Today we arrived in the cosmopolitan port city of Kobe, Japan. Our ship settled in next to the waterfront Meriken Park, a beautiful area strikingly new next to intentional ruins left to document the destructive earthquake of 1995. We were greeted by a Japanese symphony playing a medley of Carpenter tunes and freezing temperatures.
Once through immigration, I left the port with a cast of 30 characters – students and a few fellow faculty/staff members to explore the city of Osaka, led by our tour guide Mrs. Asako. She was a knowledgeable, energetic woman who, it turned out, had the patience of a saint when I lost two of our group members (but more on that later). She took the time to explain Japanese history, words and culture, and invited us to call her Asako-san, an honorific yet familiar title.
x at a certain time - but when that time arrived, we huddled and fidgeted in the cold waiting for said lost students. Fortunately they did arrive, though 30 minutes late, and we were able to thaw inside with an amazing dinner of yakisoba (noodles and vegetables), squid legs, and okonomiyaki (seafood-filled pancake); I was spared the beef tongue. A long walk to the train station and then to the ship topped off our trip and reinforced to me why I saw not one overweight Japanese person.
Day 2 took me to Arashiyama Monkey Park, a preserve for the native snow monkey, where hundreds roam freely. Our day continued with a visit to the zen temples, tea houses, and gardens, followed by a shojin-ryori (traditional Buddhist cuisine) lunch. This included steamed gluten wrapped in bamboo leaves, simmered burdock, spicy konnyaku jelly, simmered Japanese yam, pickled radish, canola flower with vinegared miso, sesame tofu with wasabi, spicy lily bulb, taro pulp ball with ginger, and a soy milk hot pot of cabbage, millet, leek, mugwort and lotus root cake. Fortunately this was followed by a long walk through the bamboo groves and Okochi Mountain Villa.
Day 3 was spent in Kobe with two goals: visit the sake brewery and eat sushi. We started with a cup of coffee while petting owls at an owl café, followed by walking blocks and blocks of the longest shopping streets I have ever seen. Shops of Kobe beef stood next to octopus markets, sock stores, and umbrella shops. We worked up an appetite and munched on ramen and miso soup, then began our quest for sake. After walking for hours (and enjoying the sites), a kind Japanese woman saw us looking at our map and asked if she could help. When we said we were heading to the sake brewery, and she replied “long way!” with a gasp, we threw in the towel and headed to a rooftop café instead. We could see the whole city while we sipped rosemary lemonade so it was a nice alternative. We didn’t get sake or sushi but fell in love with Kobe.
Day 4 I decided to stay in Kobe again, as there was much to see and do! By now I was able to say hello,
I was lucky enough to run into Asako-san again on day 5 before reimbarking. I asked her what she would like people to know about Japan. She said it is important to the Japanese to care for each other, to be educated, and to be respectful, and that peace is the most important thing.
Those are great sentiments as we set sail again.
Next up: China