[From March Issue 2010]
Kobe City stretches east to west, facing the Seto Inland Sea and with the lush green of Mount Rokko in the background. Since the opening of the Port of Kobe in 1868, Kobe continues to thrive as an international port city. With a fine mixture of retro and modern elements, this stylish city offers ritzy culture.
Movies, jazz, soccer, golf, coffee, ramune (lemon soda), cafes, buta-man (steamed pork buns), Worcestershire sauce, karaoke equipment and even perms, have all spread from Kobe to the rest of Japan. The tendency of “Kobekko” (people in Kobe) to enjoy new things is seen everywhere across the city.
Most of the tourist spots in the center of Kobe are within walking distance of one another, but you can visit these spots more efficiently by using the “City Loop,” a green bus route that covers Kitano Ijinkan-gai, the Former Foreign Settlement, Nankin-machi, Meriken Park, Harborland and other sights. The bus covers the entire route in about 60 minutes. You can get on and off the bus freely at any of 17 green stops if you buy a one-day pass, which also provides discounts at many tourist spots.
The Sannomiya and Motomachi areas form the center of Kobe. Heading up the mountain from Sannomiya will take you to Kitano Ijinkan-gai. After the opening of the Port of Kobe, non-Japanese built their residences in Kitano-cho’s elevated area, overlooking the ocean. Many of the foreign residences are open to the public as museums, including Weathercock House, with the weathercock on its triangle-shaped roof, Moegi House, Rhine House, Uroko House, English House and Youkan-Nagaya-French House. Blending in with these foreign residences are a number of fashionable cafes and restaurants.
No tour of this foreign community is complete without a visit to Kitano Meister Garden. Using the former Kitano Elementary School building, which faces the Tor Road, connecting Kitano Ijinkan-gai and the Former Foreign Settlement, it houses 21 unique ateliers, where you can browse and buy “Kobe Brand” items while observing the skills of the professionals firsthand. You can also try your hand at making your own Kobe Brand item.
Shinkansen (bullet train) Shin-Kobe Station is a short walk from Kitano Ijinkan-gai, where the Shin-Kobe Ropeway (aerial lift) is available from the mountain side of the station. This takes about 10 minutes to arrive at the last stop, Nunobiki Herb Garden, offering greenhouses, museums, a restaurant, and a garden filled with pleasant and relaxing aromas, from which, you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view. Just under the elevated railroad on the first floor of Shin-Kobe Station, you will come to Nunobiki Falls. These falls are just one of the sources of “Kobe Water.”
Sannomiya, where the city’s major transportation systems are concentrated, serves as Kobe’s gateway. Flower Road, stretching from JR Sannomiya Station both north and south, is the city’s main street. Located on the station’s south side are the Flower Clock Kobe, one of the city’s most famous symbols, Kobe City Hall Building with its 24th-floor observation deck offering panoramic views of the city, and Higashi Yuenchi Park, an oasis of relaxation for locals. Kobe Information Center (Hello Station Kobe) is located on the first floor of Kotsu Center Building near the West exit of JR Sannomiya Station, where non-Japanese tourists can obtain “welcome coupons” giving them discounts at many facilities.
It has been 15 years since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (the Kobe Earthquake) occurred in the southern part of Hyogo Prefecture on January 17, 1995. A memorial ceremony is held annually on January 17 at Higashi Yuenchi Park to mourn the victims and pass on stories of the disaster. At the park, “1.17 A Light of Hope,” is a memorial to the victims that is lit on this day. Another monument to the victims, which also symbolizes the city’s revival, contains plaques engraved with their names. At the park’s north side stands a monument featuring the statue of MARINA holding a clock that stopped at the precise time of the earthquake.
Other spots of interest include Meriken Park’s “Earthquake Memorial Park” and the “Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution” located in HAT Kobe, near the newly developed waterfront area. You can further visit “Nojima Fault Preservation Museum” in Hokudan-cho Earthquake Memorial Park on Awaji Island, and don’t miss Nagata’s symbol of revival, the giant-sized, “Tetsujin 28-Go” (Gigantor) figure created by Kobe-born cartoonist YOKOYAMA Mitsuteru.
The Former Foreign Settlement is an area straddling Sannomiya and Motomachi, to the west of Higashi Yuenchi Park. After the opening of the port, it was organized as a center of commerce and trade and a residential area for non-Japanese. Lined with boutiques, restaurants and cafes, which are all housed in Western stone buildings, the area has a sophisticated feel. Since it is also home to the Kobe Lamp Museum, the Kobe City Museum and the Kobe Lampwork Glass Museum, visitors can also enjoy looking at works of art there. Along with Higashi Yuenchi Park, this neighborhood is the site of the popular winter illumination event “Kobe Luminarie.”
To the south of the stylish Motomachi Shopping Arcade, defined by its arched, stained-glass entrance way, lies Nankin-machi, Kobe’s Chinatown. In a small area accessible through three two-story gates to the east, west, and south, a number of shops including Chinese restaurants, yum cha (dim sum) stands, Chinese variety stores and sweet cafes stand side-by-side. With raucous cries from merchants, the street is full of energy and always bustles with people, especially in the central Nankin-machi Square.
Walking from Motomachi toward the beach, you will find the Bay Area. Meriken Park was built by reclaiming Meriken Pier, a remnant from Kobe’s earliest days as a port city. The red Port Tower, the city’s landmark, creates a beautiful contrast against the white Kobe Marine Museum, inspired by waves and sailing ships. The park houses a replica of the sailing ship Santa Maria, as well as the Meriken Theater, a unique monument to Japan’s birthplace of film.
An esplanade connects the park and Harborland, located on the east side of the port, with various places for shopping, gourmet food and entertainment, most notably the waterfront commercial complex “MOSAIC,” which is also a popular dating spot. From nearby ports, you can take various cruises ships on a variety of routes, such as sailing around the bay and passing through the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge. The views from the sea are quite impressive as well, and since Kobe has many spots frequently used as movies and TV dramas locations, some people may enjoy visiting those places as well.
When traveling from Tokyo to Sannomiya, take the shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station to JR Shin-Kobe Station, then transfer to the Kobe City Subway and get off at Sannomiya Station. When traveling from Osaka, take the JR Kobe Line from Osaka Station or the Hankyu Railway Kobe Line from Umeda Station, and get off at Sannomiya Station. Or, take the Hanshin Railway from Hanshin Umeda Station to Sannomiya Station.
Text: HATSUDA Sachiyo