Japan: Kobe

Blurb

Many people are familiar with Kobe because of its world famous beef, you have probably heard stories of Japanese cattle being fed beer and massaged whilst listening to Beethoven. A lot of people asked why we decided to travel to Kobe and I have to admit, it was to sample the beef. Many people when travelling to Japan will include Kobe in their itinerary and I am going to give a few reasons why you should go!

Room

  1. Hotel
  2. Hostel
  3. Ryokan

There are plenty of hotels in Kobe and it was difficult to find hostels and traditional ryokans in a central location. Airbnbs were very sparse and we decided to stay in a hotel, which wasn’t expensive to be fair.

There are hostels available and may be a better option for you travellers but if you are going as a family or couple then I would recommend staying in a hotel – especially in a central location.

Getting around

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Simple picture of Kobe sights

Kobe has good transport links but it is much more expensive to travel here. I believe we took the subway to one stop and this cost 680 yen. Alternatively you can grab the bus and get a pass, although slightly slower, is a good way to see the city.

However, we did a lot of walking also which cut the cost of taking public transport. Some sites will require bus or subway but hopefully after reading about the sites, you can make an informed decision on whether you want to walk or take transport

Sites

  1. Kobe beef
  2. Mount Rokko
  3. Onsen
  4. Nunobiki Herb Garden
  5. Kobe Harbourland – Meriken Park
  6. Kobe Animal Kingdom (Oji Zoo alternative)
  7. Ikuta Shrine
  8. Chinatown
  9. Motomachi Shopping

Mount Rokko and Onsen

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Arima Onsen – Kin No yu – Bare all

Mt. Rokko is actually quite far from Kobe centre and if you decide to go then I would advise spending a whole day to see it. If you do this then you can hit up the onsen afterwards. What is an onsen, I hear you mutter. It is a traditional Japanese hot spring, like a sauna but with certain properties and rules.

Ok, so you have to enter butt naked.

I’m not kidding; it is Japanese tradition that you enter an onsen naked and it is part of the etiquette. There are indoor and outdoor onsen and we visited Arima Onsen, unfortunately as I have tattoos you can only enter certain onsen as some staff are worried you may be part of a gang (yakuza) and I guess it doesn’t help that I am Asian, as they cannot tell me apart from a local! We did find an onsen (Kin no Yu) which accepts tattooed individuals, however if you have a small tattoo then you may cover it up and be allowed into most of the popular onsen.

Onsen have a half towelled entrance and supposedly are colour coded to denote whether it is male or female only. Luckily, Kin no yu catered for both sexes. If you decide to go then I would advise spending 30 minutes max as the water was very warm! We decided to grab food across from the onsen which was very convenient.

Nunobiki Herb Garden

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Nunobiki Glass House

This was actually one of my favourite locations and a really good location for couples. It also sports great views of the city and was a very relaxing walk. Be warned there is an uphill walk to get to the Herb garden ropeway but it is worth it.

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Love Statue at the Herb garden

What does it consist of? So after you get off the ropeway, you can walk from the top of the garden to the bottom ropeway which then takes you back down. There are many different varieties of plants and herbs, some which you can sample and a fragrance shop where you can smell the different scents that are cultivated from the herbs. There is nothing spectacular about the herb garden but it is a peaceful place which the dreamers among you may also enjoy.

Kobe Tower and Harbour

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Kobe Tower – Nice to look at – View at the top, meh

This is probably the most visited site as it sports Kobe tower, Meriken park and the Kawasaki Good times museum. If you plan on visiting the harbour then I would advise a few things.

  1. Check the closing days (as these sites are not open everyday or you may visit when there is a special holiday)
  2. Visit Nankinmachi (Chinatown) before or after as it is not far from the harbour – you might want to have lunch there and explore it. It is similar to London Chinatown except it is not as busy and there are fewer shops but still plenty to see
  3. Consider the all in one pass to get into the tower and museums for 1000 yen
  4. Kansai Thru pass – I mentioned this before with Osaka but if you get the thru pass then you will probably get most of its use in Kobe for travelling costs alone
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Kobe Chinatown! Decent sized chinatown with stone arches

Kobe Animal Kingdom

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Cats and Dogs petting area

This was worth the visit if you are an animal lover. Bev loves cats and dogs and decided this was the better option compared to Oji Zoo.

She was right! It was a very enjoyable visit, theres a huge variety of animals and you also get the opportunity to feed most of the animals. The best part was where you were allowed to visit the dog and cat sanctuary where you can pet them. The only bad point is that the animal kingdom is slightly out of the way. If you are considering going then you need to get on the kobe port liner and get off at K Computer Mae.

Eating!

I did add Kobe beef as a site/activity above and you could probably spend a day eating at the best Kobe beef places and have no regrets but let me give you two pieces of advice

  1. Book a reputable Kobe beef restaurant in advance! Otherwise you may be left Kobe beef-less
  2. Do not worry about the cost of Kobe beef – you are on holiday, enjoy it – if you are in London and want to sample Kobe beef or Wagyu beef (ie. Japanese beef) then you can easily spend hundreds of pounds – we spent £90 each for grade A5 Kobe – cheap!

We visited Steak Aoyama, although not as flashy as some Kobe beef restaurants like Ishida. It had mountains of character, the teppan grill sat in the restaurant since its opening, the L shaped counter top is worn but functional, tickets on the side table and framed signatures of people who have visited the restaurant surrounding the walls! As soon as you enter, it feels like a humble and homely place – no dress up or try hard attitude. The staff are exactly the same, good and honest people serving quality food.

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Cream soup to start

Bev and I chose the sirloin Kobe beef, mine came with a side dish of smoked duck, scallop and octopus salad. Can you see the immense marbling on the Kobe beef, I wish I could upload a video of chef cooking and cutting it, literally like butter. IMG_5309

At this point you must be hungry, its like when you’re up at midnight and watching food videos or researching food. Well, let me tell you, the Kobe beef melts – it requires no effort to chew, I even crushed it with my tongue against my palate and it melted! The recommended eating method was to try it with himalayan sea salt, fried garlic flakes or with soy sauce and daikon. My favourite was the salt, it really enhanced the richness of the beef.

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The first picture is of a ramen house we tried which was actually across the road from Ishida.

The slideshow is the meal we had after bathing in Arima Onsen, it consisted of cold fried fish, tuna sashimi, braised beef and yam, fried tofu in dashi. Really good meal and amazing after relaxing in the Onsen.

Top tips

  1. Have Kobe beef and remember to book beforehand and do not be scared with the budget, it is worth it. However go to a place which has good reputation – we highly recommend Steak Aoyoma at Tor Road
  2. Consider using a Kansai thru pass here as transport is pricier
  3. Two whole days in Kobe is enough time to see the sites; you could spend one day at the harbour and herb garden and one day at Mt Rokko and the Onsen. You could throw in an extra day for just Kobe beef eating!

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