Cheap and Cheerful in Kobe
Unlike the nearby cities of Kyoto and Himeji, Kobe doesn’t at first glance anyway, seem like a typical Japanese city. The city has enjoyed a rich and colourful history as an international port going back several hundred years. Trade with the west was booming here, whilst most of the rest of Japan still traded stories of the “white barbarians” from across the water.
This global flavor has set the tone for how Kobe looks today. Much of the cities older buildings have a distinctly colonial feel to them, giving this city a very unique flavor in Japan.
However, as is often the case in Japan, international can often equate to expensive, as any long term foreign resident who has tried to buy imported goods will tell you.
For those in the know however, Kobe has some wonderful sights, sounds tastes and views that can be enjoyed on a budget.
So come with me today as we take a tour of Kobe that will enrich your spirit without hurting your bank balance.
Firstly, how does one get to Kobe? If you’re staying in Tokyo then I recommend taking the Shinkansen. From Tokyo you will get to Shin-Kobe Station in just under 3 hours. If you’re coming from Kansai Airport, there are a variety of shuttle buses and JR train options available. The fastest of the Airport buses will get you to Kobe in just over an hour.
We shall begin our day at Shin Kobe Station. If you’ve taken the Shinkansen, this is where you will get off. If you’re taking the bus or local train, then Shin-Kobe is 1 stop on the Kobe City Subway Seishin-Yamate Line, or a 20 minute walk if you’re feeling energetic, from Sannomiya Station, Kobe’s main city centre hub.
Directly behind Shin-Kobe Station, you will see the base of Mount Rokko, which overlooks the city. If you head towards the mountain you will reach the beginning of a very pleasant, and not so strenuous hiking trail. The trail winds a gentle path up through the base of the mountain, which is characterized by spacious forest. Be careful though, and be on the lookout for wild boar, who inhabit these areas and have been known to gore the odd tourist from time to time. You’ll also find a number of wild cats that live around the trail, but they are harmless and not much bigger than household pets.
After about 20 minutes or so, you will reach the stunning Nunobiki Waterfall. This magnificent waterfall is a geologists dream, as the water cascades from the mineral rich rocks from a height of 43 metres. From here you have 2 options. If you head east, you will find the Miharashi Observatory. It’s about 5-10 minutes from the waterfall. From here, you can see an amazing panoramic view of Kobe city, the port, and the surrounding districts. Not only is it beautiful, personally I also think it’s quite romantic in its own charming way.
However, if you are feeling more adventurous, you can instead head further up the mountain. If you continue up the mountain for a further 20 minutes or so you will come to the source of the waterfall, the Nunobiki reservoir. Just a little further on from here, you will come to the Nunobiki Herb Garden. Amongst the numerous seasonal flowers you will also find a number of local fruits growing too.
I should mention that if you’re feeling a bit lazy, or if hiking isn’t really your thing, there is a ropeway that you can take from just behind Shin Kobe station, to get to the summit.
After all that hiking and adventuring, you’re probably feeling a bit hungry. Time to get some lunch.
Once you’ve decended back to Shin-Kobe station, take the subway back to Sannomiya. From there, you’ll want to transfer to the JR line. Head in the direction of Himeji, one stop, to Motomachi.
From Motomachi Station, a 7 minute walk will bring you to the famous Nankingmachi, Kobe’s Chinatown.
A further byproduct of the city’s rich multi-cultural heritage, Nankingmachi is Japan’s second largest Chinatown district, surpassed only by that found in Yokohama. However, it is actually quite small, taking up one main intersection and a few interconnecting side-streets. Nevertheless, this area has a quaint charm to it, not to mention some absolutely delicious food.
However, in my opinion, the best culinary fare to be found in Nankingmachi, is not the Chinese food, it is the Kobe Beef.
I know what you’re thinking: “Hang on a minute, isn’t this is supposed to be Kobe on a budget? “Kobe Beef is as expensive as it is succulent!”
Luckily for you dear readers, Nankingmachi is one of the cheapest places to enjoy high grade Kobe Beef. At the centre of Nankingmachi there is a square, with a bandstand in the centre, just off to the left hand side of this square you will see a cart selling beef.
You have two choices here. Either a tray of beef cut into cubes and garnished with salt and pepper, or my personal favourite, a fillet of the same spicy beef in a bun. Either the tray or the bun, with an accompanying beer will set you back about 1200 yen. Well worth it for some of the best meat you will ever sample.
After a good feed, it’s time to move on to the final part of our tour.
Walking about 15 minutes further south from Nankingmachi will bring you to Kobe Harbourland. Here you can enjoy the magnificent view of the bay area and sample the shops bars and restaurants of the nearby Mosaic shopping mall.
I also highly recommend visiting the Kobe Port Tower. From there you can enjoy fantastic 360 degree views of the city and surrounding area. You can also have a drink in the unique rotating restaurant. In this restaurant, the floor spins very slowly, so that over a period of about 10-15 mins you can enjoy views of the entire skyline, without ever leaving the comfort of your chair.
For great food, great sights and even some enchanting natural wonders, Kobe is hard to beat. And unlike what most guide books will tell you, it certainly doesn’t have to be expensive.