A Day in Kobe

Today,, a much more pleasant private tour of Kobe is in store. We meet our guide Teiko and driver. Our first stop is up at the very top of the mountain at the end of a steep winding road which leads out of Kobe. This is the top of Mt. Rokko at the northern edge of Kobe. Beautiful expansive views of the city and harbor are below. The wind is very cold up here and we even get some snow flurries. The crocus flowers have broken ground everywhere. Spring really wants to come but winter hasn’t given up yet. Soon back home I know that I will be wishing for cool weather but even though I have on several layers of clothing, I cannot get warm.
Back to Kobe and the Sake District. We will find a way to warm up now. We visit the White Crane distillery. We are given a tour and an explanation of the process. James finds one that he loves and buys a bottle to take home. He is in a fine mood after tasting several vintages to decide on his favorite. I am warmer too! The fine Sake in this area is attributed to the Mt. Rukko water running down from the mountain. On the tour we see just how laborious the making of Sake was in days past. The cooking, cooling and fermenting of the rice required many willing hands. The laborers used songs to help them keep track of the time needed for the various stages of the process. We hear recordings of the songs they used to sing. Today everything is mechanized in stainless steel tanks and temperature controlled with timing done by machine. The only wooden containers used are the barrels used at the end for aging and storage. The barrels are then covered with brightly covered straw depicting the brand and its logo, the White Crane. The bottle James has selected is original Sake with no added alcohol.
We now head to a small city garden but, to get there, we proceed down a beautiful tree lined street with almond trees in full bloom. The blossoms are a beautiful pale pink. At Sorakven garden the front gate is under restoration but we are admitted to an area planted in large Sago Palms next to a well groomed camphor tree. What really catches our eye is a young couple in traditional Japanese wedding costume who are posing for their wedding pictures. This garden is in the middle of Kobe yet seems quietly secluded. Teiko explains trees to us. We know the significance of the everygreen black pine which is featured prominently on many silk screens we have seen at the sites we have visited. Two more trees are also important in the culture here. The plum because it is the first to bloom after the long cold winters and the Maple.
Our driver next takes us on a tour of some of the Kobe sites as we have some time before lunch. We visit China town’s busy streets all decorated in the familiar red lanterns. We visited one of the many large bronze Buddah statues that are everywhere. This one is a sitting and meditating type with its snail head dress and lotus flower seat cushion. We also visit a beautifl Shinto shrine. The shrine’s gate has the customary rope over the entrance and white zig zag folded clothes strips which signify the mountains and lightening. Other gates have a brush broom type design which symbolizes the rain.
Now, the highlight of our day is coming up. We will have lunch featuring Kobe beef. We go to Wakkoku restaurant and are seated at a highly polished wooden bar facing a stainless steel grill directly in front of us. On the wall behind is a gold plate featuring a Wagu Cow’s head. This tells the patron that the real Kobe beef is served here. We make our selection of a beef cut and the small marbled roast is presented for our approval. Our chef has recommended the strip over the filet. He explains, with Teiko’s help, that over the course of the meal different parts of this cut of meat will have different taste depending on his method of preparation. We begin with an appetizer of beef tongue over pickled onions.James has another bottle of Sake and goes with the program. Next soup and salad is followed by the beginning edges of our meat expertly cooked. We are given dried garlic chips and two types of sauces to enhance the flavor. The best was a small dip of the meat into some ground pepper. The meat literally melted in your mouth. It was so flavorful and tender. Yummy!! An hour later we are still eating expertly prepared small bites now served with sautéed vegetables and then garlic stir fried rice. Wow, what a meal. We finish with a dessert of lemon sorbet. We are done in now! Back on the ship we collapse. Nagoya Japan is our next stop. We decide to pass on going ashore. Toyko awaits.