Last weekend we visited close friends who live in Takarazuka.
Because we’re cheap we made this trip using the wonderful seishuun 18 kippu, and because we’re heartless we took only one of our two sons, leaving the younger one to fend for himself amongst the mountains of toys and sweets and loving grandparents. Poor boy.
The quality of rail service in this country is superb, but rail travel over long distances isn’t cheap. This makes the seishuun 18 kippu is one of the few rail bargains of Japan. This special ticket, which can be bought by anyone but is only available during school holidays, allows unlimited travel for a whole day for 2,300 yen (about $30). The only catch is that it is only valid for local and basic express services. No bullet trains or special express trains. The trip from Nagoya to Takarazuka took just under 4 hours (including 5 transfers) and it was an enjoyable way to see some familiar countryside. The line passes right through Shiga Prefecture, where I used to live.
Something I love about Takarazuka is the convenience of its location. It is 30 minutes away from the centre of both Osaka and Kobe, yet is not as crowded as either. It is a hilly town with narrow streets and relatively few cars. It features small shops full of character that spill out onto the street. Everyone gets around locally either by bicycle or on foot, and people mostly commute to the larger cities by the privately-run Hankyu railway that has frequent services and is cheap.
Although our friends’ apartment is small by Australian standards, it is 8 minutes walk to the train station, 1 minute to the school, 3 minutes to the supermarket (and the all-important 100 yen shop) and 5 minutes to a street of coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Until recently they have not needed to own a car.
We took the opportunity to visit Kobe in the evening to see the famous Kobe Illuminare. This magnificent display of lights and music is an annual commemoration of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. Because of the national emphasis on saving energy this year, the duration of the Illuminare was shorter than usual. This led to intense crowding, even by Japanese standards.
I once again fell in love with Kobe. It is in my opinion the most beautiful of the large Japanese cities. It is also, for Japan, surprisingly cosmopolitan. There are plenty of restaurants offering food from around the world, it has a Chinatown (something of a rarity in Japanese cities), it features tree-lined European streets, and, as Kobe has a relatively high population of expatriates, it’s not unusual to see other foreigners about the place.
It’s not all beauty and tranquility though. Kobe is also the home of Japan’s most infamous Yakuza organisation.