What to Do in Kobe? – A Definitive Guide to Kobe in Summer 2016
Kobe is small in size but large in character - check-out our guide to what to see, do and eat in the city.
Kobe, a major Kansai destination is an excellent destination for a day-trip or a longer stay, with much to see and do. An old city with Japan’s second largest port, its historic trading links with the west have afforded it some uniquely east-meets-west architecture that is characteristic of the city’s singular beauty.
Things to See:
Relax like a local in this fantastic onsen town. An onsen, for the unaware, is a hot spring said to be infused with the health-giving qualities of various vitamins and minerals, popular as a traditional form of relaxation. Arima Onsen is a famous hot spring town in Kobe with many different indoor and outdoor onsens and baths to choose from, all set within pleasant mountain scenery. To access, use the Kobe Railway to Arima Onsen Station.
Taiko no Yu Onsen is one of the best and largest modern hot spring facilities in the area. Aside from the baths, learn some onsen history in the on-site museum, complete with various replicas of historic baths. In addition, there are massage services, restaurants, shops and rest areas on offer.
Opening Hours: 10am – 11pm (entry until 10pm)
Price: 2,400 yen (2600 yen on weekends and during holidays)
Access: 7-minute walk from Kobe Railway Arima Onsen Station.
Check-out the Kitano Ijinkan district for an intimate look at the city’s past. The area was once the home of a number of wealthy foreign merchants and diplomats, with their homes now open to the public as museums. Japan’s up and down relationship with the rest of the world makes for thrilling history, something these houses give an excellent window into.
Price: 550 – 750 yen.
Access: Kitano-Cho is about a 10 to 15 minutes walk from either Sannomiya or Shin-Kobe Stations.
Nankinmachi is Kobe’s Chinatown, and the centre of the Kansai Region’s Chinese community. Originally developed by Chinese merchants who settled near Kobe Port in the 19th Century, Nankinmachi is now a popular tourist, shopping and dining district. There are shops, restaurants and food stands selling popular Chinese foods like steamed buns (Manju), ramen, Bubble Tea (tapioca drinks) and various other Chinese dishes, many of which have been somewhat Japanized.
Access: a 5-minute walk from Motomachi Station, 10 minutes from the southwest of Sannomiya Station or a 5 minute walk from Meriken Park.
Mount Rokko is the highest peak in the Rokko mountain range (931 meters), which provides a nice view of the city of Kobe and nearby Osaka. Also here is the Rokko Alpine Garden, a music box museum, a flower and sheep pasture, Japan’s first golf course and Rokko Garden Terrace, a tourist complex with a few restaurants, shops, and an observation deck.
Access: 20 minutes from Rokko Cable Shita Station, 13 minutes from Rokko Cable Sanjo Station and 12 minutes from Rokko Arima Ropeway.
Shin-Kobe Ropeway is one of three services that lifts tourists up the southern slopes of the Rokko mountain chain. The ropeway departs from next to Shin-Kobe Station, Kobe’s shinkansen station. As it ascends, it passes by the Nunobiki Waterfall, giving an unbeatable view. The observation deck located at the top offers a nice view of Kobe and is particularly popular at night.
Access: From Shin-Kobe Station
Nofukuji Temple is a temple complex particularly notable for its giant Buddha Statue. The legend states this marks the spot of the arrival of Tendai Buddhism and the belief in Shaka in Japan. Though famous, the statue is relatively new, with the original Buddha damaged during the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.
Opening Hours: 9am-5pm
Access: 10 minutes walk from Hyogo Station
Kobe’s Nunobiki Falls is one of the sources of the region’s famously vitalic water. It consists of four falls: Ontaki, Mentaki, Meotodaki and Tsutsumigadaki, with Ontaki as the most famous for its 43m height. Walking around the area, taking in the luscious nature, is a real joy and a welcome break from the rush of the city.
Access: 12 minutes walk from Shin-Kobe Station.
Rokko Alpine Garden
Opened in 1933, Rokko Alpine Garden is the oldest botanical garden in Japan. It is home to around 1,500 different types of rare alpine plants from cold climes. The garden is located at 865m and is in bloom almost all year long.
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday: 10am – 5pm (Last admission: 4:30pm)
Price: 620 yen for Adults and 310 yen for children.
Access: From the Sanjo Station at Rokko Cable Car, take the Rokko Sanjo Bus, and get off at “Alpine Botanical Garden.”
Sorakuen garden is a traditional Japanese garden in the center of Kobe, first opened in 1941 as the private garden of Kodera Kenkichi, a former mayor. Unfortunately, all of the original buildings were destroyed in the war, except for a solitary stable. The former home of a foreign trader, the Hassam House was moved into the Sorakuen Garden from the Kitano district (Foreigners Residence) in 1961.
Opening Hours: 9 am – 5 pm (Last Admissions: 4:30 pm), closed on Thursday.
Price: 300 yen
Access: 10 minutes walk from Motomachi Station.
Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum
The Earthquake Memorial Museum is part of the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution which was opened in 2002 to commemorate the tragic event and to educate visitors about earthquakes and disaster prevention. On January 17th, 1995 at 5:46 am Kobe was hit by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (7.3 Richter scales), resulting in the death of more than 5,000 people and the destruction of tens of thousands of homes. The museum includes a large screen theatre with realistic images of the earthquake’s destruction, a documentary film about the recovery process and various interactive games about disaster prevention.
Opening Hours: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm (6 pm July to September and 7 pm Fridays and Saturdays)
Price: 600 yen
Access: 10 minutes walk from Iwaya Station
Kobe City Museum
The Kobe City Museum is a local history museum, housing the largest collection of Namban art (art from the initial days of contact with the West) in Japan. The most interesting exhibits are those about how western influences made their way into Japanese culture and society. The museum also has special exhibitions at regular intervals.
Opening Hours: 10 am – 5 pm (9:30 am – 5:30 pm during special exhibitions)
Price: 500 yen but can be higher during special exhibitions.
Access: 10 minutes walk from either Motomachi or Sannomiya Station or 5 minutes walk from Meriken Park.
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art is a contemporary art museum, built as part of the city’s recovery efforts from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and designed by Ando Tadao, one of Japan’s leading contemporary architects. The art museum is the largest in western Japan, and hosts exhibitions of paintings, prints, sculptures and other artwork by both foreign and Japanese artists. The museum also has auditoriums and event space for live music and performing arts.
Opening Hours: 10 am – 6 pm (8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays during special exhibitions) Closed on Mondays
Access: Ten minutes walk from Iwaya Station on the Hanshin Main Line or in a 15 minutes walk from Nada Station.
Food and Drink:
Kobe Beef is one of the priciest and most popular regional speciality in the area, world-famous for its distinct flavour and tenderness. It is one of several breeds of Wagyu Beef (Japanese Beef) produced from pedigreed Tajima breed cattle, all of which are born and slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture. Only the highest grades of meat with exceptionally high levels of fat marbling earn the Kobe Beef label, which is a strictly guarded trademark.
Kobe Beef is usually served as steak, shabu shabu (thin slices of meat quickly boiled in a broth) or sukiyaki (meat slices simmered in a hot pot). One of the best ways to enjoy Kobe Beef is at a teppanyaki restaurant, where a chef grills the meat on an iron plate in front of the guests.
Price: Prices differ from the restaurant to restaurant you will go, but typically a standard meal will cost between 8,000 and 30,000 yen per person. Be aware that some restaurants can sell their meat as Kobe beef but in fact is a typical Wagyu Beef from a Kobe farm. The taste is similar but the tenderness and the flavour are not quite the same.
Opening Hours: 11 am – 9 pm
Adress: 1-7-21 Yamamotodori, Chuo-ku, Kobe 650-0003, Hyogo Prefecture
Opening Hours: 12 pm – 10 pm
Adress: 1-1 Kitanocho, Chuo-ku | Shinkobe Oriental Avenue 3F, Kobe 650-0002, Hyogo Prefecture
Opening Hours: 11:30 am – 3 pm, 5 – 10pm
Adress: 4-7-11 Kanocho Chuo-Ku | Palais Kitanozaka 1F, Kobe 650-0001, Hyogo Prefecture
Nada Sake District
The Nada Sake District is Japan’s top sake (rice wine) producing area in the Kobe region. It has long been famous for its sake due to the availability of high-quality rice, suitable water, and favourable weather conditions. Many sake breweries operate in the Nada district, which stretches approximately three kilometres east to west. Some stores and exhibition rooms are open to the public and allow guests to taste their sake. A couple of them also maintain museums explaining the process of sake brewing. A trip round Nada takes 1.5 hours, here is a map to ease your transit.
Access: 6 minutes from Sumiyoshi Station.
Opening Hours: 10am – 6pm
Adress: 1-9-1 Uosakinishimachi, Higashinada-ku,Kobe 658-0026, Hyogo Prefecture
Opening Hours: 10 am -6 pm
Adress: 1 Chome-8-17 Mikagetsukamachi, Higashinada Ward, Hyogo Prefecture 658-0044
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 5pm
Adress: Kobe, Higashi Nada-ku Uozaki Minami-machi 4-4-6
Shopping and Entertainment:
Kobe Harborland is a shopping and entertainment district between the Meriken Park and JR Kobe Station. It offers a large selection of restaurants, cafes, shops, and amusement arcades, perfect for winding down after a day hiking or sightseeing in the city. The romantic evening atmosphere has made it a popular spot for couples and tourists.
Mall complex Mosaic, along the waterfront, offers a wide selection of restaurants overlooking the harbour with views of Kobe Port Tower and the Kobe Maritime Museum. Close by the Ferris wheel and Anpanman Museum are great spots for kids.
Price: 1500 yen for Anpanman Museum
Access: From Kobe Station and the Harborland Subway Station.
Meriken Park Area
Meriken Park in Kobe’s port, is home to some of the city’s most iconic contemporary architecture including Kobe Port Tower – a unique, red-painted steel structure that has become a symbol of the port and the city as a whole, as well as the Kobe Maritime Museum. The park was devastated in 1995 by the Great Hanshin Earthquake but still remains a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. A small memorial in the park commemorates victims who were killed in the port during the earthquake. A short section of damaged waterfront has also been left unrepaired as a reminder of the devastation.
Price: 600 yen (both museums), 700 yen (tower only) and 1000 yen (both museums and Port Tower)
Access: 10 minutes walk from south of Motomachi Station
Events in 2016:
Samba Festa Kobe
Samba teams from across Japan gather in Kobe, which is known as the home of samba in Japan, to present a flamboyant show with dancing and Samba Shows. It takes place in late July in Kobe Harborland.
Minato Kobe Sea Fireworks
Held in Kobe Harborland, this is Hyogo Prefecture’s largest fireworks show. 10,000 Fireworks are launched against Port Island’s night skyline from Kita Park, with numerous good vantage points available accross the city.
Opening Hours: Between 19:30-20:30
Price: 3,100 yen. Advanced tickets can be bought from various vendors (Ticket-pia, LAWSON Ticket, etc.). Ticket costs are refunded in the event of bad weather.
Nankinmachi Mid-autumn Festival
Nankinmachi Festival is a Chinese festival held in mid-September to early October in Chinatown. China has a festival for each of the four seasons: Lunar New Year, the Dragon Boat Festival in summer, the Mid-autumn Festival and Winter Solstice. The mid-autumn festival, which is the second largest festival after Chinese New Year, celebrates the autumn harvest and honours the gods of the earth. At this time of year, the moon, worshipped since ancient times, is at its fullest. In China, it represents harmony and completeness, and the round dinner table represents a happy family. The mid-autumn festival in Nankinmachi has lion dances, and the chefs show off their skills with special seasonal menus.
Kobe Jazz Street
Kobe is the birthplace of Japanese jazz. This jazz event is the largest festival of the autumn in Kobe, held in early October in the Kitano district and others venues across the city. Walk around and simply take it all in.
Opening Hours: 12:00- 17:00
Price: 4,500 yen for one day and 8,500 yen for both days. Jazz Night Special tickets require reservations and are 15,500 yen (including a one-day pass) and 18,900 yen (with a two-day pass) to enjoy unlimited music.
Motomachi Music Week
The 19th Motomachi Music Week begins on the 1st October through until the 9th in the Motomachi Shopping Arcade and surrounding areas. The event has a long history of introducing western culture, including clothes and food, to Japan.
Price: A One Day Pass is 1,000 yen (weekday) and 2,000 yen (Sat, Sun and holidays). A limited number (999) of week passes are available for 3,000 yen.
Arima Grand Tea Ceremony
Arima Grand Tea Ceremony is held on November 2nd and 3rd in Zenpukuji. The eveny began in 1950 in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a great lover of Arima in order to preserve the scenic beauty of Arima Onsen and the spirit of the tea ceremony. Enjoy the open-air tea ceremony and the autumn colours at Zuihoji Park, where extra seating is provided.
Opening Hours: 9:30 – 15:30
Price: Advance ticket 10,000 yen and General ticket 11,000 yen
The Kobe Luminarie is held in the Old Foreign Settlement and Higaghi-Yuenchi Park (Chuo Ward) from December 1st to the 12th. Luminare is derived from the Italian, Illuminazione Per Feste (lighting for celebration), a festival of light. This decorative art originated and flourished at the end of the Renaissance in the latter half of the 16th century.
The Kobe Luminarie lights up the city streets, an event that aims to memorialise the victims of the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake and as a prayer for the revitalization and resurrection of the city. The event occurs annually and is visually stunning. Food is available and only a small 100 yen donation is asked for.