Local Japan: Being Kobe
Back in 2002 I was a kid in a small town in Costa Rica (for those who don’t know, that’s a little country located somewhere on the thin land that connect the North and South Americas). I was a big football fan back then, and my country’s team managed to go to the World Cup, which was held in two countries simultaneously at that time: South Korea and Japan. I even had an album of stickers of the World Cup, a pretty official one which included the locations of the stadiums, and one of them was Kobe. For some reason, that name stuck on me for good, Kobe. Several years later here I am, and now the way that the name stuck on me for so long feels kinda like destiny, because even though I didn’t consciously dreamed to get here, this place is really what I dream of nice town to live in.
Around two years ago my girlfriend won a monbukagakusho scholarship and moved to Japan, and man, love in distance was tough. So I worked and saved hard to be able to afford the plane tickets and paid a long visit to her. But of course, that is not entirely the reason for my being here. The truth is that I am fond of Japan since I was a little kid, mostly thanks to animation. I wanted to be here since way, way back in my life. I’ve stayed in Mikage for four months now, and it is quite what I dreamed about Japan. It’s a charming area from my nearest train station to the house, with a big lake where you can go fishing or just kick back and relax whenever you want. Nearby in the city there are live music bars and cool karaoke places, bright colorful lights, rivers and sea, towns full of kind people, shrines and forests, lovely shiba inu dogs and cute chubby cats, excellent food and great public transportation.
There is all that classic Japanese charm that we all fancy, and that I’m sure any tourist would call “memorable” or even a “must see”, but my thing is not so much the mainstream tourism, if I may call it that way, and that may be something in my favour, because the first difference between here and Costa Rica that I will mention it’s the expensiveness. It is a little more expensive here than over there, to say the least. As you can be aware already, is not possible to work in Japan without having a proper Working Visa, so for me there has been hard times on my stay because I don’t have it. I’m still trying to get mine, but on top of it my japanese is not that great either, and I haven’t finished College education, so that doesn’t help at all, got to keep working on it for a while. There is plenty of work around the Kansai area (a region that includes Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara), but almost none of the kind that takes you with a Tourist Visa. Bottom line is: come prepared with big savings if you want to stay for a while, at least if you are from “third world” kind of countries, like I am. Nevertheless, you can make your coins last if you know where to buy the food and how to move yourself.
I like video games, a lot. Especially Nintendo. And music discs. And if you, like me, are interested in that rubbish, Kobe is a fine spot to be at because there are a couple of nice shops that sell used items for a decent price, and there are even more in Osaka, at just half an hour in train away. Places like Book Off and smaller shops are a blessing that somehow help balance the expensiveness of the area by selling new-like merchandise in low prices.
We haven’t had that much financial freedom to consume in the big commercial areas or go to every tourist attraction, it’s true, but luckily for us, that was never the plan. Kobe has lots of fun for the almost-poor like me (plus it could be worst, they say that Tokyo is more expensive). As we all know, or should know, you really don’t need much money to have fun anyways, no matter where you are. I like art, mostly musical and graphical, and I often move around in bicycle and draw something, anything, of this beautiful place. Let me put it in very few words: from our house in a mountain we have clear sight of the sea of the Osaka Bay, a big city (enormous city, for me) full of bridges and buildings that extents from left to right everywhere you can see. Sometimes we can hear the horns of the big ships that dock on the Port, and it is all surrounded by green gorgeous mountains. The whole town is an important International Port that this year is on the 150th anniversary, and there is a big international influence on buildings and neighborhoods.
This city is not only way bigger than any of the ones in Costa Rica, but also more secure and well organized. You can move in any kind of vehicle very efficiently, we do bicycle and train mostly. The security here it’s something that I love specially… back in Central America the streets are dangerous, by all means. Here you can take a walk and be relaxed about it at any time and place. It’s hard to explain how I feel about the quick and clean trains, buses and stations… let’s just say it’s awesome. Sometimes a train is a little packed, but nothing excessive. And if you have some kind of handicap and sometimes it gets a little difficult to move around, like we have, you will appreciate the quality of the sidewalks and roads and the quantity of elevators and escalators.
By day, the beauty of the riversides, forests, parks and shrines can take your breath away, and by night the fun goes on in the city for those who want to afford it. There is an interesting movement in Kobe regarding live music. The Beatles are still popular, there are a couple of places where you can enjoy of a live performance of Japanese cover bands of them almost every night, and it is common to find guys with a guitar doing it on the street too. There is also, of course, more young audience-oriented Rock places of present day local bands. But it gets more interesting with Jazz, which is quite popular and there are really nice live bars pretty much everywhere. There is even a “Jazz Street” with many of them together. They are often cozy, old-fashioned places where you can drink and smoke while watching excellent musicians perform and, if you are into making new friends, it is very easy to start a conversation with the fellows that go to play the instruments or just to enjoy the show. You can even play the instruments yourself if there is open stage that night. Jazz is indeed something wonderful here. Truth be told, the bars usually close kinda early, around midnight, but that’s OK, if you don’t want to return home yet (or just can’t because there are no more trains left for the day) you can easily find a karaoke place where you can stay until sunrise. The manifold of convenience stores will keep you safe and healthy if you need something to eat or drink and want to keep it out of a karaoke or bar, too.
I have found my Japan like a friendly, fascinating and romantic place to live. The change for me was taken in a completely fluid, positive manner. The inhabitants are sweet and respectful, and the ones that help with their work in stores and business are the most servicial and really care about doing a fine job. Even though I will have to go back to Costa Rica in a month or so, these four months living here have finish to completely convince me: I will keep up the work with my Japanese and college studies in order to come back someday soon, to Kobe or someplace else, and stay for good. It’s a promise!