25 November 2016
Having spent the last three days exploring the best sights in Kyoto, our next destination in this trip was Kobe where we would be staying for a couple of days. Kobe is the capital of Hyogo Prefecture and one of Japan's ten largest cities. Its port was among the first to be opened to foreign trade in the 19th century. Located between the sea and the Rokko mountain range, Kobe is also considered one of Japan's most attractive cities and who has not heard of the delicious Kobe beef. It was also very close to Himeji, one of the places we intended to visit on this trip, and I found that the hotels in Kobe is generally cheaper than Osaka and Kyoto. Hence, a few days stay in Kobe was a good idea.
We figured that the best place to stay in Kobe is at the Sannomiya area, the largest shopping quarter of Kobe. More importantly, Sannomiya is very well connected because it is served by three major stations which are run by JR, Hanshin Electric Railway, and Hankyu Railway.
The best way to travel from our hotel in Gion, Kyoto to Sannomiya, Kobe is to take the Hankyu train from Kawaramachi Station. As usual, we had forwarded our main luggage to our hotel in Kobe and we only need to carry our backpacks containing items that we need for one day.
Kawaramachi Station is along the Shijo-dori, same street as our hotel in Gion. The station was just a short walk away. Walking to the station, we saw the Minamiza, Kyoto’s premier kabuki theatre located along the Shijo-dori.
Minamiza is Kyoto’s premier kabuki theatre located along the Shijo-dori, on our way from the APA Gion Excellent hotel to Ramen Sen No Kaze restaurant.
Before leaving Kyoto, we stopped for lunch at one of the best ramen restaurants in Kyoto. This restaurant, called the Ramen Sen No Kaze, is located just a few minutes walk north from Exit #6 or Exit #9 of the Kawaramachi Station, and before the Tenman-gu Shrine. See my post on this restaurant here.
We took the Hankyu train from Kawaramachi Station to the Kobe-Sannomiya (Hankyu) Station in Kobe, with a change in Juso. The journey took slightly over an hour and cost only 620 Yen per person.
Sannomiya Terminal Hotel, located right above JR Sannomiya Train Station.
Our hotel in Kobe is the Sannomiya Terminal Hotel, located right above Sannomiya Train Station. This is a value-for-money hotel and its location cannot be beat. There is also a tourist information center near this station where we went to enquire about Kobe’s free wi-fi and get some maps of the area.
Kobe city at dusk.
There were many shopping areas around the Sannomiya Station ranging from large departmental stores to pedestrian-only covered shopping streets.
Sannomiya Center Street
We walked on the southwest direction from the station to a covered shopping arcade called the Sannomiya Center Street. The 550 meter long arcade had boutiques, import stores, patisseries, department stores, and an array of restaurants.
From there, we came to another covered shopping street called the Motomachi Shopping Street.
Kobe Motomachi Shopping Street
South of the Motomachi Shopping Street is the Kobe Chinatown or Nankinmachi. It is one of only three designated Chinatowns in Japan. The area was developed by Chinese merchants who settled near Kobe Port after the port was opened to foreign trade in 1868. During that time, the Chinese people were referred to as "people from Nanking" by the Japanese, hence the name "Nankinmachi" (Nanking Town). The area has over a hundred Chinese restaurants, shops, and a Chinese temple dedicated to Guan Yu.
Kobe Chinatown at night, with the Changan gate in the end of this street.
The Kobe Chinatown is compact. Two main streets run through the district, meeting each other at a small plaza in the center. The plaza is beautiful at night, with lanterns and a red pavilion with stone carvings of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs.
The coming year (2017) is the Year of the Rooster. Hence a large Rooster took center-stage in this zodiac pavilion.
One of the more interesting shops we spotted was one with Bruce Lee and accessories associated with him.
Life-size Bruce Lee model outside a souvenir shop
Many Bruce Lee costumes on sale at this shop.
There were quite a few Chinese restaurants at the Chinatown area. We did not fancy coming all the way to Japan to eat Chinese food at a Chinese restaurant. When in Kobe, one must eat the famous Kobe beef. There were many restaurants offering the prized beef in this area too but we already planned to go to the Steakland Kobe restaurant. This restaurant was supposed to be one of the “value for money” Kobe beef restaurant in Kobe.
One of the Kobe beef restaurants in Chinatown area with the Spiderman as their icon. I wonder why.
Steakland Kobe is located very near to the Sannomiya Station and seemed to be quite popular with tourists. There was a standing queue to get in and we joined the queue. After about 30 minutes of waiting, we were ushered into a relatively dark dining room. We sat by one of the teppanyaki table with a few other guests who were already there. We ordered the "Special Kobe Beef Loin Steak Set" and red wine to go with the meat. The set included 200g of beef, soup, bread or rice, salad, grilled vegetables and coffee.
Well marbled Kobe beef steak on the pan
Our steak was brought to the table and the teppanyaki chef started the cooking process while we ate our salad. First, slices of garlic were fried to crispy bits and left at the side.
Kobe beef prepared teppanyaki style at Steakland Kobe. Best eaten with crispy fried garlic and some salt.
The meat was seasoned with salt and pepper and fried on the pan using the oil from frying the garlic. During the cooking, the meat were sliced and diced into bite sized cubes, evenly cooked till medium rare, before being served onto our plates.
This was not the first time we had wagyu beef, cooked teppanyaki style. While the warm beef was “melt in your mouth” excellent, somehow the dining experience in this restaurant was not as pleasant when compared to others that we had been to in Japan.