Wednesday, 26 May 2010

PostHeaderIcon Obachan Tours: Kobe

It's a sad state of affairs when my closest (and only) Japanese friends are an assortment of old women who I only know through my English class.  For a number of years they have invited the local English teachers on a weekend trip to somewhere on Shikoku.  When I say invited; I mean... coerced.  A prerequisite of such an agreement by the foreigners is that they will not be the only one attending such festivities.  Two years ago I was told by the head old lady that "We will go on a trip together next month" and before I knew it I was on my way north to Takamatsu.  In order to save the grand total of about a tenner on train fares she booked us on the special 6-7 hour 'back arse of nowhere' journey.  Patience was not my best character trait of that weekend.  I don't think the ladies were too impressed with our early morning drinking binge on that particular trip.  Noah and I stayed up to about 5am dressed as a cow and a tube of mayonnaise until the night was brought to an end by an American girl called Deverely whom Noah did not take a shine to.  The following morning we sauntered down and refused to see any sights until we had fed our bellies full of saturated fat.  I guess those wounds have healed as I was invited again this year after last year's solo effort by veteran David in Yasuda.  I refused to answer whether I was coming this year until I was certain that David was.  Also, I let it be known to Naomi that the ladies were very excited about her possible involvement.  Therefore, my stroke of Machiavellian manipulation left me in a situation where I could relax in my seat of miseryarseness whilst my two travelling comrades serenaded the golden oldies with their camp humour and friendliness.
 This is some statue dedicated to some Scottish person from history.  There were actually a lot of famous Scotsmen who came to Japan in the 19th century.  A lot of them were engineers.

The destination this year was very ambitious as we aimed to leave the island of Shikoku and venture to the city of Kobe on the mainland.  The lessons of previous years had been learned and we insisted on hiring a massive car to drive us all there.  Kobe is one of the biggest cities in Japan and sits alongside Osaka in the bay of the same name.  Historically, it is famous for being one of the international trade hubs following the opening up of Japan in the 19th century.  The city name is synonymous with a famous type of cattle that is raised in the area.  Kobe beef is famous around the world because of its unique (expensive) marbled texture.  Apparently, the cows are fed beer and massaged with sake.  I've actually eaten Kobe beef a few years ago on my last family holiday when we went to Dubai.  We were pretending to be rich one day and went to the 7 star hotel that sticks out in the water.  Some Australian bloke was going around the restaurant and cutting slices off a whole cow.  I was stuffed and reluctantly accepted some.  It was pretty good although it was exceptionally fatty.  Anyway, the stuff in Kobe is stupidly expensive so we didn't get that but we did get an amazing piece of steak that I'll mention later.  The city is also the location of Japan's last major earthquake that destroyed a lot of the city in 1995.
 This statue was knocked over in the earthquake.  The clock stopped and it has now evolved into a memorial of sorts.  She appears to be riding a fish naked.

Anyway, the trip itself went as well as could be expected.  The women are friendly and energetic but there comes a point when you realise you're spending the weekend with old people.  The three of us began to relax and let them take over all the things that require reading or speaking Japanese.  However, it again comes back to the essential point that they are old people and they're  scared of technology.  For example, the GPS in the car kept breaking and neither of us could fix it... one half knew the Japanese and the other knew how to work it.  When we eventually arrived in Kobe we headed to Chinatown for lunch.  The gaggle of oldies started mulling about in search of a restaurant.  We passed many places that looked good before they settled for some average restaurant with about as much authenticity as the one down the road from my town.  A pet hate of mine was the next test of my patience as they called the waitress over to order despite not everyone at the table seeing the menu.  My dreams of delicious duck vanished as I ordered ramen by mistake.  We spent the rest of the afternoon marching across the city to reach the museum.  Sadly, the part of the museum about Kobe's history was replaced with an Ancient Egyptian exhibition.  That was apparently the extent of their plans for the day as they wanted us to head for dinner and karaoke at four in the afternoon.  This was all the more surprising considering they had rushed me out of a shop when I was buying a drink earlier in the day.  We disagreed and went for a wander in the park with a beer before suggesting we get some drinks before heading to dinner.  We found a cool bar with cheap beers that was incidentally below a train line.  The women were startled every five minutes as one went by.  Our next destination was the carefully selected yakiniku restaurant called Holy Molly.  I thought this was a rather unusual name for such an establishment as they are usually called Mr Nakamura's BBQ restaurant and the like.  It turned out it was  just a bar in the seedy district of town.  How head old lady got this completely wrong is still a mystery to me.  Anyway, no harm was done as Naomi and I took charge and headed to the nearest proper restaurant.  It turned out to be an excellent choice as the chef cooked our steaks with garlic chips and melted butter infront of us.  To fast forward events slightly... we ended up in a karaoke bar that was run by the the brother of the local cinema owner in east Kochi.  Nothing quite beats a Saturday night singing along with your O.A.P bitches.  It was actually a lot of fun.
In Steak Land (ステーキランド).  We all ordered the cheapest steak set but it was a good feed all the same.

As a side dish they offered rice or bread.  I was expecting a crusty loaf but they gave me a crossisant.  Keep trying, Japan.  You'll get it right one day.

 A true highlights of the trip was meeting some TV stars with faultering careers.  These twins are called Za Tachi and had their 15 minutes of fame a few years ago.  Check this drivel on youtube.

I just included this because it makes me look super cool.

The following day was marked by the croaked voices of our elder friends as they all succombed to a terrible cough.  The head old lady continued to take charge of things and fail in spectacular fashion.  She directed us to Port Island and when we asked what was there she just repeated the name.  The island turned out to be nothing more than a large industrial estate and.... a port.  However, she was punished for such a lackadaisical attitude when we drove our car/bus to IKEA.  It had been many years since I visited the Mecca of D.I.Y but I knew exactly what I wanted from the blue and yellow warehouse; Swedish meatballs.  However, my plans were scuppered when I was informed by the power of facial expression that this was not an adequate setting to feast together.  In the end we headed to the earthquake memorial park which was the only place I really wanted to see.  Some of the women spent a grand total of two minutes looking before they left us to go get a Japanese lunch in a hotel.  In the end we went to a terrible fast food vendor that didn't have any burgers.  It was alright though because we just talked about history with my favourite old lady.  The other speechless group returned from lunch and fell asleep in the back of the car as we drove them home. 
The picture above is part of the memorial for the Kobe earthquake of 1995.  It totally destroyed the port in Kobe and the industry has never really recovered.  It killed around 7000 people who were crushed in their homes as they were designed to withstand typhoons rather than  earthquakes.  Also, it destroyed the highway in the background and many modern buildings.  The reason for such a high level of damage was because the quake was shallow and struck almost directly under the city.  This meant that the ground moved from side to side rather than a more up and down motion.  This shallow earthquake was drastically more violent than previous building regulations had anticipated.  The reclaimed land of the port turned to quicksand.  The Japanese public were shocked by the lack of preperation and many new laws and plans were put into practice in the following years.

I was possibly a bit harsh on my old chums as I did have quite an enjoyable weekend all the same.  Kobe was a let down itself because it just looked any other city and the 'international feeling' was non-existent again.  It means I won't regret not seeing it though so that's at least one box ticked there.  It was fun but there was always the feeling that the weekend was an extension of work or some form of babysitting.  Anyway, that just about concludes another one of these travelling round-ups.  I'm going to be skint until the summer at least so hopefully my future posts will abandon this excruciating form of writing.  I feel trapped in past memories unable to rant against the present day pains I go through.  Goodbye.


Anonymous said...

Deverly. What a dumb name. She sounds like a hypocritical cunt. Where are you going for next year's trip?

Hayley Beth said...

I like these posts the most. Pictures to go with the trip & place descriptions. I've had kobe beef before and was told it was Japanese cow...aside from being expensive I figured it was only popular because...sometimes I think people like Japanese things just because it is from Japan. Now I know why kobe is so special. (You'd think the resturant would have explained that better)

Traveling with a group you don't 100% get along with makes a difficult time but it seems it wasn't that bad...or you made the bad sound less bad.

The memorial for the earthquake in 1995 (last picture) looks amazing. Sad too since the entire place was leveled. The small patch of city leaning to the side is a better reminder than any statue could ever be.

aussiehisshou said...

This man has the ability to make the most fun occasion sound bad. While he in fact was actually having fun doing it.

Jura said...

I was in laughter-pain with those chubby twins on YouTube. The far away dreamy look of that random bint when they cut to her is the best.

Reikalein said...

Haha, this is epic.

My Japanese manager eats croissants for lunch with his salad. He's not quite got it right either, bless him.

Ahoy hoy said...

Thanks for the comments chaps. I'm going to wiggle my way out of next year's trip and pass the buck onto the fresh meat.

The steak set we had was amazing. I thought about it a few times in the following days. Especially when I was eating school lunch.

The twins punchline used to be Chotto... Chotto Chotto. It's really quite an intelligent piece of humour.

I had squid and fresh fruit as a starter once. I didn't eat it...

Anonymous said...

...and the only one who correctly remembered the famous twins famous catchphrase ... was a gaijin.

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.