The vibrant Japanese city of Kobe is possibly most known for its devastating earthquake that rocked the port city in January 1995 claiming the lives of more than 6000 people. Having risen victoriously from the depths of the ashes, the rebuilding of the city is a true testament to the sheer tenacity of the Japanese people who live there.Modern day Kobe is a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis perched on the fringes of the booming Kobe port, between the ocean and the resplendent Rokko mountain range. Considered to be one of the most beautiful Japanese cities, Kobe is nestled between famous neighbours – expat central, Osaka and Kyoto.
Vivacious, dynamic and diverse, the small yet popular city has been declared as the ultimate place to live, and although always popular among residents, the tourist trend is very much on the rise. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Osaka, many people love coming to experience the effervescent ambience of Kobe, and the incredible contrasts of modern day city juxtaposed with a glorious natural reserve on the foot of the Rokko Mountains.
Sensational waterfalls, lush Japanese forests and an abundance of wildlife including wild boars, gorgeous giant butterflies, raccoons, the most beautiful and colourful birds that you have ever seen and insects that are the size of dinner plates, are all perched majestically along the slopes of the mountain ranges that peer down over the buzzing port city that never seems to sleep.
The capital city of Hyogo Prefecture, Kobe has roots that are seeped way back before the 19th century, when the Kobe was one of the leading ports, and significantly was the first Japanese port ever to open their channels of trade internationally.
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Best time to go
Kobe has quite an enviable temperate climate, characterized by mild winters and warm summers. Protected by the mountain ranges to the north and perched right on the shores of the inland sea, the cool sea breeze blows in, and keeps the summer temperatures down at pleasant levels.
The best time to visit is during the months of spring from March to May and autumn from September to November. The clear, crisp weather and the enchanting sea views is Kobe at its very best.
The average temperature in August is around 31 degrees Celsius and the rainy season runs through June and July. Expect winter temperatures with snow to drop to about 4 degrees Celsius if not more.
Depending on where you would like to go and which part of the country you are planning to visit, will dictate to you what mode of transport will suit you best. If you are intending to move in and around out of the city of Kobe, you can purchase a rechargeable smart card from Surutto Kansai, which will be useful for travelling in and around western Japan. The smart card, known as ICOCA, can be bought at vending machines and can be used on all subway, bus and rail networks, and are available at the rail stations for purchase. The purchase price includes a card deposit which will be refunded to you when you return the card at JR Station.
The subway lines are not cheap, and most people travelling here will find that it is not a good travel option unless one wishes to connect to Shin-Kobe. Ordinary trains offer a much more cost effective traveling option that is also, more than efficient.
The city has an excellent bus network system and is a fantastic choice if you wish to travel anywhere north of the city. Old fashioned and green in colour, you can purchase a day pass or a single loop pass and hop on and off when the busses stop every 20 minutes or so. Taking a bus is a great way to see the city as the bus lines travel around many of the distinctive and historic locations of interest, and other scenic spots that would be interesting for any traveller.
There are a number of ropeways that are located running up Mount Rokko and offer unparalleled vies of the city and the bay below, going all the way up to Nunobiki Herb Park. Since most of the city is built on the mountain hill slopes you can also travel up and down the mountain by foot, although if it is a hike you are after, it is advisable to take a bus up and then make your way down at your leisure. Don’t worry about getting lost this way, as all you need to do is located the mountain ranges in the north of the harbour port clearly visible in most parts from the south and it will be easy to get your bearings.
Major Attractions and Sights
Considered to be an exotic location, Kobe’s colourful and vibrant history as an eclectic foreign port city are evident everywhere. The huge concentration of foreign merchants’ residences can be found in the fascinating Kitano district of Kobe. An abundance of historic, western styled houses, some of them dating back to the late 1800s dominate the suburb, and are a constant source of fascination among the local Japanese.
There are many delightful and captivating points of interest in the city of Kobe with everything to see and experience from sake, fashion, golf, museums, art galleries, beautiful natural districts and their legendary hot springs.The Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewing Company has an exciting brewing memorial hall that is a museum dedicated to the history and culture of Sake. You can do sake tasting and find out the secrets of the recipes and utensils that are used to make this legendary beverage.
The Sorakuen Garden is a delightful manicured Japanese garden situated right it the heart of the city, a very pleasant place to spend the afternoon. Good value for money if you are on a budget and you can get a discount entry at many of the tourist booths.
The Sawa-no-Tsuru Museum is one of the most fantastic museums in the city, and although there is no complimentary sake, entrance is free, but it is closed every Wednesday. Many of the exhibits are labelled in English and there is a great shop in this multi-level museum.
The Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum is really interesting, especially for anybody interested in ancient Japanese construction and handicrafts. Interactive exhibits, hand carpentry tools, ancient tools with western influences and even stone axes from as far back as the Jomon age, make this a really great way to spend part of your day.The Arima Onsen resort is a legendary natural hot spring resort found in the middle of the city. A must see attraction in Kobe.
Shopping in Kobe
Kobe has a vibrant shopping district, mainly gathered around the Center-Gai shopping centre and around the Sannomiya train station. It is an interesting place just to visit because of the quaint, tucked away shops and little cafes and boutiques there. Many of the establishments have antiquity that can be traced back more than a few hundred years.
If you are looking for the best place to shop that is not very touristy and off the beaten track, then head out to the Piazza Kobe and Motoko Town – the perfect place to buy a number of second hand goods, where the shops are actually underground, situated underneath the Sannomiya station. You can buy just about everything; shoes, clothes, toys, accessories, lighters, books and knives.
Mosaic is a great place to visit if you want to experience a little bit of everything and you can make an entire day of it. Touted as Kobe’s playground, you can get the kids out to the small amusement park, shop at the market, have a drink at one of the bars, see a movie, eat out at a restaurant, and hop onto a harbour cruise which can take you as far out as the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge.
If you are desperate for a great English book shop, you can find everything you are looking for at either Random Walk at Center-Gai shopping centre or Junkudo, DAIEI building, Sannomiya Train Station.
Eating Out in Kobe
Famous for its namesake beef, Kobe beef is the ultimate culinary treat – legendary, beautifully marbled, high in fat and higher in price. If you have the money to splurge, this is one mouth-watering treat that you must not miss out on. But another famous Kobe dish good for filling up hungry tummies and somewhat unique to Kobe is the fried rice and noodle dish called sobameshi. Kobe has a diverse culinary offering from authentic Japanese cuisine to seafood, sushi, and western dishes and of course an abundance of sake.
Gaen Shuga has a scrumptious Hong Kong and Cantonese menu prepared by the real deal – authentic Chinese chefs. Pick something from the set menu which includes pudding, or if you are feeling adventurous, you can ask the owner for a specially prepared menu item like shark fin soup or fresh perlemoen. If you make your way to their website, you can print out a meal coupon before you go.
Sushidai is the place to go if you consider yourself to be a Sushi connoisseur. A lively, relaxed ambience, authentic Japanese decor and music in the background offer patrons the perfect opportunity to feast to their hearts delight on sashimi, seafood and their legendary black hair beef. It is a friendly, happy place to go with excellent service and lots of sake.
The Grill Ippei is a speciality yoshoku restaurant that offers Japanese-Western cuisine. There are a number of resturants throughout Kobe, so chances of you stumbling into one near the station are good. Chow down on tonkatsu (pork cutlets), kaki furai (breaded oyster) ebi furai (breaded shrimp) and mouth-watering hamburger steaks.
Torikizoku is a hugely popular restaurant among locals and expats alike. Always busy, affordable and vibey it is almost impossible to get a seat if you are not there before 7.30pm. A great place for drinks and snacks if you are not that hungry, and the best place to get Yakitori in large, generous servings if you are hungry.
Nightlife in Kobe
Famous for its abundance of stand-and-drink bars, or tachinomiya, there is a fantastic nightlife in the city of Kobe. Legendary for being exquisitely beautiful when it lights up at night the city, has a number of exciting and somewhat offbeat places to enjoy a night out.
Sone is considered to be the best jazz club in all of Kansai and there are often big name performers coming to delight audiences here. There is a cover charge applicable during some of the bigger nights and a fantastic place to chill out with an ice cold drink.
Bar Trinity is owned by a jovial Chicago resident who has a flourishing business popular among expats and visitors. Trendy yet casual, big gets better on the weekend when big name DJ’s hit the floor for the ultimate party. Slightly less hectic during the week, sink back and relax in their generous comfy sofas and don’t worry about how much it costs, the drinks are good value for money and the friendly staff speak English.
Bar time trap, aptly situated underground and something decidedly different from your sidewalk pub. More of a reptile house that serves drinks, the decor and design is downright peculiar. Word around town has it that if you ask very nicely one of the staff or the owner might just give you a snake for you to play with at the bar.
Anything of local interest
The Nankinmachi Shunsetu Sai (Chinese New Year’s) is a legendary festival celebrated every year in February in Kobe. And it is one of the times that the hard working, apparently stoic and somewhat reserved Japanese people really let their hair down. According to the Chinese calendar Shunsetu is New Year’s Day and one of the biggest attractions is the 40 m long dragon and the Ryu-mai – the incredible and highly energetic Dragon Dance. Festivities include parades the lion dance; plenty of mouth-watering Chinese food at side walk markets and traditional authentic markets.
The Rokkosan Ice Festival is without question on of the most exciting and popular festivals in Japan, and takes place every year in January in Kobe at the Rokko Garden Terrace. Here, ice sculptors come from all over the world to compete for first place in a competition for the best ice sculptor. As well as the exciting festivities, there is a chance to see the ultimate, legendary ice sculpture – the Phoenix, which is a testament and a symbol to Kobe’s rebirth after the devastating 1995 earthquake.