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    • Day 25

      Day 25

      March 25 in Japan ⋅ ☁️ 13 °C

      Despite the on and off drizzle we decided today we would head up the Nunobiki Ropeway to the top of the mountain. As we ascended through the fog and cloud the skyscrapers dissolved into nothing and we were surrounded by a thick cloud. Seeing the occasional cable car whizz past in the opposite direction it felt very eerie!

      Once at the top we strolled through the herb gardens and made our way to the cloud forest. Walking in amongst the clouds gives everything a very “horror film” like mist and you could feel the moisture of your face and it makes your clothes slightly damp too!

      We then hiked along a reservoir to a waterfall taking lots of pictures along the way of the beautiful foggy landscape, it felt like we were in the jungle with the level of humidity and the cloud forest aspect! Enjoying the waterfalls we sat for a while and enjoyed them before hiking down the mountain and grabbing a bite to eat.

      As we were wondering along we found the “Kobe trick museum” which is basically recreating photos with art? It was slightly random but a lot of fun and then we saw the “Sherlock Holmes house”. Very intrigued we went in and it’s basically a house full of everything that the Japanese think the British are. From the queen mary model to a literal tube station it was such a strange experience!! Fake bars and stuffed animal heads it did feel like we were back in England! Everyone was dressed up as Sherlock Holmes taking pictures of this “English experience” it was very amusing for us!
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    • Day 188

      Back in Kobe

      June 17, 2023 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 72 °F

      After a day in Kyoto that saw us walking 35,300 steps — which my step app says is equal to 15 miles — we are back on the ship for the night.

      The cool breeze on the veranda is much welcome after a 90F-day … exploring bits and pieces of the city. We even have entertainment…a colorful ferris wheel across the water from us.

      Not sure what we will do tomorrow. Taking it easy is a very attractive option at the moment. The likelihood is that we will explore Kobe instead of venturing into Kyoto again.
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    • Day 189

      Kobe: Staying Local on Day 2

      June 18, 2023 in Japan ⋅ ☁️ 75 °F

      We were lazy today … only 13,003 steps! Of course, that’s in comparison to yesterday’s 33,294 steps in Kyoto.

      Today’s wanderings in Kobe began early-ish. We were off the ship around 8:00a.

      First up was a traditional landscape garden — Sorakuen — which dates back to the early 20th century. It is on the grounds of the residence of a former mayor of Kobe City. There is a central pond … around which are meandering paths, stepping stones, stone bridges, streams and waterfalls. Nooks and crannies afford privacy and zen-like places for meditation. There is a tea house, too … but it was closed today.

      To get to the park, we walked about 15-20 minutes from the Naka Pier. The first part of our route was familiar from yesterday. Once we passed the Minato-Motomachi Station, we were in new territory, walking mostly uphill. We arrived a few minutes before the 9:00a opening of the garden to find only one other person waiting at the stately front gate. Original to the property, the gate hides the wondrous, lush green grounds from curious eyes … until it is flung open precisely at the designated time.

      We headed up the main path to the European-style stable and the Hassam House … both designated as Important Cultural Property. The stable dates back to 1910 and is the only other structure original to the property … the rest having been destroyed during WWII. The East-West fusion style Hassam House, which was built around 1902, was the home of an Anglo-Indian trader. It was moved here after the house was donated to the city.

      After checking out the buildings, we went for a stroll along the paths surrounding the pond. Pine and camphor trees, maples, and azaleas are found in this part of the grounds. Alas, we missed the last of the azaleas that bloomed in late May-early June. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the nooks and crannies, stepping off the main path to see what was hidden at the end of some of the side spurs. As described in the brochure, we found the garden to be “a secluded oasis … in the middle of the city … unchanged for over a century.”

      Next, we were going to go to the Nunobiki Waterfall … and the ropeway by the same name. However, when we saw a photo of the Ikuta Shrine on the map, we jiggled our plans.

      The shrine, located in the bustling Sannomiya District of Kobe, is thought to be one of the oldest in Japan … founded by Empress Jingu in the early 3rd century. It is worshipped as the guardian of health. The people of Kobe see the shrine as a symbol of resurrection since it has survived battles, floods, WWII air raids, and the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

      The part of the shrine that most interested me was the passage built out of a series of bright orange torii gates. That we were able to get photos of the this very photogenic passage sans-people was great good luck.

      As we wandered the shrine compound, we saw several young couples with babies. They had come to have the Shinto-version of the baptism ceremony performed. A couple of youngsters in traditional kimonos charmed us as well. But it was the wedding ceremony being performed in the main hall that was a real highlight. We did not want the crash the wedding, so we watched the ritual from the outside terrace … and later watched the happy couple come down a red carpet laid down just for them … escorted by their families.

      After our visit to the shrine, it was time to get a bite to eat. Wagyu is the term for Japanese beef. The much sought-after Kobe beef is a kind of wagyu, and is some of the most expensive beef found anywhere in the world. All that to say that Mui wanted to have Kobe beef for lunch today. After all, when in Kobe …!!!

      Long story short, after looking high and low, we eventually found a highly-rated restaurant on Ikuta Street that could seat us within our “the ship leaves at 3:00p” time frame. The chef at this teppanyaki restaurant accommodated us before the place was actually open and we were the only ones there for about 30 minutes before patrons with reservations started streaming in.

      It was here that we learned that there are two kinds of Kobe beef — the “regular” … exported outside the country, and the “premium” … only available within Japan. Since I am not much of a meat eater, Mui ordered the 180g cut to share with me. Our lunch was far from inexpensive, but I have to say it was worth every penny. Mui looked to be in “beef heaven.” And, even well-done at my request, my small portion was incredibly melt-in-your-mouth soft.

      For a sweet treat after lunch, we went to Bocksun … described as “an artistic confectionary.” After perusing the menu, we ordered a plate of mini-cakes, including strawberry shortcake, tiramisu, creme brûlée, and two others … plus a pot of tea to share. The perfect wrap up to our meal in Kobe.

      Since it was on the way to the port, we decided to walk back to Insignia by way of Nankinmachi … aka Chinatown. I have to admit that we were disappointed. The narrow street, lined on both sides with food stalls, was so crowded that we couldn’t really see much of anything. Good thing we didn’t go there for lunch. The lines were incredibly long … we would have left without getting a bite.

      A quick detour for the quintessential “big letters” photo op, and we were back at the terminal shortly after 2:00p.
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    • Day 20

      Kobe, europäisches Japan

      March 5, 2023 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

      Kobe war einer der ersten Häfen die für die Europäer geöffnet wurden und das sieht man an jeder Ecke. Zum Beispiel auf dem Kräutergarten der an die Wartburg angelehnt ist. Auch hübsch ist das alte Viertel der Kaufleute, in dem man sich ein wenig wie in Europa fühlt. Da hab ich leider nur kein Bild von gemacht.
      Auf dem Weg runter vom Kräutergarten bin ich an einem Wasserfall vorbeigekommen, der zu einem der drei bedeutenden in der japanischen Dichtkunst zählt. War okay. Auf dem Weg standen überall kleine Schreine für Götter und Geister, so wie man es überall in Japan findet.
      Zum Schluss ging's nach Chinatown, weil man da das berühmte Kobe - Rind halbwegs bezahlbar probieren kann (80g, 12 bis 75€). War auch okay.
      Als nächstes geht's weiter nach Himeji.
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    • Day 4

      Himeji Castle and Kobe

      July 9, 2023 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 27 °C

      We visited Himeji Castle (and went on a Hello Kitty themed bullet train to get there)! This castle is one of the biggest and oldest in Japan. We walked up to the top of the castle and through some of the surrounding gardens. It was the first day we didn't bring our raincoats, and it was pouring on and off all day!

      We then walked a bit further to the Kokoen Gardens. This had 13 different small gardens, a view of the castle and lots of mozzies. We then headed back to the station and bought some waffles on the way.

      Next, we caught a bullet train over to Kobe. We went on the Nunobiki Ropeway and walked around the area up the top as the herb garden was closed due to the rain. It was super cloudy but still nice! We then caught a bullet train back to Osaka and ate some ramen for dinner.
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    • Day 155

      Osaka, Japan Umeda Sky Tower - 1 of 3

      June 18, 2023 in Japan ⋅ ☁️ 77 °F

      Osaka is Japan's second largest cities after Tokyo with a population of 2.7 million and a very modern city of skyscrapers. It has been the economic center of the Kansai Region for many centuries. The city is home to the Osaka Exchange as well as the headquarters of large multinational electronics corporations such as Panasonic and Sharp.

      We visited the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka to take in the view of the area and learned the history of the city and the building. At the top is the Kuchu Teien Observatory made up of 3 floors (39th, 40th, rooftop). To get there you take an elevator and then the see-through escalator that goes from the 35th floor in one tower to the 39th floor in the second tower. There is the 360 degree open-air view from the rooftop observatory floor, a bridge connecting the two towers and we got to look out over the nearby Yodo River, Umeda business district, and Awaji Island. A great view and an interesting building or I should say, two buildings connected for stability and safely in a potential evacuation since they are always focused on potential earthquakes here.
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    • Day 154

      Kobe (Kyoto), Japan GEISHA 101 - 1 of 4

      June 17, 2023 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 81 °F

      The next 4 footprints are all about Geishas. We had a wonderful entertaining experience in our evening in Kobe (Kyoto), where Geishas originated. Geishas have endured 500 years and although they are admired by those around the world, they are mostly very misunderstood symbols of Japan. They began in the late Edo Period, of Japan and there are still many young women who are prepared to learn the culture and customs of geisha and become a part of Japanese history and tradition.

      Kyoto, is the heart of Japan’s geisha world and women 15 - 20 years old train for at least 5 years to become a geisha/geiko. During this period, they are known as maiko. Other cities in Japan, like Tokyo, have a version of geisha, but they don’t undergo the strict training that defines Kyoto’s maiko and geiko. Maikos will take lessons on how to sing, dance, and play music, learn the art of conversation as well as the formal hosting skills expected of a geisha. Along with performance, maiko will also study other elements of traditional Japanese culture, including calligraphy, flower arranging, poetry, and literature. They will also attend events with established geisha to learn the correct etiquette to entertain. When a maiko has completed her apprenticeship at around 20 years old, she will become a geisha. This event is marked with a ceremony called “erikae,” meaning the “turning of the collar,” where she will finally wear the kimono and elaborate wig that denotes a geisha.

      A geisha is a Japanese female performance artist, traditionally hired to entertain guests at teahouses and social events. During such events, a geisha will sing, dance, perform music, host tea ceremonies, and serve food and drinks - all while engaging in lively conversation. The meaning of “geisha” comes from two kanji characters, “gei” (芸), meaning arts or entertainment, and “sha” (者), which means person. The word translates as a “person of the arts.”

      Although the number of geisha in Japan has declined since the golden age (1603-1867), there are still around 600 geisha working in Japan today. Geisha districts are known as “hanamachi,” meaning “flower town,” and were established during the 17th century. The most famous hanamachi in Japan is Gion in Kyoto, where a number of “okiya” geisha lodging houses remain (i.e.,“Ochaya Shima,” a beautiful old teahouse built in 1820 is still open).

      A basic element of a geisha's appearance is the makeup, starting with white foundation called “oshiroi,” a powder mixed with water to become a paste. Before applying, a geisha puts on a layer of wax called “bintsuke abura” to help smooth her skin before oshiroi is applied with a wide brush. Next, a distinctive red lipstick, called “beni,” is added along with black eye-liner and red pigment around the eyes. Heavily defined eyebrows drawn using pigment complete the iconic look. A geisha carries out this routine every day, and getting ready often takes 1-2 hours. The only part left free of oshiroi is the back of the neck, where two or three small patches of clear skin are left uncoated. These are called “eri-ashi,” and are left to give the impression of a longer neck. Why makeup? During the 19th century, teahouses were dimly lit by candlelight, and the bright white makeup of a geisha helped illuminate their faces during the performance.

      One of the many things we learned (and got to see) about the geishas was the difference between the maiko and geisha. This starts from the lipstick, maiko only apply lipstick to their bottom lip, and senior maiko paint a thin red line around both the lips. A geisha's lips will be fully painted, and they will usually wear a little less oshiroi than maiko too. Another way to tell a maiko and geisha apart is the hair. Maiko wear a number of traditional hairstyles called “nihongami,” which are styled from their own natural hair, all different styles depending on their rank, often a bun at the back of the head. Geisha wear elaborate custom wigs of real hair known as “katsura.” These are designed in the “shimada” style, where the hair is worked up into a top knot at the crown of the head adorned with a variety of hairpins and ornaments that hang from the hair, called “kanzashi.” The kanzashi worn by maiko are usually very elaborate, large, and often decorated with gold or jewels. Kanzashi worn by geisha are also decorative but usually much smaller and more refined and understated. It's also possible to tell a maiko and geisha apart by their kimono. Geisha kimono are generally muted and chic with shorter sleeves and a small obi (sash). Maiko, on the other hand, wear a type of “furisode” kimono with longer sleeves and cute, colorful designs and a bigger obi. Maiko also wear sandal-like shoes called “okobo” or “pokkuri geta” that have thicker soles, while geisha will opt for more regular “geta” or “zori” sandals.
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    • Day 154

      Kyoto, Japan - GOLDEN 3 of 3

      June 17, 2023 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 81 °F

      After our traditional Japanese lunch at a hotel restaurant, we were off to the Golden Palace.

      Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion Temple was a Zen Temple built in the 14th century and used by the Shoguns as a retirement residence. Originally a villa belonging to a powerful statesman in 1397, when the villa was purchased from the Saionji family by shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and transformed into the Kinkaku-ji complex. When Yoshimitsu died the building was converted into a Zen temple by his son. During the Ōnin war (1467–1477), all of the buildings in the complex aside from the pavilion were burned down.

      Our guide told us the sad story of 1950 when the pavilion was burned down by a 22-year-old novice monk, Hayashi Yoken, who then attempted suicide and later sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released because of mental illness. The new structure, 3 stores high (40 feet) dates from 1955, when it was rebuilt. The pavilion is three stories high (40 feet). In 1984, it was discovered that the gold leaf on the reconstructed building had peeled off, and replaced with 0.5 heavier gold leaf, five times the thickness of the gold leaf on the reconstructed building.

      Gold was an important addition to the pavilion because of its underlying meaning. The gold employed was intended to purify any negative thoughts and feelings towards death. The pavilion functions as a shariden, housing relics of the Buddha's Ashes. The gold leaf covering the upper stories indicated the shrines housed inside. ... the outside nature is a reflection of the inside.

      The Golden Pavilion is set in a Japanese strolling garden and extends over a pond, that reflects the building. The pond contains 10 smaller islands. The zen typology is seen through the rock composition; the bridges and plants are arranged in a specific way to represent famous places in Chinese and Japanese literature.

      The five commandments at the front gate were profound: One shall
      Not Kill, Not Steal, Not commit adultery, Not lie and Not Drink Too Much SAKE! Now that’s wisdom for seeing the world …sake but not too much. I did buy Sake with Gold Flakes in it … I guess that’s what you do there. Relaxing afternoon strolling in the gardens and people watching (brides, Japanese, and visitors from all over).
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    • Day 154

      Kyoto, Japan - CASTLE 2 of 3

      June 17, 2023 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 81 °F

      The Nijo-jo Castle was built in 1603 by the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867), Tokugawa Leyasu. He unified Japan after a long period of civil wars and began 260 years of peace and prosperity. For 15 generations of shoguns this was home when they were not in Edo (Tokyo). Of course, the Samurais always protected the Castle (what an interesting period of time). In 1867 the Shogun turned the Japan and the Castle back to the Emperor. This time, known as the Meiji Period (enlightenment) for moving from a time of feudal society into today’s modern democratic nation. With the end of shogunate rule, this was also the time of arrival of US Commodore Perry and opening of Japanese ports after 200 years of isolation.

      The Castle became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. Our tour guide took us thru the Higashi Ote-mon Gate (main gate) built in 1662 and Tonan Sumi-yagura watch towers and the ornate Kara-mon gate at the entrance of the palace with carved lions at the entrance to protect the palace as well as carvings of cranes, pine, bamboo and plum blossoms symbolizing longevity. The actual Ninomaru-goten 3 million sq foot palace is made up of 6 buildings 33 rooms decorated with paintings (3600 wall paintings).

      On our own, we walked thru the beautiful Seiryu-en gardens and the tea houses and from the five story keep tower where we got great views from the top (of the remains of the tower that burned in 1750). We also visited and roamed around the Honmaru-goten palace and gardens and Ninomaru garden.

      History really lived inside these walls and its beauty remains all over after all these years (see photos).
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    • Day 154

      Port Kobe (Kyoto Adventure)Japan- 1 of 3

      June 17, 2023 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 81 °F

      Our visit to Kobe (yes, the one with the beef and the inspiration for naming the amazing Kobe Bryant-RIP) was a whirlwind two days of visiting Kobe, a Geisha experience, Kyoto and then visiting Osaka.

      We did not see a lot of Kobe except the lights and excitement of the evenings there since we were there overnight. As for the Kobe steaks, we did not have one but we have had so many incredible meals and delicious steaks, that it was fine with us. By the way, there are Kobe steaks AND steaks from Kobe … and yes, they are very different. There are only 3,000 head of cattle per year certified to be made into Kobe steaks, all the rest are just really good steaks. So just to complicate, every Kobe steak is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe. Kobe, is a variety of Wagyu. Wagyu refers to any cattle that is bred in Japan. Kobe beef is comprised of a very particular strain of Wagyu called Tajima-Gyu that is raised to strict standards in the prefecture of Hyogo (capital of Kobe). Ready for this: to be labelled Kobe, bullock (steer) or virgin cow, Tajima-Gyu born within Hyogo Prefecture, fed on a farm within Hyogo Prefecture, meat processed within Hyogo Prefecture, marbling rating (BMS) of 6 or higher on a 12 point scale, meat quality rating of 4 or higher on a 5 point scale and an overall weight not exceeding 470 kg. The meticulous care of these cattle easily bump up the price. Not only are they fed a strict, top-of-the-line diet, these cattle are bred for greatness and taken excellent care of … including massages to keep them tender.

      Kyoto was Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868. It is a modern city and one of the country's ten largest cities with a population of 1.5 million people (larger metro is 3.8 million). Over its 11 centuries as the capital, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars, earthquakes and fires, but still contains 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto Shrines as well as palaces and gardens. We visited the Nijo-jo Castle and in the afternoon after a traditional Japanese lunch, the Ryōan-ji and the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

      Kyoto is one of the oldest municipalities in Japan, having been chosen in 794 as the new seat of Japan's imperial court by Emperor Kanmu. The emperors of Japan ruled from Kyoto in the following eleven centuries until 1869. The capital was relocated from Kyoto to Tokyo after the Meiji Restoration (a key time with the end of the Shogun, the period of the Emperors and the time when U.S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry came & Western influence began) . Kyoto is considered the cultural capital of Japan. And the internationally renowned video game company Nintendo is based in Kyoto.
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    You might also know this place by the following names:

    Kobe, Kōbe, كوبه, Горад Кобэ, Кобе, কৌবে, Kóbe, Κόμπε, کوبه, קובה, कोबे, Կոբե, こうべし, კობე, 고베 시, Kobė, Kôbe-chhī, کوبے, கோபே, โคเบะ, Lungsod ng Kobe, 神戶, 神户市

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