Kobe’s Winter Wonderland: Mount Rokko

ByJustin Hanus
Jan 21, 2023

Kobe’s Winter Wonderland: Mount Rokko

Japan hosted the first-ever Winter Olympics in Asia at Sapporo in 1972, but the country already had a rich history of playing on snowy mountain slopes. Although you won’t find the world-class ski runs of Nagano and Shiga in Kobe, you will find Mount Rokko: a range of 1,000-meter high peaks.

Accessing Mount Rokko

You can reach Mount Rokko by rail, Kobe Municipal Bus, Rokko Cable, and Mt. Rokko Mountain Bus. Hikers can ascend a long, steep winding path for spectacular views of the cityscape below. One observation deck to stop at is Rokko Garden Terrace. As it’s open 365 days a year, the panoramic vista sweeping from Akashi Strait to the Osaka Plains is always available. The stores at the Terrace, however, have seasonal schedules.

The Rokko Shidare Observatory on Rokko Mountain is also open year-round, although it shutters at nightfall during the winter. This Kobe landmark was cobbled together from plans drawn by Hiroshima-based architect Hiroshi Sambuichi. The open-faced domed structure uses hexagonal frames of native hinoki wood to funnel air inside to an ice room that regulates the temperature in the building. Sambuichi’s vision was that of leaves gracing a massive tree. In winter, the frosted appendages create a striking visual tapestry as ice crystals form on the mesh structure.

Head to the Kikuseidai Observation Platform on Mount Maya for even more impressive views. It’s designed for viewing Kobe, Osaka, the Kii Peninsula, and Awaji Island at night. The name Kikuseidai means “star scoop pedestal,” referring to the fact that the sky feels close enough that you could reach out and grab some stars. There’s also a 40-meter path called Maya Twinkle Little Road, which features fluorescent blue spots like stars. Make sure you head to CAFE 702 on the second floor to enjoy the view from a kotatsu — these heated tables are only available in winter.

Places to Visit on Mount Rokko

There are a variety of ways to enjoy the winter on Mount Rokko.

Rokko Snow Park

At Rokko Snow Park, you can ski, snowboard, or play in the snow. The lighted facility stays open until 10:00 p.m. every night from November to March. Skis, sleds, snowboards, and even clothing are all available for rent, but goggles and hats are purchased only. You can also buy toys for your kids to play in the snow.

Rokko Snow Park has three short ski runs and none especially steep. The easy ski slope is particularly ideal for beginners and young families. On weekends, snowboarders have to wait until 4:00 p.m. to show off their skills when the slopes become more crowded, which leaves the runs free for (often inexperienced) skiers. The diligent staff monitors the clumsy and tumbling skiers to control traffic on the runs. And the park mascot Snoil is always around to keep the good times rolling.

The ski school on the premises will give you the confidence to hit the slopes even if you’re a novice. If you do want to take classes, it’s important to make a reservation in advance.
Don’t worry if temperatures seem too high for snow. When the mountains lack a natural covering, the park’s mechanical snow-making machines churn out a deep blanket.

After a few hours on the slopes, you’ll definitely work up an appetite. Luckily, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from at Rokko Snow Park. Alpenrose is near the entrance and serves big portions, including the Rokkosan Roast Beef Bowl. If you want to eat out on the snow, you can find takeout at Green Leaf. Finally, near Snowland (the kids’ area) is Snowman Restaurant. The children’s meals come in cute designs.

Nunobiki Herb Garden

Open all year, Nunobiki Herb Garden has different flora on offer depending on the season. Winter brings bougainvillea bushes starting in January and hibiscus from December until March. There are beautiful displays around the Christmas and Valentine’s Day holidays. You can reach the gardens by taking the ropeway from Kobe. The journey lasts 10 minutes and offers fantastic panoramic views of the city.

International Music Box Museum

A unique indoor diversion at the summit of Mount Rokko is the International Musical Box Museum. The collection focuses on exquisitely handcrafted wooden boxes from the United States and Europe. These hold cylinders and disks that cranked out music in the late 1800s to early 1900s — a time before phonographs. The museum’s highlight is one of the world’s largest dance organs. There’s a concert every half hour, each time featuring a different musical selection. This can provide a pleasant respite from the winter chill outside! You can visit the Rokko International Musical Box Museum any day of the week from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

Mt Rokkō

Motoyamachomori, Higashinada Ward, Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture 658-0000 (Google map)


KENPEI, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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