There’s no better way to explore Kobe than on foot. This allows you to take everything in and feel like part of the city. Instead of wandering around aimlessly, have a destination in mind. One idea is to visit some of the best monuments. As there are statues, memorials, and other types of monuments all over the city, you should be able to find a few wherever you are.
The most important of all the monuments in the city is the Port of Kobe Earthquake Memorial Park. You’ll find it on Meriken Pier. The location was chosen because the breakwater of the pier was damaged in the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Now, the breakwater is fully repaired and the pier has an exhibition about the earthquake.
Another monument dedicated to earthquake victims is Tetsujin 28. This statue is completely different from the Port of Kobe memorial, though. It is a massive robot figure — the main character from the manga series Tetsujin 28-go. The statue symbolizes the resilience of the people who survived the 7.3-magnitude earthquake and the multiple aftershocks that caused severe destruction in the city.
Near the entrance to Meriken Park, right by the pier, is Fish Dance. The sculpture is 72 feet high and formed of copper sheets made to look like fish scales. The monument is of a koi carp, a fish commonly found in ponds in Japanese gardens.
While you’re in the vicinity of Merkin Park, you should also check out the Bell of Hortensia. The hortensia flower (you most likely know it as hydrangea) is the flower of the city. The monument was built in 1989 for the first Kobe Fashion Festival.
Kobe Naval Training Center opened in May 1864 as part of an effort to protect Japan from colonization from the West. The purpose of the center was to train officers as well as to act as a shipyard to build warships and a modern seaport. However, the project only lasted a single year, due both to a lack of funding and the large number of pro-sonno joi members. Today, an impressive monument consisting of a giant anchor and open book indicate the location of the center.
Taira no Kiyomori was a military leader who established the first samurai government in Japan. He is also the main character in the epic The Tale of Heike. His statue is located in the gardens of a shrine, opposite a bridge also named for him.
Taira no Atsumori was a samurai who died in single combat at the young age of 15. His story is also told in The Tale of Heike. His statue, near the Sumadera temple, shows him on horseback, ready for battle.
All these statues and memorials around the city are a great example of how Kobe is full of hidden surprises. The monuments relate to different periods of history and various aspects of Japanese culture. When you understand what they signify, they become that much more interesting.
Road trips are a great way of experiencing the natural visual delights a country has to offer. Japan has an excellent public transport network, but many people prefer to travel by car. For those living in the Kansai region, there are some great day trips and short trips to by car that take in some lovely scenery and places to visit. Here is a pick of a few.
This trip cuts through central Kansai and takes you out to the beautiful east coast. First, make your way to the ancient city of Nara, Japan’s oldest capital. This city, which thrived during the 8th century, is only an hour’s drive from Osaka and Kyoto (around two hours from Kobe). You can stop off here, wander along the streets of Naramachi lined with old townhouses and visit Nara Park, famous for the deer that roam freely around. Inside the park is Todaiji Temple, home to Japan’s largest Buddha statue. From here, you can drive on through the central mountains and out to where the city of Ise is in Mie Prefecture along the east coast peninsula. The journey from Nara is 138 km (around 1.5 – 2 hrs). Here you can walk along the coast to see the “meoto-iwa” (wedded rocks), visit the Ise Grand Shrine (the most sacred of all Shinto shrines) and even enjoy the feudal-themed Edo Wonderland park.
This route takes you through many of the finest sights in Kyoto Prefecture, along the coast in the north of the prefecture and out to Kinosaki in northern Hyogo. Starting in central Kyoto, drive along the National Route 162 through the mountains to Miyama, which takes around 90 minutes. This picturesque rural area in the mountains is worth exploring. It consists of several small villages populated with thatched farmhouses as well as the Kiyabuki no Sato folk museum. From here, it’s a short ride to the city of Maizuru (where you have the option of stopping off and climbing the Goro Sky Tower for some excellent views across the Japan Sea) and then onto the spectacular Amanohashidate. Translating as “bridge in heaven”, this pine-covered sandbar in Miyazu Bay is considered one of Japan’s three most scenic views.
If you have the time, it’s worth taking the 70 km drive around the Tango Peninsula before reaching the final destination of Kinosaki. This famous onsen (hot spring) town has a friendly atmosphere, and the locals offer free admission to the many hot spring bathhouses where you can unwind at the end of your drive. There are plenty of decent hotels and guesthouses here if you want to turn the excursion into a weekend or mini-break.
This 400-500 km round trip can be planned as a 2-3 day break with a couple of overnight stops at locations along the way. Traveling from Osaka, it begins with a relaxing drive along the Osaka Bay coastline into southern Wakayama Prefecture. You can stop off at Wakayama City for a fresh fish lunch and watch a tuna-cutting demonstration at the local market. Carry on along the coast for 1.5 – 2 hours and you’ll reach the resort town of Shirahama with its white sand beaches, onsen, rocky cliffs and plenty of accommodation options if you want to stop over. Carry on to the southern tip to reach the spectacle of Hashigui Iwa, an 850-meter rock formation out to Oshima Island.
Travel back up along the Pacific coast as far as Shingu and from here take the 168 Route to the Dorokyo Gorge. There’s a chance here to take an hour out to enjoy a sightseeing jet boat trip around one of Japan’s “special natural monuments of scenic beauty” before journeying approximately 1.5 hours to Mount Koya. This UNESCO World Heritage site has been a sacred Buddhist spot for over 1,200 years and is the resting place of Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. There’s temple lodging if you want to make a final overnight stop before making the two-hour drive back to Osaka.
For information on buying or renting a car in Japan, as well as information on driving laws, see this article here.
Sumo wrestling is a sport uniquely associated with Japan. Although not all professional sumo wrestlers are Japanese, the sport originated in Japan, and it remains the only country where it is practiced professionally. When people across the world think of sumo, they will undoubtedly conjure up images of two heavyweight Japanese fighters staring each other out, slapping their thighs and pushing their heavy frames into each other.
Sumo is classified as a Japanese martial art although its part in Japanese culture can be traced back centuries to a time when it was associated with Shinto ritual. Early sumo bouts and competitions in front of spectators began sometime during the Nara and Heian periods (710-1192) when bouts were held in front of the emperor at the imperial court. Professional tournaments started during the Edo period in the late 17th century. Events were regularly held in Edo (now Tokyo) and Osaka.
Today, professional sumo wrestling is organized by the Japan Sumo Association with over 650 wrestlers fighting across six divisions. Much has changed in the 1500 or so years since the start of sumo, although many of the rituals and techniques have survived down the ages.
The goal of a sumo bout is to force your opponent either out of the circular ring or ‘dohyo‘ (which is demarcated with rice-straw bales) or onto the ground using one of the sport’s 48 legal moves. Sometimes brute force may be enough but more often than not the victor is the one with the superior technique, and wrestlers can sometimes beat an opponent twice their size using skill and tactics. Bouts can last anywhere from just a few seconds to several minutes, but it’s the lengthy pre-match rituals where things actually begin, building the anticipation of the gathered crowd.
If you’ve never seen live sumo wrestling before, it’s a spectacle well worth catching and the annual Grand Tournament in Osaka is just around the corner! Since 1958, six Grand Tournaments have been held each year. Osaka hosts the event every March and tickets are now on sale for the 2019 showcase that takes place from March 10-24 at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (EDION Arena Osaka). There are various types of tickets available at different prices, including:
Tickets can be bought online in advance with a booking fee of 1,000 yen added per ticket. There are a limited number of general admission tickets available on the day, priced 2,100 yen for adults and 200 yen for children. Bouts take place throughout the day each day so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to catch some action along with the traditional ceremonial activities that take place between the matches. Event and ticket information can be found here.
Grand Sumo Tournament Osaka March 2019
Where: Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, 3 Chrome-4-36, Nanbanaka, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 556-0011
When: Sunday, March 10 to Sunday, March 24, 2019
Website (for ticket purchase and general information): http://sumo.pia.jp/en/sumo03.jsp
Spring is just around the corner, which for many Japanese residents means Hanami time is here again. Hanami means “flower viewing” in Japanese (from the Japanese for flower – “hana”) and, up and down the country, people gather together to spend time with each other and appreciate the beauty of the blooming cherry blossoms (“sakura”).
Hanami is a tradition that dates back centuries in Japan. Each region has its favored hotspots where groups of people organize picnics and small parties as they take in the delights of the season. There are several wonderful Hanami spots around Kobe’s many parks and mountains that will be busy from around mid/late March. Here are some of the best places to head.
For information on when best to plan your Hanami in the Kobe area, see here (in Japanese) – looks like it’s the last week of March this year.
Located on the slopes of Mt. Hachibuse and with Suma beach at its base, Sumaura Park is a great place to see not just the cherry blossoms but also some splendid views of Kobe across the sea. It’s one of the most popular Hanami spots in Kobe, although luckily it tends not to get too crowded. You can take the ropeway cable car from Sumaura Park station and bask in the glory of over 3,000 cherry blossom trees, as well as many plum blossoms. If you look out across the sea, you’ll be able to see the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge as well as Kobe airport. If you don’t fancy a picnic, there are restaurant facilities in the park as well as a kids’ amusement park at the summit.
For park information and map, see here.
Another park nestled in the mountains offering spectacular scenery, Egeyama Park is 85 meters above sea level and its kilometer-long winding path that stretches along the coast brims with around 1,400 cherry blossom trees that bloom as early as mid-March. The park is only a 5-minute walk from Kamisawa subway station, and there is plenty of picnic space on the grass areas, where you can take in the views of the flowers, the sea and watch the dog-walkers and joggers go by.
For park information and map, see here.
Okusuma Park has a stunning collection of cherry blossom trees as well as many other treats to savour. One of the best places in Kobe for biodiversity, the park also consists of a nature forest, seven ponds, terraced rice farming, water features, open fields and an array of wildlife including Indian Kingfishers and Japanese Pigmy Woodpeckers. The park is a 15-minute walk from Myohoji station or a short bus ride from Suma station.
Park address: Wakabayashi, Tainohata, Suma Ward, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 654-0133 (google map)
This six-storey 17th century white wooden castle in western Hyogo is a UNESCO World Heritage site and its grounds fill with visitors from across the Kansai region every late March and early April for Hanami. It’s one of Japan’s largest castles and has acquired the nickname of White Heron Castle (for looking somewhat like a white heron from a distance). There are approximately 1,000 cherry blossom trees in the castle grounds that become illuminated at night during the blooming season. Many Hanami-related events are held on the castle’s grounds, including the Kanokai – a sakura viewing party featuring traditional Japanese music.
For information, see the Himeji Castle website.
Oji Park is a multi-facility space that features a zoo, an athletics stadium, a sports center and a gallery. There are around 700 cherry blossom trees within the park and every year, during the Hanami season, the zoo offers free evening admission allowing visitors to stroll the grounds while the trees lining its paths are lit up. You can reach Oji Park by travelling to Oji Koen station and it’s a 3-minute walk from there.
For information, see the Oji Zoo website.
One of the best and most popular ways to enjoy Hanami is with a picnic with friends or family. Many of the parks and venues permit picnics but make sure you check first to avoid disappointment. Here are a few other Hanami picnic tips:
re-kuma [CC BY 3.0]
A great thing about Japan is there’s always something going on or something to do. By learning about the most popular pastimes, you’ll be able to properly experience the culture. Whatever your interests, you’re sure to find at least a few authentic Japanese hobbies or activities you’ll enjoy.
Manga has been around since the middle of the last century, but it has only become a facet of Japanese culture in the last couple of decades. Since manga covers every genre, people of all ages and from all backgrounds read the comics.
The most successful manga series are often turned into anime, although sometimes these adaptations have their own storylines. Anime is also ideal for those who are less into reading.
Ikebana literally means living flower. On the surface, this pastime may seem like simple flower arranging, but it is much more. Those who practice ikebana do it to feel closer to nature. It provides a form of spiritual wellbeing, much like meditation. Whether you have an artistic flair or you just want to learn more about aesthetics and color, ikebana is an activity to try.
Another way to calm your mind is to practice shodo, or calligraphy. Plus, if you’re learning Japanese, this activity will help with your writing. You’ll need a brush, ink stick, ink stone, and special mulberry paper to create this beautiful art. As you practice and gain confidence, your work will become more fluid and beautiful.
For the more active, there’s kyudo — or Japanese archery. It’s practiced in a kimono, hakama (loose pants), and tabi (socks with thick soles that have a separate space for the big toe). To succeed at kyudo, you’ll need to be dedicated, as the sport requires deep concentration and focus.
The most well-known arcade game in Japan is pachinko, which is similar to pinball. Another to look out for is Taiko no Tatsujin, a rhythm game that involves hitting a Taiko drum. You also have an extensive range of games that allow you to win collectibles — either physical or virtual trading cards.
Some pastimes are only possible during certain times of the year. Hanami is one of these. It means flower viewing, and it takes place when the cherry blossom and plum trees are in bloom. Scores of people organize picnics to see the flowers together. As the blossoms happen at different times depending on where you are in the country, hanami also gives you an excellent reason to travel.
Origami (which literally means folding paper) involves twisting a single piece of paper into an elaborate form. Even beginners can create impressive shapes. As hobbyists develop their skills, they can fold models that it is difficult to believe are made from just one sheet of paper.
Many of these Japanese pastimes may be quite different from your usual hobbies. Even if you think one could never be for you, try it before you dismiss it. There’s always the chance that you develop a passion for an activity you would never have thought you could enjoy.
Animal Laser Center – 動物レーザーセンター
Branch of medicine: Veterinary
Address: 1-9 Shiotsuketori, Showa-ku, Nagoya
|Closed on Sundays and Public holidays
– Appointment required by phone or email
– Parking available