August 11, 2012

Day Trips to Kobe

Kobe is a city that is perhaps underrated among tourists to Japan. People kept telling me it was a beautiful city, but all I knew about it was that it was famous for the 1995 earthquake, and beef... with the result that my image of Kobe was a mixture of rubble and cows.

After numerous day trips to Kobe, which is only a half hour train ride from Osaka, I can now say that it is one of my absolute favourite cities in Japan. This list is highly subject to change, depending on my mood, or who I'm talking to (tip: when talking to an Osakan, Osaka is without a doubt your favourite city). But Kobe is a city I could live in. It reminds me of New Zealand in many ways, and some areas and landscapes are so familiar that we would keep saying things like 'I feel like we're in Queenstown', or 'doesn't this remind you of Wellington?' Being able to see the mountains, as well as the gorgeous harbour, may be some reasons for these waves of sentimentalism for home.
Kobe harbour (complete with Kobe tower) on a sunny day
Ferris wheel at Kobe Harbourland 
It could just be that Kobe is something of a chameleon. During its history as a port and trade city, all sorts of foreign settlements were established in Kobe, leaving behind unique neighborhoods and architecture around the city. One example is Nankinmachi, Kobe's vibrant Chinatown. A walk down this street - marked by its golden Chinese lanterns, bright red restaurants and food stalls, and a distinct scent of dumplings - and it's easy to forget you're even in Japan.
Coke machine, Nankinmachi style 
The colours of Chinatown

For a European flavour, all you have to do is walk up the hill from Sannomiya Station, past an old-style Starbucks that looks like a home out of Anne of Green Gables, and you'll soon find yourself in Kitano-cho, a picturesque area that contains western-style houses, once the homes of foreign settlers. You can pay a fee to enter many of the houses, where they've restored some of the original interior designs. There are also a number of little cafes and restaurants. Best enjoyed on a sunny day, strolling lazily through the village with a purin (custard pudding) flavoured ice cream.
View of Kobe from Kitano-cho on the hill
The 'Austrian' house
Outside the Holland, Denmark and Austrian houses
A day trip to Kobe should be completed with a ride up the cable car to Mt. Rokko. Leave around 6pm, in order to catch the sunset, and one of the three best night views in the whole of Japan. Now, it should be mentioned here that the Rokko Cable Car has seen better days. I think they like to market it as 'nostalgic'... but better adjectives would be 'old, red, rickety little train of doom.' Somehow, we made it to the top, after ten minutes of the deadly incline. Through the cool evening mist (being on the top of a mountain somehow causes temperatures to plummet), the sprawling city lights of Osaka and Kobe provide a spectacular view, making the uphill trip worth it.
Inside the Rokko Cable Car
Dusk view of Kobe from Mt Rokko
So there we have Kobe, an exceptionally clean, glamorous and modern city. It's hard to believe that less than 20 years ago it was absolutely devastated by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake. I think that Christchurch can take hope from the Kobe example. A small tribute on the edge of the Harbour, in Meriken Park, where part of the damaged pier has been preserved, is now all that remains of the Kobe earthquake.
Tribute to the earthquake in Meriken park


  1. The next time you go, head for the Great Hanshin Earthquake museum, they have a mock-up of just what Kobe looked like right after the quake for you to walk though.

    1. Hey, thanks for the comment! I wanted to go to the earthquake museum but never got round to it (I'm home in NZ now unfortunately)... now I really wish I had! Next time, for sure.

  2. >I'm home in NZ now

    Know it, I'm sad.
    I thought that you are still attending Kansai University.

    1. I'm sad too! I got home about a week ago, but I still have some posts about Japan I want to do. =)