Despite living in Japan for 15months this was our first week long Japanese road trip. We had visited Kyoto back in February and had decided that a long weekend just wasn’t enough (read about our first trip to Kyoto here). With 4 distinct cities fairly close together and accessible by train it seemed like an obvious choice for our Thanksgiving travel plan. We booked an Airbnb a year out in Kyoto as the affordable ones tend to fill up fairly fast, but when Japan changed its laws regarding Airbnb we ended up switching to Osaka as our home base. Each of the cities: Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka all offered something different and we feel will leave you with a good idea of what Western Japan is like. 

For ease of website navigation, we have divided the trip by city, click through to the other sections at the bottom of this page, or head to our Japan page to see the individual pages.

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[ D A Y • 1 ] Zushi → Kobe, Kobe: Marathon Expo, Meriken Park, Port Tower, Earthquake Memorial, Harborland, Kobe → Osaka

We had planned on leaving before the sun came up and well…life happened. It always strikes me when I realize that plans and reality are two very different things. I think planning is of utmost importance when it comes to maximizing travel, BUT I have learned to give myself grace when sometimes the plan doesn’t go completely like I had originally envisioned. Annnyyyywwwaaayyyy, 0845 we (finally) hit the road bound for Kobe! I have been on a mission to run thirty marathons before my summer birthday in 2019 and Kobe just happened to have their marathon scheduled for the time we were going to be there making it the perfect excuse to spend some time in the town (as if we really needed another excuse to travel).

We arrived late in the afternoon sped through the super well-organized expo and then headed to Kobe’s port area to explore Meriken Park. The waterfront was a great place for the kids to get some energy out after being stuck in the car for ~6.5hours they needed the freedom to run like crazy and play in the grass.

Built in 1963, Kobe Port Tower is one of the major landmarks in this section and at 108m tall it is a very iconic piece of the skyline. If you’re interested in getting a killer view you can take a ride to the top and enjoy the sites (see details below), however, we think there are better places to get a view of the Kobe skyline that we will share with you on “Kobe Day 3!” After you walk past the Starbucks and the “Be Kobe” sign within minutes you’ll find the Kobe Earthquake Memorial which stands as a reminder of the loss that occurred in 1995 when the Great Hanshin Earthquake destroyed much of the city of Kobe and left more than 5,000 people dead. This area of the waterfront was kept intact in order never allow us to forget how widespread the devastation was. Additionally, there is a film that runs continuously and photos that chronicle the aftermath of the natural disaster. This stop lead to a neat talk with Miles about tectonic plates and how when the planet moves things can shift. This organic learning rocks his world (+ ours).

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We headed back to the car afterwards to head to Kobe Harborland Umie, an area also located on the waterfront that has a huge concentration of restaurants and shops making it rather difficult (okay, more like borderline impossible) for the very indecisive me to settle on a place to grab dinner. As a side note, the Harborland area is completely walkable from Meriken Park, however, since it was getting late and we still needed to drive to our Airbnb in Osaka we wanted the car close to make the post-dinner departure efficient, so we could get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour.

In the end we stumbled upon a small ramen place, Mujinzou. Quick service + English menu + water pitcher on the table + kid’s sized ramen portion available (served on a Hello Kitty plate) made this place an instant win! We drove to our Airbnb after in Osaka to check-in and prepare for the Kobe Marathon the following morning. Great first impression of our digs: everything was well-marked and explained and our favorite feature…. Sliding doors that divided the sleeping area from the living room making it easier to get the kids down and still have some adult time. 

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Meriken Park:

  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset 
  • Admission: Free
  • Parking: We parked in the lot close to Starbucks although there are plenty of local lots 

Meriken Park Tip: Get here a bit before dusk to enjoy the harbor front before and after sunset. Grab a coffee from Starbucks and hang out in the green space or sit on the balcony and admire Kobe Port Tower as it is illuminated at night. 

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Kobe Port Tower:

  • Hours: 0900 – 2100 (December – February until 1900), admission ends 30minutes before closing
  • Admission: 700yen (tower only), 1000yen (tower, Maritime Museum, and Kawasaki Museum)

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Kobe Earthquake Memorial:

  • Hours: Open 24 Hours
  • Admission: Free

Kobe Earthquake Memorial Tip: If you want to learn more about the earthquake that hit Kobe you can check out the Kobe Earthquake Museum. Hours: 0930 – 1730 (until 1800 July – September, until 1900 Fridays and Saturdays). Admission ends one hour before closing. The Museum is closed Mondays (or the following day if a national holiday falls on a Monday), as well as December 31 and January 1. Admission is 600yen.

Kobe Harborland Umie:

  • Hours: 1000 – 2100
  • Admission: Free to walk around, contains restaurants of all price levels

Mujinzou (this is a chain restaurant with ~50 locations scattered around the country):

  • Hours: 1000 – 2100
  • Admission: Our family of four ate for under 3,000yen
  • Location

[ D A Y • 2 ] Osaka → Kobe, Kobe: Marathon, Sannomiya, Steakland, Ikuta Shrine, Chinatown, Tetsujin 28 Statue, Kobe → Osaka

Alright, here we go, ready to get out there and enjoy marathon #28! Early morning (nothing new there) training it into the city of Kobe. There are many ways to see a city and although I LOVE experiencing it with my tribe my running heart is so overjoyed when I get to run through it, too! For me there is no better feeling than doing something you love and seeing your tribe out on the course cheering their hearts out. Do what you love, right?

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Anyway, we logged #28 in the books and celebrated by heading to Sannomiya after to indulge in some Kobe Steak because that’s just how you gotta roll when you’re in Kobe. By the time I changed out of my running clothes, we all met up, trained it to Sannomiya, and found Steakland we slid in one minute before the end of lunch. ONE MINUTE. We had done a significant amount of research prior to picking a place to eat post-race as Kobe steak can be $$$$ and we needed to stay within our monthly travel budget.

So how did we land on lunch at Steakland? Lunch prices across the board are significantly less than dinner and many times the portions offered are close to the same size, but without the pricey tab at the end. Additionally, this restaurant location was big which equated to no reservation needed and an uncrowded experience. Service was quick, English menu available, high chair for our tiniest traveler also available, and the meal was affordable (details on pricing below). And boy was it delish! Highly recommend!!

A little less than an hour later we were back on the streets of Sannomiya taking in the sites. A short walk away we explored Ikuta Shrine which is over 1,800years old and built for the goddess Wakahirume-no-Mikoto, the goddess of making connections. From here the kids wanted to show me Chinatown locally known as “Nankinmachi” (something that they had explored with Dom while I was running). Very photogenic area and just an all around great place to walk around. A bit of a different feel than the Chinatown in Yokohama, Japan that we have enjoyed many times.

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As the day was winding down we decided to train it to Tetsujin 28 Statue aka “Gigantor” (for those of us outside of Japan) for the kids to have some freedom to run + play. The statue is HUGE, stands 18m tall, and weighs 50 tons!! If you have ever seen Tetsujin-28-go, the 1960s comic, this robot was made life-size! Post-sunset we grabbed some street food and headed back to Osaka to roll in for the day. 

If you head to Kobe and your morning isn’t taken up with a marathon you could take our ideas from “Kobe Day 3” and move them to the morning and then pick up our itinerary starting with lunch at Steakland in Sannomiya. It would make for a very full, but well-rounded day! 

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Sannomiya:

  • Hours: Open 24 hours
  • Admission: Free

Steakland:

  • Hours: 1100 – 2200 (lunch ends at 1400 – we cut it SUPER close squeezing in @1359!)
  • Admission: Lunch sets for Kobe beef begin at 3,180yen; Dinner sets for Kobe beef begin at 5,480yen; we ordered a steak lunch (large) for 1,480yen for the kids to split.

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Ikuta Shrine:

  • Hours: 0700 – Sunset
  • Admission: Free

Kobe’s Chinatown:

  • Hours: Open 24 hours
  • Admission: Free

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Tetsujin 28 Statue:

  • Hours: Sunrise – Sunset
  • Admission: Free

[ D A Y • 3 ] Osaka → Kobe, Kobe: Shin-Kobe Ropeway, Nunobuki Herb Garden, Nunobiki Falls, Kitano-cho, Kobe → Osaka

We ventured back to Kobe for one last day because honestly we couldn’t get enough. This trip itinerary encompasses 4 cities and although Kobe was our first stop it was hands-down our favorite. The lack of crowds, the mountain feel, the skyscrapers standing tall at the waters edge, the various neighborhoods and the food. Oh, the food! If you head to Western Japan we feel like Kobe is “a must” and 1.5 days is enough time to get a proper taste of the city.

If you don’t have anything taking up the morning of “Kobe Day 2” we would suggest getting an early start and using what we did below for “Kobe Day 3” in place of the time we spent for the marathon and then heading to lunch at Steakland in Sannomiya picking up “Kobe Day 2” itinerary from there!

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Our last day in Kobe started off with the Shin-Kobe Ropeway (if you are one that loves to take in some breathtaking city views this is a great opportunity). The ropeway is a tad more expensive than seeing the views from the Kobe Port Tower, but we think (judging from photos since we did not go up in the Port Tower) that it gives a more well-rounded picture of the city, plus we all really enjoyed the ~10minute ride in the gondola!

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When we arrived at the top there was a little Christmas market and the smell of mulled wine. We couldn’t help ourselves – we had to indulge! Sunshine + mulled wine + killer views … it was an obvious choice. From here we started making our descent down Mt. Rokko and meandering through various flower and herb gardens stopping along the way for some lavender ice-cream (yum!!).

We stopped briefly by Nunobiki Falls and then eventually landed back at the station. A short walk took us to what felt like a little slice of Europe, the neighborhood of Kitano-cho! We meandered around a bit before landing at Kobe Tekitei for a later-ish lunch. We made our way back to Osaka after for an earlier evening to relax at our Airbnb and play Legos with the kids before bed. Tomorrow we head to Nara!!

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Shin-Kobe Ropeway:

  • Hours: 0930 – 1700 (2030 on weekends, national holidays, and July 20 – August 31)
  • Admission: 1500yen (round-trip and admission to herb garden), 950yen (one-way and admission to herb garden)

Shin-Kobe Ropeway Tip: Before you purchase ropeway tickets decide if you plan on stopping at Nunobiki Falls.

If you opt not to stop at the falls you’ll walk through the flower and herb gardens on your way down and then right after you reach the Glasshouse you’ll find the Middle Station for the Ropeway. Since you will be hopping aboard the ropeway for a portion of your descent you’ll need to purchase round-trip tickets at the station.

However, if you would like to stop and see the falls, we suggest buying a one-way ticket as the falls are located a good bit past the Middle Station and once you reach them there isn’t much left to walk until you reach the bottom. From a time efficiency view backtracking to ride the ropeway down from the Middle Station would eat up a bunch of unnecessary time.

Nunobuki Herb Garden:

  • Hours: Weekdays 1000 – 1700, Weekends 1000 – 2030
  • Admission: 700yen (tower only), 1000yen (tower, Maritime Museum, and Kawasaki Museum)

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Nunobiki Falls:

  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
  • Admission: Free

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Kitano-cho:

  • Hours: Its a whole district, but most stores/houses open until 1700-1800
  • Admission: Individual houses around 0700 yen each, but you can buy combo ticket to save.

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Kobe Tekitei:

  • Hours: 1130 – 1430, 1800 – 2130
  • Admission: Menu varies, 3000-4000 for Kobe Beef (really…what else would you get?)

That concludes the Kobe section of our trip, check out our next stops: Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka.

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