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Japan 2016: Day 5

This article is a post I originally made on Facebook about our fifth day in Japan which took place on April 7, 2016. On the 1 year anniversary of our trip to Japan I decided to repost it here on my blog. The original post has been edited/cleaned up a bit but its spirit remains.

Since yesterday was the most exhausting day of our trip so far everyone slept in this morning. I don't think any of us was even conscious let alone out of bed before 9am.

We woke up to what sounded like someone dumping never ending buckets of water right outside our window. A quick glance at the weather report revealed that it was going to rain all day across the entire Kyoto region and not just a little bit of rain but a ton. Multiple times throughout the day over 10mm of rain would fall in the span of a single hour.

We had planned to take a day trip to Osaka but since that was would involve a fair bit of sightseeing (and therefore walking around in the rain) we decided to call an audible and visit Kobe today instead. Our pilgrimage for the best wagyu beef could be done with just a little amount of time spent in the rain. Or at least that was the idea.

Since we did not have any concrete plans for Kobe other than eating some wagyu beef the group decided to split and meet back up in the evening for dinner. Jarques and Tina took the Skyroam and set out a bit earlier than Elsie and I. We were still quite tired and had to drag ourselves out of bed and down to Kyoto Station to find a bite to eat.

This was our fifth day in Kyoto and we had been through Kyoto Station probably a dozen times by now. Every single time we walked through it we seemed to find another new corner. It was absolutely massive. It is like someone built a huge train station underneath a shopping mall the size of the Eaton Centre in Toronto. This morning we stumbled across a long corridor flanked with dozens of small restaurants. One of them was a nice soba place where we were sat and had our food in front of us within 10 minutes. We had shown up a little before noon and eat and paid within 25 minutes. It was astounding. The efficiency and quality of small independent restaurants in Japan is mind boggling. I had yet to have a bad experience.

With our bellies full we started to look for a train that would take us to Kobe. This was where I had a "fuckin' duh" moment that is so clear in hindsight. The Shinkansen (bullet train) lines are separate from the regular local trains because, well, the Shinkansens can go a hell of a lot faster. Google Maps was telling us it would be a long journey (over an hour) so we thought we had to get reserved seats but those directions were for the local train. When we got to the ticket counter and said we wanted to go to Kobe with our JR passes the agents pointed us to a Shinkansen that would get us there in only 27 minutes. The only problem with the two different types of trains is that they take you to two different stations in Kobe. The Shin-Kobe Station is a bit further north of the local train stations so if you wanted to get to downtown Kobe you would need to walk 30 minutes or transfer to the subway or a bus.

This did not matter for us because we were headed for the Oji Zoo which was outside of downtown Kobe and relatively close to Shin-Kobe Station. Our goal was to see Red Pandas in person for the first time in our lives. Now remember earlier when I said we chose to do Kobe over Osaka today because there would be less walking? Well that would have been true if we had decided to hop on a bus to the zoo instead of walking 30 minutes to get there at the exact moment the rain reached its heaviest.

We soldiered on through the rain and reached the zoo with our clothes soaked to the core. But all of our frustrations melted away when we realized the zoo was completely empty and we had absolutely free reign of the place. Most of the zoo was outside but since it was raining the majority of animals had been moved inside their enclosures and we could walk right up to the glass.

We got to see Tan Tan, the giant panda, chillin' in his tire and chomping on bamboo. A koala that was being played with by a zookeeper for a photo op. Red pandas whose fur was soaked but still came out and played for us. Sea otters who gave zero fucks about the rain. All in all it was a great experience. The only negative was the guilt I always feel from going to a zoo and seeing some animals in what seem like cruel conditions. This time it was the bear paddock. Instead of having the bears outside they were locked up in cages no bigger than a jail cell. We witnessed one bear clawing at the ground and another rubbing its head against the door that led outside. I love zoos for the opportunity to see animals that I otherwise would never get a chance to see but when the animals have a much worse life than if they were living in the wild it is hard for me to justify it.

When the zoo closed we set off for downtown Kobe and met back up with Jarques and Tina. It was time for what we came to Kobe to do, yakiniku with some A5 grade Kobe beef. Jarques found Koushiya which will go down as my favourite restaurant in all of Japan. We got our own private dinning room and spent the next two hours grilling up the best meat any of us had ever tasted.

With our pilgrimage complete we headed back to Shin-Kobe Station and caught the bullet train to Kyoto where comfy beds waited for our tired bodies. It was time to rest up for tomorrow would be our trip to Osaka and its famed Dōtonbori district as well as some delicious tuna belly.