June 17, 2015


Hyogo(兵庫)is a pretty large prefecture located in the Kansai(関西)Region. It is famous for Kinosaki Onsen, Arima Onsen, Himeji Castle and its capital Kobe, where I was staying from 2012-2014.

When the word "Kobe"(神戸)is mentioned to foreigners, usually only 2 things come into mind-- Kobe Beef & Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995. So not surprising that quite a few of my friends who are not so familiar with Japan thought that Kobe is a rural town with many cows...

Actually, it is a developed port city, similar to Yokohama(横浜). It is 1 of Japan's 10 largest cities. And Kobe has a good image among locals. It is usually described as "Oshare" (trendy), thanks to the many bakeries and cafes plus smart-looking OLs.

Though there aren't many places of interest in Kobe. Most tourists choose to either come here for a day trip, or simply skip it. Thanks to that, Kobe is not crowded and is a very livable city. In fact, there's a local saying: Study in Kyoto, Work in Osaka, Live in Kobe. After living here for 2+ years, I truly understood the meaning and totally agree with it.

During my 1st year, I stayed in Hyogo ward(兵庫区), slightly west of Sannomiya 三宮 (downtown), then moved to Tarumi ward(垂水区)in my 2nd year, which is much further in the west. The latter is more inconvenient, though it is safer, as my bicycle was stolen during the first year (even though there were 2 locks!)

When friends visited me, I would recommend/bring them to the following places:
Nishimura Coffee in Sannomiya for Vienna Coffee,

Restaurants in Sannomiya for affordable Kobe Beef (arguably the best Wagyu)-- refer to 1st photo

Kikumasamune(菊正宗)/ Sakuramasamune(桜正宗)in Nada(灘)for Sake tasting and brewery tour,

Akashi Park(明石公園)if they are in time for sakura (early April). It is 1 of top 100 sakura viewing spots in Japan,

Kobe Botanical Gardens for hydrangeas in June,

Suma Rikyu Park(須磨離宮公園)for rose in July,

1 of Japan's 3 oldest hot springs-- Arima Onsen(有馬温泉)for traditional hot spring experience, (Cost-saving measure: Day onsen package for Taiko no Yu(太閤の湯)onsen facility + subway)

and Mount Maya(摩耶山)for the 1 of top 3 night views in Japan (better than Mount Rokko's view due to less obstruction).

For other attractions, there is Nunobiki Herb Garden (with good views of Kobe as well), Sorakuen 相楽園 (Japanese Landscape Garden), Kitano 北野 (Westerners area), a small Chinatown 中華街, and the not-so-tall Kobe Tower with ruins from the great earthquake nearby. All of them are within the vicinity of Sannomiya.

For food in Sannomiya, there is a small hidden sushi place called Kamogawa(加茂川)with delicious unagi sushi. It also serves pufferfish(河豚)dishes. Another hidden restaurant-- Nishioka, serves good and affordable Japanese-Italian pasta/pizza lunch sets.

For museums, there is the Earthquake Museum in Nada, UCC coffee museum in Port Island, Hyogo Museum of Art and Kobe City Museum.

To the south of Kobe, there's Awaji Island(淡路島), about the size of Singapore. It is famous for onions (probably the sweetest/nicest in Japan) , and perhaps milk products and seafood. There are different flower festivals in different times of the year, such as tulips, sunflowers and daffodil. The island can be reached by bus from Maiko station(舞子駅), but the most convenient means of transport is car.

To the east of Kobe, there is Osaka which is only less than 30 minutes train ride away, and I often go there for performances, festivals and food. There is also the Nishimomiya(西宮)district in between that I really like. Enjoy spending my weekends there when I'm a little sick of Sannomiya and not in the mood for crowded/bustling Osaka :P

It is home to Nishinomiya Gardens-- the largest shopping complex in Kansai, 1 of top 100 sakura spots in Japan-- Shukugawa Park(夙川公園), and Nishinomiya Shrine(西宮神社)-- the head shrine of Ebisu sect of Shinto, famous for the annual Toka-Ebisu Festival in January.

I also went to Koshien Stadium(甲子園)in Nishinomiya twice for baseball matches. Hanshin Tigers are BIG in Kansai. Though a pity I still didn't grow to appreciate baseball after watching.

Takarazuka Revue is a short Hankyu train ride away from Nishinomiya. It is a Japanese all-female musical theater troupe (posters of the current/upcoming shows are everywhere along the Hankyu lines). Watched one show during their 100th anniversary last year and enjoyed myself very much! (Storyline wasn't too complicated and the Japanese used wasn't too difficult.)

Ashiya(芦屋), said to be the town where many wealthy people live in, is between Kobe and Nishinomiya. I have only been there once for the summer festival.

To the north of Kobe, there is Kobe Fruits Flower Park that is said to have nicer illuminations than the more famous Nabana no Sato near Nagoya (Disclaimer: I have not seen the latter.)

Further north, there is Takeda Castle Ruins(竹田城址), also known as the Machu Picchu of Japan. The famous view can be seen from the hill beside called Ritsuunkyo(立雲峡), but it is not easy to see. There are many weather conditions to be met, such as huge temperature difference between night and day, good weather etc.

Glad that I was successful on my solo 2nd attempt in November 2013. Booked a business hotel one station away, reserved a taxi to fetch me from hotel to Ritsuunkyo at 6 am next morning, climbed up the hill and finally saw it! As I'm not a sporty person, the uphill and downhill was tough for me, much more than the cold.

A trip there can be joined with Ikuno Silver Mine(生野銀山)also in Asago City(朝来市). And Omachi Fuji Park(大町藤公園)in early May when wisterias bloom.

It is also possible to join with Izushi(出石)to the north, a nice old town famous for the local soba.

At the northern end of the prefecture, there are many onsen towns, the most famous being Kinosaki Onsen(城崎温泉), though I'm not a huge fan of it. There are 7 public baths that visitors can try, and many ryokan that offers delicious crab courses in winter. But find the town not too visitor friendly as roads are narrow with no proper pavements at the sides, so it is difficult to walk with so many people and cars around. Also had a couple of bad service experiences there.

Though I enjoyed my stay in another town to the west-- Kasumi(香住). Stayed at Minshuku Nabeya(民宿なべや)along the coast, newly renovated and very much like a ryokan(旅館). Service and food were awesome! The Tajima Beef(但馬牛), crab and grilled fish were too fresh, too good...

To the west of Kobe, there is Himeji(姫路), famous for Himeji Castle(姫路城), arguably the most beautiful castle in Japan. It is 1 of 12 surviving castles from Edo period, 1 of 4 castles designated as national treasures, and also a UNESCO world heritage site. The premise is covered by cherry blossoms in early April, ranked as top 100 sakura viewing spots in Japan, also one of the best I've seen so far.

I also went to Banshu Ako(播州赤穂)for sakura. Ako Misaki(赤穂御崎)is a great spot whereby you can enjoy sakura with sea view, and the best thing is that it is not crowded at all! (Probably due to its inaccessibility) Ako is famous for oysters during winter~

Also tried skiing at Chikusa Kogen ski resort. My first and last time :P

There are still many places in the prefecture I went like Nishiwaki(西脇)for fireflies and Sasayama(篠山)for the old town.. Well, Hyogo prefecture is really big and has too much to offer!


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