KOBE – and a step back in time

6th OCTOBER 2019:  Our next destination was Kobe, a city which opened as an international port in 1868.  It is a beautiful location that stretches between mountains and the ocean. For me this has a personal connection.  My grandparents were married here in 1914.  My grandfather worked for Lever Brothers – now Unilever – and was sent to Japan in 1912 to open a soap factory for the company.  Foreigners began working and settling in Kobe only forty years beforehand and the settlement was in its infancy. The area known as Kitano was where the foreigners built their homes, it was close to the port and on the slopes of Mt. Rokko.  I was keen to see where my family lived and worked, especially as I have done a considerable amount of research on life in Kobe at that time.

Our train journey from Oita took about two hours to Osaka which is very close to Kobe. We had booked a hotel right on the water and close to the old foreign settlement.  As it happened this was where the Rugby Fanzone was situated and so we were able to wander down to the area and see a match on the big screen, have a few drinks and enjoy the atmosphere and try to win prizes!

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This area is relatively new and the port has grown in recent years.  In 1945 during World War 2 the main area of Kobe was destroyed by bombs but the Kitano area was saved as it was a foreign settlement.  However, years later earthquakes devastated the city and many areas were affected – although once again, somehow Kitano escaped relatively unscathed.

The Port area – known as Harborland – is full of restaurants, shops and bars and we had no trouble finding a great place to eat as well as watching entertainment.

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Many of the restaurants had plastic images of the food on their menu – including one for children complete with an Australian flag! This is quite useful when language is a problem – just point to the dish you fancy.

We took a taxi up to Kitano which has now been designated under the “Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings” act by the government. Immediately we could see the attraction the early foreigners saw – on a hill with cool breezes and a view.  Several houses have been restored and are open to the public either as museums or restaurants and it is a lovely area to stroll around.

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Some of the streets are very narrow and steep and in the past would have had rickshaws as transport or maybe just two feet! This is where my grandparents had a house, which is sadly no more but the block is there with a remains of a building.

Close to Kitano is the Shin-Kobe Ropeway which is a ten minute cable car ride up Mt. Rokko. At the top is the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Garden which is one of Japan’s largest herb gardens with about 75,000 herbs and flower gardens with around 200 varieties plus a series of Glasshouses, fragrance museum and cafe and restaurant.

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It was a beautiful day and we had stunning panoramic views on all sides of the cabin.  We could also see the western part of Osaka and the Seto Inland Sea.  Passing over waterfalls and cultivated gardens, the ride was a surprise to say the least.

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At the top we found a European style building which was the Fragrance Museum and cafe and a pleasant outdoor seating area.

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After a cold drink and a wander around the museum and shop, we were advised to walk down to the mid station and along the way admire the herbs and gardens and the Glasshouses mid way.  It was fascinating; the herbs were all grouped in various categories – the Potager (kitchen herbs) was lush and sweet smelling, as were all the herbs which are tended daily and made me wish I could do even half as good a job at growing!

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Then we reached the Glasshouses and another surprise awaited.  This was a tropical paradise with masses of flowers, potted plants and a mini waterfall and stream in several greenhouses.  It was totally magical and in one we came across what was to be my favourite of the whole exhibition – a beautiful statue of a Mother and Child, presented in 1993 by the Italian city of Terni to Kobe.  The sculpture embodies the desire for eternal friendship and for love to be nurtured throughout the world.

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The lushness of the tropical garden complete with butterflies and birds made it hard to to tear ourselves away, there is so much to savour and enjoy.

In another section is an area representing the interior of a home – with a dining setting and bunches of dried herbs.  Outside is a gorgeous terrace where we had a glass of wine before taking the cable car back to the bottom.

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This Ropeway and Gardens is definitely something every visitor to Kobe should do, it is surely one of the best places to be in Kobe.  At night the views are apparently amazing with the sunset and then twinkling night lights of the city.  We didn’t do it this time but if we ever return, that is on the Must Do list.

Our time in Kobe was short but sweet and once again, we felt that it warranted another trip to Japan – next time to visit the onsen at Arima which is close by.  For now though we have lovely memories of this “City of Love” with strong feelings of family.

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