Northward Bound, To Tokyo!


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July 5th 2012
Published: August 21st 2012
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Kobe Trip + Tokyo


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A small Japanese cafe
Thursday the 5th of July was one of the more uneventful days of my stay in Japan.

Lentle had classes and so I was alone again to explore Japan. I traveled to Sannomiya station, and my plan was to try and find the 'Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution' a.k.a. the Earthquake Museum. Kobe was struck by an earthquake that measured 6.8 on the magnitude scale in 1995, which was at that time the second worst earthquake in Japan in the 20th century. Internet told me that I needed to go to Nada or Iwaya station, but I figured that I'd also be able to walk there from Sannomiya station in about 30 minutes.

In the end I only found a rather deserted park called the Earthquake Memorial Park. I thought the Museum would be located close-by, but couldn't find it. The maps located alongside the streets weren't any help, and I figured it would be no use to continue walking without knowing where I had to go, so I turned around a looked for something else to do. I would meet Lentle at Sannomiya station at 7:30PM so I had to keep myself occupied until that time ...
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Ice cream and manga - too bad I couldn't actually read it
That's when I saw Kobe Port Tower rising up behind some buildings, and so I decided to walk in that direction. The walk was longer than I expected and my feet started to hurt, which I wasn't so happy about ...

I decided to rest my feet for a bit in a small café located inside a small mall next to Kobe Port Tower. I ordered an ice-cream and looked through a manga magazine. They had a lot of manga there that you could read, which was interesting.

At first I hadn't planned on visiting Kobe Port Tower, as it costs ¥600 and didn't seem all that interesting. However, I was there now and had time to kill, so I decided to visit it anyway. At the top I looked around a bit, getting some views of Kobe. As I suspected it wasn't too impressive. I don't think I'd pay for it again if I ever went back. But at least I had a place to sit inside (it was raining outside)where I could spend some time before I had to return to Sannomiya.

Visitors could write a message on a piece of paper and put it
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Kobe Port Tower
in a tree, so I decided to leave a small message as well. I tried to write something in Japanese, but my limited knowledge only allowed me to come up with the phrase 'Nihon ga suki desu/I like Japan' ...

On the way back to the station I stopped at a konbini to buy some onigiri to eat on the bus. From my experience I've learned that night buses are generally not good for sleeping, so at least I wanted to have something to snack on (because the only night bus service I'm used to is Eurolines, but of course night buses in Japan are so so so much better than European ones).

Back at Sannomiya station I decided to have dinner somewhere. I hadn't discussed it with Lentle so I wasn't sure if I should wait and eat together with her or not. Anyway, it was my first time going into a restaurant alone in Japan, which was kinda scary. I always chose Japanese restaurants - known as shokudou - because of their inexpensive food (usually between ¥650-¥850 for a set meal consisting of noodles or rice (or noodles and rice) and side dishes). I saw something in the window display that looked tasty, and I could read the hiragana so I figured ordering wouldn't be too difficult. However, the waitress kept asking me extra questions in Japanese that I couldn't understand ... I had to choose between some stuff for the side dishes, but I ended up just randomly pointing at pictures on the menu, ha ha. Anyway, I was super happy with what I chose! It was called zaru soba, which I later discovered means cold soba on a bamboo plate. I didn't know it was going to be cold when I ordered it, but it was super tasty! And I got so much: noodles, rice with a fish topping, pickles and a broth to dip the noodles in, all for just ¥670! Before going to Japan I kept hearing how expensive food is in Japan, what nonsense! I almost ate myself to death every evening and never once payed more than €10 for a meal.

After dinner I went into the main hall of JR Sannomiya's Central Gate to wait for my friend Lentle. One of her friends from university, Ikeda-san, had accompanied her to the station. Lentle hadn't eaten yet so we went into a small cafe, but of course I didn't take anything since I had just finished eating. Lentle wanted me to practice my Japanese with Ikeda-san, but I was too shy so I only introduced myself in Japanese and spoke English after that. Looking back, we also talked about a couple of things that I could've said in Japanese, like when Ikeda-san asked me if I wanted to stop at a konbini to buy some snacks for on the bus (I should've said "いいです、おにぎりをかいました/It's okay, I bought onigiri" or something like that). I did learn a bit of new Japanese though: Lentle told me that when you use "ii desu/It's good" as a reply on a question, it means that you're declining. So if someone asks "Do you want to go to the shop" and you answer "ii desu", you're actually saying that you don't want to go. I didn't know that. Lentle still had to be at the konbini though so I decided to buy something to drink. I asked Ikeda-san if he had any recommendations, and he told me to try Calpis Soda so I did. It's pretty good, tastes a bit like Fanta in my opinion
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My own very humble contribution
...
Ikeda-san was very kind and helpful. He knows Sannomiya well since he grew up near Kobe and he showed us where the bus stop was, he also helped carrying Lentle's bag. But I guess such helpfulness is also a typically Japanese thing.

The bus we took was from a company called Chuo Kotsu. It was a women-only bus and it was super comfortable! Well, about as comfortable as a night bus can get (not as comfortable as a bed, unfortunately). We first had to take another bus from Kobe to Osaka though. I was happy to have Lentle there with me, because everything was all Japanese, I probably wouldn't have known which bus to transfer to in Osaka (even Lentle was kinda confused). The bus wasn't fully booked and there was nobody on the seats behind us so we could recline our chairs pretty far, which was nice. It was also very quiet and dark on the bus ... Eurolines doesn't have curtains to blind the lights from outside, nor a policy that asks to be silent at night. Things were arranged much better in Japan. Also, Eurolines doesn't stop once on a 6-hour trip from Belgium to
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Dinner: zaru soba
London, whereas Chuo Kotsu stopped three times on the 8-hour trip between Osaka and Tokyo. And the places where we stopped, even though they were located next to the autostrada, were so very luxurious and clean! The toilets were super modern and super clean, and every stop had a convenience store where you could buy drinks and snacks. That was very pleasant.

The bus dropped us off at Tokyo's Shinjuku station around 6AM, and we spend our first day in Japan's capital being totally exhausted. But that will be for the next entry ...

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