Taking in the Moment

As time comes to pass, Kobe’s Chinatown is quickly becoming one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city for several reasons. One reason, in particular, makes me keep coming back to the quaint part of town, though: liveliness. At the heart of Kobe’s Chinatown is a pagoda with some benches, a small open space, followed by more benches, and a nice fountain. Imagine this area to be surrounded with lanterns hanging above as you take in the sights, sounds, and smells of Chinatown in Japan. 

I love to people watch, so I headed down to Chinatown on Saturday for an afternoon of relaxation, language practice, and people watching. What ended up happening was very different than what I expected to encounter. 

I ran into a friend of mine in Sannomiya during the walk to Chinatown and we decided to enjoy some Cuban cigars in Chinatown as we relaxed for the afternoon. I have not had a cigar since I arrived in Japan, so this was such a great idea. Following our trip to the tobacco store, we embarked for Chinatown to do some people watching and to pass some time. Suddenly, a light rain began to fall and the mood of Chinatown changed dramatically. The edge of noise began to fall as some people left the streets while others lingered. As dusk began to settle in, Chinatown took on a different personality as it was dominated by small families bustling about, eating noodles and chatting about the weekend’s activities. For such a small part of the city, this energy should not be there, but it certainly was. Breathing in the smells of street food and watching the kids frolic about was magical for me, and I still do not know why. 

My friend and I sat back, enjoying our cigars, taking in the whole scene. I found it glorious. A passing rain shower and a random encounter with a friend really made the afternoon so much more enjoyable than I had expected just a few hours earlier. I hope this photo can do something to convey how Chinatown felt on that late afternoon. When the shower stopped, my friend and I carried on to the JR station to go to our next destination. 

However fleeting, we were able to escape from everything, even if only for a few hours, on Sunday. This is another reason why I enjoy Japan so much. Image

Getting Good and Lost

As the novice traveler that I am, the only way I really know how to explore and find out as much as I can about somewhere new is quite simple. I love to get good and lost in every new city, town, and place that I go, looking for the best photo opportunities, restaurants, and family-owned shops. This happened today in Kobe, Japan, and I finally feel like I have my bearings in my new hometown. 

Following day long meetings, a friend and I set out into Kobe; to walk through Harborland and then to find some places to do shopping to pick up some new items for our apartments. What we encountered along the way truly exemplifies the modern Japanese city: bustling city streets teeming with modern life which sit alongside (or sometimes overtop) vestiges of an older world, with family-run shops, open-air markets, and shrines and temples occupying prominent locations in older neighborhoods. 

As we returned from sightseeing from City Hall’s observation deck, one wrong turn from Flower Road led into an interesting afternoon filled with the aromas of fresh takoyaki and various Chinese foods, the sounds of a bicyclist ringing his bell, and a brief feeling that we were not inside of Japan’s sixth-largest city. Suddenly, we were in Chinatown.

As we walked through Kobe’s Chinatown, we quickly were caught up in the elegance of the small shops peddling their food to passersby with the type of charm that we have come to know and love in Japan. At the same time, some boys were ringing the bells on their bicycle as they tried to pass a large crowd. Several yards later, we encountered a small shrine with seating areas and lanterns spanning the wires overhead. For a moment, we forgot that we in Kobe and admired at the great scene in front of us on this unusually comfortable late-August day in the Japanese summer. 

As quickly as this moment was upon us, we continued on elsewhere, only to end up walking through Kobe Piazza, another marketplace where vendors line every square inch of shop space underneath the JR train tracks, only separated from one and another by a five foot wide pathway spanning the length of this plaza. As our shoulders bumped into shoppers going into the other direction and as we walked in and out of the clothing, bag, and shoe stores, we realized that we had re-emerged in a familiar location: Centergai shopping plaza.

As fleeting as this moment of peace and newness was, it was remarkable to experience a new part of the city for such a short period of time.  

My friend and I were good and lost in a familiar part of town following just one wrong turn, but now we know where we can go to escape the hustle and bustle of one of Japan’s largest cities. The quaint sound of street vendors, bicyclists, and relaxation all came alive today because we were good and lost.

Sometimes, the only way to truly learn about a new place is to get good and lost. Image