Next Stop, Japan

Next Stop, Japan

Kobe City

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Kobe City (神戸市) in Hyogo Prefecture is the smallest city in the Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe metropolis. Kobe City's place in modern history was established in 1868 when it was one of the first cities in Japan to be opened for foreign trade and residence. The heritage of this influx of foreign residents and trade is noticeable throughout the city. This is especially apparent in the Kitano and Nankinmachi (China Town) districts.

From the city center at Sannomiya, it is a brisk walk or quick ride to most sights in this very compact and hilly city. JR Shin-Kobe, the shinakansen station, is about a 15 minute walk north of Sannomiya. Kobe is a delight to travel around as it is one of Japan's most varied and scenic cities. It also has a superb public transit system. Kobe is popular with domestic visitors because of sights like the Ijinkan (Foreigner's Houses). Even for the international traveller, these areas are worth a look. They are well preserved witnesses to the early mixing of the Japan with other cultures.

The premium on flat land led to the construction of Port Island and Rokko Island in Osaka Harbor. Kobe Airport was built by reclaiming additional land south of Port Island.

Kobe is often claimed to be the highest rated city in Japan by expatriates to live in.


Arima Spa (Onsen)

Located high on top of Mt. Rokko in Kobe's Kita Ward is the onsen town called Arima. The town has a number of public hot springs and traditional hotels. The most scenic (and expensive) way to reach the area is by cable car up the mountain and ropeway across to it.

Kitano - Ijinkan

Kobe's Kitano district is famous for its western-style buildings that were built to house traders, diplomats and their families after Kobe was opened foreign trade and residence. A number of interesting museums and historic buildings are located in this area. Admission varies from free to around 500 yen.

Kobe Harborland

Kobe's new large-scale trendy shopping area splits the city's shopping focus from Sannomiya to west and across the water from Merikin Park. The highlights are Canal Garden and thee trendier Mosaic (Mozaiku). There is a fair sized Ferris wheel by the ocean at Mosaic Garden. Easily reached on the city loop bus or by walking from Harborland Station (Subway - Kaigan Line) or JR Kobe Station.

Kobe Luminarie

Walking under the illuminated gates and enjoying the thousands of lights that make up Kobe's annual illumination festival has become one of Kobe's most popular events. The Kobe Luminarie begins around the second week of December and ends around Christmas. The festival began in 1995 as a memorial to the loss suffered in the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in the same year and now celebrates Kobe's recovery from the disaster.

Merikin Park

Kobe's Port Tower is most recognizable part of the city's skyline. Red trusses ring its outside and up its distinctive concave shape. Next to the Port Tower is the Kobe Merkin Hotel where the tour cruise boat, Luminous Kobe 2, docks. Easily viewable from Harborland.

Read More: Luminous Kobe 2 (Cruise Ship)

Motomachi Shopping Avenue

Kobe's main covered shopping arcade is south of Motomachi Station and begins at the intersection near Diamaru Department Store.

Mt. Rokko - Shin-Kobe Ropeway

The entrance to the popular ropeway up Mt. Rokko (934m) is west of JR Shin-Kobe. On top, the excellent Nunobiki Herb Park, tropical plant greenhouse and perfume museum overlook the city. Landscape terraces and fields create an impressive backdrop for any picnic. If you'ld rather hike then you can take the paved hiking course up the mountain which passes the slender Nunobiki Falls. Note: the falls dry up during the winter.

Nankinmachi (Chinatown)

Kobe's China Town is the best one in the area, but is outclassed by the buildings and attractions in Kitano. Located south of JR Motomachi Station.


Sannomiya is the city center and is just north of Kobe's City Hall. Santica, an underground shopping mall, links the three rail networks and the subway together under the intersection. A free observatory is on the 24th floor of city hall.

Kobe Earthquake

Kobe City was shattered on January 17, 1995 when the 7.3 magnitude Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake tore apart the city's infrastructure and leveled entire neighbourhoods. Over 6,433 people died in the disaster and it was the costliest disaster in world history at the time. Many people lambasted the central government for its slow pace and instead hailed the quick response of volunteers and corporations. The Kobe Luminare was created to honor those lost in the disaster and celebrate Kobe's quick recovery.

Kobe's Debt

The city easily claims the unwanted distinction of being the most indebted city in Japan with over 3 trillion yen in debts. A combination of bad property management, disaster recovery costs and the bad luck of having the earthquake during Japan's economic slump led to the fiscal meltdown.

City Transportation

Kobe City's transportation hub is at Sannomiya. The block is served by 5 different rail lines both above ground and below ground with the subway. The Port Liner Monorail which circles the Port Island terminates at JR Sannomiya Station. The monorail services Kobe Airport.

The Kobe City loop bus is a popular way to get around the city for tourists as it stops at most of the large attractions and main train stations in Kobe. It costs 650 yen to ride and 660 yen for an all day pass.

Getting There

As noted above, Kobe City has an extensive urban rail system. From all three major stations at Sannomiya, the JR, Hanshin and Hankyu train lines all connect to Osaka in the east. Only JR and Hanshin trains continue to the west outside of Kobe City to Himeji City. JR and Hankyu local train lines also continue to Kyoto from Osaka.

Shinkansen trains stop at Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅) which is not directly connected to the local rail system. It is not that hard to walk south down to Sannomiya (15 minutes) but most people take the city run subway. All classes of Shinkansen stop at Shin-Kobe.

Kobe's main bus center is located at Sannomiya. Airport Limousines to Kansai and Osaka depart from there.

Both Kansai and Osaka Airport can be used to reach Kobe by air. Kobe Airport opened in 2006. It handles mainly domestic flights and international charter flights.

Posted: April 21, 2011 Updated: February 21, 2015


Chūō Ward
Hyōgo Prefecture

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