Posts Tagged ‘Kobe’

My Trip To Japan

January 10, 2013

I have scrubbed and expanded my description and have now enshrined it as a permanent page. You can find it in the column on the right.

Japan Trip Update

December 15, 2012

I promised to add pictures and backfill with detail when I had a chance and a useful keyboard. I have now done that for days Three and Four. Next up, Day Five, parts 1 and 2!

Trip To Japan: Japanese Toilets

December 15, 2012

Not the traditional style,

Watch where you put your feet

Watch where you put your feet

but the more modern ones. That is, more modern than they have in countries like, say, the U.S.

Not the rocket science version

Not the rocket science version

My limited experience is with the simple toilets you will find in an economy-class Japanese hotel that caters to travelers more than tourists. This one had three knobs on the side. One to start the hot water (otherwise you get quite a shock), one for the bidet function, and one for the …er…standard…cleansing.

Right is warm, Center is stream, Left is bidet

Right is warm, Center is stream, Left is bidet

Here is what the setup looks like inside.

Do not operate in this position.

Do not operate in this position.

If you bend down and turn one of the dispenser knobs, a funny little arm pops out from the square extension at the back of the bowl and sprays hot water in your face.

When used as directed, it has a surprisingly good aim. The difference between the stream and the bidet settings is that the bidet produces a softer spray, not a high pressure needle sharp stream. Consider yourself warned.

Does it work? Not particularly well. Maybe for … um … post-wipe cleanup, but if you do that, you find the cheap hotel toilet paper dissolves on contact when it comes time to dry. I think I’d rather use the old-fashioned kind. And maybe the U.S. isn’t missing out on that much after all.

Japan Trip Update

December 8, 2012

I promised to add pictures and backfill with detail when I had a chance and a useful keyboard. I have now done that for days One and Two, and this is my way of letting those who care, know. Start here. I will post another of these when I am done with days Three and Four.

Japan Trip Day 7

November 26, 2012

Final day and so home. Got up early, went out for one final walk, and stumbled onto the start of the Kobe 2012 Marathon.

Kobe Marathon

Kobe Marathon

More marathoners

More marathoners

Hundreds of people running past, helicopters overhead, dozens of semi-uniformed crowd control workers with batons and traffic cones and bullhorns.

...no wonder it was hard to get a room this weekend

…no wonder it was hard to get a room this weekend

Also found a complete shopping mall — two parallel streets that had arched roofs installed on top, and pedestrian pavers laid down underneath — that I hadn’t seen before. It being a Sunday and 9AM, nothing was open. Another missed opportunity

Checked out of the hotel at 10AM, caught the Portliner to Kobe airport (a small regional field, similar to Tri-Cities, WA, or Santa Maria, CA), and transferred to the high-speed ferry trimaran.

Kobe Airport

Kobe Airport

Travel time from the hotel to Kansai Airport was about an hour (including half an hour on the boat).

Kobe to Kansai, half an hour

Kobe to Kansai, half an hour

They didn’t allow us up on deck, so it wasn’t as much fun as it might have been.

Kansai is a huge barn of a building, like being inside an unfinished transport aircraft. It’s all metal, with lots of exciting industrial art — mostly flat surfaces that reflect sound efficiently, and garble announcements beyond recognition. I packaged up the phone and WiFi and sent them back. The WiFi package was so thick it almost didn’t fit through the slot in the Japan Post mailbox.

I wanted something in the way of a Kansai regional dish for lunch, so I went to a restaurant that specialized in okonomiyaki – o.ko.no.mi (whatever you want) + ya.ki (grilled food). It’s a savory pancake in which (to extract from Wikipedia) “the batter is made of flour, grated yam, dashi, eggs, shredded cabbage, and lots of green onion, topped with okonomiyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter)”. The place was crowded, so I left my big bag out front, with all the others left there by diners. The Japanese have a less hysterical approach to airport security than does the US.

The flights home were uneventful. I rode in a Dreamliner again and was very comfortable. Flying west we had head winds and took 12 hours. Flying east we had tailwinds and took 9 hours. At SFO, the TSA helpfully found and confiscated the juice box I had bought in Osaka airport to drink on the plane and which had slid down inside my backpack. They also presumably saw the tag on my checked baggage, showing it had originated at KIX, and decided to do an inspection to see if there were any dangerous lootables. I found their greeting card inside when I got home.

But that’s OK. My dogs were happy to see me

.This was your chair
“This was your chair”

So that was the trip. I’ll backfill on the multipart entries, and load up some photos as I get the time. When I’m done, I’ll move all the entries over to page status, where they can be archived for all time.

Japan Trip Day 6 Part 2

November 24, 2012

2012-11-24 15.00.57_1So after one final look at the panorama, I started downhill, through the herb garden.

2012-11-24 15.27.53_1Past the gardener

2012-11-24 15.27.44_1and lots of flowers I don’t know the names of

2012-11-24 15.21.45_1

2012-11-24 15.20.55_1

2012-11-24 15.19.44_1 and lavender beds

2012-11-24 15.18.02_1

2012-11-24 15.15.42_1and the kitchen garden, with really big asparagus

…and a melon you can almost see

2012-11-24 15.14.27_1…and some squash

2012-11-24 15.13.11_1

2012-11-24 15.09.40_1…and I think Rosemary

2012-11-24 15.09.31_1

2012-11-24 14.49.26_1…missing the turnoff to the greenhouse

2012-11-24 14.37.04_1but finally making it to the awaiting mid-mountain cable car stop, and so home.

Japan Trip Day 6 Part 1

November 24, 2012

My last full day in Japan, and I was still worn out from Kyoto. I went out at eight, and it was raw and windy and no fun at all. Back inside, to hang out in the room until the stores opened at 10. Bought gifts for almost everyone.

Manga, as far as the eye can see

Manga, as far as the eye can see

They had lots of manga, but very little anime.

and candy

and candy


They did have a whole section of the store devoted to candy. More floorspace than the books.

For lunch, I decided to do something that the average Japanese would consider out of the ordinary, so I went up to the hotel restaurant cluster for lunch. I found that about a thousand Japanese had the same idea, and all the venues were packed. All except the maid cafe. Well, not a real ‘Welcome Back, Master’ Kaichō wa Maid-sama-style maid cafe. This was a tea-and-cakes shop, with real English tea-shop style maids. With the help of a nice Japanese lady, the first one I’ve met who could speak English better than I speak Japanese, I ordered a Japanese pasta plate. It was one of several similar, and the alternative was pizza. It turned out to be tuna casserole, with broccolirab-like greens. Not bad at all, for what it was.

Then off up the hill to Kobe’s main claim to historical fame, the foreign quarter, with homes built by the various commercial counsels back when the city was just opening up to international trade. Did I say up the hill? 2012-11-24 14.14.27_1I meant UP,

2012-11-24 14.09.21_1and UP!

The Weathercock House

The Weathercock House

Each counsel built their home in the then-current style of the home country. So you have a multi-gabled German home of the mid 19th Century,

The Italian Consulate

The Italian Consulate

and a more modern-looking Italianate one from half a century later.

Nice view on the way up

Nice view on the way up

I had some matcha soft ice cream (an acquired taste, and not at all sweet), and climbed further still, to the Mt. Maya cablecar.

They call it a ropeway, but it's cables

They call it a ropeway, but it’s cables

The view from the top was sweeping, if a little misty,
2012-11-24 14.49.34_1

and the biergarten played stein-clunking German music, mein Schatz.

bierstube

Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, Der Gemuetlichkeit!
Eins, Zwei, Zuffa!

A brief stop to play German drinking songs into MJ’s voicemail, and to take some pictures, and I was off down the hill through the herb garden. But that’s for Part 2.

Japan Trip Day 5 Part 1

November 23, 2012

This is as multi-parter, because so much went on. I took the Shinkasen from Kobe to Kyoto and spent the day being shown around by one of my former students — sometimes perfesserin’ really pays off.

The Shinkasen is everything they said it was. The train was more like an airplane inside, with comfortable 3+3 seating (and little rubber bedknobs on the aisle side of the seatbacks for the standees to hold on to). The trip up was extra-crowded, because it was the start of a three-day weekend. I was the last person on, and ended up standing next to the door in the connecting compartment for the first part of the trip. This was no problem, because the train is fast.

The front end looks like a fast racing car

JapanTripShinkasen2012-11-23 17.18.22_1

It spends two or three minutes in the station

Quick turnaround

Before accelerating away

JapanTripShinkasen2012-11-23 17.16.03_1

And the back end looks like a racecar as well

JapanTripShinkasen2012-11-23 17.16.20_1

Hey, did I just miss my train?

Round-trip cost was ¥5,400, or about $66. Road distance and travel time direct from Kobe to Kyoto is 73km / 1hr 17min, Kobe to Kyoto via Osaka is 90km / 1hr 45min. Coming back on the train, it was 10min to Osaka, and another 20min to Kobe. We left at exactly 5:30PM and got in at exactly 6PM, so our average speed was 180km/hr. Stops for trains passing through Kyoto were about 2min each. I got home and called my student to let her know I’d made it OK. She was still shopping in ShinKyoto Station.

While ShinKobe was simply a train station,
ShinKyoto was quite a bit bigger

JapanTripShinKyoto2012-11-23 11.19.49_1

With Christmas decorations

JapanTripShinKyoto2012-11-23 11.22.45_1

and lots of people

JapanTripShinKyoto2012-11-23 11.16.32_1

My only complaint is that between standing jammed into the connecting compartment on the way up, and coming home after dark, I never got to see the countryside whiz by at 180kph.

Trip To Japan Day 4

November 23, 2012

All of Day 4 was spent at the con, the poster session, and the stand-up banquet.

Bell tower, Kobe Portopia Conference Center

Bell tower, Kobe Portopia Conference Center


I did get to surprise MJ by calling her just as the clock at the con site let out a peal of bells.

Not only did they have a bell tower, but they also had a collection of figures that marched around in a little house at the base of it

World+Dog at the bell tower

World+Dog at the bell tower

I wanted an authentic Japanese lunch, so I went to the nearest Lawson’s kombini and bought a collection of bento items, including three different kinds of rice balls (really triangles), and a small loaf of curry bread. The rice balls were about as I expected, except that one of them had a tomagoyaki roll inside. The curry bread was a flat loaf, curry-flavored, stuffed with a small hot dog and curry paste. Sadly, there were no photos.

At the banquet I found out that Kobe is also famous for sake and for Japanese wine. Their red is a not-very-full-bodied Cabernet; the sake was mild-tasting and inoffensive, certainly better than the brands they carry at Safeway, but nothing to write the world about….um.

A drum-shaped sake container, with dipping cups

A drum-shaped sake container, with dipping cups

As the banquet was in the final stages of preparation, I noticed a kimono display.

Kimono at the Kobe Portlandia Hotel

Kimono at the Kobe Portlandia Hotel


That reminded me that I had promised to buy my grand-niece-in-law one. Well, I’m not prepared to shell out what’s needed for a kimono, but I can afford the lightweight summer version, the yukata. There was a nice hotel lady seeing to the preparations. I asked her if she knew of any places I could find yukatas, and she said she’d see what she could do. Half an hour later, she dug me out of the banquet. She didn’t have a list of places. She had a couple of samples and wanted to know if this was what I wanted. We then slipped up to the hotel shop that sold them, and I made my GNiL happy, along with the shop staff. That’s the highly helpful Nishio san on the right.
Nishio Tomoko and shop staff

Nishio Tomoko and shop staff

Japan Trip Day 3

November 22, 2012

Proof of Attendance

Proof of Attendance


After the opening of the conference, which I will report on separately, I skipped out, caught the train back to downtown, and wandered around some more.

The arrival times are all digital but the actual times are analog

The arrival times are all digital but the actual times are analog


I wanted an authentic Japanese lunch experience, so I stopped at a noodle bar, the kind where you stick coins in a machine and it gives you a ticket that you give to the heavily made-up counter lady, who gives you your udon. For 280yen I had something called ‘kitsune’. kitsune means ‘fox’, but I think it was really beef. I later learned that it’s a Kobe region specialty. It was very good.

The Udon Lady

The Udon Lady

My main target was ShinKobe, the Shinkasen station for Kobe.

ShinKobe Station, home of the bullet train

ShinKobe Station, home of the bullet train

It’s about a 20 minute walk from the hotel. One of the interesting things about Kobe is that they have lots of pedestrian walkways,

Pedestrian crossovers, behind the hat

Pedestrian crossovers, behind the hat


so that you don’t have to wait at the intersection, and some of them are quite complex because if you have 6 streets meeting, you need a bunch of different walkovers.

Walking up, I took the main street, Flower Street.

Flower Street

Flower Street


It’s a typical Japanese thoroughfare (he said, based on 36hrs of observation), with typical stores and shops and public art.

Children may play here

Children may play here

Japanese stores remind me of old junk stores, only much cleaner and brighter. Narrow aisles stacked ceiling-high with an incredible array of goods,with everything marked bright signs with big block letters. Most of the places I went into were in narrow narrow buildings, and the shop went up four or five stories of 15×15′ display rooms. I bought a couple of kids manga, nothing ecchi, to practice my translating on.

Other buildings are not what they seem. According to other blogs, many of the buildings that look to be Christian churches are really just commercial shells, available for rent by couples who want a Western Style wedding, presided over by whichever of their foreign friends owns a black suit. Here is a fake Greek building. You’d think it might be a bank or something. It’s not. It’s another wedding center.

The Marriage Center

The Marriage Center

The Shinkasen station backs right up against the hills. From that aspect, Kobe reminded me a little of downtown Portland. The building to the left is the start of the Mt. Maya ropeway, of which more tomorrow.

ShinKobe Station and Portland-style hills

ShinKobe Station and Portland-style hills

The station was a little confusing because nowhere could I find a map of the system to tell me what train to take to Kyoto. It turns out it was the Tokyo train, I think. I figured I would find out on Friday. Returning to the hotel, I wandered the back streets and residential districts. You can get a car in here, but from one direction only.

Hillside homes

Hillside homes

Japan Trip Day 2

November 21, 2012

Day two started with a comedy of errors. I took the Portliner train out to the conference center about 9 o’clock, but I could not find any sign of the conference. Well, I found one sign.After fighting with my MiFi and my mobile phone I discovered that the con didn’t start until 6 o’clock that night.

SCIS-2012 Big sign, no people

SCIS-2012 Big sign, no people

So I spent the rest of the day wandering around Kobe. Kobe is an interesting city. You have the usual wide thoroughfares

JapanTripNorthPlainsHillStreet2012-11-20 11.31.32_1

Here we are on Northfield Hill Street

but instead of medium sized side streets you have a collection of very small 1 way streets designed for tiny Japanese vehicles. In between those is a maze of twisty passages, all alike. The only vehicle you can get down them is a motor scooter.

JapanTripKobeThereAreNarrowerStreets2012-11-21 13.51.28_1

There are narrower streets than this


They are home to hundreds of small bars and restaurants. I wanted an authentic Japanese experience for lunch so I went to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The highlight of the afternoon was the visit to the Ikuta Shrine. It’s right in downtown Kobe and is one of the oldest in Japan, almost two thousand years old. It is dedicated to Wakahirume, younger sister of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu.

Ikuta Shrine, main entrance

The sign out front said something about a 753 Pilgrimage, and their website talks about a 753 ceremony, blessing the children. That might be what this was about:

JapanTripIkutaBaptism2012-11-20 11.55.23_1

Shinto baptismal? ceremony

There are other shrines on the grounds of the main one. This one is dedicated to Inari, a gender-neutral god of rice and good fortune. The gods messengers are kitsune, foxes, and they are often shown holding scrolls.

JapanTripInariShrineKitsune2012-11-20 12.05.03_1

Well trained fox guardian of the Inari Shrine

I ended my visit at a little gift stand run by this shrine maiden. She convinced me to buy a number of charms for luck and health and protection for children, to send to various relatives, but I drew the line at the one that ensures successful pregnancy.

JapanTripIkutaShrineMaiden2012-11-20 12.22.02_1

Ikuta Shrine Maiden

On the way home, I saw my first Japanese high school students in uniform. The boys were wearing very severe Navy Blue uniforms that make them look like junior versions of Admiral Yamamoto standing on the bridge of his battleship. Of course some of them are wearing them in the most slovenly way possible, with their jacket sleeves pulled up so they can show their shirt sleeves rolled up, shirt-tails out, and trousers pulled down far enough to be baggy and draggy. The girls were more Catholic school girl look than sailor suit. Knee-high socks or hose with short plaid or navy skirts and dark navy blazers. The layered look was in for women in general — high-heeled boots, long socks , leggings , hose with short skirts that could be anything from frilly to denim, topped with jacket over sweater over sweater vest. The men wore guy-stuff and suits that looked like the business suit version of the student Navy uniform.

Japan Trip Day 1

November 20, 2012

Off to Japan!

I have had two papers accepted for the SCIS-2012 Conference in Kobe. This will be the first in a series describing my trip and observations. I’ll post it as I go, using the totally inadequate keyboards of my Nexus 7 and Inspiron 10. In some places I’ll stick a placeholder for a photo to be filled in later — my phone takes 2MB pix, and I don’t intend to use up my WP allotment in one go.

As with any trip, getting there is half the fun. My plane left GEG for SFO at 5AM. To make things more fun, MJ wasn’t getting back from an AKC trip ’till 11PM. I parked the car at the airport and left it with a white towel tied to the bike rack.

The flight out was a typical 21st Century flight. TSA was no more intrusive than they usually are. SFO to KIX (Kansai International, built on an island off Osaka), was on a B-777 Dreamliner. Comfortable, with a surprising amount of leg room. Food was just like Mother used to make — when she was in a hurry and there was nothing fresh in the house.

Got in at 4PM, and it was 5PM and dark by the time I’d cleared everything. The most direct route KIX to Kobe is to take the high speed ferry, but they said I’d have to wait an hour and suggested I take the bus. I was surprised at the length of the trip — 90min — but then I realized this wasn’t just a jaunt around Osaka Bay, this was a run down the coast of the Inland Sea.

My room in the Sannomiya Terminal Hotel

My room in the Sannomiya Terminal Hotel

The hotel isn’t the con hotel, which is a big, modern, expensive place out on the port island. Sannomiya Terminal Hotel is run by Japan Rail and sits right on top of the railroad station. The room is small – think cruise ship cabin – but cheap, and convenient.

A while back I did a post on The Smell of the Country, talking about what smells hit you when you first arrived. Japan…doesn’t smell. KIX is clean, modern, antiseptic. The bus had a faint air of fresheners about it. The hotel doesn’t have the typical hotel smell, the city streets don’t smell of diesel, and there’s not as much smoking as I thought there’d be. UPDATE:Finally, a smell. My room is non-smoking, but someone who just moved in on this floor is a smoker.

The view out my hotel window is interesting, be it day

Downtown Kobe on a cool Autumn day

Downtown Kobe on a cool Autumn day

Or night

Downtown Kobe on a crisp Autumn night

Downtown Kobe on a crisp Autumn night

And if you stand across the street by the big office building, this is what the hotel looks like:

Sannomiya Terminal Hotel, Kobe

Sannomiya Terminal Hotel, Kobe

My room is in the bottom row of windows, about sixth from the left.