This is probably the last long ride for Japan and it was more mentally tiring than anything. I stocked up on some onigiri (seaweed wrapped rice triangles) and gave myself some breaks along the way to keep my brain focused. Originally I intended to see Himeji first and visit the giant castle, but all the hostels were booked due to the holiday week. Instead I decided to stay in Kobe for two nights, then visit my cousin over the weekend and check out Himeji later on.
The first half of the ride was pretty straightforward, there was a nice cycle path running along the main freeway and there was decent cloud cover and not much wind. Leading into Himeji there was a bit of a detour for bikes and when I stared at my phone, looking puzzled at an intersection, another local cyclist stopped and asked me what I was up to. We ended up chatting and cycling 16km, while enjoying some tailwind along the way. He was studying engineering and aimed to work for Shimano in Osaka and it was very relaxing to ride alongside him. It gave my brain a nice break to follow someone else for a little while and have a leisurely chat.
After Himeji, (80km down, 60km to go) there was a lot more city riding, so stopping and starting at intersections started to slow me down. I put on some music to distract myself from the burning feeling in my legs, but once I made it to Akashi (the last 25km) it was all good, suddenly the roads were super smooth, with mostly green lights along the way. I was gliding for the last hour and made it to my hostel, ready to fall into a heap.
I asked the hostel owner for a Kobe beef recommendation and there was a a really good place just around the corner that served Kobe steak for under 2000 yen ($25 AUD). I was keen to give it a try, there are a bunch of fancy grades for Kobe beef, the highest is A5 and that can go for 10k yen or more, but that’s a little too much for me. The restaurant was really cozy, so I sat at the counter and watched the chef season and cook my steak and it tasted incredible. It was so tender that you hardly had to bite it, it just melted away in your mouth. The fatty bits were so delicious and the juice dripping onto the salad underneath was so damn good. I enjoyed every single bite, I only wished there was more of it. After 10 hours on the bike, a delicious meal and comfy bed to sleep in, I was ready for a big, long luxurious sleep and rest day.
Rest day in Kobe
I started my day with my favourite breakfast treat, toast with loads of butter, normally that’s not so exciting, but the bread here is so thick and fluffy, each of these loaves are only 5-6 slices. The downside is they’re about 200 calories per slice, so I’m guessing people normally eat one at a time.
I lounged around for a while and headed into town to have a wander and find lunch, since it was halfway through Golden Week, there were loads of people out in town. Near the central train station there’s an underground level with all sorts of different restaurants and I found a place that made a Kobe specialty, sobameshi. It’s a mix of rice and beef, with soba noodles chopped finely and served on the hotplate. You get a selection of sauces and a spatula to mix it all up and enjoy it while it’s still hot. I inadvertently ordered a beer too, so I was feeling pretty relaxed afterwards.
I bought some sweets from a bakery and walked to Ikuta Shrine, which was built in the 3rd Century, making it one of the oldest shrines in Japan. It’s considered to be very lucky, so a lot of people buy charms and queue up to ring the bell in the main hall.
Next up was Chinatown, packed with stalls selling lots of Kobe beef, dumplings, pork buns and sweets. The whole area was packed, so you mostly shuffled to work your way through the crowd.
I walked towards Harborland where they had more food stalls for Golden Week, it was like a mini Oktoberfest, with lots of beer and snack foods. The waterfront area is popular for shopping and restaurants and really buzzes at night time when all the lights turn on.
I was pretty tired from all the walking and sunshine, so I headed back to the hostel for a quick nap before dinner. There were two Americans who checked into the dorm, who have both been in Japan for nearly two years as part of the JET (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) Program. I really enjoyed chatting to them, I think it’s just cool to be so far from home and find all the reasons and motivations for other people to make the jump and somehow cross paths with you.