Kōbe (神戸) is so close to Ōsaka it would be a shame not to pay it a visit.
A short half-hour train trip sees me arrive at Sannomiya (三ノ宮) Station in the heart of this cosmopolitan port-city considered by many expatriates to be one of the nicest places to live in Japan.
This may be in part because of its long history welcoming foreigners to its shores.
The area that became the residential district for these “ex-pats” is called Ijinkan (異人館) and is situated to the north of Sannomiya.
The steep hills leading up there do nothing to discourage me nor the countless tourists from visiting many of the houses that are now open to the public (for a small fee).
Grand old homes full of character and replete with antique furniture provide a glimpse into the lives of a bygone era.
One place has a wonderful collection of crockery that serves to remind me that nowadays function seems to have replaced form. The intricate detail and delicate images speak of artistry and craftsmanship.
Yet a more interesting place to stroll is the shopping district nestled between Sannomiya and Motomachi (元町).
Lots of small retailers and places to eat & drink, this area gives Kōbe a friendlier, more intimate vibe than its bigger, brasher older brother Ōsaka which feels decidedly more business-like and commercial.
Lunch is a Kōbe Mini-steak (神戸ミニステーキ) before a leisurely stroll through Sorakuen Garden (相楽園).
It’s layout is that of a typical Japanese garden with sago palms, small waterfalls and a lake that dominates the landscape.
Countless small paths that lead up, down and around but nowhere in particular. A tea ceremony house. Japanese pines. And stone Shinto shrines are littered throughout.
It’s all very organised yet it feels completely natural. It’s effectively a miniature landscape.
Turtles sun bake on a rock as koi eagerly respond to the enthusiastic children feeding them.
Surprisingly, the water in the lake is very clear. Tiny water boatmen scoot along the edges, their legs spread wide apart.
The setting is serene though not completely quiet. The distant sounds of laughter, presumably children playing at the local school, are a counterpoint serving to enhance the tranquility of this oasis in what is a busy, thriving city.
Just south of the train-line are the Piazza Kōbe (ピアザ神戸) and Motokō Town (モトコータウン). Covered arcades with shops, shops and more shops.
I personally prefer the nearby Nankinmachi (南京町 : Chinatown) with its street vendors hawking their food. It all looks very delicious and the area has an warmly inviting atmosphere.
I finish the day with a coffee at Espresso Bar + Plus (エスプレソバープラス). It takes me some time to find the place but its well worth the effort as I’m rewarded with the closest thing to an Australian-style coffee during my stay here in Japan.
When I return to Kōbe a couple of days later, I make a bee-line to Espresso Bar + Plus before wandering down to the port area.
It’s here they have established Meriken Park (メリケンパーク) in remembrance of the massive earthquake in 1995. A preserved section of ground shows the devastating impact.
It’s a poignant reminder of the powerful forces of nature, the suffering of humanity, and yet the strength and fortitude of these people to pick themselves up and rebuild their lives.
It also highlights the fact that a city is not the sum of its buildings and shops, its parks and playgrounds, but rather its people. It’s for this reason Kōbe is a beautiful city.