Travel Guide Asia Japan Honshu Kansai Kobe

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Introduction

Kobe, the capital of Hyogo prefecture, is a very international and cosmopolitan city about 30 minutes west of Osaka. A lot of areas were settled and developed by foreign immigrants after Japan was opened in 1868. Kobe is a good access point for hiking and onsen and has an extremely vibrant and lively nightlife. Kobe is also famous for the great Hanshin earthquake in 1995, which levelled many parts of the cities and killed many people. There are still memorials from the earthquake, but Kobe has rebuilt itself.

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Neighbourhoods

  • Nankinmachi (China Town) -
  • Sannomiya - the centre of shopping, restaurants and nightlife of Kobe
  • Mt Rokko -
  • Arima Onsen -

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Sights and Activities

Kobe's main attraction for the Japanese is its concentration of Western-style houses, some dating back to the days when Kobe was opened for foreign trade in 1868. Europeans who grew up in similar scenery may find them less fascinating.

  • Kitano Ijinkan (異人館) (walking distance from either Sannomiya or Shin-Kobe stations). Kōbe's main attractions are the Ijinkan (foreign houses). These are 19th-century residences of Kobe's foreign traders, clustered in the Kitano area.
  • Kyu-kyoryuchi (旧居留地) (near Motomachi station (Hanshin Line or JR Line)). This is where foreign consulates and trading companies built their offices. Several 19th-century buildings have been converted into restaurants and shops. Notable buildings include Chartered Square, once the Chartered Bank branch and the 15th Building (十五番館), once the American consulate. The area is also packed full of high-fashion boutiques such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Fendi.
  • Chinatown (南京町, nankinmachi). The original settlement of Chinese merchants. Today, it is rather touristy though it offers some "Japanised" versions of Chinese food such as pork buns (豚饅頭 buta-manjū). Its architecture is still rather pleasant though.
  • Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum (竹中大工道具館) (Next to Shin-Kobe station), ☎ +81 78 242-0216. 9:30-16:30. A very nice exploration of hand carpentry tools, from the stone axes of Jomon age to the Western influenced tools of yesterday. Hands-on exhibits and English language descriptions make this a pleasant place to spend the afternoon. ¥300

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Events and Festivals

Traditional Festivals

Japan has countless traditional festivals and holidays. Then when you add the local festivals that number just grows and grows. Here is a list of the few major national traditional festivals.

  • Japanese New Year (January 1) - the most important holiday in Japan. Although there are lots of customs and traditions most of them are done in the private. This is mainly a family holiday and Japan can feel very empty as almost everyone goes home. Travelling in Japan in during this time is difficult because everything is shut down.
  • Seijin No Hi (2nd Monday of January) - the coming of age holiday for Japanese women which 20. Traditionally families will buy any young woman how turned 20 in the last year a kimono. On this day almost all Japanese women will ear a kimono.
  • Hin Festival (March 3) - Also known as doll festival the Hin Matsuri festival is meant for young women. In early february families with daughters put dolls in order to make the women happy and healthy later in life. On Girls Day, on March 3, the dolls are put away until next year.
  • Shichi Go San Festival (Novermber 5) - Boys who are 3 and 5, and girls 3 and 7 are taken to a shinto shrine in traditional Japanese dress. The children are brought there to pray for good luck, good health and wealth.

National Holidays

  • Golden Week - Is quite often referred to as the "Japanese Spring Break." It is a combination of many state holidays, including Showa Day, Greenery Day, Children's Day, and Constitution Memorial Day in order to give a full week off. It takes place during the first full week of May. Everyone gets this week off in Japan so it is very bad time to travel because everything is crowded, expensive and most hotels will be full. There is also a major festival in the southern city of Fukuoka this week, it is called Hakata Dontaku.

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Weather

Kobe has a humid subtropical climate with hot summers and cool to cold winters. Precipitation is significantly higher in summer than in winter, though on the whole lower than most parts of Honshū, and there is no significant snowfall.

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Getting There

By Plane

Kobe Airport (神戸空港, IATA: UKB), built on reclaimed land in front of the harbor, opened in February 2006. The airport handles domestic flights only: both Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) have flights to Kobe from Tokyo Haneda, Sapporo, Sendai, Okinawa, and Kagoshima. ANA also offers service from Niigata, while JAL has flights from Kumamoto. A low-cost airline, Skymark, operates cheap flights to/from Tokyo, Naha, Ibaraki, Kagoshima, Nagasaki, and Sapporo.
From Kobe Airport, the Port Liner light rail to Sannomiya Station runs about every 10 minutes (18 minutes, ¥330). Sannomiya Station offers connections to the Japan Rail (JR), Hanshin, Hankyu and subway lines. From there, a small trip on the subway will link you to the Shin-Kobe bullet train station (¥200). If coming from Sannomiya to the airport, be sure to board a train marked "Kobe Airport", as some head to the Kita Futo branch line instead.

Kansai International Airport is 70 kilometres from Kobe and is the nearest international airport. The fastest way to get there is on the Kaijo Access high-speed ferry from Kobe Airport, which runs every 45 minutes (29 minutes, ¥1,500). However, if you are coming from or going to Sannomiya Station or Rokko Island, it's nearly as fast and less of a hassle to take the Airport Limousine bus (60-75 minutes, ¥1,980 one-way, ¥3,080 round-trip). Alternatively, you can take the JR Kanku Kaisoku (関空快速) rapid to Osaka station and change there to the Shin-kaisoku (新快速 - Special Rapid) that runs to both Sannomiya and Kobe stations (90 minutes, ¥2,410).

Itami Airport, officially known as Osaka International Airport is 30 kilometres northeast of Kobe. Airport buses operate service to/from Sannomiya Station (40 minutes, ¥1,050).

By Train

The central business district and many attractions are near Sannomiya station, 1.7km south of Shin-Kobe Station. 2 Sannomiya station. Sannomiya station has a tourist information office well-stocked with area maps. Be sure to ask for the coupon book, which offers discounts of 10% to 20% for many attractions. The Japanese characters for Sannomiya station on Japan Railways (三ノ宮) differ from the Sannomiya station on other railways (三宮).

The nearest station on Japan's high-speed shinkansen network is at 3 Shin-Kobe station. From Tokyo station, Shin-Kobe is 2 hours, 50 minutes away via Nozomi (¥14,670); 3 hours and 20 minutes via Hikari (¥14,270; no charge with the Japan Rail Pass). From Shin-Kobe station, take the Seishin Yamate subway line one stop to Sannomiya (¥200).

From Osaka, there are several ways to arrive in Sannomiya:

  • Trains on the Hankyu and Hanshin private lines depart respectively from Hankyu-Umeda and Hanshin-Umeda stations. The Tokkyu (特急) express takes roughly half an hour to reach Sannomiya (¥310).
  • Hanshin trains also operate to Kobe from Namba station. Kaisoku Kyuko (快速急行) trains depart every 20 minutes, reaching Sannomiya in 45 minutes at a cost of ¥400. In some instances you may have to change trains at Amagasaki.
  • The best option via JR is to take the Shin-kaisoku (新快速 - Special Rapid) or Kaisoku (快速 - Rapid) service that departs from JR Osaka station, running to Sannomiya in 20 and 26 minutes, respectively (¥390, no charge with the Japan Rail Pass).

From Kyoto, Sannomiya is 50 minutes away from the main train station via Shin-kaisoku (¥1,050; no charge with the Japan Rail Pass). You can also make the run to the area in 30 minutes via bullet train, but it is more expensive, and if you have the rail pass, you can only take one train every hour without changing trains (the Hikari that runs through to Okayama).

From the central area of Kyoto (near Gion and the shopping district), you can reach Sannomiya in 70 minutes via Hankyu limited express, changing once at Juso station (¥600). Hankyu trains depart from the Kawaramachi and Karasuma stations.

From Nara, direct Kintetsu trains operate to Sannomiya Station on the Hanshin line via Namba every 20 minutes (75 minutes, ¥940).

By Bus

Buses from Tokyo follow either the Tomei Expressway or the Chuo Expressway to Nagoya, then the Meishin Expressway in the direction of Kobe. Trips take 9-10 hours and tickets can be bought online. Buses have either a 1x1x1 seat layout, or a cheaper 2x2 seat layout. Fares vary and are cheaper if purchased in advance.

Willer Express operates overnight buses with 2 different seating layouts. Willer's Japan Bus Pass is valid on all routes with some exceptions. Buses leave from Tokyo station and Tokyo Disneyland. The drop off point in Kobe is near Sannomiya station. Fares are generally in the range of ¥5,000-6,500, depending on seating option, advance purchase, and demand.

JR Bus (Japanese Website) operates overnight services from Tokyo to Kobe. The drawback is that online reservations must be made in Japanese, but you can make reservations in train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains. Buses depart from Tokyo Station - Yaesu Exit (八重洲口) and the JR Highway Bus Terminal (JR高速バスターミナル) adjacent to Yoyogi Station on the Yamanote Line (one stop south of Shinjuku). Buses stop in Kobe at the Sannomiya Bus Terminal (三宮バスターミナル). Fares are generally in the range of ¥6,000-7,500, depending on seating option, advance purchase, and demand.

There are no daytime JR Buses to Kobe, and the entire Tokyo-Kobe run is not vaild with the Japan Rail Pass. In these cases you can take a JR Bus to Osaka Station (covered with the Rail Pass) and then take a 20 minute ride by JR train to Sannomiya.

The Japan Rail Pass CAN be used for overnight trips on standard buses between Tokyo and Osaka called "Dream" services - once you arrive in Osaka the next morning you can take a 20 minute ride by JR train to Sannomiya. Overnight buses between Tokyo and Kobe are NOT valid with the rail pass.

Keisei Bus operates service to/from Tokyo Station and Tokyo Disneyland leaving Tokyo Station at 23:00 and arriving at Sannomiya Station at 8:00am (9 hours, ¥9,100).

Other operators such as Hankyu Bus, Hanshin Bus, Keio Bus, and Shinki Bus operate service to/from Tokyo but are more expensive, less comfortable, and cannot be booked in English.

By Boat

There are regular ferry services linking Chinese ports, like Tianjin with Kobe in Japan on a weekly basis. Chinese Express Line is the major carrier on the Tianjin to Kobe route.

To add, there are also weekly ferries crossing the sea between Shanghai and Kobe and Osaka in Japan. The ferry's destination alternates each week between Osaka and Kobe and the journey takes two days.

FESCO runs a service from Vostochny Port/Nakhodka in Far Eastern Russia to Kobe, among other places.

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Getting Around

By Public Transport

Kōbe has two subway lines. The Kaigan Line runs along the coast, and the Seishin-Yamate Line runs toward the mountains. Both are more expensive than ordinary trains and unlikely to be of use for the traveler, except when connecting to Shin-Kōbe, the station located north of the city where the Sanyo Shinkansen stops. The small jaunt between Shin-Kobe and Sannomiya costs ¥200. If you want to explore Kobe, there is a one-day-pass for both lines (1日乗車券; Ichinichijoshaken), costing ¥800 (children: ¥400) or subway plus bus for ¥1000 (children: ¥500).

North of Shin-Kobe station, the Yamate subway runs over the Hokushin Express Line. Trains run 7.5 km under ground and terminate at Tanigami Station, from which you can transfer to the Shintetsu Arima Line for Arima-guchi Station and Arima Onsen.

The Hankyu (阪急), Hanshin (阪神) and JR lines cross Kōbe in a west-east direction, and provide the cheapest and fastest way to travel across town. Each of these three lines have their own station located around the busy central Sannomiya shopping district and each provide access to different points of interest.

The automated Port Liner links Sannomiya to the reclaimed port district south of the city, and continues over the Kobe Sky Bridge to Kobe Airport. Likewise, the Rokko Liner links the Rokko Island area to JR Sumiyoshi station.

Kobe has a comprehensive city bus system, which is often your best choice when travelling to areas located north of the city, away from the predominately east-west running train and subway lines. Schedules and boarding locations can be obtained from the tourist information office below JR and Hankyu Sannomiya stations.

The city also operates a loop-line tourist bus that travels around scenic spots and famous tourist locations in Kobe including the Kitano Ijinkan streets, Nankin-machi and Meriken Park. These distinctive old-fashioned green buses can be boarded are 15 stops between the Shin-Kobe area and Harborland and cost ¥250 for a single loop or ¥650 for a day pass. Boarding locations are indicated by green and red signs on the side of the road. Buses run at 15-20 minute intervals and one loop takes approximately 70 minutes.

Kobe has several ropeways that travel up Mount Rokko. One that is near a major station is the Shin-Kobe Ropeway, a 5-minute walk from Shin-Kobe station. The ropeway, reputed to have one of Kobe's best scenic views, runs up to the Nunobiki Herb Park. Adults ¥550 one-way, ¥1000 round-trip. Combination tickets are also sold which include the Nunobiki Herb Park.

By Foot

Kōbe is narrow in the north-south direction, but long in the west-east direction. Since much of it is built on a hill, a reasonable itinerary is to take the bus up the hill, and walk down. If you get lost, find the mountains or the harbour. The mountains are in the north, and the harbour’s in the south.

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Eat

Kobe has many restaurants offering international cuisine.

Kōbe is known worldwide for its Kobe beef, exquisitely marbled, very fatty and very expensive beef. Recommended for a splurge, but expect to pay close to ¥10,000 per 100 grams. At the opposite end of the culinary spectrum is sobameshi (そば飯), a concoction of fried rice and noodles mixed together, which is cheap, filling and pretty much unique to Kobe.

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Drink

Kōbe's specialty are tachinomiya, literally stand-and-drink bars.

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Sleep

Kōbe has a wide variety of accommodation, ranging from love hotels near Shin-Kobe to luxury hotels by the waterfront. If you're looking for cheaper alternatives, ask at the tourist information office in Sannomiya station (they speak English).

If you don't find a hotel, Osaka is only 20 minutes away on the JR line for ¥390.

View our map of accommodation in Kobe or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Work

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Learn

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Keep Connected

Internet

Manga cafes are dotted along the streets of almost every city in Japan. For a very reasonable price (about ¥100 per 15 minutes), you receive a private cubicle with a PC with internet access at blistering Japanese internet speeds. The chairs are incredibly comfortable (making them an excellent place to sleep for the cash-deprived), and you can even order snacks and drinks from the staff.

A number of business hotels have Internet access available if you have your own device, sometimes for free. It is also possible to find Wi-Fi "hot spots" around many large cities in Japan, especially near tech-related businesses and large corporate buildings with unsecured wireless networks. 3G Wireless Data and Pocket Wifi are other options.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

Payphones (公衆電話 kōshū denwa) are easily found, particularly near train stations, although with the popularity of mobile phones, public pay phones are not quite as numerous as they once were. Gray and green pay phones accept ¥10 and ¥100 coins and prepaid cards. Be aware that not all places with public telephones have phones that accept coins, so it may be worthwhile to buy a phone card for emergency use. Some of the gray phones, as indicated on the display, can make international calls. Pre-paid cards can be purchased at convenience stores, train station kiosk stores and sometimes in vending machines next to the phone.

Modern Japanese mobile phones (携帯電話 keitai denwa or just keitai) tend to operate on unique cellular standards not always compatible with the rest of the world. 3G phones using the UMTS/WCDMA2100 standard and equipped with a 3G SIM card will most likely work. If your phone is up to spec, double-check with your carrier if they have a roaming agreement with either SoftBank or NTT DoCoMo. Coverage is generally excellent, unless you are heading to some remote mountainous areas. If you have no 3G phone but still have a 3G-compatible SIM card, you can rent a 3G phone in Japan and slot in your card, allowing you to keep your home phone number in Japan. For a longer trip, you can also purchase a phone, but doing this legally requires an Alien Registration Card (or an obliging Japanese friend willing to front for you).

The easier way is to get a prepaid phone. Prepaid phones are sold in most SoftBank and AU stores. If you already have a 3G phone, go with Softbank as it can sell SIMs as opposed to au whose prepaid service is phone-based like most CDMA carriers. Prepaid phones use a "card" with a pass key to "charge" a phone with minutes. These prepaid calling cards, unlike the phone itself, can be found in most convenience stores. A prepaid cell phone is available for as little as ¥5000 plus ¥3000 for a 60-90 day call time package, which will get drained at a rate of ¥100 per minute (¥10 per 6 seconds for AU's prepaid service). Both SoftBank and AU offer prepaid phones.

Post

The Japanese postal service is excellent! Domestic and international mail service is very quick and reliable. The prices for sending letters, postcards and parcels vary depending on where you send if from and to which country you send it too, and of course depends on weight as well, so check this calculation page of Japan Post for more details. Post offices generally are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm on weekdays, closing at weekends and also on national holidays, though a few open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 3:00pm. Central post offices are sometimes open until 7:00pm, open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 5:00pm and on Sundays and holidays from 9:00am to 12:30pm. There are post offices in every major city and minor town. Another thing to remember is that the post office is one of the few places in Japan that is guaranteed to have ATMs that take international cards.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 34.690083
  • Longitude: 135.1955112

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This is version 22. Last edited at 7:07 on Aug 17, 17 by Utrecht. 17 articles link to this page.

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