Kobe

Kobe is one of Japan’s most attractive cities and is far more international than you might expect.

Kobe is a bright, contemporary, cosmopolitan city, particularly popular with European ex-pats and English-language teachers. In 1868 the modernising Meiji Emperor decided Kobe should become a port for foreign trade so you’ll find far more European restaurants, bakeries and international supermarkets than you’d expect. It takes only 167 minutes by bullet train from Kobe to Tokyo but Kobe is very green compared with other Japanese cities. English residents liken it to Hampstead while Americans are reminded of Boston Common. The locals take a real pride in Kobe and it is a fun place to be.

What to see & do

Cruise ships generally dock at the port terminal on Chuo-ku. Meriken Park with its modern-art installations and lawns is a short walk from here and Kobe’s Maritime Museum and iconic Port Tower border the park. The view from the tower’s fifth floor is well worth the 600 yen. Further into the centre of the city don’t miss Sorakuen, a serenely traditional Japanese landscape garden that used to belong to the mayor. On the slopes at the northern edge of the city, Kitano-cho is a much-visited neighbourhood for its Ijinkan, Gothic Victorian stone houses built above the old city for foreign traders and diplomats. The interiors – Dutch, Chinese, English and Italian – are beautifully preserved.

Where to drink

Live Jazz Sone is a five-minute walk up Kitanozaka Street from Sannomiya Station. It’s worth the climb if you enjoy the sound of piano trio and live jazz vocals. If you’re in town on a Sunday it’s only 1,000 yen for entrance and a drink. Closer to the port terminal is Kou’s, a sky lounge bar on the fourteenth floor of the Meriken Park Oriental Hotel. If you love football go to the Sports Bar League with its big screens and noisy clientele near Shin Kobe station.

Where to eat

There’s nowhere better than Kobe to eat Kobe beef, which is tender, flavoursome and distinctively marbled with white fat. This beef, from pedigree Tajima herds, is usually served as single steaks, shabu shabu (thin slices of meat boiled in a broth) or sukiyaki (slices simmered in a hot pot). At a teppan-yaki restaurant the chef will grill the meat in front of you. Misono, in walking distance of the Port Terminal, was the birthplace of teppan-yaki back in 1945. Okagawa in the Shochiku Building specialises in shabu shabu and sukiyaki. If you miss European cooking try the filet mignon at the French-themed Kitano Club.

Where to stay

The B Kobe (ishinhotels.com/thebkobe/ en/) is only 10 minutes from the Shinkansen station and is a handy upmarket modern hotel for businessminded travellers. Portopia (portopia. co.jp/en) has a great executive floor, The Oval Club, with superb panoramic views of the Osaka Bay and the Wakayama peninsula on a clear day.

Fact File

  • Population 1,545,000
  •  Climate Kobe has a temperate climate with hot humid summers and cool winters. Rain is common and autumn and winter are drier that spring and summer.
  • Languages Japanese
  • Timezone GMT +9
  • Currency Yen
  • Did you know? Kobe is widely associated with fashion and the Japanese say: “If you can’t go to Paris, go to Kobe.