Kōbe (神戸) is one of Japan's underappreciated cities. A cosmopolitan port city with an international flavor, hemmed in by Mt. Rokko, it constantly comes up number one in expatriate rankings of the best place to live in Japan.

Flower road in downtown Kobe


Kobe's urban life is centered around Sannomiya

A port in what would become Kōbe was established as a concession to western powers in 1868, during the time when Japan was opening to the world. Nagasaki and Yokohama had already begun serving foreign ships nine years earlier. Today, a synagogue, a mosque (Japan's first), a Sikh temple (also Japan's first), a Chinatown, and European architecture mark Kōbe as a place where foreigners and foreign culture first arrived in Japan.

On January 17, 1995 an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale occurred at 5:46AM JST near the city. The quake killed 6,433, made 300,000 homeless and destroyed large parts of the port facilities and other parts of the city. It was one of the most costly natural disasters in modern history. The earthquake notably destroyed the Hanshin Expressway, an elevated freeway which dramatically toppled over: within Japan, the earthquake is known as the Great Hanshin Earthquake (or the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake). In the last 10 years, the city has recovered completely, but lost huge portions of its ship traffic.

Kōbe's core, and central business district, surrounds   Sannomiya station, rather than Kobe Station. Sannomiya station has a tourist information office well-stocked with area maps. Be sure to ask for the coupon book, which offers discounts (10% to 20%) for many attractions. The Japanese characters for Sannomiya station on Japan Railways (三ノ宮) differ from the Sannomiya station on other railways (三宮).

Get in

Kobe Airport is an artificial island

By plane

  Kobe Airport (神戸空港, UKB), built on reclaimed land in front of the harbor, opened in February 2006. The airport handles domestic flights only: both Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) have flights to Kobe from Tokyo Haneda, Sapporo, Sendai, Okinawa, and Kagoshima. ANA also offers service from Niigata, while JAL has flights from Kumamoto. A new low-cost airline, Skymark , is offering cheap flights to and from Tokyo as well as Naha.

From Kobe Airport, the Port Liner light rail runs about every 10 minutes, reaching Sannomiya in less than 20 minutes (¥320) for easy connections to the Japan Rail (JR), Hanshin, Hankyu and subway lines. From there, a small trip on the subway will link you to the Shin-Kobe bullet train station (¥200). If coming from Sannomiya to the airport, be sure to board a train marked "Kobe Airport", as some head to the Kita Futo branch line instead.

The nearest international airport is Kansai International Airport. The fastest way to get there is on the Kaijo Access high-speed ferry from Kobe Airport, which runs every 45 minutes or so, taking 29 minutes one-way (¥1500). However, if coming from central Kobe, it's nearly as fast and less of a hassle to take the Airport Limousine bus. Airport buses cost ¥2000, and the run to Sannomiya takes 65 to 75 minutes depending on whether the bus travels directly to Sannomiya or stops first on Rokko Island. Alternatively, the JR Rapid Express connecting at Osaka about as fast and more dependable. By JR, the ride costs ¥2410 and lasts 90 minutes, taking the Kanku Kaisoku (関空快速) rapid to Osaka station and changing there to the Shin-kaisoku (新快速 - Special Rapid) that runs to both Sannomiya and Kobe stations.

Finally, if you land at Itami Airport in Osaka, airport buses run to Sannomiya in 40 minutes and cost ¥1020.

View from above the Shin-Kobe station towards the port

By train

The nearest station on Japan's high-speed shinkansen network is at   Shin-Kobe station. From Tokyo station, Shin-Kobe is 2 hours, 50 minutes away via Nozomi (¥14670); 3 hours and 20 minutes via Hikari (¥14270; no charge with the Japan Rail Pass). From Shin-Kobe station, take the Seishin Yamate subway line one stop to Sannomiya (¥200). If you are traveling light you can walk as well.

Sannomiya Station is squeezed into the dense centre of Kobe

From Osaka, there are several ways to arrive in Sannomiya:

From Kyoto, Sannomiya is 50 minutes away from the main train station via Shin-kaisoku (¥1050; no charge with the Japan Rail Pass). You can also make the run to the area in 30 minutes via bullet train, but it is more expensive, and if you have the rail pass, you can only take one train every hour without changing trains (the Hikari that runs through to Okayama).

From the central area of Kyoto (near Gion and the shopping district), you can reach Sannomiya in 70 minutes via Hankyu limited express, changing once at Juso station (¥600). Hankyu trains depart from the Kawaramachi and Karasuma stations.

Kintetsu trains run from the historical city of Nara to Sannomiya station on the Hanshin line via Namba. Direct trains leave every 20 minutes, reaching Sannomiya in 75 minutes at a cost of ¥940.

Most buses arrive at Sannomiya Bus Terminal

By bus

As Kobe is a major city, there are many buses which run between Kobe and other locations throughout Japan, which can be a cheaper alternative than shinkansen fares.

From Tokyo

The run between Tokyo and the Kansai region is the busiest in Japan. Buses use the Tomei or Chuo Expressway from Tokyo to Nagoya, then the Meishin Expressway to Kobe. Trips take between 9 and 10 hours depending on the route and stops.

Fierce competition between operators in recent years has led to buses offering better amenities and lower prices. Part of this strategy is the adoption of dynamic pricing on many bus routes. This means that the price of a ticket will vary based on several factors, including:

As a rule of thumb, overnight trips between Tokyo and Kobe on weekdays go for around ¥5000-9000 per person. Children usually pay half the adult fare.

Two of the major bus operators between Tokyo and Kobe are Willer Express and JR Bus. Tickets for all carriers can generally be purchased at major departure points, and can also be purchased (with some Japanese language help) at kiosks inside convenience stores.

Willer Express runs overnight trips with a variety of seating options ranging from standard seats to luxurious shell seats. Bus journeys can be booked online in English, and Willer's Japan Bus Pass is valid on all of their routes with some exceptions. Willer's buses in Tokyo primarily leave from their own bus terminal west of Shinjuku Station in the Sumitomo Building. In Kobe, Willer picks up and drops off at the Koka shopping center, west of Sannomiya Station. Note that Willer also sells tickets for other bus operators on their website, but these trips are not valid with Willer's Japan Bus Pass.

JR Bus (Japanese Website) reservations cannot be made online in English, but you can make reservations in train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains. Buses depart from Tokyo Station - Yaesu Exit (八重洲口) and the JR Highway Bus Terminal (JR高速バスターミナル) located adjacent to Yoyogi Station on the Yamanote Line (one stop south of Shinjuku). Buses stop in Kobe at the Sannomiya Bus Terminal (三宮バスターミナル).

There are no daytime buses from Tokyo to Kobe. You can take a daytime bus to Osaka, then change to the JR or private railway for the ride to Kobe city. As an alternative, changing in Kyoto could allow you to avoid traffic jams that buses could encounter in Osaka.

By boat

A number of ferry services are available from Kobe, including routes to:

Get around

By train

If you are planning to travel beyond city limits you might want to consider using the tickets from Surutto Kansai. For use in West of Japan include Kobe, there are some other useful tickets: A rechargeable smart card, ICOCA, is used on rail, subway and bus networks in Kansai area,Okayama,Hiroshima,Nagoya (Kintetsu) and Tokyo (JR East). These cards are available at vending machines at these rail stations, and cost 2000 yen, which includes a 500 yen deposit that will be refunded when the card is returned at JR West Station.

The Hankyu (阪急), Hanshin (阪神) and JR lines cross Kōbe in a west-east direction, and provide the cheapest and fastest way to travel across town. Each of these three lines have their own station located around the busy central Sannomiya shopping district and each provide access to different points of interest.

For visitors with a Japan Rail Pass, JR will be of the most use. Shin-kaisoku (新快速 - Special Rapid) trains stop at both Sannomiya and Kōbe stations and provide the best way to travel west towards Akashi and Himeji or east towards Kyoto and Osaka. Boarding a Futsu (普通 - Local) from either Sannomiya or Kōbe stations will allow you to easy access to Motomachi (for Nankin-machi and Meriken-park) Nada (for the sake brewing district and museums) Rokkomichi (for buses to Mt. Rokko) and Sumiyoshi (for the Rokko Liner to Rokko Island).

The Hankyu and Hanshin lines are of less use to tourists but you may be forced to use them to visit certain sights. Koshien Stadium, home of the baseball team the Hanshin Tigers, is easily accessible from Hanshin Koshien Station and both lines provide service to Shinkaichi for transfer to the private Kobe Dentetsu line and access to the famed Arima Onsen hot-spring district.

Schematic map of Kobe subway lines

By subway

Kōbe has two subway lines. The Kaigan Line runs along the coast, and the Yamate-Seishin Line runs toward the mountains. Both are more expensive than ordinary trains and unlikely to be of use for the traveler, except when connecting to Shin-Kōbe, the station located north of the city where the Sanyo Shinkansen stops. The small jaunt between Shin-Kobe and Sannomiya costs ¥200. If you want to explore Kobe, there is a one-day-pass for both lines (1日乗車券; Ichinichijoshaken), costing ¥800 (kids: ¥400) or subway plus bus for ¥1000 (¥500).

North of Shin-Kobe station, the Yamate subway runs over the Hokushin Express Line. Trains run 7.5 km under ground and terminate at Tanigami Station, from which you can transfer to the Shintetsu Arima Line for Arima-guchi Station and Arima Onsen.

All Port Liner stations look similar, which makes them easy to find even in the dense cityscape

By light rail

The automated Port Liner links Sannomiya to the reclaimed port district south of the city, and continues over the Kobe Sky Bridge to Kobe Airport. Likewise, the Rokko Liner links the Rokko Island area to JR Sumiyoshi station.

By bus

Kobe has a comprehensive city bus system, which is often your best choice when travelling to areas located north of the city, away from the predominately east-west running train and subway lines. Schedules and boarding locations can be obtained from the tourist information office below JR and Hankyu Sannomiya stations.

The city also operates a loop-line tourist bus that travels around scenic spots and famous tourist locations in Kobe including the Kitano Ijinkan streets, Nankin-machi and Meriken Park. These distinctive old-fashioned green buses can be boarded are 15 stops between the Shin-Kobe area and Harborland and cost 250 yen for a single loop or 650 yen for a day pass. Boarding locations are indicated by green and red signs on the side of the road. Buses run at 15-20 minute intervals and one loop takes approximately 70 minutes.

"Ropeway" is a Japanese false friend of "cable car"

By ropeway

Kobe has several ropeways that travel up Mount Rokko. One that is near a major station is the Shin-Kobe Ropeway, a 5-minute walk from Shin-Kobe station. The ropeway, reputed to have one of Kobe's best scenic views, runs up to the Nunobiki Herb Park. Adults ¥550 one-way, ¥1000 round-trip. Combination tickets are also sold which include the Nunobiki Herb Park (see below).

On foot

Kōbe is thin in the north-south direction, but long in the west-east direction. Since much of it is built on a hill, a reasonable itinerary is to take the bus up the hill, and walk down. If you get lost, find the mountains or the harbour. The mountains are in the north, and the harbour’s in the south.

German house, Ijinkan


Kobe Port Tower in Meriken Park

Kobe's main attraction for the Japanese is its concentration of Western-style houses, some dating back to the days when Kobe was opened for foreign trade in 1868. Europeans who grew up in similar scenery may find them less fascinating.


Parks and landmarks

Climb the City Hall tower for vistas of the city
Takenaka Museum
Nunobiki Herb Garden

Sake museums

Kōbe is a well-known center of sake production and many sake breweries are in the Nada (灘) area, and have tours or museums open to the public. You can pick up a map of the sake breweries at the tourist information office in Sannomiya.

Sawa-no-Tsuru Museum
From fake traditional Japanese buildings, waterfront vistas, ferris wheel, harbour cruises to a rich gastronomic offer, MOSAIC has it all


Osaka Bay at night
You will find numerous shops, bars and other commercial establishments below the train tracks in Kobe


Kōbe's shopping is clustered around the Sannomiya train station and the Center-Gai shopping arcade leading off from it. Many of the unassuming little cafes and specialty shops in the arcade in fact have histories tracing back well over a hundred years.

Piazza Kōbe (ピアザ神戸) and Motokō Town (モトコータウン) are the two names of essentially one long arcade where all manner of second-hand goods are sold. These stores are underneath the JR lines, running from Sannomiya station, past Motomachi Station, to Kōbe Station. Motoko sells a variety of things such as books, clothes, shoes, accessories, knives, lighters, toys...... You can get heaps of things.


Urban area in Kobe's Harborland


The famed Kobe beef: finger-licking good, budget-busting expensive

Kobe has a large number of restaurants offering international cuisine.

Kōbe is known worldwide for its Kobe beef, exquisitely marbled, very fatty and very expensive beef. Recommended for a splurge, but expect to pay close to ¥10,000 per head. At the opposite end of the culinary spectrum is sobameshi (そば飯), a concoction of fried rice and noodles mixed together, which is cheap, filling and pretty much unique to Kobe.


Kōbe's specialty are tachinomiya, literally stand-and-drink bars.

A street in Kyukyoryuchi


Early morning in Sannomiya

Kōbe has a wide variety of accommodation, ranging from love hotels near Shin-Kobe to luxury hotels by the waterfront. If you're looking for cheaper alternatives, ask at the tourist information office in Sannomiya station (they speak English).

If you don't find a hotel, Osaka is only 20 minutes away on the JR line for ¥390.


Entrance to Minatomotomachi stands out between otherwise bland subway stations in Kobe



Go next

Routes through Kobe

Hiroshima Nishi-Akashi  W  E  Shin-Osaka END
END  W  E  Kyoto Osaka
Okayama Akashi  W  E  END
Hiroshima Tsuyama  W  E  Nishinomiya-Kita Osaka
Hiroshima Himeji ← Miki  W  E  Ends at
END  N  S  Awaji Island Naruto

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