nearly every kind of motorised transport since then. Their ship engines establish the link to the Maritime Museum which fronted the Kawasaki museum. In a time-line order, old engines, replicas and pictures illustrate the role of Kawasaki Heavy Industries (its formal business name) in land, rail, air, sea and undersea vehicles and technologies. For example, they contributed to the first generation Shinkansen (bullet train) Series 0 in 1964 and are continuing with its ongoing development from today's Series 700 (on which we rode between cities) toward the mag-lev designs of the next decade.

Of course the exhibit features a collection of motorcycles from old to new, or at least dated pictures. The first Kawasaki brand motorcycle was the Pet M5 in 1961. By then Kawasaki already had a reputation for high quality engineering and production. One popular museum spot was a racing simulator. Due to a long queue I did not try it, but watched another person climb onto a modern motorcycle mounted on a pivoting frame. In front of the bike was a large screen image of the racetrack. As the rider accelerated and leaned through curves etc, the image on screen responded accordingly and showed the virtual rider in front whom the test rider hoped to pass.

What I did try was the Flight Simulator, as Kawasaki sought to demonstrate their excellence across many kinds of technologies. I had a 10 minute experience, my first ever in a Flight Sim cockpit. Did it remind me of those ancient days playing Microsoft Flight Simulator on the original IBM PC? Way back around 1982 it seemed impossible to take off or land using the mouse. This time I must admit that the Simulator was oriented toward helping a novice holding the wheel, with voice prompts and on-screen positioning hints. I bumped up and down the runway a couple times while trying to lift too early (it should have advised airspeed but oddly did not) and surprised myself by becoming airborne - although I suspect the thing cheated helpfully. Then I achieved a relatively smooth banking flight over virtual Kobe city before heading back toward its airport. About my horridly bumpy landing - all I can say is that this Sim was not programmed to crash!

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Chiaki and I left Kawasaki World and walked around the pier. She took me to a place from where I could really appreciate the modern port buildings. There I took a panorama picture. After that we returned to the hotel by taxi.

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When Don came back we went to Starbucks for an iced coffee and then got ready to go to the synagogue for Friday night services. We arrived a few minutes before candle lighting and walked into the community room which was set for about 50 people for dinner. And then we went into the synagogue itself. This is a beautiful sanctuary. We discovered that the synagogue was erected in 1912. Eventually a minyan (minimum quorum of ten men) arrived. The community is mainly made up of Israelis who are living in Kobe. There was another visitor from Israel. Whilst I was sitting in the ladies’ section I heard him and Don chatting. Don asked him where he was from. I thought he said Mauritius when in fact he said Mishmeret, a town near our home. So when I questioned "there’s a Jewish community there?" he looked at me as if I were quite daft. Don realised what had happened and told him that I thought he had said Mauritius. How embarrassing!

After services we went into the dining area to have dinner with the rabbi, his wife and his three daughters and small son. We were just about the have dinner when there was a rendition of Uncle Moishe coming from the audio system that was at about level 11. Fortunately they have a Japanese worker who was able to turn off the music. We had fish for dinner. We discovered that there is no shochet to kill the chickens, so they do not have a supply of kosher meat. The table arrangement was very strange. The Israelis sat at one end of the bench table and we sat with the Israeli visitor and with the rabbi and his family. The resident Israelis didn’t speak to us, as they were too busy catching up with their week’s gossip.

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We went back to the hotel and sat in the lounge reading until it was time for bed.

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