I love Kobe. From the rolling Rokko mountain range to sandy Suma beach, Kobe is one of Japan’s oldest and certainly one of the prettiest port cities. At the end of sakoku (closed country policy) in 1853, Kobe became one of the first ports that opened to foreign trade, giving this international city its charm of wa-yo-secchu (和洋折衷), meaning the hybrid of Japanese and Western influence.
For a tourist, there are plenty of activities such as hiking and driving around the vast mountains, taking the ropeway to visit the Nunobiki Herb Garden, hopping over to Arima Onsen resort for a hot springs bath, cruising through Chinatown and the Kitano Ijinkan (old western settlers residential district), sharing a cocktail whist gazing out on the romantic view of the port, and of course, splurging your budget on the melt-in- your-mouth Kobe beef with some fine Kobe wine.
The area known as Shinkaichi is located slightly west of the current city center Sannomiya, about 15 minutes by train or bus. It used to be the main entertainment district from the early 1900s to the 1960s, and is lined with movie and live theaters, but as the center moved to Sannomiya, Shinkaichi sadly declined to become more known for its sleaze culture, and where homeless laborers gathered to get drunk on the streets. Well, you may be wondering why an average tourist would want to visit such a place. In recent years, Shinkaichi has been given a facelift and is now home to Kobe Art Village Center which promotes all sorts of art education and creative events. Other investments in modern entertainment facilities have been made in an effort to revitalize the area.
There are also plenty of friendly bars that serve good Japanese comfort food, so if you want to get away from the obvious tourist guidebook attractions for a more funky local experience, Shinkaichi maybe a good place to explore.
Live music venue and bar Ichibanboshi. Serves good omelette rice (ketchup flavored fried rice wrapped in egg), curry udon noodles and other Japanese comfort food.
For back packers and travellers on a limited budget, there is a hostel just by the Shinkaichi Station called Yume (Dream) Nomad.
The current owner inherited this old former love hotel and renovated it into an uniquely stylish comfortable guesthouse. The rate for one night in the shared dormitory is 2,600 yen per person, private single room is 4,500 yen. We stayed in a twin room with an en suite bathroom, which was just 3,200 yen per person. This is on incredibly low rate for a major Japanese city. It must be noted, however, that most of the rooms do not come with en suite bathrooms and the toilets are of the old fashioned style except for two western stalls. There is a communal kitchen with free access to instant coffee and cooking spices, refrigerator, laundry facilities, recreational rooms and balcony, so if you intend to explore Kobe for a longer period of time and do not expect extra luxury, this place is a very good deal, especially with discount rates for extended stay.
Now from Shinkaichi Station (or from Sannomiya), let us take the #7 bus and venture out into the foothills of Kobe, getting off at Hirano bus stop. After a 15 minute bus ride, you will find yourself surrounded by a thicket of bamboo and trees along the Tennodani river with a spectacular view of the city spread out below.
Hirano is historically famous with deep connections to Taira no Kiyomori, a prominent leader of the Heian era going back to the early 12th century. It is also the chosen residence for the many writers, musicians, artists and environmentalists of Kobe.
Walk 5 minutes from the bus stop towards the west and you will find the Minatoyama Onsen (hot springs bath). This onsen does not have sleeping accommodations but you can casually drop in, rent a towel and appreciate this gift of healing from nature bubbling for over 800 years. Its curative effects are good for rheumatism, sciatica, joint paints, burns, sores, high blood pressure, digestive problems and more.
Another treasure of this secluded pocket, just up the river from Minatoyama Onsen is the 1150 year old Hirano Gion Shrine. This shrine is a division of the Hiromine Shrine in Himeji and Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, notably famous for its Gion Matsuri (festival) in the summer. Gion is worshipped to protect the people from plagues, floods, and other natural catastrophes. One must climb 90 steep stone steps to get to the main shrine and the climbing of steps represents going beyond the city level of disharmony to transcend into another world.
The soothing breeze blowing through the shrine grounds from the mountains behind is said to be a sign of hospitality from the gods.
Situated right next to the Gion Shrine is Anteil, a café, restaurant and event space. It is easy to spot this tastefully renovated 80 year old traditional Japanese house perched on a cliff, with colorful flags and signs hung outside. Just one look and you cannot help but anticipate what awaits you inside.
The owner Takashi Matsumiya is a designer, and his artistic creativity oozes from every inch of the establishment. The whole place is a living and breathing piece of art.
Opened in 2012, Anteil means “to share” in German and Mr. Matusmiya fulfilled his dream of providing a comfortable space for sharing the blessings of nature, beauty, love, friendship, good experience, understanding, etc.
Anteil serves limited lunch plates (reservation required), desserts and drinks. The two story house is divided into sections which can be rented to use for private meetings and parties.
Once inside this beautiful atmosphere with the constant gushing sound of the river in the background, time stops and you will be taken to another worldly space.
You thought you just came here for lunch or a drink and you may come out with a bit of fairy dust in your hair.
Address: Minaen Town2F , 1 Shinkaichi, Hyogo-ku, Kobe
Address: 1-2-2 Shinkaichi, Hyogo-ku, Kobe
Time: 5:00〜22:00; Closed on Wednesdays
Address: 26-1 Minatoyama-cho, Hyogo-ku, Kobe
Time: 11:00〜20:00 ; Closed on Wednesdays
Address: 11-6 Kamisanjocho, Hyogo-ku, Kobe