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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Japan - Kobe, Arimon & Mount Rokko 11.07

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  • Kobe Beef at Royal Mouriya 
  • Airman Hot Spring 有馬溫泉
  • subway+train+train to the hot spring
  • Airman hot spring
  • Mount Rokko 六甲山 cable car
  • Umeda Underground shopping malls
  • Izakaya 居酒屋

We had made our lunch reservation at Royal Mouriya before the trip.  It was the only thing I had on the agenda for today.  Last night at the hotel, we looked over our options  and decided to visit Airman Hot Spring and Mount Rokko after lunch. 

After an hectic day yesterday, we slept in this morning and did not leave the hotel until 10:3o AM.  Before we headed out to Kobe,  we purchased the Arima & Rokko one day pass (有馬六甲一日遊卷) with an extension between Osaka Umeda Station and Kobe Sannomiya-Eki (三宮) Station at the Hanshin (阪神線) railway office in Umeda Station for JPY2,400 and used the pass for today's transportation.  (Tips: There is no English version of the day pass, it will be almost impossible for foreigners to figure out how the pass works if you can not read some Chinese characters or Japanese.)

H always enjoys a piece of fat,  juicy steak. Naturally, he was excited about today's lunch.  Mouriya Restaurant has over 100 years of history and is quite well-known among Taiwanese travelers.  It has three locations on Ikuta Road serving similar menus.    We made a reservation at Royal Mouriya and arrived at their doorstep at 12:15 PM excited for our Kobe beef steak.  To figure out which part of the beef to order was a bit confusing. I think H and I ordered the Rib & Sirlion steak lunch set.    

The meal was prepared in Teppanyaki (鐵板燒) style.  The chef first cut off all the fat on the edge of the steak, and used the fat to cook our meal.  The meat was very tender, soft, and moist.  When I bite into it, I could almost can feel the fat running through my mouth.  H loved the meat and claimed that it was the best beef he had ever eaten. (Although I secretly thought the fact that we were in Kobe eating Kobe beef kind of enhanced the whole experience for him.)  For me, who has always preferred the leaner cut and denser texture of the meat, Kobe beef was slightly too fat.   The portion of the beef was quite small, especially considering how much it costed, but with such high fat content, the portion made sense.  

After the lunch, we headed to Arimon Hot Springs.  It was a series of transfers: Kobe subways, train, and bus.  It may sounded daunting, but they were all short rides with connecting transportation waiting at the gate.  Once again, they were amazingly on time and so well organized.  40 minutes later, we arrived at Arimon. 

Arimon Hot Springs is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan and the only one in the Kansai Region.  It is rated the top three best hotsprings in Japan.  The one day pass include a  free admission for one of the two public hotspring bath houses, Kin-no-Yu and Gin-no-Yu. The town of Arimon was small enough for a few hours stroll.   We took a quick dip at the Kin-no-Yu public bath house.  The public bath house was clean and small.  There were separate baths for men and women.  The hotspring water was quite unique.  The water had a golden brown color with shimmery minerals floating.  Before the trip, I read it on the internet that people with tattoos were not welcomed or permitted in some public bath houses in Japan.  However, H has three tattoos and did not encounter any issues in the bath house.  

After the Kin-no-Yu, we took the cable car to the Mount Rokko.  The cable car ride took about 15 minutes each way, and that was the main attraction of the Mount Rokko.   The view was absolutely stunning!  Once at the Mount Rokko, there was not much to do.  We ordered some tea at the only cafe to warm up and visited the Rokko-Shidare Observatory (Tips: Don't bother) before we headed back to take the last cable car at 5:20 PM to enjoy the million dollar view once again. 

We took the same route back and returned to Umeda station before 7 PM.  Umeda has the world's largest underground shopping mall complex.  One could easily get lost in it.  We were distracted by the gourmet food court inside one of the Department Stores.  All the food, pastry, and desserts looked so refined and appetizing.  Although we had a good time in Arimon & Mount Rokko, I almost wished that we could have spent the afternoon in Osaka to shop and eat. 

We had discovered some small eateries and bars in the underground level, which connected to the subway station next to our hotel last night.  These places seemed to attract a lot of after work crowds who would stop by for a quick bite and some drinks before heading home.  Some small bars were so tiny that it would barely fit 4 people. H was intrigued and we decided to check out one of these small eateries tonight.  We picked a charming izakaya that had a few dinning tables and felt low-key and intimate.  This izakaya was a two people operation.  One Japanese guy in his mid 40s was probably the owner/cook in the tinny kitchen.  Another woman in her early 40s was the waitress/bartender.

There was only one other couple sitting by the bar.  There was no English menu, and the staff didn't speak a word of English.  Ordering drinks was the easy part. However, ordering food became quite a challenge.  Luckily I could read Chinese characters, the waitress wrote down the menu items in Chinese characters combined with some hand gestures. The other couple sitting by the bar also jumped in with limited English.  After 10 minutes of guessing, we ordered our food and were excited to see what plates would be delivered to us. With the fresh beers in our hands,  we felt relaxed in our surroundings.  After a group effort to help us understanding the menu, all six of us in the restaurant felt a lot closer to one another.  The other couple spoke some English so we were able to have a simple conversation.  Occasionally, the cook joined in and the couple translated.  

Our dishes came.  They were simple, unpretentious, and perfect to go with beers.  We enjoyed our dishes, and everyone else was happy that we liked the food.  It was, after all, a group effort and everyone felt invested.  

It was the first day after the US presidential election, we were out all day without the internet access.  We were curious about the election outcome.   The couple next to us said "Obama" while put out 3 fingers, and gestured 2 fingers for Rodney.   We were not sure what the fingers meant, but we understood that Obama had won the second term.  I clapped my hands and said "Yeah!"  The couple, the cook, and the waitress all smiled and nodded.    

Sitting by the bar of this unknown izakaya in Osaka,  it was exciting and foreign, yet strangely familiar and comforting. 


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