Perhaps my biggest (or most achievable!) New Year’s resolution for 2016 was to visit five new cities in Japan. After ticking off Naha, Kyoto and Yokohama amongst numerous others, this Obon holiday I decided to venture out of Tokyo once again. This time, after some ‘innocent’ 1am Skyscanner browsing a month or two ago, I decided that my destination was to be Osaka.
But why fly to Osaka? I hear you ask. True, the shinkansen (bullet train) is probably quicker and a lot less hassle than flying. However in this case it was actually quite a bit cheaper to go with Jetstar from Narita Airport; a return flight to Kansai International came in at ¥23,000 with baggage, whilst to go to Osaka and back on the train would have been ¥30,000. Decision made.
The key word in the above paragraph is ‘hassle’. Getting to Narita airport at any time is a hassle, especially if you don’t want to get shafted on the Narita Express. I think I’ve found a happy medium with the Keisei Skyliner from Nippori station. It’s not as quick but a little cheaper than the NEX, and a hell of a lot faster than the local train which I’ve taken a few times when I’m being a mega tightarse.
As is the case 99% of the time with me, this journey was anything but stress-free. Having only moved to Kichijoji six days before leaving for Osaka I was obviously still getting used to the train times but – seeing as I live in Japan of all places – assumed there’d be a bit of leeway.
The previous night, I’d tentatively earmarked the 9.20am train and left my apartment at 9.10am – more than enough time. Upon stepping outside though, I suddenly remembered that it’s the middle of summer and I have no hair. Dammit. I hadn’t packed my suncream or my Del Boy style flat cap, so quickly ran back upstairs to retrieve the factor 50 and the hat before heading back to the station to catch the next train which was only a few minutes later. No worries.
Well, actually, yes worries.
Living in Japan makes you complacent with a number of things. Personal security is one thing; I’ve seen countless people leave their phones and wallets on the table in a bar whilst they go to the toilet – in fact at busy football matches I’ve seen people reserve their seats with their wallets before going to get their pre-match food and drink! The other main area of complacency – if you miss a train in Tokyo you just assume there’ll be another along in a few minutes!
Whilst this is often the case, it doesn’t apply to airport trains apparently. Catching that 9.20am train was imperative to a comfortable transfer to the Skyliner at Nippori. Instead of a leisurely stroll across the station, I would instead have four minutes to leg it up the stairs, avoid the inevitable Pokemon Go players (seriously guys, fuck off, yeah?), buy a Skyliner ticket, go to the platform and get on the train.
After a stressful ride on the Yamanote line, during which I checked the clock on my phone a good 20-plus times, I dived off the train at Nippori – probably taking out numerous old ladies and Ash Ketchum wannabes – and belted for the Skyliner gate. Thankfully, the lady at the ticket machine saw my panicked white face, assumed I was a tourist about to miss his flight to the other side of the world and did everything for me before sending me on my way. I made it onto the platform just as the last few passengers were boarding and just about got through the doors before they slammed shut. Job done!
Having booked three nights in Osaka and been told by numerous people that it was probably too many, I was more than happy to explore the surrounding areas and cities too. It just so happened that my friend Fred relocated to Kobe in April which – unbeknown to me – was only around 40 minutes from Osaka so I dropped my bags at the hostel and jumped on the train.
Upon arriving in Kobe it was immediately obvious that this city was different to Tokyo. In fact, there aren’t many cities in the world like Tokyo but when travelling around Japan the differences between cities can be quite obvious. In comparison to Tokyo, Kobe seemed much more relaxed, less crowded and – in my opinion – didn’t have a great deal to see or do. Having said that, I only spent about five hours there so I don’t want to completely write a city off!
My tour of Kobe started at Harborland – a sort of crossbreed between a shopping centre, an entertainment complex and, as the name suggests, a harbour. As it was a nice, warm evening, there were many families, couples and groups of friends around enjoying the atmosphere and knocking a few drinks back. The harbour area actually reminded me of Yokohama a bit with the view across the water.
The harbour was just a nice place to kick back and chill for a while, so we did just that and took a stroll round to Kobe Port Tower which had lit up in the time it took us to leave the area. Next on the itinerary were apparently two of the livelier areas of town – Motomachi and Sannomiya.
On the way though we took a brief stroll through Chinatown which again drew comparisons to Yokohama, albeit on a much smaller scale. Now, it’s at this point I should address the elephant in the room: Kobe beef. Almost everyone has asked me if I tried the speciality whilst in Kobe and bizarrely enough, the answer is ‘sort of’. Let me explain…
Upon arriving in Kobe it was something I was keen to do but Fred told me that it was a) extremely expensive (over ¥10,000 in a lot of places) and b) not really all that worth it.
It did seem a shame to come all this way and not try the speciality but I took his word for it. However whilst walking through Chinatown I saw a street food stall selling ‘Kobe beef’ (inverted commas for obvious reasons!) so I picked up a tray of this for ¥1000 instead. So to answer the question, I guess I had a form of beef in Kobe, so does that count as Kobe beef? There’s a riddle for you!
After taking in the seemingly never-ending shopping streets of Motomachi and spending far too long picking somewhere to eat, we eventually rounded off the night in a gyoza restaurant in Sannomiya sat next to the drunkest salaryman in the Kansai region. He announced his arrival by introducing himself to a rather awkward looking waitress and having ‘banter’ (I hate that word) with the staff.
When his food arrived, he seemed stuck in a dilemma as to whether to carry on his flirting – if indeed you could call it that – or soaking up some of the alcohol with his gyoza. In the end food won, although he may have been wiser to stick to flirting as he seemed completely incapable of using chopsticks at this point and Fred even suggested we ask for a fork for him. In his defence, it was a Sunday and he was fully suited up so he’d clearly just spent his weekend at the office. Could anyone really begrudge him a drink or 12?
When the novelty of him wore off we decided to call it a night. I headed back to Osaka for an early(ish!) night ready to explore the city the next day. It had been a very long day of travelling indeed!
Click here for part two of my Obon holiday.