Today was an easy day. I slept in, checked out of the hotel, and made my way to the train station to catch the 11:53am Shinkansen to Tokyo. However the route was not direct and I had to switch trains at Kobe. As I was settling into the first leg of the train ride, I got to thinking: “Well I never actually had a chance to see Kobe and I only traveled through by train…”. You see where this is going.
I looked at the train schedules and found that there are hourly trains from Kobe to Tokyo until 7:30pm (after that I would have to switch trains once or twice).
So I got off the train at Kobe, stored my luggage in those handy coin lockers and went exploring.
I read about some sake breweries around Kobe so I decided to check those out. I visited two: Hakutsuru and Kiku-Masamune. Both had a little Museum telling the history of sake production and that particular brewery’s approach to the craft, etc. Kiki-Masamune was a little more interesting because they use a slightly older, more manual method to make some of their sake. And each brewery offered its own free sake tasting station so I got to try probably about 7 or 8 different sakes today which was great.
Both breweries (and several others) are located in what is known as Kobe’s Nada district, which is Japan’s top sake producing region. The Nada district is roughly three kilometers wide and is located south east of Kobe center. Nada has been famous for its sake for a long time due to the availability of high quality rice, suitable water and favorable weather conditions in the area. Its proximity to Kobe Port and Osaka has also facilitated distribution of sake throughout history.
I was only planning to visit Hakutsuru but then discovered I had a coupon (given to me at the tourist info desk at the train station) for a “special gift” at Kiki-Masamune. So I went for the special gift (a commemorative sake cup) and stayed for the sake tasting. And yes I also ended up buying sake at both breweries.
After, I made my way back to the center of the city, to the main train station Sannomiya and walked around.
I got lost in more shopping malls and arcades than I care to mention, I looked for a little restaurant that i heard was really yummy only to find that it is closed on Mondays, and eventually I decided to sit down and have my Kobe beef in Kobe (when in Rome….). After a beefy late lunch, I made my way back to Shin-Kobe to retrieve my luggage. I made it in time for the 6:30pm train to Tokyo.
So in the end, what was supposed to be a chilled out “travel” day turned into a short side adventure to Kobe. Not a bad last minute change of plans.
The Japan Rail pass makes all my last minute whims possible. If you live outside of Japan, you can order this Japan Rail (JR) pass online and get it in the mail before you travel. You validate it when you arrive in Japan (I did mine at Narita airport) and off you go. This JR pass works on most Shinkansen (bullet trains) and any regular JR train. With the exception of the ferries/boats, this has worked basically everywhere. Since I knew I’d be riding around on trains for at least 8 or 9 days, I got the 14 day pass. The only thing it doesn’t work on is subways. There is a separate card for that, similar to the metro/oyster/octopus cards, except that it works in almost every city subway in Japan. It’s called the Suica card, and I got one of those too.
Now I’m back in Tokyo. This time I’m staying at a hotel in the Shinjuku neighborhood.
In the spirit of today being the last time I rode the Shinkansen here are some photos from my various rides over the past 10 days.