I hope you've been enjoying these posts about our Japanese journey. I have a couple more to write after this one: one about bustling Tokyo and the other about my general impression of this amazing country. But let's not go too fast. First things first. Here is the fourth and last part of the trip before we returned to Tokyo.
I added Kobe to the list of cities we visited but we didn't really visit Kobe, we actually experienced Kobe's main attraction. Still taking full advantage of our train pass, we decided to stop in Shin-Kobe (Kobe's Shinkansen station) for lunch and try the famous Kobe beef. Of course, being originally from Switzerland, the best beef in my opinion is Simmental beef. That's why I had to try the Kobe beef, just to get to the bottom of it. It turns out Kobe beef is absolutely delicious but the two cannot be compared, they are too different. Kobe beef is seared on the teppanyaki and served with simple grilled vegetables thus has a definite Asian taste.
The chef recommended how to eat it. The first piece was with just a little bit of salt. The second with a slice of grilled garlic. The third dipped in soy sauce. Each bite was absolutely heavenly. The meat is tender, fatty and so tasty it literally melts in your mouth. The side vegetables were savory and cooked to perfection.
If you have the opportunity, I can only recommend you try Kobe beef. It truly is delicious and although quite expensive, you can save some money by having it for lunch.
As if the opportunity of trying Kobe beef wasn't enough, on our train ride to Kamakura we were blessed with a gorgeous view of Mount Fuji. This time the clouds were nowhere to be seen.
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Just a little over an hour away from Tokyo, Kamakura is an easy day trip. The city has nice beaches but we decided to concentrate on a cultural landmark. We walked to the Kōtoku-in temple which is mostly known for being host to The Great Buddha of Kamakura, a monumental outdoor bronze statue. It just sits there peacefully surrounded by greenery and has a mesmerizing aura. For some strange reason, I found it difficult to take my eyes and camera off of it. Might there be some inexplicable force surrounding that Buddha? All I know is that I was absolutely captivated.
It was also in Kamakura, after finally leaving the temple grounds, that we discovered two delicious treats. The first is a giant octopus chip. It is cooked before you and served hot. It's thin, crispy and very tasty. The second is a sweet fish-shaped type of cookie. It can be stuffed with sesame, red bean, green tea or walnut. It's moulded in a iron cast and cooked over an open flame fire.
Both were absolutely delicious and just writing about them is causing my mouth to water.
Nikko is another stop we hadn't planned on making but it came highly recommended and since we had a day to spare before our train pass expired we figured we would check it out. We found a budget ryokan to spend the night and although not quite up to par with Iwaso, it was still very nice.
The main attraction in Nikko is the UNESCO World Heritage Toshogu shrine, famous for the sleeping cat, the see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil monkeys and the richly decorated Tomeimon Gate. Unfortunately, the gate was undergoing some renovation and will be for the next 5 years! We were a little disappointed but decided to visit the rest of the shrine anyway and I'm glad we did. Toshogu's site is beautiful, lavishly decorated and surrounded by impressive cedar trees. It is well worth a visit.
The town itself is quite small and touristy. Other than the beautiful Shinkyo bridge, there isn't much to see in the center. We heard there were some interesting hikes but running out of time and pretty much exhausted by more than three weeks on the road, we decided to head back to Tokyo.
That's it for now. As mentioned above, stay tuned for a post about Tokyo towards the beginning of next week.
Have a great weekend!