There are so many things to see in Japan… This country keeps enthralling its visitors. After discovering Tokyo and Hiroshima, I decided to visit Kobe and Nara in the center of Japan. Kobe and Nara are two medium-sized cities in Japan, and you can visit them quickly. Indeed, most tourists do day trips to Kobe and Nara. Sometimes they stay two days in Kobe, but most of the time, people do day trips and spend a full day in Kobe, and a full day in Nara. Indeed, you can get there quickly from Osaka. Since Kobe and Nara are not two big cities, one or two days are enough for each city to see them. So I spent a few days discovering Kobe and Nara. I first visited Kobe, then Nara.
Kobe is very famous in Japan and worldwide thanks to its beef. Kobe beef is known worldwide, and even though tourists don’t really go to Kobe, those who decide to go there feel like they have to taste the famous Kobe beef! I tasted it and it’s not bad! Kobe is also known worldwide for the terrible earthquake which occured on January 17th, 1995, a little bit before 6am. The earthquake measured 6.9 on the moment magnitude scale. More than 6000 people lost their lives, 40000 people were injured, and more than 120000 buildings were destroyed.
Even though the earthquake severely damaged Kobe, the city was rebuilt in two years, and the local population is now better prepared to react accordingly in case of a future earthquake. Since the city is not big, people are quite relaxed. Some of them spontaneously greeted me and smiled at me in the street. While we’re at it, you’ll notice the streets are extremely clean in Kobe (and in Japan in general). Anway, let’s see what to do in Kobe.
Question : where will you find the longest suspension bridge in the world? Nope, not in San Francisco, but yeah you have it, in Kobe, Japan! It’s the Akashi bridge, 3911-meters (2.4 miles) long, connecting Kobe and Awaji island. It’s also been built to resist earthquakes, tsunamis and tycoons. To get there, you need to get off at Maiko station via the JR Sanyo line. You’ll notice that just next to the bridge, there’s a bridge exhibition center, about the history of this bridge. You need to pay 310 yens (2.60€) to get in there. I didn’t go since the exhibition is in Japanese only…
Harborland is an area of Kobe located oceanfront, and it’s nice to have a walk there. There are also numerous shops on spot, a mall, and various restaurants serving Japanese food of course, but also Italian food, Indian food, French food, Hawaiian food… You cannot miss the Ferris wheel! From there, you have a view of the port and the ocean. From Harborland, you’ll see the Kobe Port Tower. It’s possible to get on top for the view. Harborland is the place to be if you’re into shopping.
The Kobe port is not far from Harborland! Don’t hesitate to have a walk there, it’s the second commercial port in Japan. In this area, take some time to relax in the Meriken park. It gets its name from when the Americans docked there and set up the US consulate in the area. It’s a beautiful park with a modern architecture and it’s quite popular. There’s also the Maritime museum a few minutes away, where you can learn about the history ok Kobe port and the maritime industry. The museum also exhibits models of modern ships.
Ikuta-Jinja is a shinto shrine made of wood which dates back to 201!!! It’s not far from Sannomiya station, and it’s dedicated to the goddess Wakahirumeno Mikoto. It’s a very quiet shrine, although it’s often crowded. The lovers come to pray here, hoping to live happily ever after. It’s really a beautiful shrine, and it’s quiet and calming. It’s free to get in there, so do yourself a favor and go see it!
If you like to eat, head to Nankinmachi, that’s the area where you’ll find Chinatown. For a cheap price, you can get delicious skewers and other Chinese specialities. There are numerous food stalls, like in Southeast Asia. And it’s so cheap!!! It’s possible to buy souvenirs there, too! In Chinatown, there’s one main street, one big gate at each end, and a square with strings of traditional red lanterns. I suggest you to go there on a weekday, because it’s packed during the weekend!
The Sorakuen garden is a haven of peace located in the heart of Kobe. It was a private garden in the 19th century but it opened to the public during World War II. It’s a relaxing garden, very few people go there, but it’s so beautiful! There are still stables from the Kodera family (who owned the garden before), and there’s also a tea pavilion. A must see! It’s 300 yens (2.50€) to get in.
The earthquake memorial museum
As I said earlier, Kobe is mostly known for its beef and the terrible earthquake in 1995. There’s now a museum, opened in 2002, to commemorate this tragic event and to educate the visitors about earthquakes and how to react if you’re facing an earthquake. It’s 600 yens (5 euros) to get in. Next to the memorial museum, there’s the art museum of Hyogo but I didn’t go.
Kitano is an area you have to see in Kobe, located in the heights of the city. It might seem very curious at first sight. This is where foreigners -rich traders from Western countries- moved in at the end of the 19th century. Consequence? The houses there all have a Western architecture, there are also typical Western cafés, which is very disconcerting when we realize we’re actually in Japan!!! I contented myself with a nice walk in the area, but it’s possible to visit 17 of those houses (it’s not free).
Nofuku-Ji is a Buddhist temple located southwest of Kobe. It dates back to 805! Very few tourists go there because it’s not really in the city center. There’s a small garden and a main hall, but the main interest of the temple is its big Buddha, 18-meters (59 ft.) high.
There are other things to see in Kobe. I didn’t go to the herb gardens of Nunobiki. You need to take a cable car to get there. But I saw Nunobiki Stream, a waterfall in the area. I didn’t get on top of Mount Rokko. From what I heard, you have a nice view of the city there. I didn’t go to Egeyama Park either. Finally, one regret, I didn’t go to Arima Onsen, one of the most famous onsens in Japan. An onsen is a Japanese hot spring. Men and women are separated, and everyone’s naked (like the jimjilbang in Korea!). Maybe next time…
I liked my stay in Kobe, even though I feel like I should have stayed one more day. Still, I had time to see many things and to have a walk in the main areas like Sannomiya which is the shopping area, Motomachi which is the food area, etc… Anyway, it’s time to see Nara.
Kobe is not big, but Nara is even smaller! This time, one full day is enough to visit Nara. That day, it was like 20°C/68°F, and the locals found that it was scorching outside! Few tourists go to Nara. That means at times, locals were staring at me (something you go through when you’re traveling while black…). People were staring at me, looking surprised, kids were greeting me… In a restaurant serving ramens, the customers all tried to guess where I was coming from “Kenya? Jamaica? South Africa? USA?” “France!” “Wooooow France!!!“
In Nara, you’ll quickly notice there are many deers walking freely outside (like in Miyajima). I didn’t have any problems but I heard some people saying the deers can get aggressive and bite the tourists! Be careful then, and don’t forget to get a travel insurance before going there!
Anyway, in Nara, there are mostly temples. I know thyself, I don’t mind visiting a few temples. But after some time, I have an overdose of temples (even though they’re beautiful). I’m gonna list quickly the temples to see in Nara. First off, if you have to see one temple, pick Todai Ji. That’s one of the most important temples in Japan, and inside the temple, you’ll see a statue of a big Buddha. It’s 1000 yens (8.25€) to get in.
There’s also Kofuku Ji, a huge Buddhist temple compound, which dates back to 669! It’s free to get in, and it’s a popular place! In the south of Nara, you’ll find Gango-Ji, the first Buddhist temple in Japan. It’s 500 yens (4 euros) to get in. It’s also possible to visit two shinto shrines, Kasuga Taisha which is very famous in Japan and Wakamiya just next to it. Finally, don’t forget to have a walk in Nara Park, relax, and enjoy watching the deers wandering around.
Nara is a relaxing city of Japan, and most people who go there want to see the deers in the streets, and then they visit the temples. I spent a full day there and I think that was enough. Are you going there? Read my tips just below
Travel tips to visit Kobe and Nara
- Wanna go to Japan? Check the visa policy here. Most Western countries can stay up to 90 days visa-free.
- Check my Japan travel guide : all the things to know before you go.
- Don’t go to Japan without a travel insurance!
- Find cheap accommodation on HotelsCombined.
- How to get to Kobe and/or Nara? Most people get there from Kyoto or Osaka since those cities are not far. Taking the shinkansen (high-speed train) is probably the best thing to do. It’s free with a Japan Rail Pass, and above all it’s very fast!
- How many days should you stay in Kobe? And Nara? I think two or three days are enough in Kobe. A full day in Nara is fine.
- How to get around? In Kobe, you can visit the city center by foot. Otherwise there’s the subway. In Nara, you can visit everything by foot.