Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Awaji-shima and Kobe

Interested in Awaji-shima, the island between Tokushima and Kobe, we had asked the front desk clerk for bus schedule information as the island has no train service. After a lengthy wait, she produced a bus schedule that showed the route from Tokushima station to the terminus in Sumoto. And so the next morning, there we went.
The bus was about 1800 yen and passed through the town of Naruto, past the famous Naruto whirlpools. Awaji island seems to be a sparsely populated tree covered rock, with a freeway running the length of it, linking Honshu to Shikoku.

We alit in Sumoto city. As the LP barely mentions Awaji at all, we had no real idea of where to go. I had a rough idea of the geography of the island, but not even a good grip on what cities or towns might be present. Wandering over to the information counter, I perused the maps and flyers on offer. The two workers manning (and womanning) the station studiously ignored me. Finally, I said Sumimasen! and the person sitting farther away, a slightly portly younger-middle aged man, jumped to attention. I asked him about beaches and told him that I wanted to be in Kobe in the evening. He seemed very relieved that I was speaking Japanese - I think they ignored me because they didn't know what to do. Though there was a beach that sounded lovely on the far side of the island, we opted for one that happened to be only a 5 minute walk from the bus terminal - Ohama.

The sun was brutally hot, and after settling onto our stripped-off Tshirts, we slathered on the sunblock. The sand was incendiary, and the water pleasantly cool. There were even little fish swimming around in the shallows, and the view was decent. However, there was a fair amount of trash floating just off the shore. Unfortunately, it marred the beach experience for me considerably. I hear that this is a common problem in the inland sea.

After a couple of hours, we had had quite enough of the noonday sun and hightailed it back to the bus station, slightly burnt despite our sunblocking ministrations. We purchased tickets for the next bus to Kobe and stocked up on Awaji omiyage, things like sweet potato caramels and sables and sudachi candies.

It took another hour or so to get to Kobe. I had never before been to this city, site of the great earthquake a few years ago and birthplace of Haruki Murakami. We oriented ourselves and located our next Toyoko Inn. Then we set out to look around the city and find something to eat.

Not far from the station, we found a swanky looking dining bar, King Dining O-ja, with fancy high tables, leather zippered walls, and a posh staff. The yobidashi girl standing out front didn't bother to yobi us... I felt a little affronted. Don't foreigners have to eat too?
The atmosphere inside was pretty neat, albeit smoky, and the food was decent and not very expensive. However, the rest of the staff followed the yobidashi girl's example and were patently unfriendly. Based on the shitty service, I would recommend NOT going there and finding culinary refuge in one of the many many other like establishments lining the streets.

After dinner it was getting dark enough to proceed to my mom's suggestion: Mt. Rokke. She had been 20+ years ago and mentioned that it might be worth checking out - so we rode the subway to the ropeway substation and rode the long cable to the top.
Kobe is beautiful at night! Surrounding the harbor in a colorful array of lights, the smallish city glows invitingly from the heights, and the other ropeway pods, lined with blue lights, look like alien ships passing in the night. The herb garden below lends to the otherworldly feeling, with the glass greenhouses eerily emitting unearthly light.

Once at the top, we found it was too late to walk down the mountain through the herb garden - a shame, because it looked so pretty from above. However, the shop was still open for a few minutes and I got some lovely teas, seeds, rose hip candies, and lavender cookies. We wandered around the patio buildings, peering over the edge of the retaining wall at the city below and exploring curlicued ironwork balconies. Lit with small white lights and sparsely scattered with visitors at 9pm, it was a wonderful place to visit.
After a short rest and some more city-gazing, we boarded the ropeway for the descent into nighttime Kobe.

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