Japan hosted the first ever Winter Olympics staged in Asia at Sapporo back in 1972, and the country has a rich history of playing on its frosted mountain slopes. You won’t find the world class ski runs of Nagano and Shiga at Mount Rokko, the series of 1,000-foot high peaks overlooking Kobe, but the easy ski slope of the Snow Park is ideal for beginners and young families. The lighted facility stays open until 10:00 p.m. every night beginning in early December and skis, sleds and snowboards are available for rent through mid-March.
Mount Rokko supports three runs, all short and none very steep. On weekends, when the slope becomes more crowded, snowboarders cannot flash their skills until after 4:00 p.m., leaving the runs to often inexperienced skiers. A ski school on premises will get even the complete novice started, but advance reservations are required. A diligent staff monitors the potential chaos of clumsy and tumbling skiers to control traffic on the runs.
Don’t worry if the Kansai temperatures do not seem so wintry-like. When the mountains are not favoured by a natural covering of snow, the park’s mechanical snow-making machines churn out a reliably deep blanket of snow that can be enjoyed even if the kids just want to build a snowman. And the park mascot, Snoil, is always afoot to keep the good times rolling.
Snow or no snow, Mount Rokko is a popular winter destination, reached by a combination of rail, Kobe Municipal Bus, Rokko Cable and Mt. Rokko Mountain Bus. Hikers can ascend a long serpentine path on a steep grade to purchase spectacular views of the cityscape below. One of those eye-poppers is found at the Rokko Garden Terrace that is open 365 days a year so the panoramic vista sweeping from Akashi Strait to the Osaka Plains never closes. The stores at the Terrace do, however, maintain seasonal schedules in deference to the weather. Also closed on Mount Rokko is the Alpine Botanical garden, which shuts the doors to its 1,500 species of hardy cold-weather plant in November and does not open again until mid-March.
The Rokko-Shidare Observatory at the Terrace is open year-round although it shutters with nightfall in 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 that funnel air inside to an ice room which naturally regulates the temperatures in the building. Sambuichi’s vision was that of leaves gracing a massive tree and in winter those frosted appendages create a striking visual tapestry.
A unique indoor diversion on the summit of Mount Rokko is the International Music Box Museum. The collection focuses on exquisitely handcrafted wooden boxes from the United States and Europe that hold cylinders and disks that cranked out the music in the late 1800s and early 1900s before phonographs. The star of the museum is one of the world’s largest dance organs. Two concerts, featuring different musical selections throughout the day, are staged each hour to provide an inviting respite from the winter chill outside. Except on Thursdays; the Music Box Museum enjoys a winter rest on Thursdays from late November until mid-March.
Motoyamachomori, Higashinada Ward, Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture 658-0000 (Google map)
By Mugu-shisai (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons