🏙 Nagata Ward, Kōbe, Hyōgo → 🌃 Kita Ward, Kōbe, Hyōgo

Map of Kōbe in Hyōgo Prefecture with author’s route between Nagata Ward and Kita Ward highlighted. 🗺 Open map in GaiaGPS →

A Buddha statue on an altar decorated with flowers. 📍 Hyōgo Ward, Kōbe, Hyōgo

As Kyōto draws near, the small statues of the Buddha dotting the roadside fold their simple country checks and reds, and reach for the ceremonial silks of the thousand-year capital.

View along an elevated railway line with shops below it.

Closeup of raw pieces of fatty Kōbe beef and slices of onion.

Pieces of Kōbe beef on a grill.

An elderly Japanese man grills pieces of Kōbe beef on the counter of a small restaurant, a bottle of beer near his left hand. 📍 Chūō Ward, Kōbe, Hyōgo

When one is in Kōbe, and wants to do as the people who know the one thing about Kōbe that everyone knows about Kōbe do, one eats Kōbe beef for lunch, and one could hardly wish for a better place to eat Kōbe beef than a hole in the wall under the train tracks, with a massively alcoholic old man wearing a gold Rolex, and a middle-aged Black Francis for company.

Kōbe beef is number one,” the owner assured me, and I suppose it was, on some academic level, as a thesis on perfect textural homogenity. Could these precious little dominoes ever hold a candle to a star destroyer of an Argentinian vacío steak and a glass of Cafayate red? Of course they couldn’t. But I was literally on the other side of the world, we toasted each other with big glasses of barley shōchū, and the pieces of Kōbe beef melted in my mouth like a half-forgotten dream of the Argentina I have known and loved.

Postcard of shoebill storks, and another of a woman at a counter decorated with human heads mounted on poles.

The woman on the postcard in the previous picture, Miyazaki Miyoshi, smiles and looks into the camera, next to one of the human heads on a pole. The place is her bar. 📍 Chūō Ward, Kōbe, Hyōgo

The Tōkaidō Main Line thundered overhead, counterpoint to The Goldberg Variations playing from an old record. Every other express would knock the lightbulbs from their sockets in Miyazaki Miyoshi’s café, and she would rush over in the half-light to screw them back, behind the life-size steampunk statue of a bull.

I drank her coffee.

They are my boyfriends,” she said, and caressed one of the impaled heads on her bar, the silver spikes, the shiny cranium. I told her about a long-ago afternoon on the shores of Lake Albert, the Blue Mountains silhouetted against the Congolese border, shoebill storks lurking in the reeds.

I had been ill for days, and city life now sparkled in my synapses like mica, and I bowed, and walked along the Tōkaidō, and turned into the mountains, into the fog, high above the purple-silver, ephemeral city.

Looking down on a twisting mountain road, then Kōbe, then the sea beyond, under an overcast sky.

A similar view taken about an hour later and from a higher point, with some of the lights of the city already on. 📍 Kita Ward, Kōbe, Hyōgo

We looked out over the cool jungle, high above the purple-silver, ephemeral city.

And I will walk, and then I will take a boat to Mount Rishiri,” I said. I’m going there tomorrow,” Hiro said, waved goodbye, and drove 2,000 kilometers to Mount Rishiri, jagged, Wagnerian, covered in snow, the fields the straw-yellow of late winter, the ocean turquoise and ice-cold.

I looked at the Inland Sea for the last time, then turned and walked into the fog, towards the thousand-year capital.

Grainy night picture of a road running by a forest half-covered in fog. 📍 Kita Ward, Kōbe, Hyōgo

These Walking Dreams is a visual field diary of a 4,300-kilometer walk from one end of Japan to the other, in the spring and summer of 2017.