Since Kobe port was opened to trade with the West in 1868, the city has been developing as an international port city.
Locals consider these two pieces of modern architecture below in the bay area, symbols of Kobe.
The Kobe Port Tower’s vivid orangish red color combined with the Kobe Maritime Museum’s stunning white roof is so picture worthy that both locals and tourists enjoy visiting this iconic spot for night views. And I recommend you go there, too.
However, if time permits, I would suggest you go to “viewpoints” closer to locals’ everyday lives to find equal but lesser-known beauty.
A Glimpse of The Kobe Port Tower from Kobe Motomachi Shopping Street
Right across from the big Daimaru department store and just a street away from the famous China town, “Nankin-machi”, you can find locals walking along Kobe Motomachi Shopping Street.
Stretching 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) from east to west, the shopping street hosts nearly 300 shops, restaurants, and cafes. While many regional shopping streets throughout Japan are dying off, this large scale one in the heart of Kobe retains its appeal for shoppers and was selected as one of the 30 most vibrant shopping streets in Japan by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
The east end of the street is more popular among visitors and tourists but if you keep walking west to yon-chome (4th district), you’ll find where the locals shop, dine and even watch independent movies.
Pay attention to the overhead signs and you’ll find one with “←PORT TOWER” written on it.
Make a left there and this little alley offers a glimpse of the red tower. It’s beautiful especially at sunset. People may call the overhead power lines eyesores marring the scenic view and while the government is trying to move them underground, this is how Japanese people have been enjoying the veiw for the past several decades and I think it actually adds authenticity to it.
Visit Poai Shiosai Park for the Panoramic View of Kobe Bay
Meriken Park and Harborland, the most popular tourist attractions in the bay area are usually crowded. However, on an artificial island floating in Kobe port, called Port Island, there is a park where you can enjoy the best panoramic view of the same attractions without worrying about scrambling for seats; This park is known as Poai Shiosai Park.
It’s located next to a big college campus which designed so you almost think that you are in Southern California. The park with its few facilities is obviously not touristy. You could say it is just a park where the locals and college students hang out.
It is “just” a park with the stunning view, though.
You’ll get to see the ferris wheel, cruise ships, shipyards, not to mention the Kobe Port Tower and the Kobe Maritime Museum, with Rokko mountain range in the background.
This park is a beautiful hidden gem and you can spend hours just watching ships go by. However, you should remember that there is one day of the year that Poai Shiosai Park attracts a huge crowd of people and that day is the annual Minato Kobe Fireworks Festival in August.
Cherry Blossom Viewing Experience at Sumaura Park
Speaking of being crowded, during the cherry blossom season from the end of March to the beginning of April, it can be challenging to find a less crowded spot where you can enjoy sakura (cherry blossoms) and relax at the same time.
If you prefer a leisurely picnic under cherry blossom trees to hurriedly taking snapshot after snapshot of the same beautiful sakura tree in full bloom hoping for a crowd free shot, I strongly recommend you try to go to Sumaura Park, 30 mins away by train from the city center.
The park is better known for the biggest nightime sakura light up event in the Kansai region, so it gets crowded in the evening, but during the day, it is not. Yet, you can still feel the really fun vibe from the locals enjoying a spring day.
On a sunny day, the pale pink of the sakura and the light blue of the sky and ocean create a dazzling color combination.
You’ll be able to feel an ocean breeze on your face when you stand at the scenic viewpoint in the park. Right under your eyes, you’ll see the Suma Umizuri Fishing Park where you can rent gears and enjoy pier fishing. On the right, when the sky is clear enough, you can spot the world’s longest suspension bridge, the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, which connects Kobe and Awaji Island.
A Japanese Oasis in the Midst of the City
Located north of the Hyogo prefectural government buildings, Sorakuen is a Japanese garden originally built on the residence of the father of the former mayor Kenkichi Kodera and completed at the end of Meiji era (in 1911).
Kobe is a modern city influenced so much by various foreign cultures that it makes this wooden entrance feel like a gate to another world—traditional Japan.
This garden is now owned by the city and is open to the public. Every May, they have an azalea festival, and in November, the autumn foliage and chrysanthemum festival attract people.
It may sound silly but I secretly (not anymore) call Sorakuen “Central Park in Kobe”. It does remind me of Central Park in New York because a) the space is surrounded by tall buildings, and b) it allows visitors to stroll around the pond and view the landscape from different angles just like Central Park does with its lakes.
Whether you need a break from work or are tired from walking around the city, sitting on one of the benches and looking up at a 500 y.o. tree will help you feel super refreshed!
There is one more spot in downtown Sannomiya that I would like to recommend. It’s a tiny flower garden on the south side of JR Sannomiya station.
On the corner of a pedestrian walkway, so many varieties of roses come into bloom in May, that supposedly busy Japanese people stop to enjoy the lovely smell or pull out their phones to take pictures.
This garden is one of many corporate-sponsored flower beds in the city and the project has already been making people smile for a long time.While Sannomiya area is currently undergoing a major regeneration program, I hope that they keep those spaces to help people unwind because I believe relaxed local people are what make Kobe, Kobe.
Kobe Motomachi Shopping Street
Address／Motomachi-dori 1-chome to 6-chome, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
Nearest Stations／Kobe city subway Minatomotomachi, Harborland, Kyu Kyoryuchi-Daimaru Mae, JR Motomachi, Hanshin Motomachi, Nishimotomachi, Hankyu Hanakuma
Poai Shiosai Park
Address／Minatojima 1-chome, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
Nearest Stations／Port Liner Naka-koen, Port Liner Minatojima
Address／4-1-24 Ichinotani-cho, Suma-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
Tel／078-795-5533 (Kobe Parks and Greenery Association)
Nearest Stations／Sanyo Sumaura-koen, JR Suma
Address／5-3-1 Nakayamatedori, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
Nearest Stations／Kobe city subway Kencho-mae, JR Motomachi, Hanshin Motomachi
Hours／9:00〜17:00 (Last entry is 30 minutes prior to closing.）
Admission／15 years old and older: 300Yen, Student (Elementary school and middle school): 150Yen
Closed／Thursdays ( However, it will be open if it’s a public holiday and it will be closed the following day. It’s Open daily during the azalea festival & chrysanthemum festival) , December 29th – January 3rd
Info on Sponsored Flower Beds
Photographs & Text by Madoka Hori
Madoka Hori / Photo-writer Entrepreneurial translator/writer living in Hyogo. As a licensed English tour guide, she occasionally takes tourists to beautiful destinations such as Kobe, Himeji, Okayama, Kyoto, and Osaka and her clients have never got lost so far. On Setouchi Finder, as one of the original team members, she enjoys taking photos and sharing her favorite hidden gems. Private Photo Blog http://riderv328.tumblr.com Twitter https://twitter.com/Riderv328
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