The second stop on our Japan 2016 trip was Kobe, just a thirty minute train ride from Osaka! Still slightly jet-lagged and having spent three days in the bustling Osaka crowds, we were all looking forward to what we had heard was a more “chilled out” city.
We were only in Kobe for a day and a half before continuing on to the southern island of Kyushu, so we barely scraped the surface on what the city had to offer. Still, I think we had a good introduction to the city and I’d happily come back. I could easily see myself living there (that dream of living in Japan may still be realised)!
Kobe is the capital city of the Hyogo prefecture and is nestled between the Rokko mountain range and the sea, meaning fantastic views and a light breeze. Historically, it was a very important port city and you can see a lot of Dutch influence dotted around the city.
So, here are my highlights of Kobe’s city centre. A separate blog post on the Shin-Kobe ropeway and Nunobiki herb gardens will follow next week!
This waterfront park should be one of your sightseeing spots and is worth visiting both in the day and evening. The red steel Kobe Port Tower offers fantastic views of the harbour, sparkling sea and Rokko mountains, and you can sit in the slowly-rotating cafe to take it all in. Next door is the eye-catching Kobe Maritime Museum, which we didn’t actually go inside but looks fantastic when it is lit up at night – as does the Kobe Port Tower. I took lots of photos of these fantastic pieces of architecture!
Also worth a visit is the Great Hanshin Earthquake memorial. In 1995, Kobe was struck by 7.2 magnitude earthquake which resulted in over 6,000 deaths and massive infrastructure damage – particularly to its maritime industry. Although the city has recovered, a short section of the damaged waterfront has been left unrepaired as a reminder of the tragedy.
A short walk from Meriken Park is Kobe Harborland, which is definitely best visited at night when everything is spectacularly lit up. At first glance, there’s little here other than a big shopping centre – Umie – and a ferris wheel but it’s worth exploring properly. There are some funky sculptures (including a very unexplained singing Elvis Presley statue) and the old-fashioned Gaslight Street is very charming in the evening. Oh, and the animation of the ferris wheel is absolutely fantastic and goes on for ages (it even includes leaping dolphins!) so sit yourself down and you can easily lose half an hour watching the whole sequence. Lots of cruises also depart from Harborland in the day time.
You can’t go to Kobe and not eat famous Kobe beef (unless you’re a vegetarian or on an extremely tight budget) and Chinatown is one of the best places to find particularly good beef. The area was developed by Chinese merchants after the port was opened to foreign trade in 1868 and, while it feels smaller and more compact than London’s China town, it’s still fun to wander around.
A good set-menu kobe beef lunch will cost you at least £30 per person but you do get your money’s worth. Most places will give you a range of dishes from Kobe beef salad to Kobe beef stew to good old-fashioned slabs of Kobe beef. The place we went to even had a television crew pop in! It’s well worth the money and probably something you’ll only have properly for once in your life, so you should enjoy it! Personally, I still prefer Sendai’s gyutan but wouldn’t say no to more authentic Kobe beef.
Kitano-cho is located in the northern part of Kobe and was home to foreign settlers and merchants when the city was at the height of its port trade. This area understandably doesn’t feel very Japanese and it’s predominantly Asian tourists wandering around here photographing the novelty ‘western’ housing. A lot of preserved and very tourist tat-ty houses – including a France House and England House (which has a Baker Street sign hanging outside of all things) – charge 750 yen for entry but it’s not really worth it if you’re a western tourist. You’re best spending your time exploring the streets with their quaint shops and climb the stairs of the Kobe Kitano Tenman Shrine for fantastic views of the city.
Get around on the Kobe Loop Bus!
If you’re only spending a short time in Kobe, you’re best buying a day ticket (650 yen) on the tourist Kobe Loop Bus, which will take you to all of the areas listed above and more! This antique-looking green bus is similar to the one we took in Sendai last year, so it’s obviously a popular way to get around smaller Japanese cities, and you can pick up a map at your hotel or the tourist centre. There is also the option of the subway but we didn’t spend enough time in the city to try it out.
Kobe is a lovely, clean and very metropolitan city. My mum, sister and me all loved it for different reasons, and is well worth a visiting (I’d say 2 nights is sufficient). We only just scratched the surface and I’d happily come back for some more views of the harbour and Kobe beef!