Our first full day consisted of taking the Shinkansen to Osaka. Stop #1: the Kuromon Ichiba market ‘黒門市場’. Translated literally, it means “black gate market”: there used to be a black gate northeast of a large temple called Emmeiji nearby.
We were given a good hour to stroll up and down the ‘market’, which was really more of just a street. Lots of cute shops full of delicious baked goods, fresh fish, fresh fruits. There were some rare sightings of a square watermelon. Oh yes, I can’t fail to mention the first time I had kurogoma, black sesame, ice cream ‘黒ごまアイスクリーム’. It was delicious. I know there are people who scorn the idea of soft serve, but in Japan some of the most delicious flavors available are in soft serve form. In random Japanese markets.
Stop #2: We hit the chopsticks. Another perfectly-portioned and tasty Japanese meal set. Okra salad, tempura, chawanmushi, fried silk tofu with shiitake, miso soup…not sure what else.
Stop #3: Osaka Castle Park ‘大阪城公園’. On our way there, I distinctly remember our tour guide stressing the importance of Osaka being “Ooh-saka” and not just simply “Oh-saka”. Minor details. Osaka Castle Park’s centerpiece is the 5-story namesake Osaka Castle–one of Japan’s most famous.
It was constructed by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, to mirror the Azuchi Castle built by his predecessor, Oda Nobunaga. Most of the castle has been restored, since it was burned during the Meiji Restoration. From the top, you can get a pretty gorgeous view of Osaka.
Afterwards, we were ready for some drinks: stop #4. The Kiku-Masamune ‘菊正宗’ Brewery. In 2005, we went to tour the Hakutsuru ‘白鶴’ Brewery, which to this day, remains some of the best sake I’ve had. Underage drinking is best when your parents are the ones secretly feeding you the alcohol *ahem*. Chilled sake is the best thing you could drink on an 80+ degree day. I can’t say I remember how to make sake, which is unfortunate. Something to do with washing and scrubbing. Really wish I could be more descriptive, but that’s about as good as it gets. After we had our fill of samples, it was time for the short bus ride to Kobe.
Stop #5: Kobe Earthquake Memorial. The Kobe earthquake occurred in 1995 and was 7.3 magnitude. 40,000 casualties and $100 billion in damages. Its tribute was simple, but poignant. There was a single plaque that represented the exact time the earthquake hit at 5:46 am and a short stretch of untouched remnants from the earthquake: broken sidewalks and unbalanced streetlamps frozen in time. After a sobering half hour, we had a mini shopping spree to brighten our day up. We made a trip to Nankin-machi ‘南京町中華街’ and were given 90 minutes to explore the area. Way too short! There were streets and streets of stores that we just did not get to see. But at the same time, I can’t complain about how we spent our time.
Last time we were in Kobe, our tour guide had told us about a famous cake shop in the area–it lived up to its reputation. My mom and I had been dreaming about it ever since, and this was our second chance at making the most of it. The name of the shop is Juchheim, and they make the most delicious Baumkuchen: “tree cake” in German, and a layered cake that when sliced resembles tree rings. It’s traditionally made on a spit by brushing on layers of batter, allowing it to brown before pouring another layer. There are typically 15-20 layers. (バウムクーヘン) or baumkuchen is how the Japanese pronounce it. Karl Juchheim introduced Baumkuchen at a German exhibition in Hiroshima way back in 1919, when he and his wife were interned at Okinawa during World War I. Arguably the best cake I’ve had. Delectably soft and melt-in-your-mouth and smooth and all things wonderful. We spent about $50 in there on a ton of cake. Yep…
Stop #6 was the one everyone on the tour had been waiting for–what some would argue as the pinnacle of this trip. Kobe beef dinner. Inarguably and truly the most beautiful cut of meat I’ve ever seen. It was so artistically marbled in texture. Apparently what makes Kobe beef so flavorful, tender, and fatty comes from the fact that the cows are treated like royalty. They’re fed high-quality grains, given wine to drink and massages daily. Talk about living the life. Our beef was substituted with “tofu steak”, which sounds hilarious. It really was just a large cut of tofu grilled teppanyaki-style. We definitely saved the tour company a lot on this meal. At the same time, though, good food is good food!
I wasn’t expecting a large chunk of tofu to taste so good–especially since the tofu in the dining halls is always downright disgusting–but it did. Master chefs are masters for a reason, absolutely. What really made the meal for me, though, was the chowder at the beginning. Never before or again have I had corn chowder that amazing. It was creamy and rich but light. There was so much to savor in the soup. Someday I’ll return to that same steakhouse, inconspicuously located under a small alley, just so I can have that soup once more.
Stop #7, the Merikan Park ‘美利堅公園’, gave us a chance to walk off the food. It’s a huge shopping center that sits directly across from the port of Kobe. Wonderful view of the harbor. The itinerary was arranged just so that we could see it at night, which is when it’s most beautiful.
There are ferris wheels, carnival rides, along with cute little antique and DIY stores. Japanese people really love their DIY stuff. However, my mom and I decided to go to a well-known cheesecake store that our tour guide had mentioned before dropping us off. Cheesecake there was not the cheesecake that we were familiar with in America: it was literally silky pound cake with melted cheese over it. Maybe a little bizarre in description, but it was ecstasy. The place is called Kannonya, in case anyone is ever in Merikan Park in Kobe. 🙂