Thursday, December 31, 2009
Kobe is probably most famous for the beer fed, superbly marbled and horrendously expensive Kobe Beef. I'll admit, I didn't try any while I was there, as any lunch set that was more than a slice or two of beef ran about 50 dollars!
Kobe is also famous for being the city hardest hit by the Great Hanshin Earthquake which struck the city on January 17th 1995. The quake was 7.3 on the Richter scale and caused the deaths of about 4,600 people. Today, there is a park along the waterfront where the damage went unrepaired, so people can get a glimpse of just how destructive the earthquake really was. The waterfront, built on land fill into the bay, was especially hard hit. The infrastructure for container shipping was damaged quite extensively, and the port industry has never really recovered.
Historically Kobe has long been one of Japan's primary ports, and it has an excellent Maritime Museum to go along with that. Out front of the museum there are three ships on display, an experimental hydrofoil, a replica of the Santa Maria, and the first Magnetohydrodynamic drive prototype. That ship, the Yamato 1 is propelled not by a propeller, but by an engine with no moving parts that uses magnetic fields to jet the water out the back of the boat.
The Santa Maria was interesting because as large as it is, the boat is a bit small to really consider crossing the Atlantic in! I also learned that taking panoramic exposures of mast rigged ships is very difficult, as photoshop can't seem to match the rigging correctly.
Next to the Maritime Museum is the Kobe Port Tower, offering an excellent view of the city. It was another clear day, and I was lucky to be able to view Osaka's port area far to the north. Kobe from above actually reminded me quite a bit of Honolulu, as both cities are perched between steep mountains and the sea. Also in the photo you can see the elevated Hanshin Expressway, which had been heavily damaged in the earthquake.
Japanese schools often run large field trips, and I always seem to get caught in museums at the same time as a few hundred middle school students. Here you can see a swarm of kids coming out of the Maritime Museum on their way to have lunch. Most of those kids were in the Museum at the same time I was, which lead to a pretty high noise quotient when I was browsing the exhibits. From above, you can see the Santa Maria, the hydrofoil and the Yamato 1 on display in the plaza.
Kobe was one of the first port cities opened to foreign trade at the end of the Edo era. This has lead to a reputation for cosmopolitanism and a large foreign population. Like Yokohama and Nagasaki, Kobe has a thriving China Town. This trip, it was jammed with high school kids, so lunch in China Town wasn't much of an option. This didn't faze me too much, as I knew that I'd be getting plenty of Chinese food in just a couple of days.
I walked from China Town to the Shin-Kobe ropeway, a gondola up into the high peaks above the city. The ropeway drops people off at a restaurant and shop area, from which you can either return on the gondola, or walk down to a lower station via a botanical garden.
While Kobe does have a subway system, it is a pretty compact city, and with little problem I had walked from Sannomiya Station (which counter-intuitively is the hub station instead of Kobe Station) to the waterfront, back through China Town and then up to the Shin Kobe area to catch the gondola. Of course, after all that walking, I was ready for a relaxing evening!