The Pink Flamingo -- Kobe, Japan
Notes from my Journal -- Kobe, Japan, End of July 2016
Raphael and I arrived in Kobe via train with the first order of business being food. To our grumbling dismay, there weren't many places around the station like in Tokyo or Kyoto (or maybe we just couldn't find them) and the first few we found were closed during the afternoon lull between lunch and dinner (or at least closed to foreigners). As hangriness found us sooner than we would have liked, we ducked into the first open place we found: another one of the fast-food noodle jukebox joints. We dropped our change in the machine ordering some noodle bowls and beer and posted up along the counter to eat. We ravaged our food rather quickly and moved out towards our Kobe AirBnb.
With a fresh set of directions from our host, we took the train one stop and rode the bus a few minutes to a more suburban outskirt in Kobe. We arrived at the house and were met with a hospitable welcome from Katsu and his family who showed us to the guesthouse out back. Inside they had graciously and generously laid out slippers (comically enough, mine said "framingo" and had a little pink flamingo on them) among blankets, pillows, water, and tea, and even a welcome card. My sophomore year of college my 2nd home was nicknamed "The Pink Flamingo," and across the world in Japan I'd found a new, and temporary, home: The Pink Framingo.
After the warm welcome, we unloaded our bags and dropped our abominable clothes into the washing machine for a long overdue deep clean. As the clothes spun round and round, we took a minute to bring our heads back to reality and figure out where to gorge on some fine Kobe beef for dinner as well as a trip to an onsen--one of the traditional Japanese hot spring baths where we could cleanse the sweet and (mostly) sour humans we were smelling like.
We headed out as sunset approached. We hopped aboard the local bus traveling towards the heart of Kobe. At the gorge-aurant we were seated in a booth by the window overlooking the street below. We started off with some appetizers, an octopus dish and deep-fried quail eggs and cold sake—which we had sadly overlooked most of our time in Japan, as we waited on some salmon rolls and the main course of Kobe beef. The appetizers & sushi were all delicious and the cold sake to wash it down was a nice, delicate touch. We munched the appetizers as slowly as we could manage until our main course arrived. That Kobe beef looked damn good. It tasted even better: tender, succulent, flavorful, juicy, and cooked right on the money. It's not everyday I'd gorge on some Kobe beef in Kobe, so I savored the tastes of this dinner as long as I could manage. As Raphael & I savored the last flavors of Japanese cuisine we'd have, we reminisced on the exciting & eventful week we'd had in Japan. We'd eaten some food as phenomenal as this Kobe beef, such as the Akihibara ramen, Kaikaya sashimi, and Yakiniku BBQ; seen some vestiges of historic Japanese culture like the Imperial Palace, Meiji-jinggu Shinto Shrine, and Japanese Sword Museum; and peaked at the two highest points in Japan, manmade & natural, at the Tokyo Skytree and Mt. Fuji.
After the delicious gorge on Kobe beef and with the sake still warming our spirits, we paraded towards a local onsen. Naturally, entrance was cash only so the short walk from dinner to the onsen turned into an irritatingly prolonged search for an ATM. Three machines refused to accept foreign cards (the bastards!) and the 4th machine required a minimum withdrawal of $100, which sucked to our asmar because we were leaving Japan the next day and didn't really need it. Well, screw it, who knows when or if we'll ever be back in Kobe. Money doesn't spend itself.
Armed with a monopoly-esque amount of Yen we were back at the bathhouse and ready to rejuvenate our bodies in the mineral baths. It's like using a public jacuzzi where everyone is naked, except it’s all much much cleaner. After undressing in the locker room, you enter the gender-separated bathhouses whereupon you wash off with soap and shampoo before entering the pools. There's a warm electric bath that uses low electric currents in the water to supposedly relieve tension and stress in the shoulders and back with it’s electrically sensational tingle, a hot mineral jacuzzi (somewhere around 100 degrees F), a slightly less hot mineral bath outdoors with two high-pressure showerheads up above that act as massagers, a refreshingly cold bath nearby the door outside, and a sauna across from the outdoor mineral bath. After a few circulations, it was bedtime for bonzo. Exiting the onsen, I felt like a new human being. The fatigue and stress of carrying backpacks around, hiking up Mt. Fuji only days before, and a cross world flight had evaporated.
The next morning we took a large charter bus to Osaka airport, about an hour & a half journey. Most of the ride I was cashed out from our 7ish am wake-up, but as we approached Kansai International Airport I looked out the window out to the last sights of Japan. We were crossing a bridge to the artificial island the airport was on, the water stretching back towards Osaka's urban development. A great capstone for Japan, blending the concrete playgrounds we'd experienced with the beautiful outdoors. H elluva week. China, I hope you're ready for us.