Visiting Kobe, The City that Survive The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake

By Anissa Ratna Putri - Juni 27, 2018

As Japan located on the joint of four earth plates, the country is quite familiar with earthquakes since long time ago. However, none of the Japanese city has commemorated the big earthquake that they experienced as willingly as the city of Kobe. Often times skipped by tourist that mostly visit only the big three: Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka, Kobe is such a beautiful city that is just too bad to be missed. I have written 15 Things-to-do in Kobe for those who willing to check what's in the city. In this post, I will put more on my personal experience in one of the city in Japan that I might never get bored with.

Places to be explored in Kobe

Kobe Earthquake Museum
On January 17, 1995, an earthquake with a scale of 6.9 Magnitude or 7.3 Ritcher Scale hit the southern part of Awaji Island, Hyogo Prefecture - and Kobe was the closest city to the epicenter of the earthquake. About 6,434 people lose their lives. Damages are everywhere in Kobe city and surroundings. Being the second biggest earthquake in the 20th century, The Great Hanshin-Awaji  Earthquake was quite devastating for Japan at that time. 

Having experienced such catastrophic disaster, Kobe built The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution. One of the features that the institution has is a museum which tells stories about the 1995 earthquake through videos, photos, and displays. Starts on the 5th floor, the first room in the museum that I went to was the simulation room, in which I watched a documentary video of the 1995 earthquake for 7 minutes. It was said that they used to conduct an earthquake simulation of 6.9 Magnitude in this room, however, for a safety reason, they decided to stop the simulation. On this floor, the museum shows Kobe city photos and displays before the disaster. There was also a movie hall playing the situation of Kobe city after the 1995 earthquake for 15 minutes. I then went to the 3rd floor where they put some memories of the disaster through materials, photos, diorama, mock-up, etc. Some of the stories that they put on this floor are the personal stories of the citizens of Kobe. They also show the reconstruction process after the earthquake. What surprises me was, there are so many people help the Kobe citizens - not only from another part of Japan but also from other countries! Other than that, this museum also provides disaster mitigation 101: what to prepare, what to do, what to expect. One of the most thoughtful and informative museums that I've ever been to!

Go visit the museum on Tuesday - Sunday, 9:30-17:30. Entrance fee is ¥600 for adult, ¥450 for a college student, ¥300 for a high school student, and free for children.

Meriken Park and Kobe Harborland
Located in a reclamation area, Meriken Park is a home to some iconic and memorable icon of Kobe: Kobe Port Tower, Kobe Maritime Museum, and the memorial park of The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. As I live in Kyoto with a limited access to a port or the sea, Meriken Park in the port area of Kobe allows me to have my rare chance of enjoying the breeze from the ocean in a late afternoon. Here in the park, there is a preserved area from the earthquake incident in 1995. It is said that this area has not changed since the incident day, to remind how strong the earthquake was. At night, the two architectural icons of Kobe - Kobe Port Tower and Kobe Maritime Museum - will be lit up. If you fancy going to a mall, there is a big Kobe Harbourland within walking distance. The mall has Ferris wheel and Anpan-man Museum for kids too! My suggestion will be to enjoy Meriken Place and around in the early morning or in the late afternoon because at noon it will be quite hot, especially if you go in summer!

Kobe Mosque
As a muslim in Japan, having a proper mosque is a privilege. Thus, when I got a chance to visit a real mosque in Kobe, I wouldn't give it a pass! Kobe Mosque is the first mosque in Japan built in 1935. It survives the city bombing in World War II as well as The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. In fact, the man in the mosque told me that the basement of the mosque is used for the shelter of the neighborhood citizens during the bombing time. If you are here during lunchtime, after the noon prayer you might want to consider to have lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant Naan Inn, a halal restaurant across the mosque. Should you need some halal groceries, do not hesitate to enter the halal shop, also available across the mosque! The mosque is located in the touristy Kitano-cho, make it easier for anyone who wants to stop by after/before strolling around the area.

In the 19th century, Kobe was open to foreigners who came to Japan, mostly for trading through the port. This resulted in merchant houses with the European design that Kobe has in the area named Kitano-cho. The street, the lamps, the building around Kitano-cho has this European vibes that make it different from other Japanese cities. The area has various merchant houses that visitors might enter with an admission fee, such as Weathercock house, Denmark house, England House, etc.  The best part about Kitano-cho for me is that as you go up the slope in the area, you will walk in a fancy-artsy narrow street, where every corner of the area seems beautiful and instagram-able. In the Kitano street, there is also The Kobe Trick Art Museum, where I and my friend enjoyed taking pictures with a seems-like-3D-drawings.

Other than places you might visit in Kitano-cho, I would like to recommend any sweet-tooth visitors of Kitano-cho to stop by to two dessert shops in the area: Rokko Farms and Yamagen Kazamidori. Please try milk ice cream of Rokko Farms, it is very milky, tasty, unlike any other milk ice cream I have ever tasted. Meanwhile, Yamagen Kazamidori provides varieties of cheesecake. They do not have the cafe/restaurant here, but you can take away some cheesecake in their shops - they are really delicious!

Shin-Kobe Ropeway and Nunobiki Herb Garden
Shin-Kobe Ropeway is one of three facilities that provides visitors the opportunity to enjoy the city of Kobe from uphill. Located near to Shin-Kobe Station, the ropeway will take you up with a view of Nunobiki Dam, the first concrete dam in Japan, and Nunobiki Fall, one of Japan's three most holy waterfall. Before the top station, they have Nunobiki Herb Garden which I believe will be beautiful with flowers in spring. The top station of the ropeway itself provide a rest house with an observation deck. Fyi, if you prefer to hike, they do provides a hiking trail. My suggestion will be to enjoy the scenery and the garden in the late afternoon and then go back down by the ropeway when it starts to gets dark or at golden hour because then you'll be able to see the beautiful city lit up with the sunset or with city lights.

Shin-Kobe Ropeway open every day at 9:30-17:00 (until 20:30 on weekends and national holidays). The admission fee for the ropeway is ¥1500 for a roundtrip, ¥950 for one way, and ¥900 for round trip after 17:00. The entry of the herb garden is included in the ropeway ticket, but should you prefer to hike and want to explore the garden, the admission fee is ¥200.

Motomachi Shopping Street and China Town (Nankin-machi)
Like other cities in Japan, Kobe has its own shopping street that worth to visit, named Motomachi. In the middle of Kobe’s Motomachi, there is a compact space called ‘Nankinmachi’ or Kobe’s Chinatown. Originally formed by Chinese merchants after foreign trade started in 1868, this area is packed with restaurants and food stalls selling Chinese food – from Szechuan cuisine to dim sum, from Chinese ramen to steamed buns. Being a muslim with a limited option in Chinese food, I prefer to explore this area when the city gets dark. Not for the cuisine, but for capturing the beauty of China town's ambiance at night ;)

Awaji Island: Awaji Yumebutai
Not too far from the city of Kobe, there is an island that is known as the first island/the birthplace of Japan: Awaji Island. Here, they have benefit from the beautiful nature: flower field that gives you different flowers in different season, hot spring to relax your mind, body, and soul, fireflies in the sea and in the forest, and a whirlpool named Naruto. This area rarely visited by foreign tourist, thus it is a perfect place to go for you who look for an off-beaten-track of Japan! 

Though Awaji Island offers several interesting places to visit, it has limited public transportation access - the option is only an infrequent express bus. Due to limited access (and time), on my trip to the island, I decided to explore only one area: Awaji Yumebutai. Designed by famous Japanese architecture Tadao Ando, Awaji Yumebutai is a complex of conference center with hotel and other facilities built near the epicenter of The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. Prior to current building, the site was destroyed as the earth of the island was excavated to create reclamation land around Kansai area. Thus, when Awaji Yumebutai was built, the building is designed to be surrounded by nature: i.e., the flower fields that blend with the building and Botanical Museum around the facility.

Awaji Yumebutai area is free to enter, but the Botanical Museum costs ¥600 for adults and ¥300 for seniors (10:00-18:00)In addition, should you want to explore more in this area of Awaji, there is Akashi Strait Park nearby. To get to Awaji Yumebutai, take bus from Sannomiya Station, it costs ¥930 one way. The bus will cross the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, the longest central span of suspension bridge in the world, so you will have another checkpoint on your travel list! For more places to be explored in Awaji, check their website.

Kobe Luminaire
If you are in the area of Kansai during December, do not miss the chance to see annual light up held in memory of The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake: Kobe Luminaire. The event takes place in the heart of the Kobe city, starting from the Former Foreign Settlement to Higashi Yuenchi Park. The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake had caused damage that left citizens live with no electricity, gas, and water. The idea of putting up lights was a symbol of hope and recovery. Started in 1996, the event is now in its 21st year. I can say, the ambiance of Kobe Luminaire did somewhat different from other illumination I've ever been - or maybe it's because I know the history? Either way, Kobe Luminaire is worth to visit! Mark your schedule around December 7 - December 16 (schedule might change every year).

Kobe Luminaire 2008. Photo by gwaar on Flickr
The Kobe Beef
As much as I am not really into it, I know some of the readers might ask about the famous Kobe beef (some people even don't know Kobe city exist, they only know the existence of Kobe beef!). Yes, Kobe beef does exist in the city of Kobe. The most popular restaurant where people have Kobe beef lunch/dinner is "Steakland Kobe". They have several stores around Sannomiya Station. Kobe beef in this restaurant will be served in teppanyaki style, along with some vegetables and a carbohydrate in your preference (rice/bread). Kobe beef lunch set costs ¥3000, while dinner set costs ¥6000 (the set menu is the same for lunch and dinner, thus it's better to go at lunchtime). 

Frankly saying, I'm not a big fan of Kobe beef. Although it is really juicy (especially if you order medium-raw), it's not really tasty for me. But, I believe everyone has their own preference, thus if you are really curious, just go for it!

Closing remarks
If you are considering to explore Kobe during your short trip to Japan, I would recommend to allocating at least two days to be able to explore all the places that I mentioned in this article. Here is some suggested itinerary:
Day 1: Meriken Park, Kobe Mosque/Kitano Area, Shin-Kobe Ropeway and Nunobiki Herb Garden
Day 2: Kobe Earthquake Museum, Awaji Island, Motomachi Shopping Street & China Town

Have anyone ever visit another area in Kobe? Tell me about your experience! :)


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