Kobe, Japan

Kobe, Japan is delightful. This travel guide features things to do in three districts: city center, the waterfront and Port Island. Strap on your best walking shoes and enjoy exploring Kōbe-shi. When you have built up an appetite, satisfy your hunger with heavenly Kobe beef.

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1 Rainbow Water Spay Welcomes You to Kobe, Japan

This fireboat escorted a cruise ship into the Port of Kobe with a dramatic display of shooting water in a rainbow of colors. This maritime salute is traditionally reserved for a major ship entering a harbor for the first time. Welcome to Kobe! Japan’s sixth largest city with a population of 1.5 million is located on Honshū Island at the foothills of Mount Rokkō. Cosmopolitan, scenic and thriving, Kobe is home to major companies, a huge container port and the namesake for the famously delicious Kobe beef. You will enjoy exploring this vivacious city for a day or week.

[34.683648, 135.212794]
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2 Port of Kobe in Kobe, Japan

Hyogo Port began as early as the 13th century. When it reopened in 1868 at the end of Japan’s self-imposed isolationism (called either kaikin or sakoku), it was renamed the Port of Kobe. Since then, it has become Japan’s fourth busiest harbor and has been designated as one of six “super-hub” ports in the country. An extensive schedule of ferries is available. They range from a 30 minute ride to Kansai International Airport to over 50 hours to reach Shanghai. Both Benny Goodman’s and Bing Crosby’s famous song lyrics would call that a slow boat to China. In the background is Kobe Ohashi. The red suspension bridge was built in 1970 to connect the city with manmade Port Island.

3, Shinkōchō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0041, Japan
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3 Port Liner Monorail in Kobe, Japan

Conveniently located adjacent to the cruise port terminal at Shinko Pier No. 4 is a monorail station. Port Liner is a fast, driverless link to Port Island and Kobe Airport in the south or Sannomiya Station in the heart of the city. From there, you can make connections to the subway system, bus routes and trains. Or hop off at any of the nine stops and you are within walking distance of all the places shown in this travel guide.

4−5, Shinkōchō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0041, Japan
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4 Former Foreign Settlement in Kobe, Japan

At the start of the Meiji period in 1868, Japanese ports reopened to international trade, resulting in a flood of maritime shippers, businessmen, governments and entrepreneurs. To house them and their operations in Kobe, a 126 block district was designated near the port. Unfortunately, during WWII, about 70% of the Western-style structures in Kyu-kyoryuchi were destroyed and more were lost in the 1995 earthquake. However, a few excellent examples of the Former Foreign Settlement remain squeezed in among modern buildings. The oldest is the Former U. S. Consulate General office, built in 1881. It is now occupied by the Tooth Tooth Maison 15th restaurant. This company has a few outlets in Kobe serving Japanese-style sweets (dagashi) and Western-Japanese sweets (yōgashi) … perfect confections for your sweet tooth tooth.

Naniwamachi, 15, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0035, Japan
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5 Shosen Mitsui Building in Kobe, Japan

Another interesting building within the Former Foreign Settlement area of Kobe is the Shosen Mitsui Building. It opened in 1922 as the local headquarters for a major shipping company. After a series of mergers, the Mitsui O.S.K. Lines is now a conglomerate of container, passenger and tanker ships with international operations.

5 Kaigandori, Chuo, Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture 650-0024, Japan
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6 Kobe City Museum in Kobe, Japan

This sailing ship relief is a tribute to the harbor’s intricate role to the Kansai Region dating back to the Heian period (794 – 1185) when the port was called Ōwada Anchorage. The artwork is on the side of the old Yokohama Specie Bank built in 1935 in the Former Foreign Settlement. Since 1982, it has housed the Kobe City Museum. Their exhibits trace Kobe’s cultural exchange with Asian and Western countries by era with a special focus on the 400 years of the combined Edo and Meiji periods.

24, Kyo-machi, Chuo-ku, Kobe, 650-0034 Japan
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7 Kansai Electric Power Kobe Building in Kobe, Japan

Kobe’s third tallest skyscraper at 558 feet is the most unique defining the cityscape: the Kansai Electric Power Kobe Building. This is the local office for Kansai Denryoku Kabushiki-gaisha, an electricity utility company serving Kansai. This region which includes Kobe was once very reliant on nuclear power. However, since 2012, all 12 nuclear reactors have been eliminated in response to the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima Daiichicaused by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011.

6-2-1 Kanōchō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken, 650-0001, Japan
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8 Marina Statue in Front of City Hall in Kobe, Japan

A close inspection of the clock held by the gilded Marina statue shows the hands at 5:46. They have remained steadfast since the Yuki Shintani building collapsed and this clock was broken on the morning of January 17, 1995. That date is when the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck the nearby island of Awaji yet killed the most people at Kobe. The memorial is part of Higashi-Yuenchi Park. Towering behind it is Kobe City Hall. The 433 foot building offers a free observation deck on the 24th floor providing panoramic views of the city and harbor.

6 Chome-5 Kanōchō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0001, Japan
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9 Japanese Marathon Birthplace Memorial in Kobe, Japan

This monument in Higashi-Yuenchi Park marks “The birthplace of the marathon in Japan” in Kobe in 1909. Japan’s largest marathon competition is now held in Tokyo each year. There is a great side story about Japan’s first Olympic marathoner. During the 1912 Summer Games in Stockholm, Shiso Kanakuri failed to finish the race and never notified officials. Consequently, he was listed as missing. In 1967, at the age of 75, he was invited back to cross the finish line. His time: 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 5 hours and 32 minutes. Lest you think Kanakuri was really slow, he did hold three marathon records during his career.

6 Chome-5 Kanōchō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0001, Japan
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10 Flower Clock in Kobe, Japan

At the base of the Kobe City Hall is Japan’s oldest flower clock. Measuring 21 feet across, it was a gift of the Kobe Flower Society. Not surprisingly, it is located on Flower Road, a boulevard lined with flowers and greenery.

6 Chome-5 Kanōchō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0001, Japan
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11 Sannomiya Shopping District in Kobe, Japan

Sannomiya is the main shopping district in Kobe. A very popular arcade is Kobe Sannomiya Center Gai (Street) featuring side-by-side, predominately fashion stores along with other specialty retailers. Parallel to it is Sannomiya Hondori Shopping Street. Next to Sannomiya Station are twelve more floors of potential purchases at Mont Kobe. You can also satisfy your shopping hobby at three department stores in central Kobe: Daimaru, Hankyu and this one, SOGO.

8 Chome-1 Gokōdōri, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 651-0087, Japan
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12 Red Torii of Ikuta Road in Kobe, Japan

This red torii and the gateway behind – located in the center of the Sannomiya Shopping District – marks the entrance to Ikuta Road. By day, the 1,300 foot street leads you to Ikuta Shrine. This Shinto shrine was founded during the 3rd century, making it one of Japan’s oldest. After sunset, Ikuta Road comes alive as Kobe’s street for nightlife and excellent (albeit expensive) restaurants. If your mouth is watering to taste Kobe beef, there are several places to savor it here. One of the best since it opened in 1885 is Mouriya Sannomiya.

2 Chome−5−1, Sannomiyachō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0021, Japan
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13 Kobe Doll Museum in Kobe, Japan

This stuffed bear resembling a Beefeater (yeoman warder) from London advertises the Kobe Doll Museum in the Sannomiya Shopping District. The small yet enjoyable museum displays antique dolls with precious porcelain faces in elaborate dresses, automa figures that will surely delight you plus a floor largely devoted to teddy bears. The Kansai Region including Kobe is also noted for their unique style of hina dolls. These are emperor and empress figures along with their royal court arranged on a stepped platform. They date back to the Edo period (1603 – 1868).

3-1-17 Sannomiya-cho, Chuo-ku, Kobe, 650-0021, Japan
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14 Kobe Motomachi Arcade in Kobe, Japan

Need more places to shop? Then stroll through the trendy and elegant Motomachi Shopping Street at the west end of Sannomiya District next to Nankinmachi, Kobe’s Chinatown. Kobe Motomachi stretches for .75 miles and offers over 300 stores. More than 20 retailers have been serving locals and visitors for over 100 years. This area was the core settlement prior to Kobe’s founding in 1889. Its name means “original” (moto) “town” (machi). It was a central route for houses and industry dating back to the Edo period (1603 – 1968). It was named Motomachi Street in 1874. This handsome glass marque was created by Miki Keiko Miura.

1 Chome-7 Motomachidōri, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0022, Japan
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15 Laughing Buddha at Nankinmachi in Kobe, Japan

Before passing beneath a traditional paifang archway and entering Kobe’s Chinatown (Nankinmachi) from the east (Chang’an Gate), you are greeted by Laughing Buddha. The statue represents Budai, a fat, bald and always smiling Chinese monk from the 10th century. It is believed his image brings prosperity and wealth to a business. He obviously represents the merchants rubbing their hands in anticipation of getting your money.

1 Chome-1 Motomachidōri, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0022, Japan
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16 Busy Chinatown of Nankinmachi in Kobe, Japan

After the Chinese began arriving in Kobe in 1868, they settled into a compact area called Nankinmachi. Its namesake is Nanjing, the previous capital city of China from the 3rd until the mid-20th century. Today, Kobe’s bustling Chinatown is a two-block-square tourist attraction featuring steaming street food with mouth-watering aromas intermingled among 100 souvenir shops. In the center is a public square with a gazebo. This is a great place to rest and people watch while munching on dim sum, a dumpling typically filled with beef, pork or chicken.

1 Chome-1 Motomachidōri, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0022, Japan
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17 Kobe Beef Sign at Nankinmachi in Kobe, Japan

Foodies relish visiting Kobe to taste its famous wagyu beef. Better known as Kobe beef, this cut of meat from Japanese black cattle is the most highly marbled, delicious and expensive money can buy. Want the best of the best? Then order grade five of Kobe niku, the top in marbling, color and texture. Surprising, connoisseurs claim the best wagyu is not from Kobe but originates in Miyazaki Prefecture in southwestern Japan.

1 Chome-1 Motomachidōri, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0022, Japan
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18 Estación de Kobe Wedding Hall in Kobe, Japan

From the outside, Estación de Kobe appears to be a tall, fairytale castle. Inside is even more enchanting. To most foreigners, this seems like a beautiful yet uncharacteristic venue for a traditional Japanese wedding. Historically, these are Shinto ceremonies performed at a shrine because about 80% of Japanese participate in Shinto practices. The groom wears a hakama beneath a black kimono jacket and the bride dresses in an embroidered silk shiromuku. However, since the 1980s, about 75% of weddings in Japan follow Western customs – including wearing a tux and wedding dress – conducted in a chapel or wedding hall.

2−8 Bentenchō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken, 650-0043 , Japan
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19 Meriken Park in Kobe, Japan

If you are sightseeing through Japan’s major cities aboard a cruise ship, you may be tempted to skip a port and sleep in. Vacations with all of that extravagant food and fresh sea air can be so exhausting. If you don’t have time to see all of the highlights in this Kobe travel guide, at least disembark to explore Meriken Park near the cruise terminal. Several of the city’s landmarks are at this waterfront park including Kobe Port Tower, Kobe Maritime Museum, Kawasaki Good Times World and the Earthquake Memorial Park. Part of this headland was called the Meriken Wharf during the Meiji period. The name was a mistaken understanding by the Japanese of the word America.

2 Hatobachō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0042, Japan
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20 Fish Dance Sculpture at Meriken Park in Kobe, Japan

Near the northeast entrance to Meriken Park is this sculpture of a giant carp titled “Fish Dance.” Artist Frank O. Gehry used chain-link mesh covered with copper sheets resembling scales to create the 72 foot tall public art. Traditionally, the Amur carp (called koi or nishikigoi) are raised in outdoor ponds within Japanese gardens. They can grow over three feet long and live well beyond fifty years. The oldest was Hanako who lived an estimated 225 years.

2 Hatobachō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0042, Japan
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21 Earthquake Memorial Park at Meriken Park in Kobe, Japan

Two events have virtually destroyed Kobe. The first was during World War II air raids. The second was the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995. This 6.9 magnitude tremor killed almost 6,500 people and injured another 43,000. 120 of the 150 quays at Port Kobe were damaged or destroyed. These leaning lampposts along crippled Meriken Wharf were retained as part of the Earthquake Memorial Park. To learn more about this local disaster, visit the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Museum a short distance away.

2 Hatobachō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0042, Japan
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22 Kobe Maritime Museum at Meriken Park in Kobe, Japan

This dramatic, abstract roofline resembling a ship sail visually grabs your attention in the center of Meriken Park. It beckons you to the Kobe Maritime Museum. Their exhibits plus a movie at the Maritime Theater portray the fascinating history of Japanese seafaring vessels with a focus on Port Kobe. The building also includes Kawasaki Good Times World. You probably know the company as the manufacturer of motorcycles, jet skis, ATVs and autos. But you will be astonished by the diversity of products for industry, aerospace, defense and shipping produced by this Kobe-based conglomerate.

2-2 Hatobachō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0042, Japan
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23 Kobe Port Tower at Meriken Park in Kobe, Japan

The city’s famous landmark since 1963 is the Kobe Port Tower at Meriken Park. It offers a visual delight no less than three times. First, you will be impressed while staring up at the 354 foot, lattice steel façade resembling a Japanese hand drum (tsudzumi). Next, its multiple observation decks plus a restaurant provide visitors with outstanding, 360° views of Kobe, the port and the harbor. Finally, at night, Kōbe Pōto Tawā becomes a colorful beacon generated by over 7,000 light-emitting diodes.

5-5 Hatobachō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0042, Japan
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24 Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel in Kobe, Japan

If you did not arrive in Kobe aboard a passenger ship but want the experience, then book a room at the Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel. Not only are these luxury accommodations shaped like a ship, but it is surrounded on three sides by the sea … perfect to enjoy from your balcony. It is located at the end of Naka Pier so you can also be bedazzled by the nighttime lights of Meriken Park and Kobe Port.

5-6 Hatobacho, Chuo-ku, Kobe, 650-0042, Japan
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25 Notre Dame Kobe in Kobe, Japan

Nakatottei Chuo Cruise Terminal on Naka-Pier (adjacent to Meriken Park) is the place to go if you want a sightseeing cruise around the harbor. Next to it is Notre Dame Kobe. Although this “cathedral” pales in comparison to its namesake, Notre-Dame de Paris, this is the place to go if you want a wedding chapel with a harbor view. If you love the venue but dread a commitment, then stay long enough to see the colorful fountain show at night.

7-3 Hatobachō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0042, Japan
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26 Harborland Entertainment District in Kobe, Japan

Kobe Harborland Umie is a portside entertainment district featuring two shopping malls plus Mosaic. This is an amusement park with a Ferris wheel and the Anpanman Museum devoted to Japanese superheroes featured in comic books (manga) and animated films (anime). There is always something exciting happening here, like a spontaneous Chinese Lion Dance of colorful, two-person costumes. This golden, bull-like creature is the mythological qilin. Also called a kirin, this good omen represents prosperity.

7-2 1 Chrome, Higashikawasakicho, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken, 650-0044, Japan
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27 Port Island near Port of Kobe in Kobe, Japan

Adjacent to the Port of Kobe is a two square mile island name Port Island. After 15 years of construction, the land opened in 1981. Since then, it has welcomed industry plus hotels and attractions such as the World Memorial Hall on the left. This arena is a multiple-purpose venue for sports, conventions and tradeshows. Next to it is the Port Island Sports Center. This facility features several swimming pools. One of them becomes an ice rink in the winter.

6 Chrome 12-2 Minatojima, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0047, Japan
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28 Bando Kobe Science Museum on Port Island in Kobe, Japan

If you are looking for a place to entertain your children – or if you are a kid at heart – then head towards the Bando Kobe Science Museum on Port Island. There are five floors of exhibits including sections on environment, life and information sciences. Without question the most popular feature is Shin-chan. This robot has amazing skills including singing, dancing, playing games, drawing and talking. You will also enjoy the planetarium on the top floor featuring 25,000 stars.

7-7-6 Nakamachi, Minatojima, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0046, Japan
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29 UCC Coffee Museum on Port Island in Kobe, Japan

Tadao Ueshima was a wholesaler working at the Port of Kobe when he sipped his first cup of coffee in 1933. Tasting a business opportunity, he began roasting coffee for local cafes. After WWII, when imports were allowed again in Japan, the “Father of Coffee in Japan” founded the Ueshima Coffee Company in 1951. Although only 37.4% of Japanese favor coffee over tea, the market continues growing. In 2015, Japan’s domestic consumption reached 462,000 tons. Want to learn lots more about your favorite beverage? Then visit the UCC Coffee Museum on Port Island. Reserve time to experience the Tasting Corner.

6 Chrome 6-2 Minatojima, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0046, Japan
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30 Kobe Animal Kingdom on Port Island in Kobe, Japan

Horticulturist Mototeru Kamo wanted to share his love of birds and gardens. So he created a few theme parks in Japan. One of them, now called Kobe Animal Kingdom, is located on Port Island. Children love the experience of interacting and feeding birds and small animals while encircled by blooming flowers, greenery and a pond filled with water lilies.

7 Chome−1−9, Minatojima, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0047, Japan
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