Mad cows in Kobe

I am putting this blog post together just before lunch time and its not easy as it is making me incredibly hungry.

One of our fantastic Japan staff, Ayako Kiyono recently took it upon herself to visit a Kobe beef farm.  I am sure that you have heard of Kobe Beef, but these days the term ‘Kobe Beef’ seems to be linked to any meat where the animals have been reared slightly differently to the usual methods as I recently found on a trip to Cornwall. The landlord of a pub and farmer was feeding his cows and pigs on local beer and producing his own, “Kobe beef and pork”. It was nice, but it certainly wasn’t the real McCoy.

The real Kobe beef is produced in the Hyogo area of Japan and Kiyono san wanted to actually see what went into producing the finest beef in the world. She travelled to Takami Kobe Beef farm in the rural town of Ichijima to find out and here is what she discovered.

 

What is the Kobe Beef?

No cows are born to be “Kobe Beef” cow.

Only Tajima-gyu cows (special breed in Hyogo prefecture) that satisfy the specific quality criteria deserve the title “Kobe Beef”.

Roughly 3000 Tajima-gyu cows manage to pass the criteria and titled as Kobe Beef every year.

Takami san delivered this calf the previous night and is nursing it himself.

Who discovered Kobe Beef for the first time?

Surprisingly, it was an Englishman! Until 1868, Japanese were not accustomed to eating meat, but that year, Kobe opened its doors to foreign trade as an international port and Kobe Beef was eaten for the first time.

 How are the cows raised?

The mother and baby names are written next to each calf.

At the Takami Kobe Beef Farm, the following methods are use for their cows;

Cows drink Sakamizu water. Sakamizu refers to spring water that is used to brew fine Sake.

Cows take a shower twice a day. (Shampoo and treatment)

Cows are talked to by farmers. (Farmers check each cows health by talking to them)

Each cow has Japanese name and taken care very well by farmers.

Cows are watched 24h through security camera.

Cows do not do any exercise.

Calves relax. No moooving for these cows!

 Are there any problems with raising pure-blood Tajima-Gyu?

Pure-blood Tajima Cows are not as healthy as their half-blood counterpart.

Pure-blood cows tend to be born premature and grow slowly.

New calves are kept in their own shed.

 What is special about Kobe Takami Beef Farm?

Takami Kobe Beef Farm won the championship for Kobe Beef 2010 and the farm has an official license.

Normally, each process, such as breeding, raising, and fattening are done separately by different farmers who is specialized in each process. Visitors to Takami can observe all the processes that go into raising a ‘Kobe Beef Cow’.

The highest grade kobe beef.

Takami Beef Farm has restaurants where visitors are able to enjoy fresh Kobe beef for reasonable prices. Try a Kobe beef rice bowl (Gyudon) or  1260 yen or the best Takami Kobe beef course at lunch time for an incredible 3800 yen.

 

Takami Kobe Beef Farm is approximately a 2h 15 minute train ride from Kyoto by train. If you want to eat the best beef in the world and at a decent price…and see exactly what goes into producing it, then it might be worth a visit. Let us know and we can organise it for you!

 

10 Reasons why Japan is so great – No.10 New experiences

I am going to finish the 10 reasons why Japan is so great with another broad but a valid reason. Japan is bursting with new experiences for even the most intrepid of travellers. When you go for dinner, walk to the shop, get on the train and from when you wake to when you go to sleep, Japan fills your day with new and exciting experiences. Being so culturally different to the west (and most places in the world), it is just a very different place to be and no matter how old you are, there is an abundance of….well, just new stuff to stimulate your senses.

In my opinion, part of what makes travelling and indeed life so varied and exciting are the new things that you encounter in the world. I would say that it is rare for a person to visit any one country in this world these days and to encounter something new and alien just about everyday. For the visitor, I would say that Japan manages to do this supplying a vast array of positive cultural experiences.

Japan is a wonderful country and I challenge anyone not to come away enthusing about the people, culture, country, transport, food and more, just as I have in this series of posts. I have barely mentioned the magic of sitting in an outdoor hot spring bath overlooking the snow covered mountains or staying in ryokan, wearing yukatta and being on the receiving end of some of the finest and friendliest hospitality in the world or the impressive traditional festivals with their mikoshi parades, yukatta-clad girls and fundoshi-wearing guys, fireworks, food and plenty of sake. These are the more obvious differences in Japan and are each worth a blog post of their own with a hundred other things, but there are a thousand other little elements of Japanese life that give you little surprises and make you smile.

There are a many other reasons as to why Japan is so great but, if you would like to experience an enlightening country like no other place in the world then you should seriously consider travelling to Japan.

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10 Reasons why Japan is so great. No. 9 – Respect

Once again, this overlaps with other categories such as culture and the people, but it is one aspect of Japan that is obvious in every day life and deserves a big mention.

At the risk of sounding too much like an old man here, I think that the respect shown by Japanese, young and old, to the environment they live in and the people around them is a beautiful thing and is partly what makes Japan so great. It quickly becomes obvious to most westerners who travel to Japan, as this respect is rapidly becoming a thing of the past in some western cultures. In terms of the UK at least, it is very normal to walk along a street full of litter, passing vandalised phone boxes and graffiti-covered walls and to be given some verbal abuse by a complete stranger. Sad but true. Not always the case, but not uncommon. It is however, very uncommon in Japan.

As soon as you step off the plane in Tokyo, you will no doubt notice that everything is immaculate, from the outfits warn by staff to the litter-free walk ways that lead you through customs. Fortunately, this doesn’t stop at the airport and continues as you head on to the train platforms and then on to the train – not a bit of chewing gum on the seat to sit on or broken vending machines on the platform. It continues throughout Japan. You can even see the poor old homeless people on the banks of the Sumida river in Tokyo sweeping up around their shelters and even taking their shoes off as they enter their boxes. You may be forgiven for thinking that all the pretty over packaging on goods would be ideal for littering the streets as people chomp though their Pocky or Crunky chocolate bars, but no! Litter is deposited in the correct recycling bins or held on to until a bin becomes available. This is not just the older men and women in society, but it goes for the children and teenagers alike. Refreshing I think you’ll agree and how it should be. As we say in the West, don’t ‘dirty’ your own doorstep – it would be so much nicer if people practised this like they do in Japan.

This is all down to the people, the culture and the Japanese Shinto religion which promotes a respect for the surrounding environment and the spirits that exist in it and therefore a respect for each other and local community, young and old. To be born Japanese is to be born Shinto and it breeds a certain way of thinking and acting. The cleanliness and respect for the local environment, community and other people is blatant to see for any visitor to Japan and is another reason why Japan is so great.

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10 Reasons why Japan is so great – No.8 Contrasts

Having already mentioned the fact that culture and tradition are so prevalent in everyday life everywhere in Japan this is pretty similar but worth a mention on its own I think.

Japan is a working synchronisation of old and new which is witnessed everywhere, but especially so in some of the big cities. I don’t think that there is anywhere else in the world where this contrast is so obvious and no matter how big or small, adds to the overall Japan experience. This contrast is one of the reasons why Japan is so great.


When planning a trip for people travelling for the first time to Japan, there are quite a few people who say something like, “I want to experience culture and tradition, but am not too bothered about spending time Tokyo – it’s a just a big city”…..it’s not JUST a big city….well it is, but it is here where you begin to notice the differences. There are many super hi-tec elements to Tokyo with its sleek skyscrapers, neon lights and trains that pass you overhead and underground. However, you will also find traditional areas such as Asakusa built around the Sensoji Temple or the quiet Shibamata district with single-rise wooden buildings, traditional shops and small shrines or the old fashioned Arakawa tram system that runs through Tokyo’s Otsuka district to name some of the more obvious differences.

One of the biggest contrasts to hit me, was when buying a gadget in an electronics store in Japan. This may not happen so often in the more popular districts of Tokyo, but you can still head into a small electronics stores and buy the latest electronic device.When it comes to making payment, the shopkeeper may tot up your bill on an abacus or tap in a figure to a big fat-fingered calculator. Meanwhile, the shop is being kept warm by a kerosene heater which is also being used to heat up a little kettle of water for the next cup of green tea. You know that there is the capability for a register to scan a bar code and bring up the price or a radiator/air-con device to heat up the room and a kettle that plugs into the mains….but it is kind of nice to see and seems right somehow. It seems very Japanese.

This is just one example of how Japan is full of the traditional and the modern living side-by-side and working well. It is quite cute in a way and is one of the reasons in my mind as to why Japan is so great.

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10 Reasons why Japan is so great – No.7 Japan just does things better

I have already mentioned the culture which plays a part in every aspect of life in Japan. We all know that things in Japan are going to be different.  So what does “Japan just does things better” actually mean?

What I mean is, in Japan they have a lot of the same things that we have in the West, but they just do them differently and in most cases a lot better. For example, everyone knows about the huge range of vending machines. We have vending machines in the West of course…..but not like Japanese vending machines! In Japan, they have vending machines for cold and hot drinks, hot food and much more. It is not just about the huge variety of goods sold in vending machines either, but about the way they sell them. The machines have slots for notes and give out change, they sometimes accept credit from travel cards and some provide wireless internet access. One of the biggest things to note about vending machines is there are so many of them, in the city and countryside and all unscathed by vandalism. Continue reading

10 Reasons why Japan is so great – No. 6. The country (Mountains, beach & rural life)

When people think of Japan, they usually think of the excitement of Tokyo or the mix of temples and city of Kyoto, but many people don’t think about the rest of the often stunning countryside that you will find in the Japan archipelago.

Japan is 70 percent mountainous which means that, in a country that consists of more than 6000 islands with a similar landmass to Germany, there is actually a lot of greenery. With that many islands, there is also a lot of stunning coastline and beaches, especially in the sub-tropical Okinawan islands. The northern main island of Hokkaido also provides beautiful untouched wilderness and rare wildlife throughout the year, and especially beautiful during the white winter months.

Away from the ‘classic’ destinations of Japan, travelling around is a little more challenging (unless of course you travel with IJT and one of our Info Packs ;-)), but very rewarding. Heading to the rural Tohoku region, the towering peaks of the Kamikochi national park deep in the Japan Alps, or the small ‘art’ island of Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea and the jungle island of Iriomote in the Yaeyama Island chain, you will discover beautiful landscapes, a Japanese community with their own local slant on Japanese culture and perhaps people that don’t get to see so many foreigners. All these elements add to form a completely different experience of Japan to the very different but equally rewarding trip to Tokyo, Kyoto etc.

Getting out to Inaka (rural countryside), the locals will often wonder why you are there and what makes their place special. The people that you meet will no doubt go out of their way to make sure that you enjoy their particular village, island, town, hot spring, mountain or temple. A combination of the landscape, people and culture will add to an amazing Japanese cultural experience.

Japan’s varied landscapes, islands and countryside are all very good reasons as to why Japan is so great.

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10 Reasons why Japan is so great – No.5 – Food

As I have said before, this list is in no particular order, but food has got to be high on anyone’s list of reasons why Japan is so great.

Tokyo and the Kansai region including Kyoto, Osaka and Nara have ensured that Japan has got the most Michelin rated restaurants in the world and the most top-rated three star restaurants than any other country. It is truly the culinary capital in terms of ‘posh nosh’, but there is a huge range of very delicious, good quality food all over Japan.

If there is one thing the Japanese take seriously, it is their food. Everyone knows about sushi and sashimi as a Japanese dish, but many people (from the UK anyway) are often surprised how sushi can melt in your mouth, taste so good and not cost very much at all (many conveyor belt sushi shops sell a plate of sushi from approx 80 pence). Many cities across the country will have areas that are covered in a huge range of eateries providing reasonably low cost, good quality food such as Okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes), Ramen noodles, Rice bowls and more. Tokyo’s Yurakucho district is full of salrayman favourites such as Yakitori shops (grilled chicken on skewers) and Osaka’s Dotonburi district is renowned for its Takoyaki (octopus dumplings) stands and Okonomiyaki shops. Traditional Japanese pubs known as Izakaya are found all over the country in most towns and serve a great range of food covering a range of Japanese delights and western snacks.

If you don’t want to eat out, you wouldn’t go too far wrong by heading to the convenience store and buying a Bento box consisting of noodles, meat, vegetables and more, costing approximately £3. Convenience stores are the way to go if you are travelling on a budget, but there are also very reasonably priced chain restaurants selling combination set meals for approximately £4. The food looks and taste good and the price is nice too. In Japan, even the plastic display food looks delicious!

There are so many food choices in Japan. A meal in a ryokan guest house is a must and I suggest you try and taste the local speciality (meibutsu) of a city or region, whether it be a particular type of fish, fruit, vegetable or style of cooking. You will definitely not go hungry in Japan and even if you go there with the mindset that you are not really keen on Japanese food, I recommend that you give it a go and you will probably like it. After all, if you don’t like Japanese food, you could try the western food in Japan as it is probably better than the western food in the west.

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Food is a very good reason as to why Japan is so great.

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