Cosmopolitan Kobe was slotted into our itinerary for one reason, and one reason only: Kobe beef. However, our day spent wandering this maritime metropolis taught us that there’s far more to Kobe than its cuisine. Since its brief stint as capital of Japan (lasting a grand total of five months, back in 1180), Kobe flourished as a shipping hub for the island nation until the Great Hanshin earthquake struck in 1995, reducing much of the city to rubble. Today, Japan’s sixth largest city is a cultural melting pot, with more to see and do than we managed to fit into our short day trip.
After a currency card kerfuffle, we set off for Kobe an hour later than planned. We rode the overground JR Osaka Loop line to Osaka’s main station, where we transferred to a JR rapid train bound for Kobe. Hopping off the train twenty minutes later, it was refreshing to be by the coast where it wasn’t quite so muggy and humid. Detouring via the tourist office we picked up a map (albeit one which lacked street names) before setting off in the direction of the hilltop Kitano neighbourhood.
En route, we passed Ikuta-jinja, a colourful Shinto shrine in colours not dissimilar to those at the entrance to Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera complex. There was even a little row of torii gates behind the main shrine.
We then continued uphill for what seemed like an age – especially when we weren’t even 100% sure our map was sending us in the right direction. Supplies of pineapple tea were called in en route; all hail 7-Eleven, supplier of all life’s necessities. Strolling around this district is slightly surreal. It’s as though you’re walking through one of those miniature parks, only it’s life-size and there’s just one building to represent each Western nation, rather than a whole miniature city.
This neighbourhood was once home to wealthy foreign diplomats and merchants, hence the European architectural styles. Having missed out on the human-sized clog at Keukenhof, my personal highlight was the Dutch building which had a giant clog in its courtyard!
Kobe’s geography is such that escaping the city’s bustling streets is a doddle. Having had our taste of home, we set off for Nunobiki Falls. Renowned by those in Japanese literary and artistic circles, this waterfall – or rather, set of waterfalls – is only a short walk from Shin-Kobe station. Passing beneath the station, we could see families having BBQs and children splashing about in the water. Lonely Planet had implied it was a strenuous walk, but we found it to be a rather brisk uphill ramble which lasted fifteen minutes tops.
Surrounded by leafy vegetation and very few other visitors, Nunobiki Falls was an exceptionally peaceful little spot. It was noticeably cooler up here, so we stayed awhile before venturing back into the city centre in search of food.
Wanting to try some of the region’s premier wagyu, we sought out Ishida. Kobe’s top-ranked steak joint on TripAdvisor has three branches: the first was closed; the second full; and the third had space for us, as we caught the end of lunchtime service. After stowing our rucksacks in a cupboard, we were seated at the counter and selected our set menu. Our meal kicked off with slices of tender Kobe beef – lightly scorched on the outside and rare on the inside, or “still walking” as my dad would say!
Teppanyaki-style service then ensued, with a copious amount of Japanese black beef and an assortment of vegetables. We also had miso soup, rice and Japanese pickles. At Ishida, you pay as much for the experience as you do for the food; watching the chef prepare our food in front of our eyes was half the fun. We were given a comprehensive run-through of each of the ingredients, where they were from and which sauces they should be paired with throughout our meal.
Bean sprouts and cubes of beef rounded off the main course; to finish, we enjoyed a scoop of citrus sorbet accompanied with an Earl Grey lemon iced tea. All in all, although eating at Ishida was our most expensive meal (¥4425/ c. £31 each), it was also the most memorable. If I ever returned to Kobe, I’d go back to Ishida in a flash – and I haven’t been paid to say that!
Stomachs filled, we paid up and headed towards the port via Chinatown. We couldn’t resist buying a box of watermelon en route, as it was going for ¥108 (75p) a box. Happily munching away on our discounted watermelon, we wandered along the waterfront.
Aside from the imaginatively named Kobe Port Tower (above), the waterfront was also home to the Maritime Museum, several large model turbojets and hydrofoils and an obscure mosaicked slug-like sculpture (below). With the day drawing to a close, we caught a local train back to Osaka, arriving just before 6pm.
- Central Osaka is easy enough to navigate on foot, but if you have a JR rail pass, be it regional or national, you can use the JR overground lines to get from one side of the city to the other, saving you valuable yen. As an added bonus, you can admire the cityscape while you ride.
- If you’re headed to Kobe specifically to eat Kobe beef, I would wholeheartedly recommend Ishida. It’s significantly cheaper to eat there at lunch – and you’ll likely be filled up for the rest of the day!