It is Sunday and your schedule book is wide open… what to do? Lucky you are living in Kobe and there are a lot of options for you!
Kobe has boasted an aquatic museum since 1957 and today Aqualife Park is one of the largest in Japan. Over the years the presentation has developed into a bit of fish displays, a bit of aquatic theater and a bit of a theme park. The country’s first underwater tunnel was constructed in 2007 to enhance viewing of the marine wildlife. Special tanks enable the curious to touch sea turtles, fish and small sharks. The park amphitheater hosts dolphin shows and sea otter feedings. For the kids, a small amusement park serves up an electric train, a merry-go-round and a carousel.
There are only three designated Chinatowns in Japan and Kobe’s dates to 1868 when the country opened its ports to foreign ships and immigrants for the first time, including Chinese. Like most of the world’s Chinatowns, this is mostly a tourist confection for your Sunday stroll as you check in on over 100 Chinese restaurants and souvenir shops; street food is readily available. There are three ornate gates that mark the boundaries of Chinatown: Chang’an Gate in the east, Xi’an Gate to the west, and Nanlou Gate from the south. There is also a temple dedicated to the Han Dynasty warlord Guan Yu that is open for exploration.
These two seemingly disparate attractions share a building in the heart of Meriken Park but the connection soon reveals itself once inside. Shozo Kawasaki built a shipyard in 1896 for the purpose of launching ocean-going ships. The company was soon producing other means of locomotion as well, including Japan’s first metal aircraft in 1918. The first motorbike came along in 1954, called the Meihatsu. It wasn’t much but Kawasaki was soon churning out some of the world’s fastest motorcycles, including the ZZR-110, the fastest production bike anywhere for a period in the 1990s. These exhibits are for history buffs, gearheads and just admirers of beautiful machines.
A top choice for a family Sunday outing, the Kobe City Oji Zoo is the only place in Japan where you can see both a koala bear and a giant panda bear. There are 850 or so animals representing 150 species from all the world’s habitats. Suwako, a female elephant born in 1943, is Japan’s oldest pachyderm. There are plenty of cuddly animals to caress in the petting zoo and young children can board a train and ride a ferris wheel. At the Animal Science Pavilion, there are demonstrations, films and shows to help learn about the creatures.
Tucked into the shadow of the Rokko mountain range, this city district is where most of the foreign merchants and diplomats made their homes in the late 19th century when the Port of Kobe first welcomed outside trade. The newcomers constructed exuberant homes, known locally as Ijinkan. You can simply walk the pleasant neighborhood streets gazing at the mix of Western-style and Eastern-style mansions or tour some of the homes that operate as museums. There is also a diverse collection of eateries and boutiques to cap off a lazy Kobe Sunday.