Edited by Holly Stark
Kobe, the capital of Hyogo Prefecture, is situated between the sea and the Rokko mountain range. An important port city for many centuries, there’s lots going on in Kobe. Beyond visiting just to try the popular, iconic Kobe beef, there is an endearing atmosphere and a sophisticated and elegant vibe. The city is refreshing, with a great balance between work and daily life, the urban and natural. Seeking top things to do in Kobe? This city in Osaka bay has something for everyone, from peaceful waterfalls to fluorescent games rooms, and is framed by a scenic setting of mountains surrounding the harbor. Whether it’s the Ikuta Shinto Shrine, dating to the 3rd century, an antique cable car ride to Mount Rokko with panoramic views, or the outdoor hot springs of Arima Onsen, you won’t be stuck for what to do in the beautiful Japanese City as you choose from an endless supply of Kobe attractions.
Want to see beautiful panoramic views of both Kobe and Osaka? Head up to Mount Rokko; the highest peak in the Rokko mountain range, which is home to a peaceful green backdrop to the city of Kobe. Paired with the heavily urbanized Hanshin region, the views are simply stunning. One of the best things to do in Kobe at night, the spectacular panoramic views can be enjoyed from the mountain around sunset when the urbanized cities are lit up. Mount Rokko is home to many Kobe attractions including an alpine botanical garden, a music box museum, a pasture with flowers and sheep, Japan's first golf course and the Rokko Garden Terrace; a spot with restaurants, shops and an observation deck. From the base station, take the Rokko Cablecar. The ride up the mountain takes about 10 minutes and costs 590 yen one way or 1000 yen for a round trip ticket.
The compact Chinatown in central Kobe, known as Nankinmachi, is a bustling central hub for the Chinese community in the Kansai Region. When Chinese merchants arrived near the port of Kobe in 1868 and international trade began to flourish, the area began its development. Named after Nanjing, the former Chinese capital, Nankinmachi is a great Kobe attraction; home to shopping, restaurants and food stalls. Try the delicious steamed buns manju, ramen, tapioca drinks or any must-eat Chinese-Japanese fusion dishes, which are great for experiencing a glimpse of local Kobe culture. One of the things I love most about Kobe is trying local food shops, since they’re so affordable. Wondering what to do in Kobe? Head into a shop and browse the delicious hidden snacks that you would never even think to try!
Kobe Harbor and the Port Tower
Home to a sophisticated port cityscape, boasting many fancy cafes and historical buildings, the port neighborhood is one of the top things to do in Kobe. Check out Kobe Port Tower; a 108-meter high observatory tower and the symbol of Kobe. You can’t miss the bright red hyperboloid structure with its twisting center which looks especially quirky against the blue Kobe sky. For over 100 years ago, Kobe Harbour has worked as one of the oldest harbors in Japan. Unlike many other ports however, Kobe Harbor continues to modernize and revitalize its port. A lovely place to walk around, enjoy the night views, do some shopping, and take a boat tour, Kobe’s harbor is a must-see when adventuring the city and is a great place to relax. Being from San Diego, wandering the bay area and sitting by the water really makes me feel at home. Stop by big open park spaces where there are often events, concerts and art performances taking place.
Pray for love at the Ikuta Shrine; located a ten-minute walk from Sannomiya (central) Station. Although Kobe may have an image of being a sophisticated port town, historic shrines like this can be found in the city and make up some top traditional Kobe attractions. At Ikuta Shrine, experience tradition shaking hands with the modern way of life. Until the 19th century, Ikuta was surrounded by a forest. Now absorbed by the city, Ikuta is one of the oldest shrines in the country, and its founding is noted in the Nihon Shoki book of classical Japanese history. Constructed in the 3rd century AD, for the locals, the Ikuta Shrine is very much an icon of resurrection, since it survived the Genpei War between 1180 - 1185, heavy flooding in 1938, air raids during the World War and damage caused by the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. Enshrined is Goddess Wakahirumeno Mikoto; known as the Goddess of fabrics, and it is believed that she ties people’s fates together. Locals and visitors alike head to the spot for love fulfillment.
One of the best things to do around Kobe is a visit to Arima Onsen. A beautiful hot spring town on the opposite side of Mount Rokko from the city center; Arima Onsen sits in a natural mountain setting, yet is close enough for Kobe locals as an easy day trip or weekend getaway. With a history of over one thousand years, Arima Onsen is considered to be one of Japan's oldest hot spring resorts. With two types of hot spring waters which pop up at different sources around town: the Kinsen or “gold water” is brown with iron deposits and is said to be good for skin ailments and muscle pain, while the clear Ginsen or “silver water” contains radium and carbonate and is said to ease and cure various muscle and joint ailments. The onsen is still a hidden treasure of modern Kobe, attracting locals and visitors who seek tranquility with beautiful natural surroundings. Looking for Kobe nightlife fun? Check out the peaceful onsen by moonlight.
Sannomiya-Motomachi and Kobe Beef
Walk through the quirky central Kobe fashion district; Sannomiya-Motomachi. In the shopping area, between Sannomiya Station and Motomachi Station, you can explore great streets and malls for shopping or simply take a stroll around and do a spot of people watching. Just a short walk south from the Motomachi-Nankinmachi, you’ll find Sakaemachi; an area that has taken on a cool new style with retro buildings that have been transformed into stores, clothes shops, galleries, and cafes. In this area, don’t miss a true Kobe food experience. Try famous Kobe beef; a special kind of meat from the Tajima cattle in the Hyogo Prefecture. Wondering where to eat Kobe beef in Kobe? Try Kobe Tanryu; a beef specialty restaurant where you can taste high-grade Kobe beef at a low cost. Soak up the vibes of the central Kobe area; one of the top things to do in Kobe.
A must see hidden gem in Kobe is Nunobiki Falls; a set of waterfalls near downtown, which have a huge importance in Japanese literature and art. Considered one of the greatest “divine falls” teamed with Kegon Falls and Nachi Falls, the Nunobiki Falls climb is short, relatively easy and only takes around 15 minutes. Once there, weave in and around the trees; here you get a sense you’ve left the city behind. Follow the signs to Mentaki Falls. Soak up the natural beauty, take a seat, have a drink and enjoy the view. The next leg of the hike to Ontaki Falls takes around 10 minutes, up some fairly steep steps. The Ontaki Falls are the biggest in the area with a total height of 43 meters. Hear the powerful sound of nature then head to the Monkey Vine Bridge where you can check out the scenic Nunobiki Dam; Japan’s oldest gravitational concrete dam which was completed in 1900. The whole experience is one of the best things to do in Kobe, so don’t miss it!
Difficult to miss, with architecture reminiscent of a fishing net, the Kobe Maritime Museum is dedicated to the Japanese navy and opened in 1987 to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the opening of Kobe city to the world outside of Japan. Located in the Meriken Park, ships have invaded the museum; with models aplenty and a display of land, air and sea vessels created by Kawasaki, the spot is really cool for any transport fan. With miniature ships, sailboats, a recreation of a cockpit, and the kingdom of the sea as the spotlight, the Kobe Maritime Museum is both educational and interactive. On the jetty of Meriken Park are three boats; a Spanish one and two experimental ships. Learn about the evolution of maritime transport in Japan and the history of Kobe’s port. A great activity for both big and little ones, the Kobe Maritime Museum is a fun, interactive Kobe attraction where you can learn about the city’s industry.
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pachinko_
One thing you can not possibly miss in Kobe is the sight of a pachinko parlor; for when it comes to pachinko design, no color is too vibrant and no flash is too bright. While temples, shrines and castles were once Japan's most eye-catching buildings, now they are most definitely pachinko parlors. To play, you need to convert your money into a number of large silver ball bearings; very similar to the ones used in pinball machines. These are then put into the pachinko machine where, with some luck, they are caught within the traps on the board, each earning a different level of reward. It’s a fairly simple, passive game to play which offers some big rewards. The prizes come in the form of gifts or cash, which are claimed from a kiosk. Pachinko is popular among the locals, and it is said that there are even a few pachinko professionals. Professional or not, it’s a game you must try when traveling Japan and seeking unusual, fun things to do in Kobe.
The Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum
Dedicated to the events and aftermath of the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake in 1995; the Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum shows how the city suffered and rebuilt itself. A huge part of Kobe’s history, the earthquake really left its mark and the museum amazes me in its presentation of how the city grew back. In the memorial park, you can witness the way it was left when the 6.9 moment magnitude scale earthquake (the worst earthquake of the 20th century in Japan) occurred. Over 6,000 people lost their lives in the disaster with the majority of them in Kobe, the city closest to the epicenter, just to the north of Awaji Island. Over 400,000 buildings were damaged and a number of railway bridges and elevated roads collapsed. Learn about the history of the city at the Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum which commemorates the events and lives lost in 1995. The museum really hits home but is an important place to visit when learning about local life and history in Kobe.
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