It was over a year since my last visit to Japan, so having the opportunity to go back and visit an area of the country that evaded me on my last visit, was amazing. Kobe City and the Kansai region is somewhere I simply didn’t have time to go. On top of that it’s a host city for the Rugby World Cup 2019 in September. And even better, it’s hosting rugby giants England, Scotland, Ireland and South Africa, all in the group stages at the Kobe Misaki Stadium. I decided to put together this list of things you MUST DO in Kobe, an ideal guide if you’re visiting for the Rugby or just as a tourist in general. These are the must-see places. In addition to that, you’ll see almost everything in the video, and exactly what I thought of it. But whatever you do, put these things to do in Kobe on the list for Japan, it’s not to be missed.
Pure and simple, if you come to Japan you have to experience an Onsen, and Arima Onsen is one of the top rated Onsen’s in Japan. An Onsen is a Japanese Hot Spring, and it’s basically a large Spa experience with certain rules or etiquette which must be respected. Men and women are separated and here’s my quick checklist of rules for surviving the Japanese Onsen!
- Go Naked (only bringing a small towel)
- Wash before you bath (wash stations are next to the pools)
- No tattoos (sorry it’s taboo in Japan, you can’t go in)
- Don’t drop your towel in the water (keep it in your hand or on your head)
- Don’t dip your head or hair in the water
- Cover your privates with the towel when possible
Did you know? The Geisha in the Kansai region are in fact called Geiko?
After the Onsen there’s plenty more to do here. We ate a Bento selection for lunch at their incredible restaurant and had the chance to wear a traditional Yukata outfit and drink tea. The latter is available if you are staying in the hotel, and the rooms are a wonderful mix of modern and traditional, with views to die for. Rumour has it one of the major rugby teams will be relaxing here before the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Finally, Arima itself is beautiful town and has a selection of gift shops to wander around, we also had Matcha Tea at Geiko Café ‘Ito’ which was wonderful. It’s also where you find the cable car to the next place on this list, Mount Rokko.
Hot Tip: Eat a delicious Bento style selection at the Arima Onsen restaurant.[su_youtube url=”https://youtu.be/L3PEpordiIs” width=”300″ height=”200″]
Our next stop was Mount Rokko, we took the cable car (or Ropeway) from Arima to Rokko Sancho, but there are plenty of ways to hike to the top for the energetic, and a cable car from Rokko Cable Shita too. You could spend a couple of days hiking this area alone if you have time. Once you’re at the top, make sure you visit the Rokko-Shidare Observatory, a fantastic piece of architecture designed like a tree using several local materials.
Following that we headed to Tenran Café for dinner and an incredible sunset over Kobe and Osaka. You could truly see for miles, just take a look at the time-lapse in the video. I also found Tenran Café amazing as not only were the prices very reasonable, it was a relaxed setting and it had its own dedicated viewpoint, perfect for setting up the camera.
Hot Tip: I highly recommend the Yamami Chicken Curry, I don’t know where it’s from, but trust me it’s bloody lovely.
Hike to a Waterfall
Who would have thought that after hiking for only 20 mins from the Shin-Kobe station, which is right in town, you can get to two magnificent waterfalls? Well I couldn’t believe it either, the fantastic Nunobiki Falls are stunning, and literally a stone’s throw from the city. You first pass the Mentaki Falls followed by the Ontaki Falls (my favourite), and if you keep hiking there’s spectacular views over Kobe and a reservoir to enjoy. The hike starts a connection of paths that lead all the way to Mount Rokko and Arima Onsen. If I had a couple more days here, this is exactly what I’d be doing, hiking all around this area. There seems like there is so much countryside to explore, and what I particularly liked is that a lot of locals and schools were utilising the countryside on their doorstep.
Heading to the town of Himeji will take you around 45 minutes from Kobe City, but coming this way will kill two birds with one stone. This is because just around the corner is the Shoshazan Engyogi Temple (below). Himeji is one of the most typical Japanese castles to have survived from the Feudal period. It dates back to 1333, which is staggering. It also survived World War II and the devastating 1995 earthquake. Entry to the most visited castle in Japan (yes, it’s that too!) cost 1000 Yen, and I recommend at least a couple of hours to look around.
Hot Tip: Try Conger Eel! This local delicacy is right next door to the castle by the gardens at Yamayoshi
Shoshazan Engyogi Temple
The next on this list if the temple made famous for being features in The Last Samurai, the epic 2003 movie directed by Edward Zwick starring Tom Cruise. The Shoshazan Engyogi Temple is just on the edge of Himeji, and to get there from Himeji castle you’ll need to take a bus and the cable car. There are 3 main wooden temple halls known as Mitsunodo. The setting is serene, overlooking the city below, it’s like a peaceful mountain retreat and you can see why many movies use it as a filming location. Entry to the temple is 500 Yen, you also need to pay for the cable car and the shuttle bus if you don’t want to take a 20-minute walk.
The Kobe harbour itself and Merikan Park is a lovely area of Kobe worth exploring, you’ll find the Ferris Wheel, the recognisable Kobe Tower, and a monument to the 1995 earthquake. It’s close to the Motomachi shopping street if that’s your cup of tea, and it’s also where we hopped on board the ship for a sunset cruise. Docked alongside the uniquely designed Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel, we boarded the Luminous Kobe 2 just in time for sunset. The views were beautiful and seeing the city lit up on the way back was equally stunning.
Hot tip: If you’re hungry head to Hopstand for Craft Beer tasting and chicken on a stick called Yakitori. It doesn’t sound very Japanese, but Yakitori is a traditional skewer and trust me, it’s amazing.
Sake is a huge Japanese tradition known as a rice-wine, it’s made by fermenting rice and converting starch into sugars to ferment, and it’s bloody lovely. I always love a brewery or distillery tour, especially one that keeps all the traditions passed down through the centuries. Kiku-Masamune is an authentic dry sake that’s distinguished by the Yoshino cedar aromas. We learnt all about the Kimoto method, a painstaking technique passed down through generations, where in the museum you can see the process step-by-step. Finally, as you can see in the video, we thoroughly enjoyed the sake tasting and even brought a bottle home.
Did you know? They hold the sake in cedar barrels to give the sake a woody fragrance.
Eat Kobe Beef
For meat eaters Kobe Beef is a delicacy that must be tried. I don’t eat a lot of beef these days, but I was keen to try this, at least once. Kobe Beef is from a breed of Wagyu Japanese cattle, there’s a rumour they are fed beer and massaged with sake – I’m not sure I’m buying that! We chose to eat it at Kobe Plaisir, right in the heart of Kobe one minute from Sannomiya station. It was a really nice restaurant and the chef grilled the food in front of us on an iron plate, I love that. Then it came to tasting the beef. It was tender and flavoursome, that kind of melt-in-the-mouth experience. Honestly, I loved it and could have eaten it every day. The beef had a hint of juice and fat, which just added more flavour. Kobe beef isn’t cheap, the Kobe Beef Teppan-yaki lunch menu starts at 7,500 Yen (approx. £52/$70). You save money going for lunch rather than dinner and won’t find a quality Kobe beef for much cheaper, it’s just one of those things to try once.
Try the Kobe Nightlife
I tried to do a bit of research before I arrived in Kobe, to get a feel for what the nightlife has to offer. That’s because I’ve been to Japan and quite honestly the nightlife is a minefield! If you don’t speak Japanese or aren’t with a local, it can be difficult, and if you’re alone (as I was on my previous trip), it’s quite daunting. Thankfully we had a few things planned, and I managed to quiz our guide enough to find out more, although I must admit we had such a packed itinerary I didn’t exactly party until dawn.
Firstly, for Jazz check out Restaurant Sone, which had a relaxed atmosphere and an impressive live Jazz band and good food to boot. It’s right in the middle of the Sannomiya area, where the main stations are. Sannomiya is a good starting point as there are many bars and restaurants here, it’s got that typically lively, bright lights buzzing Japanese feel to it. You can find a mix of people and live music at Garage Paradise and a few bars and restaurants in Chinatown. One thing to remember, is that many bars are up high, meaning you need to look out for the signs downstairs and take the elevator up, often to a small private bar. It’s a gamble, as you have no idea what you’ll get until you open the door, and once you do that you’re already committed. But it’s fun!
Go to Osaka
My final tip is to head to Osaka, as a city it has a lot to offer and it’s often picked over Kobe. Personally, I think Kobe offers a more authentic experience and more to do. But don’t miss Osaka. We started at Osaka Castle, which is beautiful and another one of the most visited castles in Japan. You can take a Gozabune boat trip around the castle, allowing you to get up close to the moat and find out about the history for 1,500 Yen. You can also head to the Miraiza Osaka-Jo shopping centre where you can learn to be a Samurai for around 2,000 Yen for 20 minutes, that was great fun. There’s also a rooftop bar and restaurant with excellent views over the castle, and a shop with a traditional Matcha Tea ceremony, perfect to relax with after a long day exploring.
During the trip to Osaka we also headed to the Hiraoka Shrine to get our fortune read. The shrine sits at the foot of Mount Ikoma and is a short walk from Hiraoka station. From here you can walk down through the Iskikiri shopping street and stop for some food and see the second shrine, Ishikiri Tsurugiya. Finally, for some typical Japanese madness, there’s Dotonbori Street. Dotonbori is a lively entertainment district with bright lights, theatres, shops, bars and restaurants. It has the buzz found in many Japanese cities, and comparable to the Shibuya area of Tokyo.
As you can see from the video, we took public transport nearly all the time, and we found it very easy, with far more than expected in English. We flew into Kansai International airport, directly from Amsterdam. At the airport there’s a very useful information centre with all your options and English-speaking guides to help you. From Tokyo, Kobe takes around 3 hours on the impressive Shinkansen bullet train and from Kansai airport to Kobe you can either take a bus or even a ferry to the harbour. It’s also nearby to Kyoto and Osaka, and the popular Nara Park, meaning you can visit them all in one hit.
My trip to Kobe was sponsored by Visit Kobe to experience all Kobe has to offer in advance of the Rugby World Cup, but as always the photos, thoughts and opinions in this article are my own.
Sharing this article with your family and friends on Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter really helps keep Intrepid Escape going, thank you!