Sannomiya & Motomachi 三ノ宮 & 元町
Kōbe is an unusually shaped city, running on a 29 km stretch of land. Its centre, the Hyōgo, Chūō, and Nada wards, is barely 3 km in width from the mountains to the harbour. Most of the sights, shopping and nightlife is concentrated in Chūō-ku, the Central Ward, around the city's main train station, Sannomiya, and the following Motomachi, where is located Kōbe's Chinatown.
The Western influence in Kōbe can be sampled in its street names. Unlike other Japanese cities, roads and avenues have their names signposted in English as well as Japanese.
North-west of Sannomiya Station is the famed 1800-year-old Ikuta Shrine (生田神社), the city's oldest institution. The wooden buildings are of course not that old, and are actually reconstructed regularly (normally every 30 years) according to the Shintō tradition.
Walk a few hundred metres west to reach the Kenchō (Prefectural Office). Approach from the south to see the grand, palace-like Old Hyōgo Prefectural Office (兵庫県公館). Pass to the northern side of the modern Kenchō; where is the Sōraku-en (相楽園), Kōbe's finest traditional landscape garden.
Chinatown is really just one street, Nankin-machi (南京町, "Nanking Town", named after the former Chinese capital), where all the restaurants are crammed up. Visitors are greeted by the lavishly adorned Chōan-mon Gate. Kōbe's main Chinese temple, the Kantei-byō (関帝廟), is located 750m west of Motomachi Station, north of the Yamate-dōri Avenue.
Back to Sannomiya, follow the main road south towards the harbour. About half-way is the high-rise tower of the City Hall. There is an observatory on the 24th floor, with stunning views on the Bay area. It is open everyday from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm and admission is free.
Half-way between the City Hall and Meriken Park is the Kōbe City Museum (神戸市立博物館), one of the most interesting museums in town, from the first contact with Portuguese missionaries to the prevalence of Western architecture in the early 1900's. The focus is on Kobe's historical relations with the West. Of the 39,000 items owned by the museum, 21 are National Treasures and another 74 were designated Important Cultural Assets. It has one of the finest collections of 16th and 17th century Namban art, i.e. the earliest works by Japanese artists influenced by the contact with Europeans (whom the Japanese called "Namban", meaning "southern barbarians" as they arrived via Kyūshū). Another highlight is the realistic scale model representing what the city looked like in the early 20th century (and it was considerably different).
The Sanyō Shinkansen (Osaka-Hakata line) stops at Shin-Kōbe Station, 1 km north of Sannomiya. This is where you will find the Western Settlement of Kitano, on the slopes of Mount Maya. Among the 200 residences (known locally as ijinkan - 異人館) built by European and American traders and diplomats in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 60 are still standing today, and 20 are open to the public. The brick and clapboard houses have an air of exoticism in Japan, attracting hoards of domestic tourists. Almost all of them had to be reconstructed in the aftermath of the earthquake.
The most famous mansion is Kasamidori-no-Yakata, or Weathercock House, so nicknamed because of its cock/rooster weather vane. Other outstanding ones include Moegi House (former residence of the American consul), the Line House, the Holland House (former Dutch consulate), the Denmark House, the Rhine House, the Old Panama House, and Uroko's House, and to a lower extent the Vienna Austria House, Italy House, and the Former Chinese Consulate.
Ascend to the top of Mount Maya (699m), one of the peaks of the Rokkō Mountains, with the Shin-Kōbe Ropeway to contemplate one of Japan's three famous nights views.
Map of attractions in Kobe