It is not down in any map; true places never are
- Herman MelvilleKobe
So, we continued to flash our Japan rail pass and moving on from Nara our next port of call was Kobe, via a quick stop-off in Osaka. A historic port and distinct city in its own right, Kobe now seems more like the fashionable western suburb of sprawling Osaka, 33km east around Osaka Bay.
The city history is dominated by two important events; the opening of Japan's ports to foreign trade in 1868
and the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Although it had been a port as long ago as the 8th century, Kobe's fortunes really took off when foreign traders showed up in the city in the latter part of the 19th century, bringing their new ways and styles of living with them. Japan got its first taste of beef and soccer in Kobe (1871), the first cinema film was shown here (1896) and Japan's first golf course was laid down close to the city (1903). This trend setting nature and booming trade made Kobe a very popular place and, despite suffering heavy bombing during World War II, by the 1960s the city was bursting out of its narrow stretch of land between the mountains and the sea. A solution to this issue was found by levelling the hills and dumping the rubble into the sea, creating Port & Rokko Islands in the bay. Life went on as normal until 5.46am on January 17th, 1995, when a devastating earthquake struck the city and surrounding area. As dawn broke, Kobe resembled a war zone, with buildings and highways toppled, whole neighbourhoods in flames, some 6,500 people dead and tens off thousands homeless. Although the authorities were
criticized for not responding promptly to the disaster, Kobe has tried its best to get back to business and the city bears little signs of the tragedy today. Although it has almost totally recovered (physically, as least) from the quake it has far from forgotten this horrific event - the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution documents the quake and its aftermath. As soon as we were sorted with somewhere to stay for the night (more on that below) we headed to the institution. One would really need more than the 2 hours or so we spent in there to get full value for the entrance fee but we were still able to get a good appreciation for the scale of the destruction caused by the quake. With the institutes presentations still fresh in the mind it was hard to believe, walking around the streets of Kobe that evening, that it was a little over 10 years since the quake hit. Like a Pea in a Pod
On my short list of must-do things in Japan (which included, amongst others, a trip on the bullet train and to have sushi) was to spend a night in a capsule hotel, the Japanese contribution to the international hotel scene. As Kobe was one of our last stops we decided to use it as our capsule hotel night. Most of them only offer accommodation to men and are mostly frequented by inebriated businessmen who missed the last train home. But we found one for men and women and as our book stated,
they are good to try for a night at least. And they are. The one we stayed at had one floor for men and one for women, each floor having its own bathing area. So with our watches synchronised to meet the next morning we bid each other goodnight. I spent an hour or so in the tubs (old hat to me by now; identical to the bath houses in Korea) before retiring to the comfort of my capsule. Each capsule has a little panel with controls for the light, TV, radio and alarm clock. They are also surprisingly roomy inside and not to mention comfy. Certainly the way to go if you are travelling alone.
Only two more stops in Japan. Next up? Himeji, to try spot a few Samurais. What's the chances?