Kobe Attractions

July 10, 2023

Paul Kay

Since you are a frequent traveler, have you visited Japan? If so, maybe you saw attractions in Tokyo. Have you been to Kobe? We decided to visit Kobe when we based ourselves in Osaka. From Osaka, we took the JR train to Kanazawa, Fukuoka, Kobe and Nara. We purchased a JR pass in order to save money on travel and use the Shinkansen bullet train as often as possible. You can read the economics of a JR pass in our post on the subject. I can tell you it was a great decision and also a huge money saver for us.

You might be visiting Kobe just for the beef. We understand. Kobe beef is certainly well known all over the world. Madeline and I have enjoyed Kobe beef in Tokyo, and it was both very expensive and very tender. It’s not the kind of thing we would have regularly – maybe every 5 years – or less?

We wanted to come to Kobe for the beef but also for a few of areas of the city which most foreign travelers have never heard about. We began our journey from the Hyatt Regency Osaka. The hotel kindly provides a shuttle for a 30-minute ride to the Osaka JR station. We wanted to take the Shinkansen to Kobe because some of the highlights of Kobe are right behind the Shin Kobe station.

From the Osaka JR station, we headed to track 7/8 and then boarded the loop train to Shin Osaka. From there, we purchased our round-trip tickets using our Japan Rail Pass. We boarded the next Shinkansen to Shin Kobe.

Shin Kobe JR station en route for Nunobiki Falls Kobe Japan

We wanted to see Nunobiki Falls and the Nunobiki Herb Garden. For the Garden, we’d take an aerial tramway which would present great photo opportunities of Kobe harbor and some of the sights of the city. We started looking for signs for Nunobiki Falls.

Arrival Shin Kobe JR station with sign for Nunobiki Falls Kobe Japan

After arrival, we saw the first sign that was directing us to Nunobiki Falls.

I had already done route planning with Google Maps and downloaded it to my phone.

Nunobiki Falls

Nunobikiyama Fukiaicho, Chuo Ward, Hyogo, Kobe, Japan 651-0058

Behind Shin Kobe Station lies Nunobiki Falls which is described as one of Japan’s three most significant waterfalls. It is only a 15-minute walk to get there. There is no admission fee, and it is very easy to find from Shin Kobe.

Outdoor signage for Nunobiki Falls at Shin Kobe JR Station in Kobe Japan

We followed the signs from Shin Kobe to Nunobiki Falls. It was quite easy. The signs are very helpful, and we regularly saw them directing us to stay on the path. 

Steep ascent to Nunobiki Falls in Kobe Japan

The entire journey is over 1,000 feet and most of it involved plenty of stone steps going straight up. We both needed to pause to catch our breath along the way. 

Signage showing multiple falls and paths for Nunobiki Falls at Shin Kobe JR Station in Kobe Japan

Did I mention that there plenty of signs? Here is another one showing the falls and the pathway.

Little waterfall at Nunobiki Falls in Kobe Japan

We got our first glimpse of a small waterfall on the way up to see Ontaki.

First view of Ontaki at Nunobiki Falls in Kobe Japan

Here is Ontaki Falls. It’s the highest up. There are four waterfalls to choose from: Ontaki, Mendaki, Tsusumigadaki and Izumoki, depending on how far you want to hike. The lowest level one is relatively easy to get to, whereas the hardest one lurks at the top of a steep flight of steps. 

Closeup of multiple falls at Ontaki at Nunobiki Falls in Kobe Japan

Mendaki is far easier to approach than the highest point, Ontaki. If you don’t enjoy climbing all those stairs, you’ll still get a nice view from Mendaki.

Most people usually go to Ontaki which takes about 30 minutes to climb on foot, even at a slow pace. Ontaki is the most massive of the bunch. The other two waterfalls can be glimpsed along the way to Otaki.

For Mendaki, you could approach with a cane or a walker if you need support. For Ontaki, I would not recommend a traditional walker or even a cane because there are so many stairs, and you are really in for a climb.

Madeline and I felt the safest way required us to be close to the handrail most of the time. We did manage to see both Mandaki and Ontaki and the views were excellent.

Nunobiki Herb Gardens

1-chōme-4-3 Kitanocho, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo-ken, Kobe, Japan 650-0002

Beautiful garden entrance at herb gardens Kobe Japan

On the way back from the falls, we wanted to visit the Herb Gardens, but it was at the top of Mount Rokko.  We knew there was a ropeway or aerial tram that would take us. We’d done our trip planning!

Paul pointing to sign for herb garden tram Kobe Japan

To find the Nunobiki Herb Gardens and the tram, we went back to the Shin-Kobe JR station and, you guessed it, followed signs.

It is good to see more signage for herb garden tram Kobe Japan

To get to the tram, we followed the signs to the ANA hotel and then went down the escalators where more signs directed us up a pathway.

First view of herb garden tram Kobe Japan

Once we saw the trams, it was a bit of a giveaway to keep walking toward the entrance.

The cost of a round trip was 1,500 JPY which included admission into the Herb Gardens. The short 10-minute trip gave us a very nice view of the Seto Inland Sea and the city of Kobe. We could see the blooming sakura and other colorful trees.

City view of Kobe and sea with clouds from tramway Kobe Japan

If you look at the center of the picture, you can see the Kobe Port Tower in red adjacent to a red Ferris Wheel.

Port tower picture in JR Shin Kobe station Kobe Japan

Here is a better picture of the tower that Madeline took at the Shin-Kobe JR Station.

The Kobe Port Tower is interesting. When I saw it from a distance I thought it might be like the Tokyo Tower since it was red, but the shape was quite different. Completed in 1963, the Kobe Port Tower was designed by the Nikken Sekkei Company, the famous Japanese architecture firm behind works like the Tokyo Skytree and the redesigned Barcelona Camp Nou which, for the moment, is the largest stadium in Europe.

Towering an impressive 330 feet high, the structure was designed to resemble a traditional hourglass-shaped Japanese drum that is often used in Noh and kabuki theater. We saw it from far away but when we zoomed in, we saw the red ropework metal of the drum. 

Port tower picture at night in JR Shin Kobe station Kobe Japan

We did not see it at night, but Madeline found this picture at the Shin-Kobe JR Station. The tower has great LED lighting and is one of the city's most breathtaking sights in the evening.

Almost at midpoint on ascent with tramway to herb garden Kobe Japan.

This picture is looking up at where we are going instead of at the sea where we were coming from.

Midpoint on ascent with tramway to herb garden Kobe Japan

We stopped midway up the tramway at the appropriately named midway point. You can either board here, after walking down from the summit, or get off here and take the rest of the way down on foot. We decided to stay all the way to the summit.

Sculptured gardens at ascent with sakura in bloom herb garden Kobe Japan

The main building of the Herb Gardens is the View Rest House. It looked like it came from Bavaria and not Japan. You can see the sakura (cherry blossoms) blooming in the picture.

More outdoor fragrance carts of cooking herbs at herb garden Kobe Japan

Since it is called an herb garden, there are herbs everywhere. You can purchase them or simply admire them in carts or on the hillside. This picture is of cooking herbs.

Fragrance Museum entrance at herb garden Kobe Japan

There is a Fragrance Museum and one of the options is for you to build your own fragranced perfume or bath oil to later purchase as a souvenir.  The sign above makes you think you are entering a concert hall.

Fragrance Museum doors at herb garden Kobe Japan.JPG

But the sign on the door says you are entering the fragrance museum.

Glasshouse view from tram on ascent with tramway to herb garden Kobe Japan

There is also another building called the Glasshouse which I suppose Westerners would call a Greenhouse. However, this one had a little stream running through it along with a miniature waterfall. In order to get to the Greenhouse from the summit, you need to walk down a bit along the paved path. Now, we realized why there was a midpoint for the tram! After visiting the Glasshouse, we trundled further down to the midpoint to continue our descent.

By this time, we were hungry and luckily, we had booked our Kobe Beef restaurant for 2PM. We chose Mouriya Honten for lunch and we have a full review of the restaurant and other Kobe Beef restaurant in another post that you can look at. We needed to get to the restaurant, so we took the aerial tram down and walked toward Shin Osaka.

Kiss PRESS at JR Station from Nunobiki Falls in Kobe Japan

All we had to do was find the subway, the Seishin-Yamate Line, from Shin-Kobe to Sannomiya Station. It was a 5-minute ride. As you can see from the picture, I wasn’t exactly sure about this sign. However, another one suggested that this was the right way, so we found the subway and took it to Sannomiya Station.

After arrival at Sannomiya, we found the West exit #1 which lets you out right across the street from Mouriya Honten. We didn’t even need help with Google Maps. However, you do need to be mindful of the exits since many people head to the East exits and if you follow them, it’ll simply be a bit of a longer walk for you.

After lunch, we saw a nearby shrine that we wanted to check out.

Ikuta Shrine

1 Chome-2-1 Shimoyamatedori, Chuo Ward, Hyogo, Kobe, Japan 650-0011

The Ikuta shrine Kobe Japan

The Ikuta Shrine was just a short walk from Mouriya Honten. We saw a pair of lions “guarding” the shrine.

Tight closeup of lion guarding entrance to Ikuta shrine Kobe Japan

The torii entrance was very impressive and we wanted to walk around and learn some more about this shrine.

Torii entrance to Ikuta shrine Kobe Japan

The Ikuta Shrine is over 1800 years old and venerates the goddess Wakahirume-no-Mikoto. While Kobe has many European-styled buildings and ports, it also has many different historic shrines. This shrine wasn’t originally on our itinerary, but we read about it and since it was so close to our restaurant, we had to give it a shot. I quickly looked it up and found that it’s a spot for love!

The Kobe region is derived from “Kanbe,” which is what families who protected the shrines were called. Apparently, the secret behind Ikuta Shrine’s popularity is its association with the goddess of making connections. Wakahirume-no-Mikoto is the goddess of fabric, so in the same way that two threads are entwined together, she is worshiped for bringing people together. It is a power spot for love and relationships.

Wider view of Ikuta shrine Kobe Japan

The shrine is simply beautiful with ornate carvings, bright colors and plenty of things to catch your interest.

The spiritual place known for good marriage is located on the right side of the shrine grounds near the entrance. It has been said that if you "pray for love facing the cedar tree", your wish will come true. 

Reverent Japanese visiting Ikuta shrine Kobe Japan

In addition, "the charm for marriage" has become a popular aspect of the shrine, and it is offered as a set of red and white. The man carries the white charm, and the red charm is carried by the woman, granting them everlasting love. 

There are torii gates at the shrine entrance. We passed under the second torii gate followed by the vermilion-lacquered torii gate. Once we passed through the torii gates we came to the tower gate. Here we could have purchased omikuji and protective charms from the booths on the left and right. We watched others doing this.

Torii gate from inside out of Ikuta shrine Kobe Japan

To the right of the vermilion gate, there is a place to wash your hands and purify your body known as the chozu-ya. There was an English sign that explained what to do, but we were here just as tourists and photographers.

Although it was a bit difficult to spot, there was a small pond with ducks to the left of the main building. We saw koi swimming about, and we were reminded that the shrine was providing a respite from the bustling Sannomiya shopping district just outside the torii gates.

There was no admission fee for entering the shrine. Worshipers can communicate their thankful thoughts and wishes by throwing a coin into the offertory chest located in front of the main shrine building.

We made our way back to the subway entrance and took the subway back to the Shin Osaka JR station for our return trip to Shin Osaka and back to the Hyatt Regency Osaka

You can read our restaurant review in another post. I’ll tell you about a few other things you might want to consider when you visit Kobe.

Other Kobe Sights

We didn’t have time to come back to Kobe, but I did research some other places that you might consider in addition to the places we did go to.

Kobe Chinatown

1-chome-3-18 Sakaemachidori, Chuo-ku, Hyogo-ken, Kobe, Japan 650-0023

Kobe's Chinatown (also known as "Nanking Machi") is west of Sannomiya, and south of Motomachi Station. This is a great place to sample a wide variety of Chinese cuisine and shop for Chinese souvenirs such as Chinese tea, lanterns, incense and all things panda related.

Meriken Park and Kobe Harborland

2-chome-2 Hatobacho, Chuo-ku, Hyogo-ken, Kobe, Japan 650-0042

Meriken Park is a spacious, waterfront with museums, memorials and luxury accommodation. Here you will be able to visit the red Kobe Port Tower we talked about in our post about the Herb Garden in Kobe. Meriken Park is an area near the bay and Kobe Harborland can be reached by a short walk. The iconic red, cylindrical 300-foot-high Port Tower overlooks Meriken Park. It provides beautiful photo opportunities of the city and has a revolving café.

1-chome-3 Higashikawasakicho, Chuo-ku, Hyogo-ken Kobe, Japan 650-0044

Kobe Harborland's entertainment and recreation-oriented facilities features brick warehouses that mimic the look of Kobe as it looked in the late nineteenth century when it was one of Japan's very few international port cities.

Kobe Museums

2-chome-2 Hatobacho, Chuo-ku, Hyogo-ken, Kobe, Japan 650-0042

Kobe Maritime Museum in Meriken Park has an interesting collection of model ships and audiovisual displays.

1-chome-1-1 Wakinohamakaigandori, Chuo-ku, Hyogo-ken, Kobe, Japan 651-0073

The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art is a world-class art museum near the waterfront about 1.5 miles east of Sannomiya Station.

If you are in Osaka, Kyoto or Nara, you should make an effort to visit Kobe. It’s a charming city and there is more than beef to stimulate your senses. However, if you are hungry, you should look at our post on Kobe restaurants here.

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