TOUCHDOWN, KANSAI AIRPORT , OSAKA, JAPAN.
(On route Kobe)
The view from my window at sunrise. How pretty…
Osaka is the city capital of Osaka Prefecture. Osaka was historically the commercial capital of Japan and the second largest metropolitan in the area of Osaka-Kobe-
Kyoto. The other more notorious and infamous thing that Osaka is known for is the Yakuza ! We, however, were not staying in Osaka, but just passing through, on route Kobe.
On your right, you see the infamous body art of the Yakuza!
This hardcore version of body tattoo-ing is a sight to behold.
Centuries ago in the days of the Shogun, Japan’s authorities would mark criminals with tattoos to distinguish them from the rest of the population.
These highly visible tattoos usually took the form of a black ring around the arm; with rings added as convictions increased. These marked men were usually discriminated against so they tended to stick together, eventually forming the organized, mafia-style gangs now known as “Yakuza”. Worn proudly as symbols of status and dedication, Yakuza tattoos have evolved into magnificent, multicolored full-body masterpieces. (photo from here)
Anyway, enough talk about naked men… first stop, Osaka Castle.
Osaka castle is one of Japan’s most famous castles, and played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century . Osaka Castle is situated on a plot of land roughly one kilometer square. It is built on two raised platforms of landfill supported by sheer walls of cut rock, using a technique called Burdock piling, each overlooking a moat. The central castle building is five stories on the outside and eight stories on the inside, and built atop a tall stone foundation to protect its occupants from sword-bearing attackers.
Actually, I found this castle rather boring and full of tourists. Luckily there were some cute Japanese kids for me to photograph along the way… Hmmm, I hope we get to do some shopping soon… perhaps bump into a Yakuza or two.. if we are lucky !
This is Shinsaibashi, Osaka, the city’s main shopping area. Like most places in Tokyo, you will find the roads wide, modern and totally spanking clean! Major shops and boutiques are found in abundance in this area…LUNCH at Kisoji Restaurant.. our first meal on solid ground.. ! (Glad to be off JAL, for sure)
The specialty here is shabu-shabu – thin slices of beef cooked in boiling water at your table and dipped in sauce. Normally this is an informal, if pricey, sort of meal; after all, you do get to play with your food a bit. Kisoji, however, adds a dimension of posh to the experience, with all the tasteful appointments of a traditional ryotei – private dining rooms with tatami seating (at a 10% surcharge), elegant little rock gardens, and alcoves with flower arrangements.
However, since we were pressed for time (we were still an hour from Kobe, our destination), we settled for the Sashimi, Tempura Set.
The food was simple yet excellent in taste. Washing it down with Sake, I was ready for a nap !
Some sights we saw in Shinsaibashi… A carnival was in full swing as we shopped along the main street… pretty hoola girls, but not a yakuza in sight !
Next stop KOBE!
DAY 2 & 3
At Kobe Harbour land you can find anything… from department stores, sport shops, restaurants to small funky shops in the lovely mosaic garden.Harbour land is not only for shopping. It’s by the ocean and from there you have the greatest view of Kobe – The Maya and Rokko mountains in the background, and the Kobe skyline landmarks Kobe port tower and Oriental hotel. You can chill, have a coffee outside, or take a ride on the Paris Wheel, as there is also an entertainment park for kids here.
Kobe is well-known throughout Japan as being an “international city”. With its diverse population of foreign residents and facilities and amenities established built for such foreign communities, Kobe is well equipped to support a comfortably refined lifestyle for just about any person or individual from any country! That includes me.. I can see myself fitting in just fine, thank you…
The large number of multi-cultural friendship organizations tells you that there are many facilities assisting non-Japanese residents of the city and the surrounding areas. And of course, for the more serious, there are a number of places to study the Japanese language and Japanese culture as well.
Fashion related industries are thriving here, eg. pearls, clothes, shoes, and furniture. The downtown district from Sannomiya to Motomachi is lined with fashionable retail stores, department stores and specialty stores, constituting a large alfresco shopping center. That is where I am headed in the next few days .. but I didn’t need to tell you that, of course.. ;P
After working up an appetite… we arrive at Tokeiya Restaurant… OUR FIRST KOBE BEEF experience on this trip.
Entering Tokeiya, you know that this is a classy joint. The waitresses are traditionally dressed and speak in hush tones. Every meal has to be pre-booked. Every single type of Kobe Beef preparation is available here. You name it, they have it. From Sukiyaki, to Shabu Shabu, Teppanyaki & Sahimi. I feel like I died and went to Beer-fed Cattle heaven…!
A friendly waitress who spoke English gave us our first lesson why Kobe beef is so special (in other words.. why you are going to pay an arm and a leg for this meal.. HAH!)
Kobe beef in Japan is a registered trademark !
It must fulfill all the conditions as follows:
1.Tajima cattle born in Hyogo Prefacture
2.Fed by farm in Hyōgo Prefecture
3.Bullock or Virgin cow, meant to purify the beef (This one is NEW to me!)
4.Processed at slaughterhouse in Kobe, Nishinomiya, Sanda, Kakogawa and Himeji in Hyōgo Prefecture.
5.Marbling ratio called BMS is level 6 and above.
6.Meat Quality Score is A or B
7.Gross weight of beef is 470 kg or below. In accordance with popular belief, the cattle are fed sake and beer, and they are massaged and brushed for setting fur, and fed on grain fodder.
(Will let the photos speak for themselves)
PRIME CUT MARBLING > level 6, A Grade (Yen 15,000 upwards)
I PUT MY RAW BEEF IN…
I TAKE MY RAW BEEF OUT…
I PUT MY RAW BEEF IN…
AND SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT… !
DIFFERENT CUT, SAME COW.
DUNK IN EGG.
YET A DIFFERENT CUT, SAME COW.
After we had OD-ed on Kobe Beef and drunk our fill , we carried our fat laden butts back to the hotel and counted (virgin serviced)cows, before drifting off into la-la land.
Shopping in Kobe.
The malls are filled with sweets and goodies, in all shapes, colors and sizes.
The staff are friendly and though they do not speak perfect English, are willing to pose for a photo anytime!
I didn’t know the Japanese ate French Bread! lol.. silly me!
Ok, ok… enough of super shopping malls… my arms are breaking from carrying my shopping bags.. I just wish there was some place like a China Town, or something where I could stop for a moment and just ‘Yam-Char’.
Luckily my Japanese is not too bad and I managed to ask a passerby “Is there a Chinatown in the area?”
She nodded and pointed me in the direction. Apparently it was only a few blocks away!
Walking fast, that familiar smell of street food soon reached my nose! Why is it that Chinatown smells exactly the same, no matter which part of the world you are in ?!
We saw a man…
behind the glass…
who kept making these dumplings…
THEN WE SAW…
THE QUEUE THAT STRETCHED FOR YOINKS…
What’s the bloody attraction? I mean, it’s just bao for crying out loud.
Then I bought one. Then I put it in my mouth…
The Bao was fantabulous! Fluffy textured outside, with succulent Japanese-bred pig (that soon became pork) stuffing on the inside. There is bao.. and then there is BAO. Japanese made chinese bao ROCKS.
Worth the 30 minute queue, I tell ya!
Feeling invigorated by the snack, we decided to carry on walking.
Back to the malls and shopping.
A lamborghini exhibition! (too rich for my blood)
Breaking for dinner, we found many fast food and western joints in Kobe as well. So… should we have western..? or stick to Japanese?
Japanese of course! The way I see it, we only have X number of days in Kobe, and I intend to OD on Sushi, Kobe Beef and Ramen before I leave.
We found this little Traditional Japanese Restaurant off the mains street. I cannot remember the name but it served incredible Sashimi and Ikuradon.
The Ikuradon came with the plumpest most amazing Urchin slab you can imagine.
“Lard up today.. for tomorrow… you SUFFER!”
Kobe Beef! (Push a good thing to the limit.. ALWAYS!)
Some yellow custardy dessert. Extremely sweet (like moi:P
Traditional lockers for us to keep our shoes!
End of day 4.
Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner!
Oh, we wake up and it’s a lazy rainy day. First stop, the gym…
After 1 hour of cardio and half and hour of weights.. it’s BREAKFAST time!
Enough hotel buffet breakfasts.
I want ramen and I want it now!
Oh… I love these roadside joints. Fast, CHEAP and good. The Kobe Beef dinners have taken their toll on our wallets and we were happy to just fork out Yen 350 for a steaming hot bowl of gorgeous PORK ramen!
Give me TWO of whatever that Japanese bloke is having please, and make it fast!
Ohhhhh…… if I had nine lives I would have died 8 times over those 5 days in Japan.. no joke.
The thickest broth, the sweetest slice of pork, the springiest serving of ramen had me siphoning the bowl dry.
At this point you are going to think that I am really shallow and that all I did during this trip was eat, sleep and shop….
You would be right!
Nevermind la, last day in Kobe… who cares! Diet, work and stress is waiting for me in KL, so.. enjoy the moment while it lasts, I say.
Sannomiya is a must-see for any shopaholic in Kobe but don’t expect anything to be cheap. There are a stack of interesting little shops, and large department stores, all thrown together. For a complete culture shock and really intense but weird experience, visit a “purikura” arcade – a whole arcade dedicated to sticker photo machines. Takes “camwhoring” to new heights, I tell ya. This is more of an area for fashion and youth culture so do not expect to find souvenirs here!
Shopping in Kobe will leave you breathless and penniless too, the trade-offs for armloads of goodies that you will pick up. An experience I will not soon forget!
Dinner on the last day of our stay…
No points for guessing..
Teppanyaki Kobe Beef Restaurant!
In Japan, Teppanyaki menus are more course-based rather than Ala-carte styled.
A typical course consists of Japanese-reared beef steak, squid, scallop or lobster, and some kind of vegetables. One of the best things about a course-menu is that even if you speak or read absolutely no Japanese at all, you can still order easily without having to worry about what you’re yourself getting into. Usually a given course’s price varies based on the quality of ingredients (i.e. more expensive lobster versus a less expensive lobster; what breed of cow or what cut of beef).
By the way, Teppanyaki tends to be one of the more expensive meals you can have in Japan because the prices are season dependant. An average dinner costs between 10,000 and 30,000 yen! This tendency towards high prices also influences where one is most likely to find Teppanyaki restaurants… top-floor restaurants in first class hotels and other such places… How snooty!
Here lies my medium-rare steak. Last Kobe meal for the trip.. and the one I will remember best, hopefully!
We finish off the meal and get the cheque, but not before I sneak in a few last shots of the young, good looking chefs at the table! Thus concludes our visit to Kobe. It’s hard to believe that in 1995, Kobe was wrecked as completely as New Orleans was by Katrina, by the Great Hanshin Earthquake. I really marvel at the resilience and the hard-working attitude of the Japanese, because physical restoration of the city has been achieved as planned or at an even faster pace than expected! I suppose that the Japanese culture normally conjures up images of extravagantly made-up actors, kimono-clad ladies pouring cups of tea.. geishas .. etc, etc.. but I will forever remember Kobe as Shopping Haven and Eating Paradise… for many years to come!