Mt Rokko, the highest peak in the Rokko mountain range at 931 metres, offers wide views of Kobe and nearby Osaka, attracting throngs of people at sunset. Stripped of nearly all of its vegetation until a forest restoration project began in 1903, Mt Rokko, now brimming with lush forest and flowers, is a fine example of ecological restoration. Whether you have a few hours or the whole day, there's plenty to do here. Stroll around the botanical gardens or flower meadows, play a round of golf, go skiing (in winter) on the man-made ski slope, or visit the Rokko Garden Terrace (Open 09:00 - 21:00 daily. Tel: +81 (0)78 894 2281) and its dining spots, shops and an observation deck.
If you have time, stop by the Hall of Halls Rokko Music Box Museum (Open 10:00 - 17:00. Closed Thursdays. Entry fee 1000 yen. Tel: +81 (0)78 891 1284) or the Mt Rokko Ranch and Cheese Museum (Open 09:00 - 16:30. Closed Wednesdays. Entry fee adults 500 yen, children 200 yen. Tel: +81 (0)78 891 0280). Test your fitness at the Mt Rokko Field Athletic centre (Open 10:00 - 17:00 April 1-Nov 23. Closed Thursdays. Entry fee 900 yen. Tel: +81 (0)78 891 0366), featuring a demanding obstacle course in a lovely forest setting -- good spot for kids.
- How to get there: Catch Kobe City Bus #16, which can be boarded from either Rokko Station on the Hankyu Kobe Line, from JR Rokkomichi Station, or at the Hanshin Mikage Station. The bus will take you to the base station of the Rokko Cable Car. The 10-minute trip on this classic funicular line costs 570 yen one-way or 1000 yen return.
Shin-Kobe Station Trails
Anywhere you stay in Kobe, nature is always close at hand with the mountains and forests a quick train ride away. The Shin-Kobe Station Trails are a popular place for day hikes, with several trails of varying difficulties winding up the slopes of Mt Rokko. Trails take you along wooded areas, and to viewpoints, streams and waterfall pools. The famed Nunobiki Falls are about a 20-minute walk up from the station. For a side-trip, take the Shin-Kobe Ropeway from the station up to the Nunobiki Herb Garden, featuring more than 200 varieties of herbs as well as greenhouses, a restaurant, museums, exhibits and gift shops (Open Weekdays 10:00 - 17:00, Sat 10:00 - 20:30, Sun/holidays 10:00 - 19:30. Entry fee: Adults 1200 yen, Children 600 yen; fee includes round-trip fare on the ropeway. Tel: +81 (0)78 271 1160.)
- How to get there: Take the Kobe Municipal Subway to Shin-Kobe station.
Arima Onsen (Hot Spring Spa Resort)
Arima Onsen has been a spa resort destination in Japan for hundreds of years. The hot springs' mineral-rich water is believed to help cure a range of internal and skin ailments. Two types of water are found here: 'kinsen', or golden water, has a high salt and iron level, while 'ginsen', silver water, is colourless and rich in carbonic acid. Even if you're not convinced of the curative effects of the water, stopping for a soak at a public bath or ryokan (traditional guest house) is a soothing experience that also immerses you in Japanese culture. Expect to pay 500 to 1500 yen for entry into the public baths and budget ryokan. Luxury guesthouses and hotel resorts will charge much more. The narrow streets of the town are worth a walk for some leisurely exploration and picture-taking.
- How to get there:
By Train: From Sannomiya or Shin-Kobe Station, go to Tanigami Station, then take the Kobe Railways Arima Line to Arima Onsen Station with one transfer at Arimaguchi Station.
By Cablecar and Ropeway: From Mt Rokko (see directions for getting there above), take the circular bus line to the top station at Rokko Arima Ropeway (250 yen). The Ropeway ride takes 12 minutes and costs 980 yen one way or 1770 yen return. A better value ride is offered with the 'Rokko Arima Katamichi Joshaken' ticket, which for 1700 yen gives you a one way cable car and ropeway ride and unlimited use of the Mt Rokko circular bus line.
Kobe is the birthplace of golf in Japan, with the country's first golf course opened here by English expatriate Arthur Hasketh Groom on Mount Rokko in 1903. A century later, the Kobe Golf Club (Play fee: 12100 yen weekdays, 19100 yen weekends; Tel: +81 (0)78 891 0364) is still in operation and has since been joined by some 70 more golf courses in and around the city. Kobe Golf Club now has two short 18-hole courses and keeps its grounds in pristine condition by banning golf carts.
The private, 18-hole Hirono Golf Club (Tel: +81 (0)79 485 0123), about 25 kilometres outside Kobe centre, has been ranked one of the top courses in the world by Golf Magazine and is known for its gorgeous landscaping and challenging holes. A round of golf in Kobe costs anywhere from around 5000 yen at the more inexpensive courses to 35000 yen for weekend play at Hirono (if you can manage to get a tee-time at this ultra-exclusive club!).
Kobe Harbour Cruises
Much of Kobe's life pulsates from its port, so getting out on its waterways is a great chance to see an up close view of Kobe's heart. A number of cruises are available to take you around Kobe harbour, from a quick 30-minute jaunt to more than two hours. Splash Kobe offers a colourful and exciting ride on its bright yellow amphibious boat that drives straight into the sea (Hours of operation vary according to conditions and season. Ride fee: Adult 3000 yen, Children 2000 yen. Tel: +81 (0)78 335 2539). Akashi Kaikyo Bridge dinner cruises are also recommended. Most cruises depart from Meriken Park.
- Location: Most cruises depart from Meriken Park.
Oji Zoo is a large and pleasant facility with 150 species of animals, a petting zoo and an Animal Science Pavilion. The major attractions include the rare Giant Panda bears (named Koko and Tantan), two Sichuan Red Pandas, the Koala Pavilion, and the Fierce Animal Coliseum where tigers, lions and other big cats can be seen through glass windows. The zoo's amusement park makes it especially popular with families, with its Ferris wheel, roller coaster and other rides costing 200 or 300 yen per ride.
- Opening Hours: Mar - Oct from 09:00 - 16:30; Nov - Feb from 09:00 - 16:00 (Closed Wednesdays)
- Location: 3-1 Ojicho, Nada-ku
- Subway: Closest Metro Station: Oji Koen (Hankyu Railway Line)
- Tel: +81 (0)78 961 5624
- Price Range: Adults 600 yen, Junior High Students 200 yen, Elementary Students and younger free.
Kobe Municipal Fruit & Flower Park
There's no shortage of things to do in this park, with a public bathhouse, outdoor swimming pool, ice skating rink, orchards and gardens to enjoy. Help pick seasonal fruits including peaches, pears, grapes and apricots, or just stroll the grounds and look at the many bright flowers in blossom. A large building that serves as the park's centre is styled after a medieval European castle. The park is a popular place for Kobe events with a hotel and conference facilities on site.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 09:00-17:00
- Location: 2150 Kamiosawa, Osawa-cho, Kita-ku
- Subway: Closest Metro Station: Dentetsu Okaba Station (from there, take a Kobe City Bus for the 15-minute journey)
- Tel: +81 (0)78 954 1000
- Price Range: Adults 500 yen, Children 250 yen; additional fees for pool, bathhouse and other facilities
'There's a lover's leap in old Japan/Where the lovers walk along the sand/Hand in hand at Sumahama.' These are the lyrics for the 1979 Beach Boys song about Suma Beach, a two-kilometre stretch of white sand that teems with surfers and sun worshippers in the summer months. DJ dance parties are among the events held during the summer. Lovely sunset views out to Akashi Kaikyo Bridge.
Not far away is Suma Aqualife Park, a modern aquarium that was the first in Japan to build an underwater tunnel, called "Amazon museum", and also features a 2-storey-high tank with artificial wave surges that simulates conditions in the ocean depths (Open 09:00 - 17:00, closed Wednesdays. Entry fee: Adults 1300 yen, High School Students 800 yen, Children 500 yen. Tel: +81 (0)78 731 7301).
Suma Rikyu Park, modeled after the Palace of Versailles grounds, features more than 200 tree varieties, extensive iris, rose and camellia collections and a botanical garden with hundreds of plants and flowers. A large fountain that is colourfully illuminated in the evening, a playground and pathways make this an attractive spot for families (Open 09:00 - 17:00, closed Thursdays. Entry fee: Adults 400 yen, Children 150 yen. Tel: +81 (0)78 732 6688).
- How to get there: Take the JR Kobe train line to Suma Station.
You're likely to eat a lot of fish while visiting Japan, so why not try catching some too? Fishing is a popular pastime in Kobe, and there are a number of purpose-built fishing parks that cater to this hobby. The parks rent out fishing rods, tackle and bait for an all-inclusive fee, and some even have restaurants on site that will fry up your catch on the spot.
Two fishing parks can be found in the Suma Ward. The Kobe City Suma Marine Fishing Park has four platforms extending out to sea (Open 06:00 - 19:00, closed Tuesdays. Entry fee 200 yen, fishing fee 1200 yen. Tel: +81 (0)78 735 2907). Nearby is the Kobe City Hiraiso Marine Fishing Park with a 1400-metre-long fishing platform set over artificial reefs (Open: 06:00-19:00, closed Thursdays. Entry fee 200 yen, fishing fee 1,000 yen. Tel: +81 (0)78 753 3973).
Kobe Sport Stadiums
Japanese sports fans are passionate about their home teams, and joining them in cheering on their favourite players offers a great glimpse into modern Japanese culture.
Kobe's legacy as a major sports centre was firmly established when it hosted some World Cup Football 2002 matches in its newly expanded, high-tech Kobe Wing Stadium (now called Home's Stadium Kobe). The 30000+ seat facility has a public swimming pool and is used extensively for pop/rock concerts and other big events. The local teams from Japan's professional football (soccer) and rugby leagues play here (Location: Hygoyo. Closest Metro Station: Wadamisaki).
For baseball, check out the Skymark Stadium, home to the Nippon Professional Baseball League team, the Orix Buffaloes (Location: Seishin. Closest Metro Station: Sogo Undo Koen).
Both stadiums listed here are set in sports parks, with ample fields and public facilities where you can go kick a ball around yourself if you tire of watching the pros at work.