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.
Kōbe (神戸) is a city in the Hyogo Perfecture of Japan.
A cosmopolitan port city with an international flavor, hemmed in by Mt. Rokko, Kōbe is often ranked as the best place for expatriates to live in Japan. The city has a population of over 1.5 million people.
History of Kobe
A port in what would become Kōbe was established as a concession to western powers in 1868, during the time when Japan was opening to the world. Nagasaki and Yokohama had already begun serving foreign ships nine years earlier. Today, a synagogue, Japan’s first mosque, Japan’s first Sikh temple, a Chinatown, and European architecture mark Kōbe as a place where foreigners and foreign culture first arrived in Japan.
Great Hanshin Earthquake
At 5:46 AM JST on January 17, 1995, the Great Hanshin Earthquake, measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale, struck near the city. The quake killed 6,433 people, made 300,000 people homeless and destroyed 10,000 buildings and large parts of the port facilities, and toppled the Hanshin Expressway, an elevated freeway. It was one of the most costly natural disasters in modern history. However, visitors will not see any of the aftermath of the quake as the city has been restored.
Kobe Airport is on reclaimed land
- Kobe Airport (神戸空港). Built on reclaimed land in front of the harbor, opened in February 2006. The airport handles domestic flights only: both Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) have flights to Kobe from Tokyo Haneda, Sapporo, Sendai, Okinawa, and Kagoshima. ANA also offers service from Niigata, while JAL has flights from Kumamoto. A low-cost airline, Skymark, operates cheap flights to/from Tokyo, Naha, Ibaraki, Kagoshima, Nagasaki, and Sapporo.
From Kobe Airport, the Port Liner light rail to Sannomiya Station runs about every 10 minutes (18 minutes, ¥330). Sannomiya Station offers connections to the Japan Rail (JR), Hanshin, Hankyu and subway lines. From there, a small trip on the subway will link you to the Shin-Kobe bullet train station (¥200). If coming from Sannomiya to the airport, be sure to board a train marked “Kobe Airport”, as some head to the Kita Futo branch line instead.
Kansai International Airport is 70km from Kobe and is the nearest international airport. The quickest way to get there is on the Kaijo Access high-speed ferry from Kobe Airport, which runs every 45 minutes (29 minutes, ¥1,850 or ¥1,000 for foreign visitors). However, if you are coming from or going to Sannomiya Station or Rokko Island, it’s nearly as fast and less of a hassle to take the Airport Limousine bus (60-75 minutes, ¥1,980 one-way, ¥3,080 round-trip). Alternatively, you can take the JR Kanku Kaisoku (関空快速) rapid to Osaka station and change there to the Shin-kaisoku (新快速 – Special Rapid) that runs to both Sannomiya and Kobe stations (90 minutes, ¥2,410).
Itami Airport, officially known as Osaka International Airport is 30 km northeast of Kobe. Airport buses operate service to/from Sannomiya Station (40 minutes, ¥1,050).
The central business district and many attractions are near Sannomiya station, 1.7km south of Shin-Kobe Station. Sannomiya station. Sannomiya station has a tourist information office well-stocked with area maps. Be sure to ask for the coupon book, which offers discounts of 10% to 20% for many attractions. The Japanese characters for Sannomiya station on Japan Railways (三ノ宮) differ from the Sannomiya station on other railways (三宮).
The nearest station on Japan’s high-speed shinkansen network is at Shin-Kobe station. From Tokyo station, Shin-Kobe is 2 hours, 50 minutes away via Nozomi (¥14,670); 3 hours and 20 minutes via Hikari (¥14,270; no charge with the Japan Railway Pass). From Shin-Kobe station, take the Seishin Yamate subway line one stop to Sannomiya (¥200).
From Osaka, there are several ways to arrive in Sannomiya:
- Trains on the Hankyu and Hanshin private lines depart respectively from Hankyu-Umeda and Hanshin-Umeda stations. The Tokkyu (特急) express takes around half an hour to reach Sannomiya (¥310).
- Hanshin trains also operate to Kobe from Namba station. Kaisoku Kyuko (快速急行) trains depart every 20 minutes, reaching Sannomiya in 45 minutes at a cost of ¥400. In some instances you may have to switch trains at Amagasaki.
- The best option via JR is to take the Shin-kaisoku (新快速 – Special Rapid) or Kaisoku (快速 – Rapid) service that departs from JR Osaka station, running to Sannomiya in 20 and 26 minutes, respectively (¥390, no charge with the Japan Railway Pass).
From Kyoto, Sannomiya is 50 minutes away from the main train station via Shin-kaisoku (¥1,050; no charge with the Japan Railway Pass). You can also make the run to the area in 30 minutes via bullet train, but it is more expensive, and if you have the rail pass, you can only take one train every hour without changing trains (the Hikari that runs through to Okayama).
From the central area of Kyoto (near Gion and the shopping district), you can reach Sannomiya in 70 minutes via Hankyu limited express, changing once at Juso station (¥600). Hankyu trains depart from the Kawaramachi and Karasuma stations.
From Nara, direct Kintetsu trains operate to Sannomiya Station on the Hanshin line via Namba every 20 minutes (75 minutes, ¥940).
Kobe is served by highway buses from many parts of Japan, including Tokyo, Nagoya, Nagano, and the Chugoku, Shikoku and Kyushu regions. Most buses congregate at the Sannomiya Bus Terminal (三宮バスターミナル), adjacent to the Sannomiya train station. Others pick up and discharge passengers in the surrounding streets. Willer Express, for example, uses an area near the PMPT building about a kilometer west of the bus terminal.
Willer Express and JR Bus are among the major operators running buses from Tokyo to Kobe. Tickets for these and several other operators can be purchased online in English. One-way advance fares typically start at ¥3500 for high-density buses with 2×2 seating, and ¥5000 for buses with better seats and more amenities. Trips take 9-10 hours, with most buses leaving from either the Yaesu Exit of Tokyo Station or the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (Busta Shinjuku).
Keio Bus and Shinki Bus operate the fastest overnight bus from Tokyo. The service starts at Busta Shinjuku and picks up at Shibuya Mark City on the way to Kobe, operating nonstop between Shibuya and Kobe in just 7 hours. The one-way fare is ¥8000, with advance fares available for around ¥6000-7000.
Several ferry services are available from Kobe, including routes to/from:
- Takamatsu: Jumbo Ferry, +81 87-811-6688. 3 1/2 hours; ¥1,600.
- Kitakyushu: Hankyu Ferry, +81 78-857-1211. 12 hours; ¥6,680+.
- Oita: Ferry Sunflower, +81 120-56-3268. 6.5 hours; from ¥11,200.
- Shanghai: Japan-China Ferry, +81 6-6536-6541 (Japan) or +86-21-6325-7642 (China). 45 hours; from ¥20,000+.
Cheapest overnight offers consists in a futton on a carpet in a shared room.
If you are planning to travel beyond city limits you might want to consider using the Kansai Thru Pass.
There are some other useful tickets:
ICOCA Card is a rechargeable card that can be used on rail, subway, and bus networks in Kansai area, Okayama, Hiroshima, Nagoya (Kintetsu) and Tokyo (JR East). These cards are available at vending machines at these rail stations, and cost ¥2,000, which includes ¥1,500 in transportation credit and a ¥500 deposit that will be refunded when the card is returned at JR West Station.
The Hankyu (阪急), Hanshin (阪神) and JR lines cross Kōbe in a west-east direction, and provide the cheapest and quickest way to travel across town. Each of these three lines have their own station located around the busy central Sannomiya shopping district and each provide access to different points of interest.
For visitors with a Japan Railway Pass, JR will be of the most use. Shin-kaisoku (新快速 – Special Rapid) trains stop at both Sannomiya and Kōbe stations and provide the best way to travel west towards Akashi and Himeji or east towards Kyoto and Osaka. Boarding a Futsu (普通 – Local) from either Sannomiya or Kōbe stations will allow you to easy access to Motomachi (for Nankin-machi and Meriken-park) Nada (for the sake brewing district and museums) Rokkomichi (for buses to Mt. Rokko) and Sumiyoshi (for the Rokko Liner to Rokko Island).
The Hankyu and Hanshin lines are of less use to tourists but you may be forced to use them to visit certain sights. Koshien Stadium, home of the baseball team the Hanshin Tigers, is easily accessible from Hanshin Koshien Station and both lines provide service to Shinkaichi for transfer to the private Kobe Dentetsu line and access to the famed Arima Onsen hot-spring district.
Kōbe has two subway lines. The Kaigan Line runs along the coast, and the Seishin-Yamate Line runs toward the mountains. Both are more expensive than ordinary trains and unlikely to be of use for the traveler, except when connecting to Shin-Kōbe, the station located north of the city where the Sanyo Shinkansen stops. The small jaunt between Shin-Kobe and Sannomiya costs ¥200. If you want to explore Kobe, there is a one-day-pass for both lines (1日乗車券; Ichinichijoshaken), costing ¥800 (children: ¥400) or subway plus bus for ¥1000 (children: ¥500).
North of Shin-Kobe station, the Yamate subway runs over the Hokushin Express Line. Trains run 7.5 km under ground and terminate at Tanigami Station, from which you can transfer to the Shintetsu Arima Line for Arima-guchi Station and Arima Onsen.
By light rail
The automated Port Liner links Sannomiya to the reclaimed port district south of the city, and continues over the Kobe Sky Bridge to Kobe Airport. Likewise, the Rokko Liner links the Rokko Island area to JR Sumiyoshi station. Both are operated by Kōbe New Transit.
Kobe has a comprehensive city bus system, which is often your best choice when travelling to areas located north of the city, away from the predominately east-west running train and subway lines. Schedules and boarding locations can be obtained from the tourist information office below JR and Hankyu Sannomiya stations.
The city also operates a loop-line tourist bus that travels around scenic spots and famous tourist locations in Kobe including the Kitano Ijinkan streets, Nankin-machi and Meriken Park. These distinctive old-fashioned green buses can be boarded are 15 stops between the Shin-Kobe area and Harborland and cost ¥250 for a single loop or ¥650 for a day pass. Boarding locations are indicated by green and red signs on the side of the road. Buses run at 15-20 minute intervals and one loop takes approximately 70 minutes.
Kobe has several ropeways that travel up Mount Rokko. One that is near a major station is the Shin-Kobe Ropeway, a 5-minute walk from Shin-Kobe station. The ropeway, reputed to have one of Kobe’s best scenic views, runs up to the Nunobiki Herb Park. Adults ¥550 one-way, ¥1000 round-trip. Combination tickets are also sold which include the Nunobiki Herb Park (see below).
Kōbe is narrow in the north-south direction, but long in the west-east direction. Since much of it is built on a hill, a reasonable itinerary is to take the bus up the hill, and walk down. If you get lost, find the mountains or the harbour. The mountains are in the north, and the harbour’s in the south.
German house, Ijinkan
What to see and do
Kobe’s main attraction for the Japanese is its concentration of Western-style houses, some dating back to the days when Kobe was opened for foreign trade in 1868. Europeans who grew up in similar scenery may find them less fascinating.
- Kitano Ijinkan (異人館) (walking distance from either Sannomiya or Shin-Kobe stations). Kōbe’s main attractions are the Ijinkan (foreign houses). These are 19th-century residences of Kobe’s foreign traders, clustered in the Kitano area.
- Kyu-kyoryuchi (旧居留地) (near Motomachi station (Hanshin Line or JR Line)). This is where foreign consulates and trading companies built their offices. Several 19th-century buildings have been converted into restaurants and shops. Notable buildings include Chartered Square, once the Chartered Bank branch and the 15th Building (十五番館), once the American consulate. The area is also packed full of high-fashion boutiques such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Fendi.
- Chinatown (南京町, nankinmachi). The original settlement of Chinese merchants. Today, it is rather touristy though it offers some “Japanised” versions of Chinese food such as pork buns (豚饅頭 buta-manjū). Its architecture is still rather pleasant though.
- Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum (竹中大工道具館) (Next to Shin-Kobe station). 9:30-16:30. A very nice exploration of hand carpentry tools, from the stone axes of Jomon age to the Western influenced tools of yesterday. Hands-on exhibits and English language descriptions make this a pleasant place to spend the afternoon. ¥300.
- Tetsujin 28 statue (Kobe project) (2 blocks west of the Shin-Nagata stop on the JR line). A 18 meter tall statue of a manga robot that was built to help rebuild the Nagata ward of Kobe both financially and morally after the great earthquake. The Nagata ward was one of the worst hit areas and the character of the statue has a long history to Japan as a whole and specifically this area.
- Weathercock House. Arguably the most-often photographed house among the Ijinkan
- Kobe Port Tower, 5-5 Hatobacho, Chuo Ward (In Meriken Park). 9AM-9PM. Built in 1962, it is the world’s first sightseeing tower with a pipe structure. The unofficial symbol of the city. 108m tall. 5 levels of observatories. ¥700.
- Observation deck on the 24th Floor of Kobe City Hall, 6-5-1 Kano-cho, Chuo-ku (6 minute walk south from Sannoyima). Weekday: 8:15-22:00; Weekend/holiday: 10:00-22:00. Offers nice bay and mountain views of Kobe. Free.
What to do
- MOSAIC. Kobe’s playground. There are restaurants, bars, a movie theatre, a shopping market, an amusement arcade and a little amusement park. Harbour cruises are offered, some of which go as far as the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge
- Mt. Rokko (六甲山 Rokko-san) and its Rock Garden, the first an easy cable car trip for suitable romantic evenings, the second a light day’s hiking with an excellent view. The view over the glittering expanse of Osaka Bay is canonized as one of the Three Great Night Views. The Mt. Rokko and adjacent Mt. Maya cable car routes close at 17:10, or 20:50 in the summer.
- Nunobiki Falls (布引の滝, Nunobiki no taki) (Near the Herb Garden; a 15 minute walk up Mt. Rokko from Shin Kobe station, get a hiking map at the station or take the cable car near the Crown Plaza (¥900 or ¥720 with coupon available in discount book)). Four waterfalls that empty into the Ikuta River. The largest is 43m high.
Parks and gardens
- Meriken Park (メリケンパーク). Located on the harborfront has a poignant memorial to the devastating Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, which killed 6,433 people.
- Fruit Flower Park (フルーツ・フラワーパーク) (35 min by bus from Sannomiya). 10AM-6PM (except on holidays). Surrounded by a lot of flowers and greenery. Many people hold their wedding ceremonies here every year. In spring, the park becomes even more beautiful as about 10,000 tulips bloom.
- Sōraku-en Garden (相楽園) (10 minute walk from Motomachi Station; 15-20 minutes from Sannomiya Station). 9:30-16:30. A nice Japanese-style garden in the middle of the city. Very good value and a great attraction to see after going through the Ijinkan area. ¥300; ¥260 with discount coupon available from tourist information booths.
Nunobiki Herb Garden
- Nunobiki Herb Garden (布引ハーブ園) (Shin-Kobe Ropeway, near Shin-Kobe station). 10AM-5PM, or 8:30PM in summer. 40-acre garden on Mount Rokko. It is accessible by the Shin-Kobe Ropeway, near Shin-Kobe station. It features over 200 varieties of herbs, as well as greenhouses, exhibitions, and a restaurant. Adults, including the round-trip ride on the Ropeway: ¥1,400, one-way ropeway: ¥900.
- Oji Zoo (王子動物園) (walking distance from Hankyu Oji Koen station 王子公園駅 or JR Nada 灘駅 station). 9 AM to 4:30PM from March to October and 9AM to 4PM November–February. Besides animals, there is a mini amusement park with rides for young children Adults: ¥600; Children: ¥200.
Festivals and events
- Kobe Luminaire. Early to mid-December, check the website for exact dates. Japan’s best display of lights. Large, flamboyant light displays. The lights and the event itself have a deeper meaning: The luminaries began in 1995 after the Great Hanshin Earthquake devastated the city of Kobe. Each light is said to represent one life lost during in the earthquake.
- Kobe Collection (神戸コレクション). Fashion event popular with young women.
- Kobe Jazz Street (神戸ジャズストリート). October. Famous Jazz event in Japan.
Kōbe’s shopping is clustered around the Sannomiya train station and the Center-Gai shopping arcade leading off from it. Many of the unassuming little cafes and specialty shops in the arcade in fact have histories tracing back well over a hundred years.
Piazza Kōbe (ピアザ神戸) and Motokō Town (モトコータウン) are the two names of essentially one long arcade where all manner of second-hand goods are sold. These stores are underneath the JR lines, running from Sannomiya station, past Motomachi Station, to Kōbe Station. Motoko sells a variety of things such as books, clothes, shoes, accessories, knives, lighters, toys…… You can get heaps of things.
- Harbor Land (adjacent to Kobe station). This is a modern shopping and dining area, developed on the edge of the Kobe Bay.
- Junkudo (7th floor of the big DAIEI building in front of Sannomiya station and 5th floor of JR Sumiyoshi station). +81 78-252-0777. Open daily 10 AM to 9 PM. Huge bookstore with big selection of English books and magazines.
Kobe has many Halal restaurants offering international cuisine.
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.
Muslim Friendly Hotels in Kobe
- ANA Crowne Plaza Kobe
- Chisun Hotel Kobe
- Hotel Monterey Amalie Kobe
- Hotel Monterey Kobe
- Kobe Bay Sheraton Hotel & Towers
- Kobe Sannomiya Union Hotel
- Meriken Park Oriental Hotel Kobe
- Sunroute Sopra Hotel Kobe
- the b kobe Hotel
- Tokyu Inn Kobe
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.