Kobe is a port city in Hyogo Prefecture, 33km west of Osaka, and one of Japan's most pleasant cities for both residents and visitors alike, with a laid-back cosmopolitan feel.
Now completely rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1995, Kobe's dramatic location, sandwiched on a narrow strip of land between mountains and sea, allied to its great food and lively nightlife make the city an ideal place to go if you are visiting nearby Kyoto or Osaka.
History of Kobe
Kobe's status as one of Japan's foremost international ports and trading centers, along with Yokohama, dates back to the town's opening to foreign traders in 1868. Westerners built their wood and brick houses (ijinkan) in Kitano, up the hill from Sannomiya, now Kobe's main station for JR and Hankyu trains. Japan's first soccer match was held in Kobe in 1871, and the nation's first golf course was laid out here in 1903.
The historic Kitano-cho area is pleasant to stroll around with its many trendy cafes, museums and boutiques and Kitano is also home to Kobe's historic mosque (the first in Japan, built in 1935) and more recent Jain temple.
Things to see and do in Kobe
Kobe's Chinatown (also known as "Nanking Machi") is west of Sannomiya, just south of Motomachi Station, but suffers slightly in comparison with Yokohama's more vibrant and authentic Chinatown. still a great place to sample a wide variety of Chinese cuisine and shop for Chinese souvenirs such as Chinese tea, lanterns, incense and all things panda-related.
The area south of Sannomiya Station is the site of the old foreign settlement, and is now Kobe's commercial center. Notable presences here are Kobe City Hall (with good views of Kobe from the top), the Daimaru Department Store and Kobe City Museum, with its fine collection of nanban (lit. "southern barbarian") art, namely wood block prints detailing Japan's early Western visitors, both traders and missionaries.
Meriken Park and Kobe Harborland are a little further south, overlooking the bay. Kobe Harborland's entertainment and recreation-oriented facilities feature brick warehouses that evoke the look of Kobe as it looked in the late nineteenth century when it was one of Japan's very few international port cities. Meriken Park is a spacious, waterfront with museums, memorials and luxury accommodation.
Kobe Maritime Museum in Meriken Park has an exciting modernist exterior and a collection of model ships and audiovisual displays.
The iconic red, cylindrical 108 m-high Port Tower overlooks Meriken Park, provides fine high-rise views of the city, and has a revolving cafe. Hours: 9am-9pm (last admission 8,30pm), but until 7pm (last admission 6.30pm) December-February. 600 yen for adults.
The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art is a world-class art museum near the waterfront about 2.5km east of Sannomiya Station.
In the bay just south of the main Sannomiya center are two artificial islands: Port Island and Rokko Island. Among Rokko Island's attractions is the Kobe Fashion Museum, Japan's first museum dedicated to fashion (Mon-Sat 11am-6pm, 500 yen).
The Shin-Kobe Ropeway cable car leaves from the Kitano area and provides great views of Kobe and the Inland Sea (9.30am-5.30pm Sat-9pm, Sun-8pm. 1000 yen).
Arima Onsen is a natural spa 35 minutes from Shin-Kobe Station to Arima-onsen by bus or take the Kobe Dentetsu Line (Shintetsu Arima Line) from Tanigami Station on the Hokushin Line which connects with Kobe subway.
The Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution is a museum dedicated to the devastating Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale, the earthquake caused over 5,500 deaths as buildings and highways collapsed and fires swept the city.
The glass-covered museum, built with an exterior frame designed to sway in an earthquake with shock absorbers to withstand vertical and horizontal movement, presents a computer-generated film of the disaster, a diorama of a Kobe city street after the earthquake and real footage of the event.
Tel: 078 262 5050
Access: A short walk from JR Nada and Hanshin Iwaya Stations
Tourist information centers on Flower Road near Sannomiya Station (tel 078-322-0222) and inside Shin-Kobe Station.
Kobe Misaki 'Wing' Stadium more Kobe stadium info
The 42,000 capacity ground has a built-in public swimming pool and is reached by the Kaigan subway line to Misaki-koen.
Nightlife & Eating Out in Kobe
Kobe's main nightlife areas are Sannomiya, Kitano and Motomachi.
Kobe has some of Japan's finest international restaurants due to the cosmopolitan mix of people in the area, with Chinese and Indian food to the fore; not to mention the local delicacy of Kobe beef.
Japan's most beautiful castle is a short 40 minute train ride away in Himeji.
Getting To & From Kobe
Kobe Airport has flights to Ibaraki, Ishigaki, Kagoshima, Naha (Okinawa), Nagasaki, Sapporo and Tokyo (Haneda). Kobe Airport is located on an artificial island just south of Port Island and connects to Kobe-Sannomiya Station by Port Liner trains.
The JR Sanyo Shinkansen bullet train stops at Shin-Kobe Station. About 1km south of Shin-Kobe Station, the interconnected JR Sannomiya Station and Kobe-Sannomiya Station is the main rail hub for intercity Hankyu, Hanshin and JR trains to Osaka and Kyoto.
There is a direct jet-foil boat to Kansai International Airport (KIX) from the Kobe City Air Terminal (KCAT) on Port Island, with buses to Sannomiya. There are also ferries to Beppu in Kyushu and also to Shikoku and Awaji Island. Ferries arrive and depart from Naka Pier, next to Port Tower, about 10 minutes south of Motomachi Station.
Getting Around Kobe
The center of Kobe can easily be walked especially the central areas around Sannomiya Station, the Motomachi Shopping Arcade, the Old Settlement area near Kobe City Hill, Daimaru Department Store and Kobe City Museum and up the hill to the ijinkan in Kitano.
Kobe subway is useful for making the transfer from Shin-Kobe Station after arrival by shinkansen to Sannomiya. The cheapest ticket on the Kobe subway is 210 yen.
Kobe City Loop
The most tourist-friendly bus service is the Kobe City Loop, on a retro-style bus that passes many of Kobe's main attractions starting from Kobe Port Tower to Harborland, Chinatown, Kobe City Museum, Sannomiya, Kitano Ijinkan, Shin-Kobe Station, Sannomiya Bus Terminal, City Hall and back to Kobe Port Tower and Meriken Park: 17 stops in all.
Showing the City Loop One-Day Pass gets you a discount at over 30 attractions along or near the route.
One ride: 260 yen for adults
Day pass: 660 yen for adults.
Buy your tickets on the City Loop Bus when you get on at any stop.
Bus/Subway One-Day Pass
A one-day pass is available for both Kobe subway and city bus (Shi Bus Chikatetsu Kyotsu Ichinichi Johsha Ken 市バス・地下鉄共通1日乗車券) for 1,030 yen.
A subway-only one-day card (Chikatetsu nichi Johsha Ken 地下鉄1日乗車券) costs 820 yen.
New U-Line Card
For a longer stay, depending on your needs, the New U-Line card is available for both bus and subway. The New U-Line Card is simply a pre-paid card deducted from with each use. Available in 1000-yen, and 3,000-yen (providing 3,200 yens' worth of travel). You also receive a 20 yen discount for each same-day transfer between a bus and a train.
Accommodation in Kobe
Kobe has a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets. Western-style international hotels include Hotel Sunroute Sopra Kobe, Crowne Plaza Kobe Hotel, the Hotel Isago Kobe near JR Shin-Kobe Station, the Sannomiya Terminal Hotel, a 4-star hotel attached to JR Sannomiya Station, the budget Green Hill Hotel Urban in Kitano and the APA Hotel Kobe-Sannomiya.
Sannomiya has the greatest concentration of hotels mainly clustered around the railway station. Choose from the usual chain hotels which all provide good value accommodation. These include the Kobe Tokyu Inn, the Toyoko Inn Kobe Sannomiya No.2 and the Daiwa Roynet Kobe Sannomya.
Awaji Island can easily be reached from Kobe by Express Bus from JR Shin-Kobe Station to Sumoto on Awaji (2 hours) and on to Tokushima on Shikoku. Alternatively take a JR train to Akashi and take the ferry (13 minutes).
Kobe Airport, named "Marine Air", opened February 2006 on a reclaimed island just south of Port Island, and has flights to and from seven cities: Kagoshima, Ishigaki, Nagasaki, Naha (Okinawa), Ibaraki, Sapporo and Tokyo (Haneda).
The flights are operated by JAL, ANA and Skymark. Flights to and from Kobe Airport run between 7am and 9pm.
Kobe Airport can be reached by Port Liner automated train from Sannomiya (320 yen; 16 minutes), bus, car or speed boat (30 minutes) from Kansai International Airport (service opened in 2006). Car parking fees are presently free for 1 day and 1,000 yen per day thereafter.