Quick Hop to Kobe

I recently made a trip down to Kansai to meet my sister and brother-in-law who were visiting Japan on their honeymoon. After flying down from Chitose Thursday night and spending the night at a capsule hotel in Shinsaibashi, I took the train to Kobe for the day before meeting them in the afternoon. Only a half hour ride from Osaka, Kobe offers a relaxed city vibe, history, and food for a short day trip out of the city.

My first stop in the city was Meriken Park. On the way, I passed through Mosaic, an open air shopping area with restaurants, shops, and Totti Candy Factory, which has really good bulk candy for a snack.

Meriken Park is a wonderful place to sit down, people watch, and enjoy the sun. There are big lawns where you can take a rest by the water and watch boats come in, and I got a drink from the most scenic Starbucks I’ve ever visited. Boats passed through the harbor, and elementary and high school students milled around on their school trips.  Kobe Port Tower is a fixture of the city, and in the park there are a couple museums about the history of the port. Along with Nagasaki, Yokohama, and Hakodate, Kobe was one of the few cities that Japan opened to the world in the 1800s. Its port played an important role in that, and throughout the city, visitors can find signs of globalization.

My next stop was in Chinatown. Though smaller than Yokohama’s, Kobe’s Chinatown is also full of restaurants and food stands, some of which offer Kobe beef. I snacked on a sesame bun as I walked around, but given the area’s size I was onto my next stop after not too long.

Kobe is also home to Japan’s first mosque. When I stopped by the outside, I could only find the entrance for women, so I didn’t go inside. But the exterior is beautiful and much different from the rest of the city. Undettered, I continued to the Ikuta Shrine where I walked through a beautiful wooded garden.

Both of these stops were on the way uphill to Kobe’s Kitanomachi district, a residential area famous for its Western-style architecture and historic homes. This area is full of consulate buildings and house museums, and I visited the Weathercock and Moegi houses on a combined ticket. The houses were both underwhelming and sparse inside with few areas open to visitors and a lot of the rooms reorganized and not left as they were when families lived in them. At the very least, they offer a glimpse into Kobe’s history as a port city.

Having seen my fill of Kitanocho, I wandered back down the hill to Wanto Burger for some Kobe beef. I was determined to try Kobe’s famous meat while in the city, but I wasn’t willing to pay upwards of 8,000 yen for it. Wanto Burger, though, makes their burgers with Kobe beef, and their cheeseburger was the best burger I’ve ever eaten. Its topped with great tomatoes, pickles, and, I believe, some bacon too.

My final stop of the day was to the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake Memorial in Meriken Park. The earthquake ravaged the city and killed over 5,000 people. The port also experienced significant damage, and this memorial preserves a segment of the port as it was after the quake.

The Kansai area is full of great cities to visit, and Kobe deserves a spot on the list. On a return trip, I’d visit the Arima Onsen, Mount Rokko, and the Nunobiki Falls. And of course Wanto Burger again.

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