Backpacking Japan: The Best Things To Do In Kobe

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Kobe is a port city located on Osaka Bay that is known for its trademark marbled beef as well as its scenic location between the sea and the mountains. One of the best cities in Japan, it is also home to one of Japan’s oldest Shinto shrines, antique cable cars, and outdoor hot springs. Here are ten of the best things to do in Kobe.

Explore Meriken Park

Sitting alongside Kobe’s port is a charming waterfront area of grassy lawns, fountains and modern art installations called Meriken Park. Destroyed by the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, the park has since been rebuilt. It has become the site of some of the city’s more iconic contemporary architecture such as the Kobe Port Tower and the Kobe Maritime Museum.

There is also a small memorial in the form of the damaged waterfront that has been left unrepaired. It’s there to serve both as a reminder of the destructive power of the earthquake and as a tribute to the victims of the devastating event.

In the center of the park is the striking white frame of the Kobe Maritime Museum resembling a pair of sails. The building is half given to the history of shipping in Kobe’s port and displays several historic vessels. However, the other half is occupied by the Kawasaki Good Times World; home to various products of Kawasaki Heavy Industries such as jet planes, the world-famous bullet train and motorcycles.

Admission to both museums costs 600 yen (1000 yen if combined with entry to the Port Tower) and they are open between 10:00 to 17:00.

View The City From The Kobe Port Tower

Tower Japan
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Kobe Port Tower is an iconic red steel tower that has come to serve as the symbol of the city.  Located just a short walk west of the Maritime Museum, the 108 meters tall tower was built in 1963. Visitors can take an elevator up to the restaurants, rotating café and three observation decks at its summit.

Admission costs 700 yen (1000 yen if combined with entry to the Maritime Museum). It  is well worth the fee thanks to the panoramic 360-degree view of the city attained from the top. The tower is open every day from 9:00 to 21:00 (December to February until 19:00). Also, it is best visited on a cloudless day for views that stretch well into the surrounding mountains.

Nearby is the Nakatottei Chuo Terminal from which sightseeing boats depart on two-hour cruises of the Osaka Bay area and Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, costing from 1100 to 3300 yen.

Dine On Kobe Beef

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Even those travelers who are unfamiliar with Kobe city will undoubtedly be acquainted with its namesake, the famous marbled beef. It is the most well-known of all the domestically-bred Wagyu beef breeds and is a staple gourmet experience for foreign travelers in Japan. The prized delicacy is valued for the tender, flavorsome meat that is a product of its signature fat marbling.

There are many forms in which Kobe beef can be enjoyed. Visitors can choose from teppanyaki (grilled on a flat iron plate), shabu-shabu (flash-boiled in a broth with vegetables), sukiyaki (simmered in a tasty hot pot), or simply as a sumptuous steak.

The strict series of requirements to earn the label of Kobe beef is rigorous. So, you can expect to pay between 8,000 and 30,000 yen per person for a full meal. While this may seem expensive for a single dish, the melt-in-your-mouth sensation of perfectly-cooked Kobe beef is a high-end dining experience unlike any other. It is certainly well  worth devoting some of your budget towards.

Wander The Streets Of Chinatown

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While smaller than its sibling in Yokohama, Nankinmachi’s charm lies in its compact size and easily-explored layout. This Chinatown is the center of Kansai’s Chinese community with a history dating back to 1868.

Nankinmachi is now a popular district with tourists which echoes the port city’s metropolitan feel. Two bisecting streets are lined with a glutton of options for dining. Food stalls sell succulent items such as manju steamed buns, spring rolls, tapioca drinks, Chinese-style ramen, and an assortment of other dishes.

Nankinmachi is just five minutes south of Motomachi Station, ten minutes from Sannomiya Station or a five-minute walk north of Meriken Park.

Raise A Glass In Kobe’s Sake District

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Thanks to the high-quality of rice, freshwater sources and favorable weather of the wider-Kobe area, the port city has long been producing and distributing the finest sake in the country. Additionally, Kobe’s Nada district is home to numerous sake breweries. It stretches around three kilometers east to west which makes for an entertaining half-day walk.

Many of these breweries have stores and exhibition rooms open to the public. The Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum is a good place to begin your exploration. This is thanks to its comprehensive English guidance and sake tasting. It can be reached by foot from Sumiyoshi Station after a 10-minute ride on the Hanshin Railways Line from Sannomiya Station (190 yen).

Visit Historic Kitano

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Nestled at the foot of the Rokko mountains is the district of Kitano-cho; a 19th-century relic of the Port of Kobe’s foreign mercantile and diplomatic activity. There are many impressive former mansions or ‘Ijinkan’ that are also open to the public. They give a rare insight into Japan’s fascinating and turbulent foreign policy through history.

Most of the Ijinkan charge an admission fee of around 600 yen. However, combination tickets are available from participating houses and ticket desks, giving you entry to multiple mansions.

Kitano-cho is accessible by foot with a 15-minute walk from either Sannomiya or Shin-Kobe Stations.

Feast On Akashiyaki

Japanese Food
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Visitors to Osaka will be familiar with takoyaki. While at a glance, takoyaki, and akashiyaki look very similar, these two finger foods are completely different. Where takoyaki uses flour, akashiyaki uses egg alongside chunks of octopus and soup stock. These fresh ingredients are pan-fried to form succulent balls of flavor that are best-eaten piping-hot.

Perhaps the most famous store for kushiyaki in Kobe is Kikucho, just a 3-minute walk from Sannomiya Station. Open until late, you can enjoy akashiyaki at all times of the day. At around 600 yen per serving, this tasty snack provides a cheap alternative to Kobe beef. It’s also an unforgettable experience for those looking to sample the local delicacies.

Find Peace At Ikuta Shrine

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Ikuta Shrine is an island of tranquility hidden among the small bustling lanes of Sannomiya. Said to be one of the oldest Shinto shrines in the country, there is evidence of the Ikuta having been constructed by the Empress Jingu at the beginning of the 3rd century AD.

The shrine has survived wars both ancient and modern, as well as the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. It endures as a symbol of hope for local residents. The best times to experience the shrine are New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. This is when people throng the streets to celebrate Hatsumode. However, you can also visit in the fall when the trees surrounding the koi pond are set ablaze by the turning leaves.

The shrine is located just 10 minutes walk from Sannomiya Station and entry is free. So, there really is no reason for you not to visit.

Ascend Mount Rokko

Japanese Kobe
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Japan is by no means short on city views. From Hokkaido’s Hakodate down to the very southern tip of Kagoshima, the country is dotted with twinkling vistas. However, the 931.6 meters high peak of Rokko Saikoho provides something truly special. At the top of the Rokko cable car is the Mount Rokko Tenrandai; an observation platform that looks out over the sprawling metropolises of Kobe and Osaka.

The nighttime view over the glittering port is popularly referred to as Japan’s “10 million-dollar view”. However, there are also plenty of attractions to enjoy on a daytime visit. This includes a botanical garden, floral pastures, and Japan’s first golf course as well as the restaurants and shops of Rokko Garden Terrace.

The Hankyu Kobe Line runs to Rokko Station from Kobe’s Sannomiya Station, taking 7 minutes and costing 190 yen. From here you can take the number 16 bus for 10 minutes to the base station of the Rokko Cablecar. The cablecar ride takes 10 minutes and costs 590 yen one way or 1000 yen for a return ticket. However, the more adventurous may choose to hike instead.

Relax At Arima Onsen

Japanese Kobe
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On the other side of Mount Rokko lies the quaint hot spring town of Arima Onsen. While the town lays within the city limits of Kobe, Arima offers a glimpse into a different side of Japan. You can easily explore narrow lanes and traditional wooden buildings on foot. This then gives you a taste for the resort’s history which is said to date back over one thousand years.

Visitors can discover beautiful shrines and temples as well as two types of hot spring sources; the iron-infused Kinsen “gold water” and the clear Ginsen “silver water”. For those wishing to experience the healing properties of the springs first-hand, there are two public bathhouses as well as the town’s many ryokans. They also open their doors to day-trippers. A visit to the baths will cost you between 500 and 2500 yen.

A trip to Arima Onsen is best combined with a visit to Mount Rokko. The town is accessed via the Rokko cablecar. From the top station, you can take the circular bus line to the Rokko Arima Ropeway. This takes 10 minutes and costs 260 yen. Also, the cablecar will take you down to Arima Onsen at a cost of 1010 yen one way or 1820 yen for the round trip.

You can also get the best value from your trip by purchasing the “Rokko Arima Katamichi Joshaken” ticket. For 1750 yen this includes a one-way ride on the cable car and ropeway. There’s also unlimited use of the bus line on Mount Rokko.


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