“it’s that time of year”

12/11/11   –   12:54

The title is taken from She & Him’s rendition of “The Christmas Waltz.” It makes me nostalgic for the white Christmas I’ve never had. And by white Christmas I sort of mean “the Christmas I imagine white people have.”

~ ~

Yesterday I made a voyage to the capital of Hyogo prefecture, Kobe. Although my initial purpose was to see the ルミナリエ [Luminarie, pronounced loo-mi-na-ree-eh], I hear that Kobe is a nice sight-seeing town. It’s a large city, but still quaint, sandwiched between a mountain range and the sea. Although there’s a ton to do in Kobe [apparently], I settled for three goals: Liquor, [L]pandas, and Lights. (Alliteration is hard, man.)

So I met Ji-young at Kyobashi station and we set out for Kobe on the Hanshin train line. On the way over there, I saw the most clever bit of advertising. It was an ad for Namba Parks, a high-class mall-type thing in Osaka and it said:

「イエスの日だから、ノーはなし。」[Iesu no hi da kara, noo wa nashi.]

“Because it’s Jesus’ day, she can’t say no.” [lol.]

In English, it makes it seem like she’s some sort of Jesus freak, but it’s actually a play on the word イエス, which is how you say “Jesus” in Japanese but it also sounds like “yes.” So basically, “because it’s “yes” day, she can’t say “no””

I lawled. I lawled hard.

~ ~

But anyway,  we got to Sumiyoshi station and it plopped us out in the middle of suburban Kobe nowhere and if it were not for Ji-young’s iPhone, we would never have found the admittedly hard-to-miss Hakutsuru Sake Company Factory (-_-) The Kobe area–specifically the Nada district–produces about a fourth of Japan’s sake and I figured it would be worth it to go see how it’s made.

The tour was a very informal affair, which consisted of walking through an old brewery-house-turned-museum with exhibits explaining how rice on the stalk gets turned into delicious delicious sake. At the end of the exhibit was, of course, the gift shop, and a free tasting of two kinds of Hakutsuru’s products. One was freshly made rice-wine and it tasted very smooth and agreeable and definitely more rice-y than the stuff I’ve gotten at izakayas. The second was a sampling of their 梅酒 or plum wine and it was delightful.

Among their other goods were ゆず酒 which is a wine made out of the citrus fruit, yuzu, and other sorts of barley and rice products. Ji-young bought a bottle of their plum stuff and I settled for a pair of sake cups with the Hakutsuru white crane on them. A very productive and fun little pit-stop on our way to Kobe proper.

~ ~

The second thing that Kobe is famous for is it’s 南京町 [nankinmachi], which is basically Chinatown. Kobe has historically been a very international port city and as such, houses a large percentage of foreigners, in this case, overseas Chinese. Walking through Chinatown was a crowded flurry of lanterns, dragons, and people hawking 豚マン = cha siu bao = pork buns and chinese style ramen. Ji-young and I stopped several times to try the food and standing in the heat radiated by the huge bamboo steamers was a welcome respite from the chilly night that was coming upon us.

As far as souvenirs went, Ji-young grabbed the special Kobe flavor of Kit-Kat: Kobe pudding, and I struggled to pick between the billion panda-related things in the China-town stalls. You see, pandas are my favorite animal [followed by koalas or maybe polar bears] and I just couldn’t decide. Until I did. I got a panda key-chain and a panda plushie and I could not be happier with my purchases.

~ ~

And after we were done in Chinatown, we headed to Motomachi station in order to meet with Fumiya so we could all go see Luminarie. Well wait. What the hell is Luminarie anyway? It’s basically a Christmas light show in which an entire street and park are closed off to exhibit this massive arrangement of lights. They were donated by the Italian government, I believe, in the aftermath of the great Kobe Earthquake around 16 years ago to commemorate the 6,000+ people that died in the disaster. It was also a symbol of lasting hope for the city in its efforts to rebuild. Since then, it’s been held every year around early December. Every one of these lights is hand-painted and placed meticulously in a dazzling array.

But before you get there… you have to deal with this:

A decidedly not-so-beautiful walk through Motomachi’s shopping district, moving around 1 meter/5 minutes until you reach the Daimaru department store. At that point, the pace picks up and it becomes more pleasant complete with a view of the night sky and also nice Christmas-sounding music blasting through speakers on either side of the street.

At least. They want you to think that’s Christmas music. It has sleigh bells and a nice angelic chorus type thing, but if you listen to the lyrics very closely, the dulcet tones are imploring you not to stop moving, informing you that you should take pictures later, and take care not to run. I 爆笑’d very very hard. さすが日本, striving for social order but not being imposing about it.

And at the end of the human herd, you are then rewarded by this:

It’s a tunnel of lights crowned by a castle made entirely of lights. A breath-taking spectacle if I ever saw one.

When you were done marveling at the craftsmanship, you could go to the nearby area with all the street vendors. They sold everything from takoyaki to tornedo poteto (that is what it sounds like) but we all settled on other things, including but not limited to:

– まるまる(もりもり)焼き

– みかんアメ
– 和牛串

I swear I could have just stayed there eating forever. Japanese  street food is so. Delicious. And speaking of delicious, you will have to excuse me while I take a paragraph to rant and rave about Kobe Beef. I feel like if you’ve heard of Kobe, you’ve heard about their wonderful well-marbled cow meat. I keep hearing it is the tastiest thing ever so when I saw a stall that was selling skewers for the outrageous price of 500 yen (~$7) per skewer, I had to try it. That was a little expensive for one person, so we split one skewer between the three of us. I do not regret my purchase at all. It was seasoned only with salt and pepper and grilled for only a bit, but it was honestly the juiciest, most satisfying piece of beef I have ever had the pleasure of ingesting. Think of Angus, but about 10 times more tender and awesome. There you have Kobe Beef. If you ever get the chance, I would suggest trying some. You will not be sorry.

There was time after stuffing ourselves for some impromptu glamour shots by the large CASTLE OF LIGHT and then it got a little too cold so we decided to go home. On our way to Sannomiya station, we saw crowds of people here and there just looking up at the sky. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but when you see a pocket of people every 10 meters, then maybe something’s up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t something like the batman signal, but it was almost as cool. There was a lunar eclipse, or 月食, which literally means “eating the moon.” I could definitely see that and it was a pretty awesome end to our awesome day.

It was fun writing this entry, but I don’t think I can procrastinate any longer… I have to study for this Japanese final at some point, I guess. -_- Wish me luck.


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