Kobe. Thinking about beef? Yup, it’s that very Kobe, where the famous Kobe beef is from. So during my visit to the Kansai region in Japan, I made it a point to plan a day trip to Kobe — to get my hands on some of that Kobe beef! And of course, while I’m there, take in the gorgeous sights of the city as well.
One Day in Kobe
Kobe is the capital of Hyogo Perfecture, situated on the southern part of Japan’s island of Honshu in the Kansai region. The maritime city faces the Osaka Bay; and nearby cities include Osaka and Kyoto.
Getting to Kobe
I was in Japan during autumn with my family; and we were based in the city of Osaka for most of our visit. To get around the Kansai region, as well as other places beyond, we purchased the 5-day JR Kansai Wide Pass for our transportation. The pass costs JP¥9,000 (US$85) when bought online. Using our pass, we departed the Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka on the Shinkansen, and arrived at the Shin-Kobe Station in Kobe within 12 minutes.
We planned our trip to arrive early in the morning, so that we would have a full day to explore Kobe. Arriving at the Shin-Kobe Station made it easy for us to walk to our first stop of the day:-
The Shin-Kobe Ropeway to Mt Rokko
We reached the lower station of the Shin-Kobe Ropeway just as it opened at 9.30am — and were one of the first ones on the cable car ride that day. The ropeway is one way to make it up Mount Rokko, which is home to some natural sights like the Nunobiki Waterfalls, and since we were there in autumn — beautiful colors of red and yellow. The ride took about 10 minutes, and we alighted the cable car at the entrance of the Nunobiki Herb Garden at the top. A round trip on the Shin-Kobe Ropeway with admission to the Herb Garden costs JP¥1,400 (US$13).
Nunobuki Herb Garden
The view of Kobe from the top of the Nunobuki Herb Garden is breathtaking — I loved the contrast of the ocean in the distance, followed by the sea of high buildings, and then the autumn colors of the forest. From Rose Gardens and Oriental Gardens to a pretty Glasshouse, the huge Herb Garden slopes downhill towards the ropeway’s middle station (for our ride down). We took about 2 hours strolling along its winding pathways and admiring the beautiful views (and had a rose-flavored ice cream too); in the cool, misty, crisp morning air.
It was late morning by the time we descended Mount Rokko. A short walk lead us to the historical district of Kitano-cho, at the foot of the mountain range. It really felt as if we were walking into a whole new place — the area is lined with Western-style houses, said to be from the Meiji and Taisho eras of Japanese history, in the late 19th century. The Port of Kobe opened up to foreign merchants for trade during that period, and many set up their base in this part of the city.
Some mansions are still private residences, but many are open to the public as museums and show-houses — costing about JP¥550 (US$5) to enter. We decided to admire these buildings from the outside as there were just too many to see — from white-washed quaint houses, to reddish brown-bricked ones like the landmark Weatherclock House. During our walk around the district, we also discovered many interesting boutique stores and lovely cafes.
As noon rolled around, we were feeling hungry from all the walking and climbing — and so, it was time to hunt for Kobe Beef, one of the main reasons for our visit to Kobe. From Kitano-cho, we hailed a cab and headed to the busiest part of the city, Sannomiya.
Steakland for Kobe Beef
A quick search online lead us to Steakland in Sannomiya for some affordable Kobe Beef in the Japanese teppanyaki style. The restaurant is divided into several floors, and was pretty packed during lunch, but we managed to get a seat by the teppanyaki table. There were so many sets of Kobe beef and normal beef to choose from the menu — but I finally ordered the 160g Special Kobe Beef Tenderloin Steak Set for JP¥7,980 (US$75), with salad, soup, rice, vegetables and coffee. Prices for Kobe beef in Steakland starts from at least JP¥3,180 (US$30) per set. It was exciting as the chef showed us our raw beef cut, and proceeded to cook it in front of us. To me, the Kobe beef was melt-in-your-mouth heavenly… and I wished I had more.
After a fantastic lunch, it was time to roam around the city. The bustling Sannomiya is filled with shops, restaurants and office buildings; which leads up to Kobe’s Chinatown, known locally as Nankinmachi. I just love how everywhere I go, there always seem to be a Chinatown in the city, and it looks the same in every country — red signboards, red lanterns, red roofs; and sell pretty much typical Chinese street food like steam buns, dumplings, hanging meat and (cause we’re in Japan) ramen.
It started drizzling during our walk around Sannomiya and Chinatown, so we had to find shelter in some of the shops (and took the opportunity for some souvenir shopping)!
The rain continued throughout the afternoon, so we decided to brave the cold and head to Meriken Park — cause we only had a day to see Kobe! The park is situated along Kobe’s waterfront and offers lovely views of the sea and the port; and is home to many of the city’s landmarks like the Maritime Museum and the Port Tower. If it wasn’t for the rain, it would have been lovely to stroll along the open spaces and grass lawns of the park. But despite the drizzle, we did it anyway, and walked towards the edge of the park for a picture with the “Be Kobe” sign.
Kobe Earthquake Memorial
Kobe suffered massive destruction during the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake — and Meriken Park was destroyed too. A small portion of the park is dedicated to the victims of the earthquake; and the Earthquake Memorial displays a running documentary about the disaster, pictures of Kobe in the aftermath, and a small section of the damaged waterfront has been preserved as a reminder of the earthquake. I never knew how massive the destruction of that 1995 earthquake was, so it was an educational visit for me.
Kobe Port Tower
It’s hard not to notice the towering Kobe Port Tower at Meriken Park. The red steel structure stands imposingly at 108m tall during the day, and is completely covered with lights come night. It was built in 1963, and serves as a sightseeing tower. The Starbucks building on Meriken Park has a balcony area on its top floor that offers lovely views of the tower — and because we spent the rest of the evening in Starbucks to escape the rain; we had a wonderful view of the Port Tower lighting up for the night as the sun went down.
The rain died down a little during the night, so we decided to walk from Meriken Park towards the brightly lighted Kobe Harborland. The air was pretty dreary as it was just after the rain, and there were quite a number of people walking about in raincoats and umbrellas.
Kobe Harborland is an entire district along the waterfront that offers a huge selection of malls, shops, restaurants, and entertainment. We walked along the Anpanman Shopping Street with its rows of open-aired shops, and visited the huge Ferris Wheel at the edge of the mall — I felt like the atmosphere around the place that day was pretty downcast because of the weather, and there were hardly any people around. We then made our way to the indoor section of Umie Mall to avoid the cold, and had ramen and omurice for dinner at the mall’s foodcourt.
We left Kobe for Osaka at about 9pm in the evening. The nearest station to Kobe Harbourland is the Kobe Station, and we used our JR Kansai Wide Pass for our trip back to Osaka Station. The journey via normal train took about half an hour.
There is still so much to do in Kobe (i.e the onsen, the sake breweries), and I felt that one day just wasn’t enough. Plus, the weather during our visit wasn’t in our favor, as the rain ruined much of our plans to walk and see more of the city. So I’m certain, Kobe — I’ll be back again… cause beef, I’m always up for more Kobe beef.