Kobe, Japan

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One of the greatest things about Japan is its attention to detail. Nothing is too small for consideration. Nailheads on temple walkways are hidden by inlaid metal covers. If the train schedule says the train arrives at 11:05, it will not be there at 11:04; and if it’s more than 10 minutes late, you can get the rail line to give you an excuse form to present back at the office, explaining your tardiness. Shops sell combs and hairpins made with the same patterns and in the same way as 500 years ago.

So maybe this attention to detail explains what happened in 20th-century Kobe. Some farmer was looking at his cow, thinking, “What possibilities of perfection am I missing?” Cows were still a new thing; they were banned as food almost until WWII, so cow rules were in flux when this farmer began massaging his herd with sake. The cows got pleasantly drunk on local beer and listened to classical music—and in return for the pampering, they produced, and continue to produce, heavily marbled, melt-in-the-mouth cuts of meat that can easily sell for a hundred bucks a dish. Like everything else in town, Kobe beef is all in the details. 

Among the Japanese, Kobe is considered exotic: “If you can’t go to Paris, go to Kobe.” And it does make a nice break from Osaka’s relentless pace. Order a steak, find a window booth and watch the details.