Often overshadowed by nearby Kyoto and Osaka, Kobe gets the chance to shine this autumn when it plays host to three of the Home Nations at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Here’s everything you need to know about this cosmopolitan city and the top things to do in Kobe, Japan.
The air-conditioned Kobe Misaki Stadium will host four pool matches at the 2019 Rugby World Cup: England v USA (26th September); Scotland v Samoa (30th September); Ireland v Russia (3rd October); and South Africa v Canada (8th October). The stadium is just five minutes’ walk from Misakikoen Station, a 10-minute subway ride on the Kaigan Line from Sannomiya Station in central Kobe.
Set between the mountains and the sea, Kobe has been shaped by its location on the northern shore of Osaka Bay. The busy waterfront is now home to Harborland, an entertainment and shopping district with a big Ferris wheel that’s lit up at night, and Meriken Park, where you can whizz up to the top of the landmark Kobe Port Tower for great views across the harbour. Part of the port has been left as it was following the earthquake that devastated the city in January 1995 and is now preserved as the Port of Kobe Earthquake Memorial Park. You can gain an even better insight into the terrible events that day, and the lessons learned, at the thought-provoking Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution, 3km east along the waterfront.
Kobe climbs up the foothills of Mount Rokko, and you can hike up the mountain or take a funicular train to a lookout point that enjoys fantastic views down over the city as far as Osaka, particularly at night, when this vast urbanized strip sparkles in the dark. From the summit, a cable car runs down the other side of Mount Rokko to Arima Onsen, a historic hot-springs town famous for its restorative waters.
A 15-minute ride on the Shinkansen (bullet train) west of Kobe, striking Himeji-jō is the best-preserved castle in Japan. This UNESCO World Heritage site of stout towers and fortified passageways dates back over 400 years and is peppered with secret hideaways and defensive tricks. While you’re here, it’s also worth visiting Himeji Kōko-en, a series of tranquil Japanese gardens just across the castle’s moat. Even closer to Kobe, in the other direction, Osaka is known as Japan’s Kitchen, and for good reason – take your pick from the weird and wonderful seafood at Kuromon Ichiba Market before grazing on assorted street-food snacks under the neon lights of the Dotonbori district.
Staying around Sannomiya means quick and easy access to the Kobe Misaki Stadium; modern Hotel Villa Fontaine has a range of smart dark-wood doubles just a few minutes from the station. For bigger budgets, the spacious rooms at luxurious Hotel La Suite Kobe Harborland come with ocean views, and there’s a plush rooftop terrace overlooking Osaka Bay. For a more traditional Japanese experience, treat yourself to a night in a ryokan in Arima Onsen; with tatami-mat floors, sliding paper doors and outdoor hot springs, Toson Goshobo ticks all the boxes. Given its proximity to Kobe, Himeji can also be a good place to base yourself. Hotel Monterey Himeji has comfy Japanese-style rooms and a revitalising little onsen, and is located just a couple of minutes’ walk from Himeji Station.
You can hardly come to Kobe and not try its signature style of wagyu beef, a marbled butter-soft steak that’s synonymous with the city. Settle in to a counter seat at Misono, near Sannomiya Station, choose your cut and then watch the chef cook it to perfection on a teppanyaki grill in front of you – you normally wear a paper apron to avoid any unsightly splashes. Wash your beef down with Nada-no Sake. The Nada district of Kobe is part of the Nada-Gogō, the most renowned sake-producing region in Japan, and you can sample some sakes straight from the barrel at breweries such as Kiku-Masamune and Kobe Shu-Shin-Kan, both a 10-minute ride on the Hanshin Line from Sannomiya.
The JNTO is the official tourism organisation of Japan. For more information on visiting Kobe, see the Kobe Tourism Bureau website; for more details on the Rugby World Cup 2019, including how to get tickets to matches at the Kobe Misaki Stadium, see rugbyworldcup.com.
Top image: Himeji-jo castle in Japan © SUTTANON JANTAPATSAKUN/Shutterstock